I'm tired. Very tired. My emotions have been through the wringer the past few days. Day 2 of #cmk17 was amazing. After a busy day hearing the infamous Deborah Meier (@debmeier) speak (#teachercelebrity) and a dinner at a great Brazilian steakhouse, the team came back to the hotel and ended up discussing life, pedagogy, and education issues until almost 1:00 a.m. It was an exhilarating discussion... not only within our team, but with many of the faculty for our event including Gary Stager (@garystager), Sylvia Martinez (@smartinez), and Brian Smith (@briancsmith) - our "gear mentor" who has challenged our assumptions, ideas, and guided us (we grudgingly admit after dealing with the many frustrations his guidance presented) in getting to a completed project. (Also an empathy lesson in regards to our students!)
Then Day 3 started. We worked diligently on our project in the morning while we waited for our first speaker at 11:00 a.m. Things seemed to be moving along smoothly. My emotions started to get the best of me (my emotions are more volatile upon getting less sleep) when we got a chance to listen to Ayah Bdeir (@ayahbdeir) who is the founder and CEO of Little Bits (see video below). Her story was not only engaging and entertaining, but also very relatable, personal, and inspiring to me. Ms. Bdeir shared how her mission is to help children become inventors. She is also inspired to help blur the boundaries between disciplines - her thoughts on careers for the future included robotics veterinarians and artificial organ farmers - doesn't get more cross-disciplinary than that! Crossing disciplines truly challenges children (and all people) to build skills that they don't yet have. I felt true inspiration (tears) as well as excitement (more tears... what can I say, I'm a mom now and that's how my overtired body expresses itself!) when she shared the video below. She also shared some insight into the up and down roller coaster she has been on while founding her company. Many of her insights and feelings mirrored my own as I move forward with The Innovation School. I have lows where I wonder why I'm doing this (it's not easy) and worries about finding students and families to join me on this adventure (which is essential to its success). But as Ms. Bdeir shared, when she was at her lowest point, she would get an uplifting email from a family or educator that couldn't wait to buy her product, and so she would lift her head and move forward. This phenomenon has happened to me SO many times during this process of starting our independent school. Local educators sending me a message of support. A family with 3 young children asking to get on a waiting list. Our own staff continually impressing me with their positive attitudes, resourcefulness, and honest insight during this experience at Constructing Modern Knowledge. And so, as in the journey of Ms. Bdeir, I continue to plod forward with my head held high, with a mission to change my community (hers is the world!) by creating an environment where children can be successful impactors of the world around them.
After hearing Ms. Bdeir, the rest of the workday was up and down. Our project initially sounded very simple and quick. We were brainstorming (daydreaming as Sara Wussow likes to say) about extra bells and whistles we could add before our final presentation. Then, as obstacle after obstacle appeared, we began to wonder if we would even finish by Friday! Day 3 was filled with frustrations, excitement, and even a weary case of the giggles as I (over tiredly) found the idea of whittling amusing after my 5th prototype for a custom 3D printed gear. For me, Day 3 was also filled with insecurity and scrutiny. There are many educators here that are familiar with a LOT of the sweet tech available to us, and here was our team working with simple motors, gears, and LEGOs. Which leads to my last and most important reflection...
The theory of constructivism is that learners construct knowledge for themselves and individually construct meaning as they learn. THEREFORE, we MUST meet students where they are.
After scrutinizing and feeling insecure about our final project, it hit me... WE are working FROM WHERE WE ARE. Two of us had never seen Scratch before or even seen any kind of block coding. None of us had ever used a Hummingbird Duo before (or a Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or a simple breadboard). Gears were something we learned (for a test) when we were younger but never incorporated into something meaningful or useful. None of us had ever used a 3D printer or Tinkercad before. Some of us had never used a Dremel. Does this make our team incompetent? NO. This shows our inexperience, but also showcases our ability to learn new things, show perseverance, and is the definition of what we are trying to create at The Innovation School. Students bring their own knowledge to a situation (project, discussion, experience) and build upon that.
Our project is physically small. But what it might not show is what we have learned through working on it. Let me see if I can list some learning highlights... the concept of refrigeration and air conditioning, RPMs, torque, application of gears, importance of stability of a structure, precision, Hummingbird Duo, 3D printing (including custom LEGO gears), Tinkercad, Snap, Scratch, using a Dremel, and waterproofing. Some things we "knew" but were able to actually apply during this project were understanding how gears work, height/width/depth (3D printing), design, speed, and thermodynamics. That seems like a lot to learn in 3 days. BUT that's not even the whole story. I have also learned some remarkable "intangibles". I have seen our team working together as a true team. I have seen one working not only on the project but to make another team member laugh during frustrating times. I have looked to some team members as a resource when I didn't have the right answers. I have seen us building upon one idea and the next to create something new, inventive, and great. I have seen kindness, empathy, and understanding. I have seen four teammates working hard to work together, embracing differences, dealing with frustrations in a positive manner and celebrating victories in an inclusive way. And I have seen some team members embrace a role as "inventor" that was surprising only to themselves... the impact on our team being so powerful that we can no longer see them as anything but inventors who learn! All these experiences have led us to be proud to have made something out of nothing!
And I have also seen constructivism at its finest. I have met Eric from Baton Rouge, who is an expert at 3D printing but was only just introduced to it 2 years ago (and swears up and down that it's learnable). I have heard from Jaime who was educated as a graphic designer but taught herself coding for web development and is now the technology teacher a K-8 school (and helped her team find a coding solution to a problem after 4 hours of hard play, also known as "work"). And from our own Kelsy Power, who understood and was inspired by a faculty member (Josh @joshburker) who wanted to create a physical way to teach students how to find the surface area of a 3D object using nets. (I immediately only thought of fishing nets... another learning experience for me!)
What conclusion can we draw? First off... Constructing Modern Knowledge is the best "conference" you will attend as an educator searching for answers or strategies for progressive education. Second, when you are tired and frustrated, grab some wood and whittle away. (Oh, wait, that's probably just a "had to be there" kind of experience.) Third (or is it second? it's late and I'm confused), the knowledge you bring into a situation directly impacts the outcome of your learning experience as does the effort you put into it. And lastly (this one I know is on target), the people you surround yourself with (learn from) help you make a true and immediate impact on the world.
Want to "make" a better future by creating makers OF the future? Consider sending your child to The Innovation School. Contact me with any questions. Good night! (Or is it morning?!?!?) :)
The Innovation School team arrived in New Hampshire late last night for the Constructing Modern Knowledge conference in Manchester. This morning, during our introduction, we were informed that this isn't a "conference" or "workshop" but rather a chance to engage ourselves as learners instead of teachers. We were called upon to trust the process for project development and really try to immerse ourselves as learners, rather than consider each aspect of what we are learning and how it should/could be applied in the classroom. Trusting the process is challenging, but even learning the design process of creating project ideas has been inspirational. The amount of "makerspace" items this place has is incredible... 3 rooms full of sewing machines, LED lights, LEGOs, robotics kits, soldering kits, tools, craft supplies, motors, circuit boards, switches, Makey Makeys, Raspberry Pis, cardboard, paper, felt and more... it seems everything you could ask for to work on a project and create something. (Everything except a Peltier Thermoelectric Cooler, which we needed, but hey, it's a project - be adaptable!)
After working on our project for a large part of the day, we were bussed to Boston for an enlightening experience at the MIT Media Lab. First, we were able to listen to Neil Gershenfeld discuss his project to create Fab Labs throughout the world, and his vision to make them as ubiquitous as smartphones in the next 50 years. Neil is credited as the founder of the modern maker movement and was impressive to listen to. No wonder his class at MIT "How To Make (Almost) Anything" is one of the most sought after classes at MIT and continues to expand across disciplines on campus. We also got some insight into a delightful program called Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine that pairs an immense maker lab with craftspeople to help them use technology to further their craft and art. We also heard from two colleagues at MIT, including Skylar Tibbits, who showed us a little of his work in 4D printing... a fascinating process of using a printer to print in a gel-like substance, which eliminates gravity and is done in much shorter time.
The last to speak was the delightfully engaging and obviously brilliant faculty member, Eric Rosenbaum. He was inspired early in his college career with his love for music and computer coding. This brought about the co-creation of the wonderfully useful Makey Makey, seen in the video below. Eric is currently working on staff at MIT developing the latest edition of Scratch 3.0. I would love to have spent more time listening to him, as well as ask him some questions about his time during K-8. What inspired him about his early education? What would he recommend teaching young children today so that they can grow up to be not only accomplished, but creative, possessing ingenuity, and following a passion to look for more ways to impact the world? He had a sense of wonder that shone through when he spoke... a testament to his membership in the Lifelong Kindergarten group. (Also, check out his new experimental extension on ScratchX... pairing Scratch with Spotify. Highly entertaining and educational to boot!)
Wow... it was a terrific day. It's exciting to see where our project will lead us this week, to see what other inspiring educators we will meet, and more importantly, how we will bring our knowledge back to North Dakota to construct an environment and experience for our local children in grades K-5. This world is changing so quickly. We need our children to be competent, adaptable, and ready for the challenge of the design revolution (Industrial Revolution, Technology Revolution... time to move over!). Thinking differently about education gives our children the edge they will need to be confident, successful, and knowledgeable in the modern world. #cmk17
Lately, the exciting events surrounding The Innovation School has filled me with hope and joy. We have signed on three amazing teachers to begin our journey this fall. It was a difficult choice to make considering all the qualified and talented educators that applied and were interviewed, however, these three top applicants are so excited about this endeavor and to have a chance to change the paradigm surrounding education.
Sara Wussow will be leading our youngest class at The Innovation School this fall. Sara believes in the beautiful things children are capable of and is excited bring out the best in each of her students. Sara enjoys spending time with her husband and 2 sons in the outdoors, stretching their bodies and minds while hiking, biking, or climbing. Sara is currently spending her summer in Montana but will return in August to aid in the final touches on the space. Sara has taught at a Reggio-inspired preschool program and has a great handle on designing the classroom as "the third teacher". I am excited to work with Sara for several reasons. I can tell that she values relationships and builds them easily with others. She seems to enjoy collaboration and has many great ideas to share. Sara has an incredible amount of patience and believes in the goodness of children. I am ecstatic she has agreed to join us this fall!
Kaylee Dahl will be leading our middle class. These may include students in grades 1-4, depending on what ages of students apply. Kaylee sees unlimited potential in children and enjoys working with them to bring this potential to the forefront. She enjoys spending time with her new husband, who is teaching her a new skill in the form of weightlifting. Kaylee also likes singing and playing the piano... she spent some time working with local musicians and recording and thoroughly enjoyed it. A few years ago, Kaylee took a full time position at a local church and revolutionized their children's program. Designing and implementing this program allowed her to experience true creative energy and fanned her passion for guiding and leading children as they walk through life. I am delighted to be working with Kaylee. She has an incredibly sensitive heart and excels at listening and observing. She has a strong desire to see a change in education and has been looking for this type of school since graduating with her education degree. I can see how this passion for change, combined with her spark, drive, and love for children will be an amazing combination for this fall!
Kelsy Power will be leading our oldest class at The Innovation School. Kelsy values her relationships with her students above all else and strives to help them develop and build their own relationships. She enjoys traveling and spending time with her friends, family, her dog, and especially her new fiance. She is very active and enjoys being outdoors including biking and hiking. Kelsy has taught at a local private school for 5 years. After departmentalizing subjects, Kelsy was able to teach math to all the students in upper elementary. Working closely with the science teacher (her mom!) she was able to create many cross-learning STEM projects and found a passion for project based and student-led learning. I am thrilled to be working with Kelsy. She has a zest for life and enjoys experiencing new things and sharing new ideas. She sees children as individuals and has a strong desire to help them find their places in the world, which ties perfectly with our mission. Kelsy has a lot of energy and is fun to be around, which will help inspire our oldest students and ignite an excitement for lifetime learning this fall!
It is humbling to have found these beautiful women to embark on this journey with me. Each of them is excited about this venture and are willing to be a part of this "start up" type environment. When I put my work out there on April 25th for everyone to see, it felt like such a scary thing. But I truly felt compelled, so I surged forward. And the educators who have supported me and supported this idea has been overwhelming. Finding these three teachers among the many applications I received has reaffirmed that the "scary thing" is worth it. I feel buoyed up by these women and supported on a whole new level. The excitement of this new independent school continues to build and these three educators give us another level of credibility.
Thank you Sara, Kaylee, and Kelsy. The hard work of this adventure will seem like play with the three of you on board. I can't wait to see what we accomplish together!
"It's incumbent upon schools to introduce children to things they don't yet know they love." - Gary Stager
I have been contemplating my latest blog update for a few days... working through what topics I want to discuss, what topics to avoid, and which points I should make as I continue this new endeavor of opening up an independent school for Bismarck/Mandan. Should I talk about student-driven classrooms? Should I delve into the Reggio Emilia approach? Should I share the short animated film that makes me cry each and every time I watch it? Maybe I should talk about learning by doing and inventing to learn? And then, I was listening to a webinar about FabLabs, constructionism, Seymour Papert, and makerspaces when Gary Stager (an advocate for progressive education) said the quote above, and I was struck with the simplicity of the calling that I am following by opening The Innovation School.
I want to introduce children to things they don't yet know they love.
Isn't that beautiful?
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind since announcing the opening of The Innovation School for this fall 2017. I have been interviewing teachers, holding parent meetings, and working on the construction of the building. I have also held my children as they get ready to wrap up their school year and say goodbye to our school. A school that has been very good to us. A school full of friendships and collaborations that we will all miss. We have cried over leaving and it has taken great trust as I move forward... both trust in myself and this idea and trust from my children that this new adventure will be worth it.
All because I feel called to introduce children to things they don't yet know they love. Not called to introduce them to math and science, teach them to read, take proper notes, pass tests, and spell from memory. Not introduce them to a rigid daily schedule where there is no time for play and community building, simply because the day is too filled with other objectives. Not introduce them to a teacher who loves each and every student but finds it hard to find time to truly build strong relationships with each one because her classroom has 20-30 students. Not introduce them to an environment that values efficiency over effectiveness... a place where teaching is no longer an art, but is a science and follows a strict script.
My heart has been calling to me to dive into this for a few years now, and I could no longer ignore it. Or push it aside and hope for a better year next year. And so I trust it. And I push forward. The best, and most amazing part? Educators get it. They want to see me succeed. They cry when they share with me... about missed opportunities to get to know students better or when they have students who are labeled as "difficult" or "high maintenance" and they know they will be treated differently the next year. They cry when they see students on several medications and deeply feel that if the environment were different, that child would be successful without needing it. They cry when they see kids stressed out about taking tests and there is nothing they can do but keep encouraging them to do the best they can. They cry when they make a mistake and lose their temper with their students. But, like me, they are following a calling. Teachers have hearts of service and they feel called to serve and help others by teaching.
Isn't that beautiful? And so we journey together, through our tears.
The Innovation School strives to be a beacon for change. A place where not only student creativity and autonomy are valued, but so is teacher creativity and autonomy. A place where children can be exposed to things they do not yet know they love. This idea is so important... these children are our future!
At The Innovation School, we value something different. We value students as capable and competent. We value teachers as leaders, artists, and changemakers. And we value following our unique callings as we help children find their unique place in the world.
This video is from a small start up school in South Africa. Lauren Davis and I have been communicating via email regarding our ventures. When I see the success and excitement that surrounds the first year of her school, I am invigorated by this adventure The Innovation School is on. We are not alone in valuing something different. There are innovative schools popping up around the world, not just around our country.
Please consider becoming one of our "founding families" and enroll your children in our school for this fall. The transformation they will undergo will be priceless!
As I have been discussing The Innovation School in the community these past 3 weeks, I have created a new mantra... "Value Something Different". To enable change and create culture and mind shifts, we have to be willing to value something different. In education, should the value be on data, test scores, and rigid curriculum guides? Or can we step back and value our students as capable of driving their learning? Can we value our teachers as experts in creating a learning environment for our children?
At The Innovation School, we work hard to value something different. To us, "Human Resources" is not about resources for humans... instead it's humans AS resources. Our students are resources for our teachers to delve into and learn about. Our teachers are resources with hearts of service, who strive to help students grow day in and day out and who are competent, creative beings capable of leading our students on their learning continuum. Our parents and families are resources that can contribute to our community of learning in a variety of ways. We value humans as resources.
I have been overwhelmed by the support and excitement from educators in our community. Teachers are eager to create curriculum, eager to work in a more flexible environment, and eager to have more time to connect with individual students in a deeper way. This gives me great hope that the paradigm shift needed in education is headed in the right direction.