Castilleja School is a private independent girl’s school located in Palo Alto, California. It is set on a beautiful campus and we arrived during the summer program so whilst there wasn’t anyone in classes, there was a warm welcoming and genuine feel about the place. The high achieving school offers its students the best in all aspects of student life. They describe their school as being “Intellectual Utopia”.

After a quick tour of the campus we were fortunate to visit the Bourn Idea Lab and speaking with its Director, Angi Chau. This quickly became the highlight of my trip. The Bourne Idea Lab is the schools maker space and there was so much to take from this visit.


Angi is an engineer/teacher who decided on a career change and is an amazingly passionate, inspiring and most humble teacher you would ever meet. Having someone like that at the helm, you can see why teachers want to work with her.

From the physical workspace, the lab is a colourful, vibrant and engaging. Words don’t do it justice so here is a video walk through with Angi.

What you won’t see is class sets of 3D printers, just a space with access to every type of tool and resource a student needs to be creative. From paper, to electronics, robotics, wood and metal machinery, 3d Printer and laser cutter, to a sewing machine…. It looked like such an inviting space and careful planning helped create a space that felt welcoming and engaging for the girls at Castilleja.

Angi talked about a ‘Resident Tinkerer’ contributing to the success of the program. They had managed to find local engineers that could assist with some projects or throw their expertise in refining a class activity. An example we heard was the science teacher who wanted the students to learn about microscopes. This was a 6 period project however the ‘tinkerer’ created a kit that allowed students to build a microscope and play with focal lengths and allow this to fit into one period.

The Bourne Idea Lab would be an amazing place to spend some time when students are in action.

Ideas and Innovation

What a week! And it still isn’t over. My mind has been filled and expanded with the many different (but strikingly similar) educational philosophies and ideas of the schools we’ve visited, particularly with the way each of them have implemented their maker spaces and places of ideas and innovation. This tour is slowly brining me to the belief that these spaces are going to become critical in preparing students for the careers and jobs that don’t yet exist.

Given that even Google believes strongly enough in developing a maker/tinkerer culture, and given that they’ve dedicated resources to build their own, it speaks volume about the potential power of these spaces.


It’s been great to see and compare the size and scale of a maker space like the Menlo School Whitaker Lab, right through to the early stages of the Urban X lab (which we didn’t even get to see in the making!)

Comparing all of the labs to the Google Garage maker space also adds further interest. While we couldn’t take photos in Google’s lab, I actually loved the intensive and frenetic nature and pace of Google’s space; things everywhere, computers in various stages of function, projects being worked on, whiteboards with ideas scrawled over them, materials strewn throughout the lab. For me, this would be a great space to work in – I like to be organised, but when I’m in the middle of working through ideas I am all over the place. Obviously not everyone’s style!



If I could head back home and implement one lab we’ve seen, verbatim, it would have to be the Castilleja School’s Bourne Idea Lab. Firstly – that name! It elicits intrigue and suspense. The lab was named after a gentleman that contributed to ‘tinkering’ in the school and volunteered in supporting their early programs, but has since passed away. I can’t help but think of an action-filled Ludlum storyline.

Their Lab Director is a wonderfully excited young woman named Angi Chau. Angi has qualifications in electrical engineering, and a real passion for education and developing a maker/tinkerer culture. This is infectious. Good staffing seems like the first place to start!

While Castilleja strives to excel in all areas (educating the whole student), they’ve made what seems like a conscious and concerted effort to implement STEM. Compared to some of the other places we’ve visited, Castilleja seems to be approaching STEM and developing a maker/project-based culture carefully and are working well given what seems like limitations of budget, time, space and recent technological change/risk of change fatigue  across the school. I like this. You can’t roll out a maker space and just expect it to work.

The use of space, and tailoring the program well to their girls was stand-out.




I LOVED that Castilleja still has a strong Arts/Humanities program. How important is that! I also fell in love with the idea of embedding wellness and citizenship (and dropping the word DIGITAL from citizenship). Coming to mind when they mentioned that is the analogy Sir Ken Robinson uses around electricity. To loosely paraphrase, for perhaps our grandparents, electricity was an amazing, transformative technology, but for our parents, they grew up with electricity just being normal. For many of us, the Internet is an amazing and transformative technology, but for the next generation it’s just normal. Hence, citizenship should be all encompassing, holistic, and taught as such.

Finally, the involvement, contact from and surveying of their Alumni to improve outcomes, particularly as they relate to tech, was great. I jotted down the story of the alum who said laptops have been banned at NYU lecturers. The research around handwriting and the use of pen and paper is prevalent, and while I believe digital skills are important it is refreshing and equally important to consider a balanced approach in anything we do in our schools.

Now… how can I get one of these sleep pods installed in my office…