Barbie Bungee Blowout: An Innovative Design Project

Keeping things simple (but crisp), our eighth grade students are meeting the “wonder and wander” time of the year head-on during their Integrated Physics and Chemistry class. Students had to predict the number of connected rubber bands needed to grant a Barbie doll the ability “bungie jump” from our balcony to the base level floor. Barbie had to drop safely, but also to arrive as closely as possible to the ground. One partner dropped the doll while the other measured the minimum distance from the ground.

An iPad recorded this attempt in super slow-motion. Enjoy!

 

Wonder and Wander: A Middle School Story

The time of year has arrived: Spring Break has come and gone; Easter weekend appears as a dream of places far, far away. The struggle for daily focus is very real for teacher and student alike, and so the collective mind of all parties begins to wonder and wander.

Typically, the wandering starts first.

“I can’t believe they are making us work so hard on a Friday.”

“Did my mom pack cheddar bunnies for snack? I love cheddar bunnies.”

“I’m just not sure that my students are ready to move on, yet.”

“Facebook is really calling me right now. It’s so-and-so’s birthday…I’ll just dive in real quick to wish him a happy day.”

For various reasons, our minds are tired and the ability to focus on the present is challenged by the potential for the alternative.

Teachers and students start to separate the lives that they hope to live from the reality and effort that exists in the classroom. Perhaps it’s the warmer weather (at least, in Houston), or the realization that the amount of effort needed to “move the needle” is incredibly daunting. For various reasons, our minds are tired and the ability to focus on the present is challenged by the potential for the alternative. The wandering is natural and should be appreciated for what it is: a need for something different and disruptive to the normal flow.

So, as a challenge to my staff, I encourage them to focus on the wonder that they can harness within their remaining programming. If the average child needs to dive down a rabbit hole, then be that great guide on the side and encourage the journey. Allow other students to travel together. This journey could be in the way of a project, or a designed disruption to the norm. The challenge to the staff is two-fold:

  1. Students gain the opportunity to engage in their curiosity. This in turn create a classroom where learning can remain at the center, not content.
  2. Teachers engage in disruptive, innovative thought. This thought translates into energizing work as they find ways to bring the fun out of what would otherwise be a time doldrums and waiting.

So enjoy these weeks in the gap. Hopefully, you and your teaching teammates can embrace the wonder and wander through some fun, exciting moments in your classes.

Making an Impact #IMMOOCBB

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I (Kirsten) shared this quote with my awesome #IMMOOC blogging buddy (Charlie) and even though it is not from The Innovator’s Mindset, we felt like it directly correlates to our work and mission. Here is our buddy blog experiment sharing the wonderings about leadership, empowerment and impact.

 

Most of my (Charlie) teaching strategies have developed from my time coaching sports. While I began my career in education as both a teacher and coach, I recognized that my gift for working with young people existed on the playing field long before I figured out how to lead a classroom. My love for sports (namely, lacrosse) and my ability to inspire players to give their best effort and elevate their strategic thinking galvanized my career choice years ago, and I haven’t looked back since.

Along the way, I worked with many inspirational student athletes. They found their role models in athletics and built their “game” as inspired copies of their favorite television sports heroes. Names like LeBron James or Tom Brady come to mind as people who motivated my young athletes. These superstars demonstrate leadership within their “field” that elevates others every day.

LeBron’s teammates gain confidence when he is present; they come together to play better as a team. The ball feeds through LeBron at the exact right time to give teammates the best chance to score. Lebron has vision two or three passes beyond the current one, carrying an oil can in one hand and a wrench in the other as he tweaks and tightens the basketball machine.

When Tom Brady walks up to the line of scrimmage and barks out the play, calls an audible, or makes a hand signal towards his receivers, everyone listen.G including his opponents). Tom recognizes something that is about to happen based on the moving pieces in front of him. No one else sees the game like he can, so the other players on the field follow his lead, orchestrating a masterful charge down the field.

While these examples are a bit sensational, the framework for them equals that which is required for classroom leadership: the opportunity for our students to make an impact in their current and future lives depends on the teacher elevating his or her own game within the learning space. We model the way so that others will recognize the value in giving one’s best effort and in setting challenging standards.

My (Kirsten) journey at TEPSA is about to come to a close as I move to a new adventure working with school system leaders in the coming weeks. The thought of what my legacy will be is at the forefront. I’m no LeBron or Tom Brady, but hope there is a legacy of good work that will last in my absence.

I am not the kind of leader that comes in and makes sweeping changes from the start. I told our Executive Director that right from the start. You want major changes, I’m more of a slow and steady kind of girl. The African Proverb says it best: “If you want to go fast, go alone – If you want to go far, go together.” I’m in it for the long haul with the crew on board. Along the way with little changes here and there, conversations, shifts, additions, and deletions you look up and find what was there several years ago has transformed into something new and different (and hopefully better). In reflecting on what builds sustainable change over time, I think it boils down to these qualities. Feel free to add your own in the comments of what we did not include!

Build Something Meaningful

No one wants to sustain a practice that is irrelevant or not adding value to the organization after the originator leaves. To know what is meaningful for staff, students and parents, you must know them! Meaningful work comes from connecting with others and we all know relationships are key. Ensure what you create and implement resonates with the learning community and is something worth keeping over time.

Empower Others

The experiences discovered in our learning spaces should instill self-confidence and a desire to know more. But these two characteristics prove empty without the skills and ability that drive them. That is what empowering others means:. a person who has filled his or her learning toolbelt can tackle any topic and pursue any passion. It’s our job to demonstrate these tools and the innovative uses for them.

Share, share, share

If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.
-Margaret Fuller

Knowledge has no value when kept in secret. As we push for more innovation in our learning spaces, collaborative effort remains the only skeleton key. Knowledge should not be kept as power, it needs to be shared to create powerful learning throughout the organization. Teaching students skills to know and be able to do things independently is so rewarding. Do not forget we need to do that for the adults as well. The #IMMOOC experience is a great model for this! George, Katie and all the other gracious learning collaborators are sharing their time and talents so we can learn with them. It is wonderful to find such a smart and fun group of educators to connect with and stretch my thinking. I look forward to continuing this learning journey even after the experience is over and sharing what I’ve learned to hopefully help others.

Check out the blog developed by my good friend, Kirsten: Leadershift. We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic, please share in the comments. What are you doing to improve others and make a lasting impact?

Leading from our Strengths #IMMOOC

As I complete another chapter in The Innovator’s Mindset, I reflect on the value that is added to our community by utilizing Tom Rath’s Strengthsfinder program. Yesterday, our headmaster took a moment to recognize the obvious impact that the Strengthsfinder program has made on our collaborative mindset and interpersonal understanding in our school. February was a tough month for us programmatically, a stressful one filled with admissions decisions, and a long one as there were a lot of school days between President’s Day and Spring Break. Students, teachers, and administrators were exhausted and stretched thin. The long break was a welcomed gift as we turn the final corner of the school year. Yesterday’s meeting was the first leadership meeting we have had in some time, so it was nice to see the faces of our colleagues, united in the mission to sprint through the finish line. In order to do this effectively, we took a fresh look at our collective strengths and how we plan on using them in the coming weeks.

Making a Positive Impact

As if it is our calling card, our strengths are visible representations of how we can add to solutions-based effort at an institutional level.

We lead with from our strengths while recognizing and addressing those of our colleagues. It is a methodology that creates honesty and validity to our discussions, be they minor or major ones. While we focus on the positive impact each member of this team has with students, we recognize that our strengths, as identified by the Strengthsfinder platform, provide others the skills set that we offer as individuals. As if it is our calling card, our strengths are visible representations of how we can add to solutions-based effort at an institutional level. The strengths of each faculty and staff member are available in a shared document for all to see and reference, and most of our faculty discussions exist in the an environment where our strengths are printed or projected. This intentional component of professional conversation provides clarity regarding “who we are dealing with” in a meeting while giving us researched ways to relate to colleagues.

The initial Strengthsfinder test provides a peek into our best talents and then discusses these way these talents relate to each other. I cannot begin to describe the revelation that comes from learning your “top five” talents (mine are individualization, learner, belief responsibility, and connectedness) and how you fit into your institution. My five talents have provided much clarity in my daily work, and those of my colleagues as revolutionized the way I handle one-on-one meetings.

I highly suggest taking a look at this program for your institution. But be warned: this program opens a LOT of revealing doors. Once the data is out there, someone needs to help the community process that which is learned. Focusing on the positive and how your talents can enhance school culture – that is the endgame.