MVIFI Designs Innovative Programs and Practices

Operating at the Intersection of Research and Practice

Everyone who works at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School is also an agent of MVIFI. We are committed to inquiry, innovation, and impact.

Operationally, the MVIFI nucleus team consists of six faculty and administrators who are practicing educators and curious researchers working within MVPS. In collaboration with the leadership teams and teachers at the School, the MVIFI nucleus team designs dynamic and innovative programming that brings to life extraordinary research in the field of learning and education, while also contributing back to the knowledge base of developing practices.

To move deeper in understanding, the nucleus team focuses efforts on a couple of specific programs. During the 2015-16 academic year, the team is concentrating on 1) Innovation Diploma and 2) Maker, Design and Engineering.

Additionally, MVIFI works to support and amplify the R&D of educational practices infused around Mount Vernon. So, we also strive to deepen and share the extraordinary work of our faculty and staff. Specifically here, we showcase some of the exciting projects of practice we are exploring and innovating.

Innovation Diploma

An Innovation Hub

Innovation Diploma is not a course. We’re a start-up. We are a school within a school. We are School 3.0.

As a joint program between the School and MVIFI, iDiploma students engage with leaders in various industries, to create value through intensive ventures, and to build capacity as young innovators. Rather than merely preparing students for the future, iDiploma empowers young leaders to inspire, innovate, and implement high-impact work now.

Students who earn an iDiploma observe, question, empathize, experiment, and lead as they craft and implement innovations that enhance their local, national, and global communities.

Learn More about iDiploma

Maker, Design and Engineering

Building Agency

Mount Vernon has been a "maker school" for years, largely through our commitment to design thinking. In 2015, though, we embarked on a journey to widen and deepen our work in making, designing and engineering. We believe that everyone is a maker. And while we are developing two phenomenal maker spaces, we are most excited about building a maker community.

Learn More about Maker, Design and Engineering

Highlighted Research-Practice Projects

Working at our unique intersection as an R&D lab


Learning Walks and Instructional Rounds

Mount Vernon practices learning walks and instructional rounds as means to build community, innovate and develop professionally. In fact, we are innovating the very methods themselves through a process we call "pedagography" - mapping our learning ecosystem. Read more about our work on our rounds page.


Badging and Microcredentialing

Mount Vernon pioneers work in assessment, including research and prototyping with badging and microcredentialing. Our Middle School team is currently experimenting with professional-learning badges for faculty, and MVIFI issues badges for skill development in educators, as well as in our Innovation Diploma program. Read more about our work on our badges page.

Project Portfolio

Explore A Sampling of What We're Working On

Visual Design Thinking

Visual Design thinking is a way for us to lean into images as a means to prototype over words on post-its or even physical prototypes. It often requires no more than pen and paper and prototypes can be created very quickly which means more ideas and failing faster which ultimately leads to more creative solutions.

Computer Voting Booths for Third Grade

Fourth graders designed, programmed and built computer voting booths to help run the third grade elections.

Kinders Design an iPad Stand

The innovative nature of Kindergarteners is on display as they create an iPad stand to help them make stop motion movies.

Prototyping Colored Shadow Boxes

Third graders build a circuitry project that utilizes the additive properties of colored light to produce amazing visual images with shadows.

Design Brief: Peachtree Station

A Design Brief, provided to us by Jeff Garrison from S.J. Collins Enterprises, has a group of iDiploma members concepting site plans for an outdoor community space that will be part of a larger high-end retail complex anchored by Whole Foods. The development, which sits on 11 acres, has the potential to change the landscape and the community of a nearby town.

Venture Sparked from Observational Journaling

Through observational journaling and empathy interviews, a group of iDiploma members stumbled on their own design challenge they are determined to solve: How might we make sustainability part of our DNA?

Design Thinking Summit 2012

MVIFI's inaugural design thinking conference, launched in March 2012, featured "I.C.E. Talks" and a design challenge focused on outdoor learning spaces.


In 2013, MVIFI reimagined the DT12 Summit and created the fuse brand. The event extended to two days, and Leadership + Design (Greg Bamford) became a partner. The design challenge centered on redesigning the first week of school.


For fuse14, MVIFI ran two tracks - a DT101 and a DT201 track. In the DT101 challenge, participants tackled "student-centered learning" as a topic. In DT201, assembled teams advanced a challenge or opportunity facing them at their own school. The DEEPdt Playbook launched, and MVIFI began offering badges via Credly.


In 2015, MVIFI embarked on its most ambitious trajectory for fuse (yet!) - to serve Atlanta by partnering with nonprofits to make a difference for our city. We collaborated with nine nonprofits in the GCN network, and conference participants learned design thinking while doing something awesome for others.

Transformational Design and Leadership

Eleven of our iDiploma cohort members are embarking on an adVenture, where the facilitators are helping them identify strengths, build team and build capacity in our Maker tools.

Flatpack Furniture Design

Inspired by the open community of makers at OpenDesk.cc and intrigued by the possibility of what we might make with our own CNC, Technology, Engineering and Design students are exploring flatpack furniture designs.

Ladder Golf Sets for the PE Department

A request for some backyard games becomes a great opportunity for learning and collaboration with some new tools.

Finalized Colored Shadow Box Prototypes

The third week of a grade-wide project finds third graders completing the construction of the colored shadow box prototypes begun by the previous two classes.

Looking Closely at Cardboard Automata

Before building our own automata, we needed to look closely at some examples first.

Building Cardboard Automata

Hands-on and minds-on learning rule the day as the automata begin being built.

Can Legos Be Used for Automata?

After building various automata with cardboard, students asked a natural next question: What else can we use?


i471 Founders Campus Innovation Design Challenge

In 2012, Mount Vernon’s teachers participated in a meaningful professional learning experience, specifically going deep into the design thinking process. The focus was on reimagining the learning spaces on the Founders Campus.


Cardboard Challenge 2013

On Oct. 4, 2013, students from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Lower School had another opportunity to participate in the Cardboard Challenge (2nd year). For #cardboardchallenge 2013, students were challenged to imagine and create the metropolises of the world!

Bus Stop Challenge

In 2012, first graders at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School engaged in a design thinking challenge about public transportation and the bus stops in Sandy Springs.

Enable 3D-printed Prosthetic Hand

During the 2014-15 academic year, students in the Technology, Engineering and Design (TED) course at MVPS partnered with eNable to create a 3D-printed, prosthetic hand for a teenage boy named Alex Linkous.


Candy Wrapper Raincoat for Zambia

One of the earliest design challenges conducted at Mount Vernon partnered the School with a sister school in Zambia. After a number of virtual interviews, student designers crafted a rain coat from candy wrappers as a prototyped solution for Zambian children during the rainy season.

Shiny Toys Preschool Challenge

Led by Liz Aull, and with admin support from Kelly Kelly, MVPS two-year olds embarked on a challenge that required them to empathize with the toddlers in the Early Learning Center. Through guided observation and prototyping, the Preschool children designed "shiny toys" for the "MV babies."

Middle School Learning Spaces

The MVPS Middle School is pioneering some work related to flexible and interactive learning spaces. In fact, the MSAB functions as a learning lab for some exciting experimenting around learning environments and school furniture.

Green Works Challenge

Sixth grade students, with guidance from Mary Beth Strubble, Mary Cantwell, and other teachers, crafted green houses and planters out of reclaimed and up-cycled products.

HMW be more globally competitive?

At the inaugural Council on Innovation event in 2013, a cadre of student designers took on the challenge of "How might we be more globally competitive?"

Personalized Plaques

Students design a way to communicate an aspect of themselves to others using a plaque with a customized vinyl sticker.

HMW improve communications at NAES?

In the spring of 2015, a chief engineer from the North American Energy Services Corporation (NAES) enlisted the services of Innovation Diploma to conduct a "consultivation" (consulting for innovation) focused on "How might we improve communications across the 10 engineers working across the country in different systems and time zones?"

Making More Ladder Golf Sets for #MVPSchool PE

Another class picks up the MVPS PE Dept work request for ladder golf sets.

Artisan, Tinkerer, Hacker

A group of iDiploma students are wrapping up their first year in the program with three rounds of building in our Hive space. Each round is intentionally designed so that students will learn and use the tools available to them, which will help them build their confidence as a maker. Additionally, the elements they are building are intended to hack the current culture and will serve as concrete examples of how building ideas and products visibly and tangibly can bring people together, convey new information or create a sense of community.

Frontier Challenge – 4th Grade

In the spring of 2016, 4th graders used observational and ethnographic discovery techniques to hypothesize about enhancements to the Preschool and Lower School outdoor learning-and-play space on Founders Campus called The Frontier. The 4th grade teacher team set the conditions to begin this design challenge knowing that it would require several cycles of work, probably extending over a couple of years.


At fuse16, we partnered with four Atlanta nonprofits connected through Plywood People - Love Beyond Walls, Paint Love, Wilderness Works, and Refuge Coffee. Our nonprofit partners left fuse16 with viable prototypes for opportunities ahead of them, and our design-thinking participant learners left with strong experimentation about how to spread such community-connected work to their schools and organizations.

Building a Culture of Innovation

Each year, we gather a new cohort of learners who have committed to build habits of mind, practice and skills of innovators. It is critically important that we onboard our new innovators with the language and case studies around what it means to innovate and to also help them realize they can grow their innovator muscles through both practice and tapping into their strengths. This three week module invites students to discover and begin practicing the key innovator skills: observe, question, experiment, network and associate. Through play, facilitated discussions using protocols, sketching exercises and small expeditions, we help set the pace for the skills we will work to build over the next four years.

Assistive Technology Rounds

Foundational Rounds are agency building projects meant to introduce students to new tools, materials, and habits of making.

Design Brief: AT&T Foundry

A group of four students were given a design brief from AT&T Foundry that had them gathering user-based insights on the ideal way to surface video content to customers. Through multiple modes of empathy and discovery work, the team distilled insights and discovered patterns that helped them ultimately create a mid-rez prototype for their client. The team pitched their prototype to ten members of AT&T and the Foundry and were met with high praise: "This is better than a lot of the $100k market research projects I've seen come in." The AT&T Foundry team is currently taking the prototype to their design teams to build it out even further.

Design Brief: Reducing Traffic

A team of iDiploma students are committed to reducing traffic in the City of Sandy Springs, a design brief that originated from the Mayor's office. Mayor Rusty Paul, along with the Sandy Springs City Council, has been working on the traffic problem in the city, and these students have now been given the opportunity to be part of the solution. Currently, a team of students are leading conversations with members of the community including Sandy Springs Neighborhood Associations, Mount Vernon parents and students, and Georgia Commute Options. The student team is currently conducting traffic and carpool experiments at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School to decrease traffic in the school community by 10%. Their goal is to use MVPS as a small area case study group, develop traffic recommendations for schools in the Sandy Springs area and the city as a whole.


At fuse17, we partnered with three Atlanta nonprofits connected through Plywood People - Love Beyond Walls, Beds4Kids and Georgia Farmers Market Association. Our nonprofit partners left fuse17 with viable prototypes for opportunities ahead of them, and our design-thinking participant learners left with strong experimentation about how to spread such community-connected work to their schools and organizations.


Upper School Design Sprint Inspired by Voiceless Documentary

When Love Beyond Walls, an Atlanta non-profit, approached Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (MVIFI) and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School about the premier of their new documentary, Voiceless, an authentic opportunity for students to experience another lap in design thinking emerged.  

MDE: Power of Play Edition

Technology, Engineering, and Design (TED) course topics change each semester. Fall 2017 was lighthearted with a them of the Power of Play based on Steven Johnson's idea the PLAY is the actual mother of invention.


Kindergarten DT on Common Space

The Kindergarten team (Michele Guttery, Meghan Fedor, Addy DeVore, Lindsey Whitehead, Christine Keleman, and Sarah Wright) recently recognized a need in their common space, and brought their students on a DT journey. This is their story.