Well, we have just completed four weeks of school already…wow four weeks. Time flies when you are working hard. The start of a new school year creates the great chance to try new things, do things differently than in previous years, and really make the year one to remember. I am very excited about the potential of this school year not only for me to continue to improve professionally as a technology coordinator, but also because of the awesome possibilities and potential for our school to get better and grow as a whole.
Flashback to the middle of last school year, I had the rather big and crazy idea of bringing a makerspace to my school. My original plan was for the makerspace to be in our media center and it to become an area that students could not only tinker and explore but also learn content in new and engaging ways. As an outside the box thinker and risk taker, I believed a new learning space was something our students deserved and I planned to be relentless in finding a way to make it happen. I boldly proposed my idea to my principal and admin team during a meeting in March, although I truly felt the idea would be shot down for two reasons. The first reason is our school rarely does anything outside of the box and the second reason was my media specialist who at the time was not too thrilled about the idea of a makerspace in the media center and didn’t want any part of it. However, to my surprise, my principal thanked me for boldly deciding to change the way we’ve always done things at Creekland and he wanted me to bring a makerspace to our students. He loved my passion and enthusiasm about this new learning space for our students and even coined our new space to be named the Creekland Collaboratory. I was shocked that my semi-random, pie in the sky idea received backing from my principal. Following that meeting, a few other events happened including getting a new, supportive media specialist as well as my principal giving me classroom space to use for the makerspace instead. With those two items in place, I now had the official green light to make this vision of a new learning space for all students a reality.
I honestly had no clue on what to do next, where to start, and was a bit terrified. How should the room look? What items should I include? Will my principal like it? Will the kids like it? Will teachers want to use it? Tons of questions and doubtful thoughts tumbled through my mind all summer. Those questions and thoughts continued even as I returned to school with the teachers in August. I put the collaboratory on the back burner as other pressing beginning of the school year items needed to be handled including teacher technology PD, gradebook set up, device resets, and other technology related prep work necessary for the school year. When I finally came up for air after the first two and a half weeks of school, I realized I hadn’t really done anything with our collaboratory. My new media specialist asked how the set up for the collaboratory was coming along, and I responded, “uh, it will be going soon.” I knew I needed to get my butt into gear and make this thing happen. I worked for three days straight asking for input from my new media specialist as well as tossing ideas around in my own head. I continued to move past feelings of uncreativity and self-doubt and did the work with the intent of making a special space for our students to learn. When I finished, it was one of the few times I was truly 100% proud of what created. The collaboratory fulfilled the ideas of my principal and media specialist as well as my vision and thoughts that both had been doing backflips like Simone Biles in my head since late May.
This past Friday, I was blessed with the opportunity to open the collaboratory to our first classes. I was super nervous about making this over 5-month vision officially become a reality. I worked with one of our very good ELA teachers and came up with the plan of attack for the first learning opportunity in the collaboratory. I created a Poetry Lab for her students who were studying figurative language and poetry earlier during the week. Students would pair up and not only write their poem (of one to two stanzas and include figurative language) but also give a visual representation of the poem’s theme using creative tools of their choosing. To be honest, I was nervous for a variety of really valid reasons. This was my first attempt at creating a lesson for our collaboratory and my first lesson created ever related to 6th grade ELA. Second, I was worried that being out of the classroom for a year would cause me to lose my touch and ability to relate to students and get them excited about the Poetry Lab. Third, the kids would be so used to being robotic and not feel comfortable learning in a new way through creating, using hands-on activities, messing up and trying again. Again, I had to make the conscious decision to get out of my own head and feelings, extend myself past my own comfort levels, and trust things would go well more than doubt that they would.
Astonished, floored, and amazed would be the only three words that could remotely sum up my experience on Friday. I was in awe with all of the students’ excitement, engagement, creativity, and learning. The bubbly laughter, deep thought, and great dialogue that filled the room for all four class periods brought a huge sense of joy to my spirit. I knew without a shadow of a doubt, this learning opportunity was so needed, wanted, and appreciated by our students. I was so floored that students thanked me for letting them learn poetry this way, they wanted to come back, and even one student said it was the best experience he’s ever had in a classroom. I was so humbled by their kind words and honesty, but unbelievably amazed at how great this collaboratory learning experience was for all of the students, their teacher, and even for me.
This collaboratory experience from start to finish has been a microcosm of my experience so far in the edtech world and as a technology coordinator. It was great to learn and be reminded of the following things:
- See a need that is in the best interest of all students and become relentless and bold in your pursuit of making that need no longer exist.
- “Do the work. Don’t worry about the naysayers.”-Michelle Obama
- Meaningful things that help all kids can be hard and don’t always come with fanfare.
- Overcome your lack of confidence and go out on a limb for kids.
- When your intent is pure and for all kids, things always work out.
- Push the envelope, fight doing what is comfortable and find colleagues that are willing to do the same.
- Provide opportunities for students experience success and do new things whenever you are able.
The Creekland Collaboratory grand opening was a huge success!! I’m so amped for day two with 7th grade math classes coming up soon and for all of the students who will get to learn in this environment tailored for them to be successful and engaged in their own unique ways.