Well two days are in the books. I’m tired, but it’s a good tired. We started the week off strong and the wave of energy and enthusiasm continues. We can only hope that the kids and the staff can keep it rolling.
When it comes to writing about our Innovation Week project its one of those rare times when I have an overly abundant number of ideas I could write about. I could tell you about the way the staff of our school have done such an amazing job of inspiring and motivating our students’ learning regardless of the certain mental and physical fatigue all us educators feel in the last week before the holiday. I could tell you about the amazing engagement and excitement coming from our students, the outstanding depth and magnitude of their projects and the way they are pulling together, helping each other out and working as one large and effective learning community. I could also write about how initiatives like Innovation Week, and so many others like it, are the antidote to the status quo and the way forward if we are truly going to help our system break free from the old model of prescribed curriculum and standardized tests. I could write about all of those wonderful topics (and probably will at some time) but in these posts I really just want to give you an idea of how we are making Innovation Week work, and how you might improve on it and run your own in your building.
Managing The Space
When all was said and done we had nearly 260 of our 540 students involved in Innovation Week, which meant we needed half the classrooms as well as the use of some of our more specific work spaces (Gymnasium, Foods Room, Flex Lab). We also needed to ensure we had adequate work spaces for the students who did not take part in the week. Because our staff was so behind the project, they were very flexible with giving up their spaces and sharing the responsibilities of supervising students. We decided to group the students by the theme of their projects and to a limited degree by grade level. We have Building Rooms, Performing Arts Rooms, a Writing Room, a Cooking Room, Tech Rooms, a Display Room, a Sewing/Craft Room, a Research Area, as well as a few other targeted work spaces. Students start their days in this room (following a daily opening assembly) but are not limited to working in these spaces. They are, however, responsible to the supervising teacher in their workspace and keep that teacher informed on where they are choosing to work. There have been some difficulties to overcome including creating a supervising schedule of teachers (we made sure everyone was a part of Innovation Week for at least one day) and creating a gym schedule (to create prep time for teachers and provide physical activity for the students in regular classes) but so far it has seemed to work. I think the keys to making this work in a building are obviously the support and flexibility of the staff, as well as being comfortable with the learning becoming a bit geographically messy.
Optimizing The Impact
It is important to us that the students are getting the most out of this learning experience, so to try to ensure we were having them capture part of their own learning process we purchased everyone of them an Innovation Week Journal. In this journal, students will reflect throughout the day on what went well, what was difficult, and how the learning process evolved throughout the week. Because the supervising teachers in each Innovation Work Space, we are also having the teachers provide constructive feedback and thought provoking questions in the student journals. This gives the teacher coming into the room the next day an idea of what feedback has been given so far and how they can help the students with their projects. On Day 1 we found the reflections to be a little on the light side in some instances, so we provided some writing prompts at the end of the day to better provide direction for our students on what they could be reflecting on.
Opening Assemblies/Community Focus
Each day, we are starting with an assembly to get the ball rolling. We have shared videos on innovation and creativity to inspire our students for the day. We have gone over house keeping issues such as break times, safety and shared use of technology. We have talked about how Innovation Day began, and what the idea behind it was all about. These assemblies have been very useful in our first two days for a couple reasons. One being that this is our first Innovation Week and issues have been popping up throughout the first two days, and this gives us the ability to talk about these issues with all 260 students at once rather than trying to do PA announcements or spreading the word room to room. The other reason is that we have been able to get a bit of a community feel to develop. The students in the assembly are all there for Innovation Week and there seems to be a shared pride in that. When we started the first day, they cheered at being told it was “time to get started”. Today when we asked everyone to think about their fellow Innovation Week participants and share the technology in our building, we noticed a much smoother day when it came to sharing the Laptops, Desktops and iPads.
I haven’t had as much time as I had hoped to get into classrooms and see the projects, speak to the students and teachers and really get a feel for how each persons experience was going. I am going to try to get to more classrooms tomorrow, and document more of the week. When this is done I hope we will have a great deal of video to share as well.
For now, I will leave you with a plea to please disregard any typos, spelling mistakes or poor writing in this post, I am going to go ahead with it without the usual proofreading and re-writing. More will come, hopefully separate reflections from Days 3, 4 and 5 and hopefully with a bit more care and attention. Its 11:30pm and my wonderful experiences of the past two days have worn me ragged. I need sleep.