Wednesday, October 8, 2014

R2 Innovates

     Did you ever have something you really wanted to see happen in your building or district but didn't know if it was feasible, and you didn't know how to overcome the financial or space or staffing issues?  My district has a way of addressing it through a program called R2 Innovates.  If you follow me on twitter ( @Mrs_K_Dawson) you may have seen my tweets last week while I was in our training sessions.  Our district has partnered with a group called NoTosh that walks us through this process.

     My idea, of course, revolved around an elementary maker space.  After speaking to my Principal and Lead Teacher I was allowed to apply for the innovates group, and was accepted last Spring. I created a team with my now teaching partner Mrs. Parker, and a third grade STEM teacher Mrs. Fink. Last week Mrs. Fink and I went to a training that lasted 2 days for her, and 3 for me.

     I wasn't sure what was going to happen over those 3 days except I was supposed to walk out with a plan.  From my perspective my largest obstacles are needing a space that doesn't get taken away for a classroom next year, it has to be managed by classroom teachers having each class maintain the space, and it has to encourage others to use the PBL/STEM model that many of us early adopters use.  We want to make it a place that afterschool groups use as well.

     On the first day we had to begin with the dreaded Mission Statement. Each team is wanting to achieve a different goal, so Mrs. Fink and I were working together.  It took us AT LEAST 10 drafts to get a "sort of" approved Mission Statement.  We were getting frustrated, because describing our end goal involved a lot of buzz words, and I don't want this to be something trendy but something that really impacts our students both in and out of our STEM magnet. I will need to revisit this with our expanded team next week.

     Next up we had to think about the student that we were targeting.  In all fairness. I won't be targeting just boys, but we had to choose.  I think boys wiggle the most in a traditional classroom, and PBL and STEM work well to meet their more kinesthetic needs. Now having said that, our girls are just as curious as our boys and we need to find the ways to keep them engaged with investigating ideas.

     Our space also should meet the needs of teachers who aren't using PBL or STEM in their classroom.  Our hope is to give teachers not trying these strategies more opportunities to see how a challenge might be incorporated into existing curriculum.  We don't want to take time away from curriculum preparation, but problem solving IS part of what we are doing.

     We went and toured a nearby elementary school that was not one in which I teach.  Our purpose was to sort of ask questions and gather data about what sort of need in our community there might be for this sort of space.  Mrs. Fink and I asked students in 4th and 5th grade, if they could do any sorts of projects or study anything what would it be.  At first the students were very typical in their responses - "I like foldables, I like studying Native Americans, " etc.  When we pressed them to let go and really tell us what they thought, not what they thought we wanted to hear we got an earful.  The students were asking for programming and robotics and individual experiments. Some wanted to sew, and others really liked electricity last year, and a few still wanted to research their own topic (think Genius Hour).  This reinforced what we believe going into this.  Our children are growing up in a high tech world and learning in a paper and pencil school. We believe that we need to put these projects in front of the students so they can be prepared to see things differently and come up with new ideas.

     When we returned to our training we looked at assets in the building, and how we could begin to consolidate and move things together.  We categorized ideas into high and low impact on one axis and high and low do-ability on the other.  Our goal now is to expand our team next week on our inservice day, present to them, and begin to tackle some of the doable things on our list.  We will also prepare our pitches for December to try to get a separate space and find community partners to help us accomplish this goal.

     I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to do this sort of planning because in the end it benefits our students.

    I'm looking forward to watching our space grow over the next few weeks.

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