Friday, January 8, 2016

STEAMing into Innovation!

Wow! It is the first week back to school for the 2016 school year, I am so excited! I have to admit that, "I just cant hide and I'm about to lose control and I think I like it!" The Pointer Sisters said it best. Today was the big  reveal of a surprise for our Curtis students. Students toured, for the very first time, the brand new Innovation Lab! This room would not be possible without the generous donation from the Curtis PTA. We are blessed with the most amazing group of parents and volunteers at Curtis. Like the staff, they are focused on what is best for kids. We are very thankful for the WISD Maintenance Department.  They worked hard to complete the painting of this room over the holiday break.    
Under Construction!

Rick Montgomery crafting words on the walls!

  I came up with the idea about five weeks ago. Many people are following the one word challenge,  #oneword,  on Twitter. My one word is #listen.  Five weeks ago I did just that - I listened. There was a student in my office that was struggling with making good decisions. I listened to him explain what was going on with him and asked what he loved most at Curtis.  After he responded, I realized that due to his academic struggles, he is not able to do the one thing he loves most which is going to the Maker's Space. This student is pulled in several directions throughout the day and works on an online tutorial after school. Because of this he has no free time to go the Maker's Space or attend the Maker's Club. In several discussions, Librarian, Kim Scoggin, has also been thinking of ways for students to access the Maker's Space more frequently.  In conversations with Kristie O'Keefe, Creative (Art) instructor,  she expressed the many challenges surrounding this class. Often times students are not able to engage in great experiences because of time. Nearly 40 students are in the room working on a creative art activity. Managing students in this environment and engaging them in creative opportunities in 45 minutes is challenging.   Teachers have been frustrated with not having enough time to access online tutorials and programs, and they have to use instructional time to ensure students are able to utilize the computer lab. The  schedule is usually booked, and classrooms are unable to visit the lab. 

After reflecting on these three situations, I brainstormed viable solutions. How can we provide the best education for our students at Curtis Elementary?  I thought about the work I do with principals all over Texas with the Texas Principal's Visioning Institute.  I have been learning how to change - no transform, education. How do we transform Curtis? We do school differently! 

In our quest to do school differently at Curtis, we encourage creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. One of the ways we do this is through the Maker's Space - which only a few kids occasionally access. Following the lead of our students, I am continuing to learn. As the Lead Learner, my Maker's Challenge to myself was to create a space where every student explores their passion in a risk-free environment. After planning with my team at Curtis, we created an Innovation class modeled from the great work of Don Wettrick that runs an Innovation class in Noblesville, Indiana. 

Amy Wallace
With the creative designs of Amy Wallace, we helped to transform a typical classroom in our building into a bright, interactive lab that immediately sparks excitement. Amy worked tirelessly over the last two weeks, managing projects and re-purposing old furniture into a collaborative, inviting learning space. Some of the highlights of this room include a 4 x 8 Lego wall, a giant Lite-Brite, rolling art tables and magnetic surfaces along with dry erase tables. There is also a textile center where students can sew and crochet among other things. One wall of this room will be utilized as a green screen so that students have a space to create videos. 

From the top-left: Marie Hernandez, Kim Scoggin, Lindsay Fuller
From the bottom-left: Abbi Blackburn, Kristie O'Keefe, Amy Wallace, Lori Bratcher

Scoggin teamed with Abbi Blackburn to plan engaging projects. Abbi Blackburn, Kim Scoggin, Lindsay Fuller, and Kristie O'Keeffe, have coordinated to integrate connected activities during collaboration. Shawna Ford, Future Ready Coordinator for WISD consulted with our team to help guide them with ideas and plan how to use this space.

Students will attend the Innovation class during their collaboration schedule each week. They will focus on STEAM activities that enable them to make connections and solve problems without the constraints of traditional instruction and fear of failure. Students will be able tap into their innovative and creative talents. 

Abbi Blackburn introducing the Innovation Lab to students. 

During the unveiling, students entered the Innovation Lab with excitement and curiosity.  They were blown away with the opportunity to innovate and create.  One students' words were, " Most schools do not allow students to choose the way they learn like Curtis.  Kids will be able to be creative in this place." Students were eager to look around and think about all the possibilities for how they can express themselves and pursue their passions.

As the lead learner of Curtis Elementary, my goal is to ignite passion in learning through not only my students but also staff. I believe that this new opportunity will provide a time and space that empowers innovation and continues our educational transformation along this journey as we transform Curtis Elementary
Let the STEAMwork begin!

Sunday, January 3, 2016


It is a new year and as they say, "Out with the old and in with the new!"  Many of us ring in the new year with resolutions for how we will change and improve our lives in the coming year.  Along with many others this year, I will not make a resolution. I will join many others with the hashtag #oneword that is sweeping the twitter community.  My one word is #listen.

Inspired by my friend, Matt Arend, a principal from Plano ISD, I will also turn my focus to one word. His is #moment.  Matt's eloquently describes how important it is to take in each moment in his recent blog post.  I could not have picked a better one word to inspire a new year.  Stopping to enjoy the moment sounds so easy, but it can be very difficult to do.  It is all of the little moments in life that add up to make our lives richer and better.

I will turn my focus this year on my one word - #listen.  If I were to have a resolution, this would or should be mine.  I sometimes get it such a big hurry to get things accomplished that I do not always stop to listen - really listen to others.

Listening to others is not always actively hanging on every word.  Truly listening is not only listening with your ears, but your eyes.  Listening to what a student is really saying with his/her body language when he/she is not completing work in class is one example.  A look or body language sometimes says much more than words can express. Maybe the student is having a rough time at home because his parents are constantly fighting.   Maybe the student is not getting enough to eat at home.  Maybe the student is grieving or suffering from depression.  It is easy to rush through a conversation with a student and just tell the student to do his/her work.  Really listening may provide insight to really help solve the problem.

  I hope to really listen to everything someone says not only with their words, but their actions and expressions.  The work we do in schools reaches far beyond filling minds with knowledge.  We are connected with each person we interact with every day.  We are connected with students, colleagues, parents and family members.  Being an effective leader involves the keen senses to notice and understand someone's perspective no matter what that person is actually saying or how loud the person  may be saying it.

My focus at work (school) or at home is to sit back to really listen.  I will challenge myself to listen to students, teachers, parents, and my family.  I want to be the kind of person that is always an open ear to hear someone's cheers and celebrations as well as a sounding board for fresh ideas.  I want to the person that can be the filter or cushion for venting frustrations.

I just want to really listen.