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Shipley’s Action Research Team Studies the Politics of Space in Upper School

Laura Oeschger

The 2015-2016 academic year will be remembered as a milestone year in Shipley history. The opening of the Shipley Commons in September provides students with not only new resources to do their best work and be their best selves, but also expands space to collaborate. With the excitement of the new building, one of Shipley’s Action Research teams is working to find how the trends in spatial issues have changed for Upper School students and what more could be done to improve student life.

Shipley’s Action Research II class transitions juniors and seniors into advocates, working to improve the Shipley student experience. With a flexible curriculum based on student interest, the class challenges students to research, collaborate, and create solutions for an issue affecting their peers. Shipley partners with the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Boys’ and Girls’ Lives (CSBGL) to help facilitate the research process, with a graduate student visiting Shipley to offer ideas and help prepare students for the CSBGL’s roundtable. The roundtable brings together all the regional schools also partnering with CSBGL to learn more about each other’s projects.

Identifying an Issue and Gathering Data
This two-year process began last year, with the majority of the coursework focusing on narrowing the research topic and gathering data.

“Through their research, which included surveys and talking to students, the team determined that a main attraction to a space was the furniture,” explains Anna Dejdar, Upper School Interdisciplinary teacher.

Upon hearing about this project, the Shipley administration involved the team in the process of giving feedback on the selection of new furniture for the new buildings to provide a student’s perspective.

“We had several meetings and saw the blueprints and drawings of the Commons,” says Dejdar. “The students gave excellent feedback, and they picked some of the furniture that’s in the Shipley Commons gallery spaces. The students are participating in a similar process for the Learning and Research Center.”

Analyzing Why
This year, the team of five is investigating deeper into why the trends are the way they are.

“We found certain trends, but weren’t really getting at the why,” explains Dejdar. “This year we are facilitating focus groups and completing a survey with the entire Upper School, students and faculty, to see new trends and determining if there are differences now that the new building is in place.”

Finding Their Voice
While the research the team is conducting will potentially benefit each student in the Upper School, the real benefit of the Action Research class is for the five participating students.

“It pushes them out of their comfort zone,” says Dejdar. “They had to articulate their thoughts and opinions surrounded by adults; that could be somewhat intimidating. It’s empowering for them because they’re finding their voice.”

Building Life Skills
Dejdar highlights that aside from the confidence and empowerment, the students explore academically rigorous research methods and data interpretation as it relates to psychology.

“They’re learning the ethics around gathering data and how to interpret it,” she says. “With the survey, we figured out the psychology behind it to maximize its effectiveness. For example, how to clearly word questions, the best times to conduct a survey, and what is the appropriate length to keep focused.”

The exciting part of Action Research at Shipley, to Dejdar, is the student-led process. Students are challenged to be their own project managers, growing their skills in time management, organization, and problem solving.

“You’re bringing so many disciplines and skills into one class,” Dejdar says. “And that’s something they’ll be doing in college and beyond.”
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The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.