Monday, May 28, 2018

Innovation Exists Here - 4 Examples

Warning: this is a lengthy blog post. I could have broken it up, but I think it would do a disservice to the overall theme of the thought, which came to me as I slept and was scribbled on a used envelope during the night so I wouldn't forget.

I looked up the word innovation to ensure I was using it correctly. said it was the introduction of something new, or a new method, idea, or device. I think my four examples fit quite well.

1) Grade 5 Science Inquiry with Ms. Daley's Class

While other school districts are closing for the summer, we have a month of school left and we still have so much to do! Ms. Daley, our Grade 5-6 teacher, booked some partner time with me for May and June. We chatted and planned and decided that we'd incorporate some green screen technology use into what we'd do together. After realizing how very little time we had left, we chose to keep the green screen work but refocus on a science topic instead of the language arts one we originally planned. The Grade 6s are studying space and the 5s have properties of and changes in states of matter. Since there were two of us educators, we also felt like it would be effective if we uncovered some of the content separately by grade. This is what led me to the staff room kitchen, and to some odd kitchen science experiments.

We talked about the connections between changing states of matter and food. Students came up with plenty of examples. Our first challenge was to make popsicles. Easy, right? Well, not when you have to design the mold for it. How would the teams ensure that the liquid that turns into a solid adheres to the holder/stick but not to the container? How would the stick stay upright in the liquid? I loved that each group designed a different solution. One group used binder clips; one group used aluminum foil; one made Ts out of their sticks to balance on the cup lid and another used plastic wrap with an ice cube tray. There was some great innovating thinking happening!

Some groups finished early so we had a bonus challenge that went completely awry but in good ways. We were simply going to melt chocolate chips so we could examine the difference between it in its solid and liquid states. However, I burned the chocolate. We had to take the smoky mess outside. Fact - the students still ate it. Surprising fact - some of them said the scorched monstrosity tasted good!

Burnt chocolate!

We'll post our theories about why the chocolate burned instead of melted on their Google Classroom.

2) The Silver Birch Quiz Bowl and new Buzzer System

On Thursday, May 24, we held our annual Silver Birch Quiz Bowl event at C.D. Farqharson Junior Public School. What made this event extra innovative this year was the work of one of the wonderful parents from Percy Williams Junior Public School. 

Our Quiz Bowl is so popular now that the original commercial buzzer system we had was insufficient. It was impossible for all the schools to compete directly against each other so in the past we'd have to split up and that meant teams only had the chance to answer 5 instead of all 10 questions. This amazing parent attended past Quiz Bowls and decided to address the issue by building a buzzer system that would work for large numbers. 

Sara making introductory remarks - note the buzzer and banner!

The contraption is a structural wonder. The parent designed it so that the first to buzz in locks out all the rest, but unlike other versions, if the person guessing gives the wrong answer, you can continue to allow the others to buzz in and the system prevents the mistaken competitor from trying again. (We used to have a small issue with "sorry, you can't try to answer that question twice".) The students were nervous about the new buzzers and during the Q&A before the match, asked many variations of "What if I push it and my buzzer doesn't work?" but it worked perfectly.

Congratulations to Percy Williams Junior Public School for winning both the fiction and non-fiction competition (the fiction runner-up was C. D. Farqharson Jr. P.S. and the non-fiction runner-up was Berner Trail Jr. P.S.). Big thanks go to all the teachers who prepared the questions for the Quiz Bowl and Kathy Kacer, our visiting author.

3) The #tdsbEd Twitter chat at the TDSB Excellence Awards

The TDSB Excellence Awards were held that same afternoon (May 24, 2018) at TDSB headquarters. I was allowed to attend because I nominated one of the winners. Thankfully, the board was flexible and forward-thinking enough to consider (and choose) a "virtual entity" - the #tdsbEd Twitter chat. The two flesh-and-blood founders of the #tdsbEd Twitter chat, Arianna Lambert and Larissa Aradj, received the award and I was the lucky individual to give the speech that introduced them. I was limited to a few minutes, and I used the opportunity to share some of the words of praise from a letter we weren't able to use as part of our submission (from Peter Singh, the Executive Officer for Information Technology Services at TDSB). The nomination package from Lynn Strangway (a superintendent), Chris Sands (a secondary teacher), and me (an elementary teacher-librarian) demonstrates the impact that this innovative idea has had - uniting educators of all stripes, from different areas of the board and different sectors. Congratulations again Larissa and Arianna!

Larissa, Arianna, and Diana after the award ceremony

All the 2018 TDSB Excellence Award winners with the chair & director

4) Red Maple Marketing Campaign Ideas

According to my notes, the former NE4 area of TDSB (now a combination of Learning Centres, mostly in the east) first started holding our Red Maple Marketing Campaign in 2012. Every year for the past six years, I'm always impressed with the quality of the campaign ideas presented. I'm doubly impressed considering I have first hand knowledge of how quickly some of these campaigns are pulled together. I put a thread on Twitter highlighting each of the ten campaigns.

I know that at my own school, I can tell how passionate the students are for STEAM because of what and how the student teams compiled their artefacts and strategies (and I also heard how they stayed late and started early in their classroom teachers' rooms putting things together - so thank you to the uber-supportive Farah Wadia and Dean Roberts!). My principal was equally amazed at what the students had created, so much so that he asked that we put some of their items on display in the school for the month of June. (The students did a draw for the 100 paper cranes and Ms Dixon, the teacher-librarian at Emily Carr P.S. won but kindly let us delay presenting her with the prize.)

Katana, Peace Monument, and paper cranes
Plan from Agnes Macphail PS for promoting this book

Fake blood made Summer's End spooky!

All the TLs, teachers, TPL staff involved with Allan Stratton, author

Our judges were also impressed with our young entrepreneurs. These are actual advertising executives from Manifest Communications Inc. and they took their job examining the projects seriously. Holly and Sarah took copious notes and actually asked if they could have time to type up the feedback forms before giving them to the teams. Below is their overall feedback to all the groups (as well as the announcement of the winning campaigns).

So what inspires innovation, and helps it grow? I'm sure some answers can be found in the book The Innovator's Minset by George Couros, but I haven't read that yet. And I'll be honest - I'm exhausted right now and so the analyzing portion of this blog post is going to have to wait. I just want to thank all the people who made these enjoyable events possible.

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