Mindset of an Innovative Classroom

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As a school administrator nothing invigorates me more than walking into a classroom and seeing true innovation and collaboration happening. The culture of engagement with content, students, teachers, and technology is so exciting.  In Barnegat, where I currently serve as Superintendent we tackled innovation step by step.

Two years ago I attended a technology conference where I was impressed by robots, STEM projects and programs and students who were above par in every way. The issue in my district was a serious lack of funding and a mindset deficit. This meant that many people did not feel that students could be creative or that we (students and staff) could problem solve collaboratively.  I knew that had to change.

We set out to see Glenn Robbins (https://goo.gl/F941N2) in his former district where there was a full-fledged maker lab filled with Little Bits and Makey Makeys. I brought teachers and members of my Board of Education on that visit. What we received was more than an introduction into innovation.  It was inspiration that “we could do this” and a desire to implement a maker education program in Barnegat.

Mindset Matters

We know that without a commitment to improve, it will never happen. This goes for anything and everything. This is when you are improving your diet and fitness routine to organizing files at home to teaching a great lesson. The Barnegat team was committed to innovation, but in a very particular way.

Our interest was in the Stanford University School of Design. Their belief on innovation was slightly different than other versions of the design process.  

This graphic denotes the beliefs of the Institute of Design at Stanford.  Our favorite part was step one – Empathize. As a school team, we knew that creating empathy amongst our youngest learners was essential.  This was important not only because we felt that having empathy could produce innovations that could assist people in need but it also fed the cultural need we have in Barnegat to support each other. Our community is comprised of hard-working families. The need to lend and hand and receive assistance on occasion is very real to many in our district.  We wanted Empathy to be the cornerstone of our innovation, collaboration, and culture.


pastedImage0As a district team, I also felt it was important for the administration to learn from digital pioneers so we conducted two book studies.  One was Digital Leadership by Eric Sheninger (http://ericsheninger.com/) and the other was Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros (https://georgecouros.ca/blog/).  After the administrative team began to understand what digital leadership was, how technology and innovation were impacting schools in astounding ways, I did a “maker” activity with them.  Here is a link to the Emaze presentation from our administrative meeting.  https://app.emaze.com/@AFTWQOTR/are-you-a-maker#1. This was when things got REALLY exciting!  Some administrators remarked it was the best “meeting” they had ever been to.  When we discussed skills used in creating their maker project (which was a hands-free cell phone holder that could shoot video) they named things like problem-solving, collaboration, the ability to keep trying to make their holder work, planning, execution and listening to and honoring the ideas and thoughts of others. Here are some pictures from the day we did a maker activity together.

The Maker movement was happening in my district and we were excited about it!

Soon thereafter a maker space committee was formed. Teachers, administrators and board members observed other programs.  We evaluated each program and considered our options for implementation.

Budget was a challenge for us as we could not afford Makey Makeys, Little bits, or Ozbots. Our program began in the elementary schools in our district where each class had the opportunity to utilize the maker lab once a week.  Teachers collaborated, created lessons, and delivered innovative lessons that extended the learning from classroom to creative, encouraging innovation and teamwork along the way.

With any program to be relevant and effective, it must be analyzed and evaluated. This year, as we examined our program, the following assessments were made:

  • We were able to purchase small technology devices (such as Ozbots at limited cost using teacher supply money)
  • Our very youngest students (kindergarten, first  and second grade) could use a different approach than older elementary students
  • More time was necessary for some lessons because students got very involved in the design process
  • We noticed of all students, gifted or high level students seemed to struggle more than others. Our maker space teachers believe the open guidelines and student led discovery and collaboration may be different than how some of our students learned. This freedom was challenging for them.

Taking all these items (and others into consideration) we will make adjustments for next year to provide the most authentic learning experience possible and stay true to the core beliefs that were established at the inception of the program.

I have been lucky enough to present the maker education program at a New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association workshop.  For my presentation, click here: Maker Space Program – Karen Wood).

The opportunities and ideas are endless in Maker Education.  I think we are all “makers” in a sense and that creativity and innovation should be supported in our schools. In addition, the design loop graphic shared in this post is a great map for what we have been through.  We are not done yet with this program and we are now in the process of adjusting to meet the needs of all learners. We “prototyped” our program and even “tested” it.  Since we feel the need to modify the program, it is time to try another iteration.
One of the most exciting parts of maker education are the conversations you will hear as you listen to children create, brainstorm, speculate, guess, plan, and build.  It is incredibly rewarding and gratifying. I love hearing critical thinking and problem solving come to life in this vibrant classroom opportunity. We may still have improvements to make, but we will do it “bit by bit” until we get it right.

~Karen Wood



Author: karenwoodedu

Karen Wood is the Superintendent of Schools in Barnegat, NJ. With twenty-three years in education, Ms. Wood's career has been spent primarily in administration. She enjoys mentoring novice administrators and being connected to inspirational educators and leaders across the country.

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