Innovation Engineers

As part of #DBC50Summer journey, I chose to implement at least one thing from each of the first 50 books in the Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc line of professional development books for teachers. When I read the second book, Pure Genius by Don Wettrick, I was blown away by the Innovation Course he taught at the high school level and I wanted to replicate something similar in the middle school I serve. I just wasn’t exactly sure how to make that happen. You can read more about his book in my #DBC50Summer blog post here!

By the time I reached book 35, The Wild Card by Hope and Wade King, I knew I had to create an opportunity for any student to dive into their interests at school, outside of the curriculum they were learning in the classroom. With our tight schedule and limited availability, I was unsure about how I was going to make this implementation work, but I knew that I had to work within the hand I was dealt to still be the wild card! Check out the #DBC50Summer blog post for The Kings’ book here.

Prior to the 2018-19 school year, I “hired” Makerspace Managers to lead the way in our school makerspace. These students filled out an application and Makerspace Mentors, students who had served as previous managers, selected the best from the applicant pool. (Names were hidden on the form responses.) I had also worked in the opportunity for future Makerspace Advisors who had served as managers and mentors, and wanted more responsibility. For the past two years, I had a ton of responses, but in the 18-19 school year, I only had 9 students respond. Each of them appeared to be great candidates, so we selected all nine to join our team. Then… school happened. There was too much going on and the meetings of Makerspace Managers just got lost in the shuffle. What ended up happening was so much cooler than I imagined though!

It’s funny how unintended success can arise from what others might consider to be an epic failure.

Upon seeing that the Makerspace Managers weren’t going to serve in the same capacity as they had in the past, I recalled my implementation plans for Pure Genius and The Wild Card. Talking with the students, I found that their schedules were so packed, they didn’t feel as though they could commit to a year-long once-per-week meeting and they wanted more flexibility.

Thus… Innovation Engineers. This group, which was not a “group” at all, would meet whenever students needed to meet. It could be a small group of students, a partnership, or an individual who wanted to learn more about something they were passionate about. They might stick with I.E. the entire year, or maybe just long enough to complete a project and move on. Some took time off during athletic seasons. Some were there every morning, while others were there every other afternoon. Some stopped by during their lunch, and some popped in during class change to check on their creations. There was a constant flow of students learning about things that they were interested in!  My only requirements…

  1. You must check with me before coming before school or after school to be sure the space is available.
  2. You must have something to show what you’ve done with your time.

It was incredible! In a given week, I’d have a variety of students come by at various times to work on projects. I just opened the space and was the adult in the room. They didn’t need me to do anything but be a listening ear & provider of materials (and in some cases, they didn’t even need that). Here’s some of the projects that came from the Innovation Engineers:

  • A sister duo (6th grader & 8th grader) authored and illustrated a children’s book about fish that blew bubbles of various shapes.
  • Two 8th grade girls wanted to do more about preventing and reporting bullying in our school so they created Safe Haven, a google form created by students for other students to report bullying anonymously. The responses were to go to our principal and school counselor.
  • A 6th grade partnership created an Animation Club. They developed their plan, pitched it to our administration by requesting a formal meeting with a prepared presentation, and successfully held 4 or 5 meetings throughout the spring semester, teaching students how to create animations on iPads, iPhones, and Chromebooks.
  • A 7th grade boy created stop-motion animation videos with Lego bricks.
  • A group of students created YouTube playlists sharing what we have available in the makerspace and how to use it (still working to get these edited and put on the school YouTube channel).
  • A group of students met in the mornings to play chess and discuss the Hamilton musical, learning the words to every song (yes, even the rap in Guns and Ships!!!)
  • A quiet 6th grade girl worked outside of school to create an amazing graphic novel called Wolf Stone!

Check out some of the pictures I was able to grab of students learning more about their own interests or click the links for examples and more information!

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There were many projects that blew me away, but one student in particular worked at least three mornings per week learning a new skill! He spent hours upon hours measuring, cutting, and sewing together fabric for a quilt! His mom’s favorite holiday is Halloween and he wanted to surprise her with a Halloween-themed lap quilt. He worked from October until March proudly showing me when he had another row done each time! He learned the ins-and-outs of our sewing machine in the makerspace. When he realized that our little sewing machine would not be powerful enough to stitch through two layers of fabric and the batting that was placed between it, we were both a bit heartbroken that he likely would not be able to finish it at school. I contacted a community member (my mother) who brought her heavy-duty Husqvarna sewing machine to the school! The student’s teachers allowed him to miss a day of class to work with the seamstress as he finished the quilt! He did every single stitch on his own, learning how to center a quilt and how to finish with the details around the edges! I am so proud of him and can’t wait to see what he does next year! He started knitting at the end of the year and suggested that a friend of his created sketches of clothing design and he’d like to make those designs come to life! It’s going to be so exciting to see what comes next for this amazing young man!

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What I learned through this implementation of Pure Genius and The Wild Card was so much more than I ever dreamed. I knew that the interests of our students are wide and varied, however this experience showed me exactly what our students are capable of when we get out of their way and allow them to dig into their passions!

These students learned so much more than curriculum; they went above and beyond and each student created something they are so proud of! Not a single grade was given. With the exception of the one day with the seamstress, very little was done during the instructional day.

If students are interested and passionate about their learning, they will knock down doors to get in to learn more!

I will definitely be continuing Innovation Engineers in the 2019-2020 school year; it required very little planning on my part & minimal time commitment as I was already at the school for the majority of the time students spent working.

All I did was open the space, gave them ‘supervision’ (as if they needed it, they were engaged and excited the entire time), and got out of their way.

And look what they created! Wow!

Definitely check out the books Pure Genius and The Wild Card and see how you can implement something from each in your own environment!

*It also should be mentioned that every student in our school participated in a Passion Project during their media time with me during this school year, so the opportunity to explore their passions was open to every student. The blog about the Passion Projects will be linked here when it is published!

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