Innovation stations at Coal Creek Canyon K-8: CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR STUDENT EXPLORATION AND CREATIVITY
Research Behind the Idea
Curiosity or a strong desire to know and learn is something teachers and schools want to foster in students, but sometimes gets lost. Looking at the school day as a series of separate non-connected classes or instructional minutes can make it hard for students to build connections and foster creativity to combine principles from multiple subjects. Teachers and schools across the world are looking for ways to elevate the importance of passion, creativity, and curiosity. One idea, Genius Hour looks at embedding curiosity and creativity into school.
Genius Hour as defined by Denise Krebs and Gallit Zvi, authors of The Genius Hour Guidebook: Fostering Passion, Wonder, and Inquiry in the Classroom is “an inquiry-driven, passion-based classroom strategy designed to excite and engage students through the unrestrained joy of learning. We (and many other Genius Hour teachers) accomplish this by setting aside time in our weekly classroom schedules when students are able to learn about and create whatever they want, unencumbered by teacher control.”
Shifting to this model especially in a secondary classroom can seem overwhelming. There are lists of standards that must be covered. How does a teacher fit one more thing in? But if we know giving students opportunities to create and be curious are essential to creating learners ready for 21st century, how can we ignore it? One school has dipped their toe into Genius Hour using their early release time to create cross-curricular, multi-age, student choice opportunities for an entire school.
Idea Behind the Day
At Coal Creek Canyon K-8, leaders decided to create a new series of opportunities for students. Throughout the school year, they have scheduled a series of events for students called Innovation Stations. During early release days, a block of time is set aside to allow teachers and community members to lead opportunities for students outside the traditional core subjects. These opportunities can be passion projects for teachers, opportunities to learn side by side with students, ideas that students generated, or service projects for the school. Innovations stations provide opportunities to connect to the Jeffco Generations Skills in a unique way. These stations connect multiple skills to life. Most stations give students the chance to tackle real world problems, professions, or skills that single subjects are unable to do.
Each station is designed for multiple grade levels, giving students the opportunity to build leadership and tutoring skills with younger students. Some stations are geared K-2, others may be 4-8, and even others may be K-8. Future iterations may include K-8 opportunities in most stations, allowing for even more partnering and peer tutoring from intermediate and middle school students with primary grades. On the most recent innovation stations, November 2nd , students have a vast array of opportunities to explore for a 90 minutes learning block.
What the Day Looks Like
Before November 2nd, all students choose an innovation station to sign up for. Stations are advertised on a wall with descriptions and grade ranges. Students sign up with their teachers for their preferred choice. On the date, students are guided to the location of their learning opportunity. Early learners, kindergartners and first graders are provided with name tags to ensure they get the additional support they may need. Each “teacher”, this can be classroom teacher, administrator, parent, or community member gets their group and starts the adventure for they day. Students can be found spread out throughout the entire school campus. In the gym, Sphero tag is being run by the principal, Jen Livingston. Students are learning to drive, code, persevere, critical think, and collaborate. Students are huddled around chromebooks correcting code and cheer when they successfully use block coding. In the Modular Robotics station students are challenged to design a robot using Cubelets. Students are in pairs, but must work collaboratively among groups to each design a robot that can complete the task the students designed. In Cushy Tushy, students are creating a class set of chair covers for the science classroom stools. Students and teachers saw a problem with the science furniture and designed a solution. In the library, a parent from Ball Aerospace gives students the opportunity to learn about the Keppler telescope as it was being decommissioned. Students could ask questions, use models, and discuss the impact Keppler has on current scientific research. These are just a few of the amazing examples of opportunities granted to students on this day of choice learning.
Impact on Kids & Learning
Possible Resources to Learn More
Coal Creek K-8 realizes that early release days can be a challenge instructionally and chose to try something new. Finding opportunities in a school calendar to start genius hour small, creates manageable risks for teachers to try something new. It may grow into a full weekly genius hour or 20% time or a schools own way to address creativity and curiosity during the school day.
Below are additional resources that share more inforamtion about passion projects, genius hour, and 20 percent time.
BY GUEST BLOGGER Christopher Brannon Church
Brannon Church is a technology teacher at Carmody Middle School. He has been a teacher in Jeffco for 19 Years. For the first 18 years, Mr. Church taught 6th Grade and this year has joined the Carmody team as their Robotics Teacher. Here he shares how he is making impacts in student lives through the development of Jeffco Generations. Mr. Church provides some great examples of how students learn with technology and ways teachers can access resources to begin integrating technology that engages students in creative learning opportunities.
I have always felt the need to incorporate technology into my day. I realized early in my career that very few things can improve student engagement like introducing a new tool or program. However, this usually only works if the teacher is as excited to explore new opportunities with their students. Fortunately, opportunities are much easier to come by nowadays because of the availability of chromebooks and free software. 95% of the curriculum we are exploring at our middle school comes from free programs that coexist with student Google logins. The Jeffco Ed Tech team is extremely supportive, and has equipment/resources for teachers to borrow to show their administration how important purposeful play can be in learning.
With all the free resources out there that appeal to the STEAM driven teacher, there is no excuse for not trying to implement computer science into some aspect of their day. Most educational apps use the Google Identity Platform which eliminates the burden of student login problems. I feel that Jeffco is headed in the right direction when it comes to preparing students for a successful future.
Demonstrating how to use Makey Makey & Scratch:
An Exit Ticket Using Makey Makey. Students were given the opportunity to create a project using Makey Makey and Scratch. I wanted them to see that they are limited only by their imagination. One on my administrators came to me looking for ways to make exit tickets more engaging and relevant. With student input, we created our interactive exit ticket using Makey Makey and Scratch. It was a huge success, and students immediately tried to jump on the “aluminum foil switch” idea for their own projects.
Jeffco Generations Skills:
These are examples of using technology as a tool to develop Self Direction and Personal Responsibility as well as Communication skills from Jeffco Generations. As an initial activity with Makey Makey, students were to research their favorite childhood song, find the sheet music, create a piano in Scratch, and use the controller from Makey Makey to recreate their song. The most amazing part of this activity is that students completed this project with very little guidance. Students relied on each other to figure out how to fix bugs in their program to make their music selection work.
How do I get access? - I am extremely fortunate to have 1:1 chromebooks in all of my Robotics classes, and nowadays there are hundreds of reputable websites that are available at no cost. Many of the hands on materials that I rely on have come from my own pocket, or were funded through the Donors Choose website. Any student can learn to code!
Funding is out there - After borrowing Makey Makey kits from Jeffco Ed Tech I decided that I had to have a set for my class to take our scratch lessons to the next level. Believe it or not, it was fairly simple to acquire the funds needed for a Makey Makey kit. Donors Choose and Google’s CS First are practically giving away money to teachers that complete a few simple activities with their class.
Skill Application Across Content Areas:
One of the favorite parts of my job is giving students an opportunity to show off what they have learned in Robotics/Coding and using those skills in other content areas. An example this year is a 6th grader who decided to retell the entire story of Maniac Magee using Scratch by taking her character on a journey through the story. It was amazing! This clearly demonstrates proficiency in computer science as well as a deep meaningful comprehension of a novel in literacy.
Below are just a few activities where application of the following Jeffco Generations Skills were imperative to complete the activity. As students completed these activities, they developed these Jeffco Generations Skills:
Sphero Bridge Build: Students were to demonstrate Critical and Creative Thinking along with Communication skills as they used the Engineer Design Process to research, design and build a bridge with drinking straws. Bridges needed to support the weight of a Sphero and span over 50 centimeters.
Friday Fly Day: During this activity, students were to research ramp design and create their own ramp to support the weight and acceleration of Sphero. This activity supports Collaboration and Leading by Influence.
Sphero Battle Tanks (captured with a 360 Camera): Students demonstrate Agility and Adaptability during their Sphero Battle Bots competition. Students used the Engineer Design Process to create “tanks” for their Spheros.
Merge Opportunities: During our introduction to 3D design, students were able to use Merge Cubes and AR/VR Goggles to check their 3D Prints. Instead of wasting printer filament, we are able to upload our designs to Object Loader and see if there are any flaws to our design. Students demonstrate Self Direction and Personal Responsibility as they create their own designs using Tinkercad, view their design in Augmented Reality, and print a clean final project.
In conclusion, I would urge all educators who are interested in integrating tech into the classroom to join Twitter. I have found so many creative educators on Twitter that share an endless number of incredible projects or ideas. Feel free to follow me @MrChurch (shameless plug) and make some connections with teachers all over the world that are passionate about integrating technology into their classrooms.