Tag Archives: episcopal academy

A New Adventure in Innovation

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Last night I had the opportunity to speak on an alumni panel to answer questions and offer advice to a group of education students who are graduating from Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College next month. Sitting in front of them, I appreciated the chance to pause and think about my own educational and professional journey since I graduated.

I have had the privilege to learn and experience so much these past few years! Each year has been different (check out this infographic) and offered its own opportunities for adventure and growth.

As I recounted to the students how I chose my master’s program in International Training and Education because I wanted to go deeper into global education and international work, I realized how much those experiences have shaped me. It was during that program that I started my own consulting business, began managing social media and websites for education clients, first traveled to Africa and then returned to help oversee the use of technology as a tool for collaboration and community building across 30 West African nations. I also started this website and launched a second one for my capstone, offering tools and research to support early childhood educators in “going global” and then taught a graduate class on technology for global learning.

That work informed my next steps in looking for a full-time position back in Philadelphia. I knew I wanted to bring together my passions for using ed tech as a tool for meaningful learning, including a strong focus on global partnerships and collaboration, and working with young children and their teachers to think critically about teaching and learning. I found the perfect mix of those passions in my job as a Lower School Technology Coordinator at Episcopal Academy.

At Episcopal, I have had the opportunity to do such exciting work with a group of amazing and dedicated faculty. They were willing to take risks over and over again, as I suggested new project ideas and ways of infusing technology into the curriculum. This work has included everything from partnering each Pre-K to 2nd grade class with a global partner in another country, to trying Google Glass in the classroom, to connecting with park rangers, paleontologists, and app developers via Skype. Faculty opened up their classrooms so I could observe their expert ways of working with students, the warm, Responsive Classroom approaches they used to build community, and the unique perspectives they bring to each area of content (and related tech integration) they teach. I had the chance to design a coding curriculum and implement a digital citizenship curriculum with their students and help create the I.D.E.A. Studio, an amazing space for Pre-K to 5th grade students to practice design thinking, work as tinkerers and makers, and use their imaginations to invent and create!

With the support of the school, I was able to further my knowledge of design thinking, making and tinkering, instructional coaching, and ed tech by attending professional development experiences like Constructing Modern Knowledge, FUSE, Google Edu Think Tanks, and the Teaching, Learning and Coaching Institute. I had the chance to present at NAIS, SXSWedu, and a variety of other conferences and also design and facilitate #EAInnovates each summer (sign-up for July 2016!).

I have grown so much through these experiences. I have become a better presenter, designer, coach, facilitator, teacher, maker, and lifelong learner. In reflecting on all of these experiences, I also know that I have so much more that I want to learn, as well as work that I want to do to make schooling and students’ educational experiences the rich, relevant, engaging, global, student-centered ones that I want for all children.

Throughout these years, my PLN has supported me and pushed me to keep growing. I want to thank all of the educators, designers, makers, and innovators across the globe who have shared resources, encouraged me to take risks and try new things, helped me lean into the challenges, and been amazing sources of inspiration! This network of friends and colleagues are the spark behind my current innovation project that I hope to release in alpha form soon.

And now, I am excited to announce that I will be starting a new adventure in innovation in the coming school year! I will be moving into a new position at the Agnes Irwin School as the Director of Middle and Upper School STEAM Innovation. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to grow in new ways and challenge myself to work with older students, in a new school context. I am looking forward to diving into new projects and collaborating on the new Innovation Team there, partnering with two other Directors of Innovation (Lower School and MS/US Humanities) next year as we work with faculty as catalysts, coaches, and collaborators.

If you’re someone who has stepped into one of these new innovation roles I would love to hear what advice you have for starting a new adventure like this!  

 

Let’s Let All Educators Learn by Experience

learning to paint

Last week, I had the unique opportunity to take an impromptu painting class as part of a professional development program I’m involved in at my school. The interesting part was that learning to paint wasn’t the ultimate goal. Instead, our focus was on the experience.

  • What does it feel like to be a novice and learner and, for many of us, in a foreign context?
  • How does learning by doing differ from sitting in a classroom and being told how to learn or what to do?
  • What does painting show us about the importance of each individual learner’s perspective?

These were just a few of the questions that began to emerge as the evening progressed. All us in the class worked to paint a still life after receiving nothing more than a brief 15 minute instructional tutorial.

I thought about other experiential learning experiences I’ve had, whether they’ve involved learning to program an Arduino or making jewelry, they have all been powerful. What makes these experiences so meaningful? Do my students experience the same benefits?

There seem to be some core components that help make experiential learning both memorable and a natural entry point into deep learning:

  • Opportunities to learn with/from peers –> community of learners
  • Appreciation for individuality and varying skills –> self-awareness
  • Being receptive to feedback and critique –> growth
  • Diving in with minimal training or prep –> learn as you go
  • Setting your own learning goals –> empowerment
  • Ownership of the work –> intrinsic motivation
  • Freedom to take risks –> creative innovation

How can we find ways to integrate these components into everyday classroom learning? I’ve found that two new educational movements or approaches facilitate this work very well: the Maker Movement and Design Thinking.

The first is sweeping the nation, as shown in part by Obama’s announcement this week to host a Maker Faire at the White House this year! Making as a mindset for learning involves encouraging students to create products and be completely immersed in inventing and tinkering as they follow their passions. There are more and less scaffolded approaches to making and many schools are struggling right now with how to assess and structure making but in my Maker Club, I’ve seen students thrive. Students that might feel hesitant talking in class are suddenly giving me detailed explanations about the projects they’ve built and taking on new roles as collaborators and designers. They’re excited to learn and enthusiastic about taking risks and developing new skills.

The second approach, Design Thinking, involves challenging students to respond to prompts like “How might we …” to solve real-world problems. By exploring, researching, empathizing, prototyping, seeking feedback, improving, and creating a final product, students engage in deep learning experiences. Whether they are trying to solve global water issues or prototype a new and better snowplow, students are experiencing many of the components I listed above while also learning valuable skills they can use for life.

I’m still learning daily about both the maker movement and design thinking and ways to integrate them meaningfully in schools. And although I’m also still reflecting on the answers to the questions that first came to mind during our painting class, I’m also wondering how we can infuse more of these experiences into our lives as educators?

My biggest takeaway from our painting class was:

It’s extremely important to engage in learning experiences where you are inspired and motivated to wonder, particularly in settings where you are asked to take risks, learn from the perspectives of your peers, and think critically about your pedagogy.

I think that in addition to seeking ways to integrate more experiential learning opportunities for students, we need to be asking how to create and offer more of them for teachers too. Take a look at our experience when we were asked to learn by painting (captured with Google Glass!):