The opening of Blair's 170th year brought all the excitement that every new school year brings, but this September, students and teachers had even more to celebrate: The Chiang Center for Innovation and Collaboration opened its doors just after classes got underway.
Home of Blair's technology and fine arts departments, the open-architecture, technology-rich academic center is unlike any other campus facility. In the days following its opening, the building was already abuzz with activity: Students had their first classes in intriguing courses, such as artificial intelligence and film and animation; afterschool activities, such as yearbook and robotics, geared up for the semester ahead; and clubs and Class Councils convened in the CIC's café and flexible, comfortable meeting spaces well into the evenings.
As the Blair Bulletin headed to press in mid-September, we asked several students and teachers to share their initial experiences in the School's newest academic building, a venue designed to inspire creativity and facilitate hands-on, collaborative learning. Their impressions give the entire Blair community a view into the activities taking place within the CIC' s glass-walled spaces—and a glimpse at how these activities will continue to build on the best of Blair's academic and community traditions.
"The CIC is awesome. I love how the glass walls let you see outside the classrooms and how they let people peek in as they walk by—it will be great for prospective students, as they will be able to easily see what we'redoing in class!
The art studio is aesthetically beautiful and bright, and the acoustics in that large space are great—even though people are talking, it is quiet and easy to focus on our work. I am excited to study there this year.
In my media class, we use the Macs in the first-floor media production suite, a completely different experience than working on the Macs in Weber Hall's much-smallerclassroom. The CIC studio is spacious, open and comfortable. And I'm not staring at a blank wall—I can actually see outside!"
—IRENE CHOI '18, CIC student manager and AP portfolio 2D, AP computer science, and meaning and media student
"Digital fabrication equipment is new to us at Blair, so organizing and setting up our materials and tools has occupied much of my first week in the CIC. I have also dedicated many hours to training students and faculty in the concepts of design and use of equipment so that they can work independently.
The sheer variety of materials that will be consumed by our maker space equipment is staggering: plastic for our 3D printer; vinyl sheets for the vinyl cutter; laserable materials, such as wood, acrylic and coated metal; transfer materials like paper and fabric; and dye sublimation ink for our T-shirt printer, just to name a few. We also have an electronics workbench that supports arduino, lighting and robotics projects.
In addition to teaching robotics, programming, software design and our Freshman Seminar's design-and-fabrication module this week, I also have an evening of CIC duty under my belt and am doing my best to generate excitement about 'making' inside and outside of class—and, of course, over the weekend, when students have the chance to explore the CIC's resources during their free time.
Looking ahead, I am most excited for the 'maker' mentality to take hold across campus. I will know that has happened when students begin to come to me with projects they want to independently execute and ask how they can get started. Being in a building with so many faculty from other disciplines will also no doubt teach us all a great deal, and I plan to take advantage of every opportunity to collaborate so we can integrate technology across our curriculum."
—MICHAEL GARRANT, computer science teacher
"This is a really cool building. It's the perfect place to study because there's plenty of room, we can talk and eat, and there are places to meet with a group or just work on your own. The first night I had CIC manager duty, almost 100 kids signed in to study, and they used every area of the facility, from the art studio on the third floor to the maker space in the basement.
I love making things and learning how to do new things; so far, I've used the computer labs to work on Photoshop projects. There are so many more tools, including the woodworking equipment and the sound system, which I can't wait to learn how to use. When I'm on duty later in the year, I'd like to start some new projects and invite people to work with me."
—RYAN GREEN '19, CIC student manager and functional design student
"My ceramics and sculpture students got their hands a little messy during their first week in the CIC, but I front-loaded some technology instruction, too, to help them begin thinking about how they might use the 3D printer, laser cutter and vinyl cutter to enhance their pottery and sculpture projects. We used the software packages I researched during the Faculty SummerInstitute and learned more about the capabilities of our new technology as we worked.
All the other fine arts classes started right in on projects, too. As they do each year, my graphic arts students began creating items such as signage and posters requested by community 'clients.' Painting and drawing teacher Evan Thomas began teaching his students how to 'see' and draw in the third-floor studio; photography teacher Tyson Trish had digital photography students taking next steps to enhance images using Photoshop Lightroom; architecture teacher Eli King's students were drawing by hand and looking into Google Sketchup; and video students began the year with a cellphone video project created by director of video studies Wendy Schiller.
In the weeks and months ahead, I'm looking forward to the many new things we'll be able to do as we blend technology and craft. That's a very exciting space in which to be. Craft artists always experiment with technique, but having the technological resources we now have in the CIC could help students and faculty create some very innovative works. At the very least, when our kids see an innovative technique or project, they'll actually be able to try it for themselves."
—KATE SYKES, fine arts department chair
"In addition to debugging some of the CIC's new equipment and software, I had the pleasure of kicking off my AP computer science and artificial intelligence courses in a dedicated and well-equipped technology classroom, as well as engaging with kids during evening duty as they acclimate to the new facility and explore how they might use it for curricular and co-curricular projects.
The building's glass-walled classrooms offer students who aren't taking one of our technology electives a clear view of why they should consider signing up. Technology has a new level of visibility at Blair, and I think students will learn firsthand the value in having others see what they are doing.
The CIC is already bringing design-focused classes together with build-focused classes, all in the same facility. It is incredibly exciting to witness this cross-pollination among disciplines in which fine arts, architecture, video, robotics and software students can create their own designs and then fabricate them in the CIC's maker space. I am excited for all of the things we have talked about and planned for over the last two years to finally become reality."
—SAM ADAMS, director of technology & computer science department chair
"Even before the school year started, CIC student managers came to me with a great plan for open houses. They wanted to get as many community members as possible into the CIC right away, to help everyone feel comfortable there and learn their way around.
The Collaboration Forum is the perfect size for student gatherings—The Can can become too crowded, and, sometimes, the performance gym is too big. I have lots of ideas for weekend events in the Forum this year, including dances, food-focused get-togethers, maybe even laser tag! I'm also excited that the Class Councils, especially the hard-working Senior Class Council, now have a dedicated place to meet. The main conference room in the CIC is their new home base, complete with storage space for their materials."
—ANDEE RYERSON, associate dean of students
"Although I don't have any classes in the CIC, I volunteered to be a student manager because I'm excited about the prospect of the new building. As soon as it opened, we took a tour with [Head of School] Mr. Fortunato, who explained that our job is to learn how to use all the equipment in the maker space and throughout the building so we can help others. Safety is our first priority.
I'm the kind of person who brings ideas to the table. I love to collaborate, brainstorm and share my point of view while listening to what others have to say. I'm most excited to work with others to figure out how to use the CIC to its maximum potential. The building is so amazing to me. I can't wait to meet with Model UN here—it's a facility that's better than some I've seen at the best colleges in the country. And I plan to attend every Skeptics lecture this year. I'm excited to learn throughout the CIC!"
—SUMMER WILL '19, CIC student manager
"Everything in the technology classroom is high tech! The projector is like those I've seen in college classrooms, and it is amazing that we have that technology in high school. I'm used to taking technology classes in the basement of Timken Library. In the CIC, the classroom is wide open and has a very different feeling—much freer and lighter. We can really observe what our classmates are doing, no matter where we are in the room.
I want to study artificial intelligence in college, and I'm excited to learn programming, robotics, prototyping and design this year using all of the CIC's resources. As a student manager, I'm looking forward to steering people to the tools they need to do their work and teaching them how to use those tools effectively and correctly."
—JASON PAN '18, CIC student manager and artificial intelligence student
"The openness of the robotics classroom is especially profound because people will actually be able to see the progress robotics students are making. I took robotics last year and want to stay involved this year with a project of my own. As a CIC student manager on Friday nights, I hope to make that happen.
I am working on my certifications for the media production lab equipment, including the MIDI keyboards and a super-fancy microphone. I am looking forward to figuring out how to use those tools for digital music and songwriting and exploring what they can offer.
The CIC is my space. I love the whole idea of combining art, technology and science in a big, open space, and I want to use all of it to the best of my ability. I am looking forward to working there at night, since I can bring food and will have all the tools I need to get things done. The CIC is the perfect place to learn something new."
—LIAM JUNKERMANN '19, CIC student manager and computer science and digital music and songwriting student
"It's incredible to see a classroom as well-outfitted as the CIC's media lab. Students are doing postproduction work right next to our studio space and green screen; the setup is easily one of the best you could ask for at the high-school level.
In addition to introducing my film, animation and media classes to new software and demonstrating new equipment, much of my time in the CIC will be spent encouraging ninthgraders to think like makers and innovators as they learn to use design-and-fabrication tools as part of the Freshman Seminar.
A lot of this work focuses on whetting their appetites about what they can do with design and rapid prototyping. Our goal is to train students early in their Blair careers so that they know how to use the CIC's software and equipment, making it easier for teachers to get right to work as freshmen advance across grade levels.
I am always part technology teacher and part fine-arts teacher, so the fact that these two departments are anchored in the CIC gives me a lot more fluidity in moving between those two disciplines and integrating art and engineering.
During evening duty on Monday nights, I help students with project work, as well as collaborate with Blair TV as students prepare videos on current events, the Animation Club as it creates shorts and the Drone Club as we test our new drone. I am really looking forward to working with our laser cutter and hope to host a Blair Maker Faire as a weekend activity. But, more than anything, it is exciting to know how much students will teach each other—and me!—over the course of our first year in the CIC; so many in our student body were leaning toward these tools already and are ecstatic to test them as they embrace the maker and innovator mindset."
—WENDY SCHILLER, director of video studies