“Schools need spaces to create.” With Penny Bauder & Gil Gibori

Schools need spaces to create, build and destroy. Teachers need to design programs and lessons that require students to use their hands to learn about the world. As a scientist for over a decade, I did two things — read and experiment. Experimenting was always in the three dimensions. Test tubes, wood beams, robot motors, […]

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Schools need spaces to create, build and destroy. Teachers need to design programs and lessons that require students to use their hands to learn about the world. As a scientist for over a decade, I did two things — read and experiment. Experimenting was always in the three dimensions. Test tubes, wood beams, robot motors, 3-D printers, dirt, clay, paint, cameras — these are the tools to truly teach STEAM.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Gil Gibori the CEO and founder of The House Tutoring Lounge®, an on-demand, parent-free tutoring lounge for students. The House has revolutionized tutoring by giving students a space they can learn and grow on their own terms. Currently based in Glencoe, Ill., Gil is looking at expanding the concept into new communities nationwide.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you briefly share with our readers why you are authority in the education field?

Asa young scientist, I began to tutor teenagers to earn some extra money; I fell in love with working with teenagers and have been in the tutoring field for the last 25 years. Once moving into a better paid career as a consultant, I worked with nonprofit education organizations with kids directly, and at the board level. In 2010, I opened a tutoring center in downtown Chicago called Chicago Academic, with my wife Carrie. This is where I quickly discovered that to effectively help students, we need to authentically master, train, and advise on the complexities of modern education including the following: teenage mental health, increasing levels of anxiety and depression, executive functioning, standardized testing, college admissions, and how to advise parents on not motivating through stress. The expertise that our job required was not to simply tutor, but to provide the student, parents and entire family with significant relief.
Come 2017, The House Tutoring Lounge® became a no brainer. The House is an opportunity to enhance educational services from an untapped avenue. The new model for a tutoring center with on-demand accessibility to support is what the education field has been missing. I have become an expert on the forefront of educational space design. The model of our lounge is designed for social emotional safety, while enhancing quality of family dynamics around homework, education, and anxiety in general.
Since creating my businesses, I have been elected to the local Board of Education where I learned the management of — and challenges in — public education and was able to see where public education is successful and where it needs to change.

From your point of view, how would you rate the results of the US education system?

The United States education system is ranked near 30th overall, 35th in math, 25th in science, globally. Our education system was built at the turn of the century for a shift from an agricultural economy to an industrial one. We were education factory workers. We have not made a significant shift in our model to suit the modern-day world. Other countries have.

The list of changes needed is a long one, and a moving target. Educators, researchers, private and nonprofit organizations are all building exciting new concepts, methodology, and strategies. They are all moving fast individually, but the system is not built to integrate them nearly as fast.

We have all of the right ideas. Unfortunately, they are literally and metaphorically all over the place. Even within the same school district, different schools, even different classrooms, are using entirely different methods, technologies and curricula.

Additionally, the vast difference between our best school systems and our worst — both state-to-state and school-to-school is untenable. We are dividing our population of students into disparate poles of achievement.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging young people in STEM? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

The data is not good. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development conducts its 2018 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) study, “measuring 15-year-olds’ ability to use their reading, mathematics and science knowledge and skills to meet real-life challenges” in just under 70 developed nations. The U.S. ranks 12th in reading fluency, 36th in math, and 18th in science.

While most people believe that a university education allows the American student to “catch up” with the world, the data does not bear it out. Yes, the best universities in the world are in the United States. That does not mean that American universities are the best. Does that make sense? Our top 25 colleges are among the 35 greatest in the world. Unfortunately, our other universities, the average college education, trail as far behind as our K-12 schools. Simply, there is not a single school subject that the U.S. comes close to leading the world in. Having the best schools is not the same as having our schools be the best.

What problems do public schools have with applying new technology?

An interesting trend in education is the shift from paper to interactive modalities. For the past decade it has primarily been an increase in screen-based technology — tablets and laptops. The debate has been whether these new technologies along with the thousands of software products, online curricula, game-based learning tools and the other myriad of new advances in ed-tech have really improved American education. To me, the answer is as it always has been: The tools are only as effective as their implementation.

As an elected member of a public-school Board of Education, I have come to see the real conundrum in infusing new educational technology into public schools. The cycle simply moves too fast. A school discovers a new technology — software, device, system, or other new tools. It takes a school a year to research the new technology, model a use for it, and project its benefit for the students. The second year, if done properly, the district launches a pilot program to prove efficacy. The third year represents the districtwide roll out to the entire pool of students whom the technology is meant to serve. The fourth year is essentially the first stage of true utilization.

This is where private schools and education businesses have an advantage. The decision cycle can move faster and allow for a higher “failure” tolerance. Public school districts are under constant financial scrutiny, especially with most of their funding coming from local — very local — taxes. Risk is not rewarded, only success is. While technology moves lightning fast, a low-risk environment keeps public schools moving slow. This dilemma will continue.

How is the US doing with regard to engaging girls and women in STEM subjects? Can you suggest three ways we can increase this engagement?

The answer is simple: We don’t. Girls are perfectly engaged in STEM subjects in school. In fact, they are more so than the boys. The problem is not in K-12 education, it lies beyond high school.

At most universities, the percentage of women in science and engineering fields is much lower than men, ranging between 25–35%, when comprising 50% of university enrollment. Once out of college, the numbers become downright abysmal. The workplace in the same STEM fields average around 10% females. The reasons are varied and complex — unfair pay, uncomfortable male-dominated company cultures, and a slower upward mobility for women. Only a few years ago Google reported that 21% of its technological employees were female.

K-12 schools are doing fine. Girls excel in math, enjoy science, and are just as drawn to technology and engineering as boys. The problem comes later. What we need to do is engage them in university and encourage them to continue pursuing the field and treating them like all the male employees when it comes to salary, culture and promotions.

As an education professional, where do you stand in the debate whether there should be a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) or on STEAM (STEM plus the arts like humanities, language arts, dance, drama, music, visual arts, design and new media)? Can you explain why you feel the way you do?

STEM needs to shift to a bigger conversation about STEAM, including Arts in the mix. With screens becoming such a large component of current K-12 education, our students’ world has become much more 2-dimensional. New interactive software, gaming tools, sleek devices all seem like the obvious evolution of teaching.

I believe schools need to be intentional about shifting back into the 3-dimensional world. Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math all have very tactile attributes. All of these areas of work and study begin on paper or screen, but do not stay that way in the real world. Artists, engineers, architects build and create physical elements of our world. Scientists work in laboratories, in jungles, in hospitals. STEAM subjects need to lead the drive in a shift back to hands on teaching. In the early grades, tactile teaching is ubiquitous — counting objects, building with blocks, cutting paper shapes. That changes quickly through elementary school.

STEAM is a misnomer in a way. The four areas are not exclusive of one another. Math is integral to science, technology, engineering, and even art. Scientific research is dependent on new technology. The interconnection is complex and can pull in dozens of directions.

Schools need spaces to create, build and destroy. Teachers need to design programs and lessons that require students to use their hands to learn about the world. As a scientist for over a decade, I did two things — read and experiment. Experimenting was always in the three dimensions. Test tubes, wood beams, robot motors, 3-D printers, dirt, clay, paint, cameras — these are the tools to truly teach STEAM.

This shift has a simple solution. Build it, and they will come. Schools need to build spaces for imagination and creation. These are the two central elements of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. Create the space, and America’s devoted teachers find new ways to teach STEAM.

If you had the power to influence or change the entire US educational infrastructure what five things would you implement to improve and reform our education system? Can you please share a story or example for each?

How to improve the entire education system is a gigantic question with a million small answers. The one component that I believe can have the most impact at the lowest cost is educational space design.

Today’s schools are modeled on the single room schoolhouse of 200 years ago. All we have done is multiply the same school “house” into dozens of similar rooms inside school buildings. Students, while in school, exist in confined “boxes” nested within one another. The student sits at a desk — box. The desk is in a four-walled classroom — box. The room is in a drab building — box. These boxes are not only physical. Each room has a single purpose — the math classroom, the science classroom, and so on.

These kids live in a vibrant, fluid, interconnected world. Yet, we educate them in droll, confined spaces. This generation will never work in a cubicle. Millennials destroyed those for all of us, thankfully. Now the common workspace is open, bright colored, interchangeable, and dynamic. Visit IBM’s Watson offices in New York City. All of their employees work on interchangeable furniture, in a space without walls, flooded with natural light and color. If Big Blue, the most stoic company of the last 60 years (culture, not products) has made the shift, then schools absolutely must.

The changes can be as extreme as brand new buildings or simply changing the color on the walls. Educational space expert, Dr. Robert Dillon, travels the country teaching schools how to modernize their physical space. The key word in his advice to every school is intentionality. Have a purpose for every inch of your school.

A parent told me recently that they always know how experienced a teacher is by the amount of stuff they have in their classroom. This truly made me sad. Forget building a new school. Start by having every teacher remove every single item from their classroom; then require they give a specific purpose for any item they want to bring back in. Dr. Dillon challenges teachers to ask their students, “what new items have I put on the walls of our class?” Then remove every item the students believed was new because those artifacts had become invisible.

Classrooms need to be the most intentionally designed real estate in the U.S. Teachers and administrators need to rethink every inch. Space needs to inspire, invigorate and even guide. We don’t need educational spaces defined by subject; we need spaces defined by students’ needs and by the goal of the endeavor. Spaces to find quiet, spaces to collaborate, spaces to create, and spaces to listen. The needs and goals are varied and ever evolving. So should be the space.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Education is the silver bullet. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense.

Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter and playwright

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