Evolving Our Makerspace: An EdCorp Designing for Slack

When I got to Fair Haven two years ago, I started our version of a makerspace called The Innovation Lab. In The Innovation Lab, we use design thinking to make for others as we expose kids to computer science, engineering, and the digital arts. Six months after launching the Innovation Lab, I realized I had a problem. As part of engineering, Katie and I let students take apart electronics donated by the community. Students love to take things apart, and while we try to put the electronics back together, we are often unsuccessful. This leaves us with a lot of disassembled junk in the lab that we were just throwing away. I wasn’t cool with that, so The Innovation Lab evolved. We added our Parts to Arts initiative to the Lab: after taking something apart, if students can’t put it back together, they are challenged to upcycle the pieces into art.

This Parts to Arts evolution led to an innovation. We now had a bunch of art in The Innovation Lab that students were just taking home or still throwing out. Students kept commenting that it would be cool to try and sell their art, so I built them a student-run online marketplace called FH Gizmos (this new FH Gizmos is still under construction). School Year to Date, FH Gizmos has made about five hundred dollars. More importantly, students love learning about and through entrepreneurship and so do I!

I say I love it too, not just because of the fun I’m having with the kids and FH Gizmos, but my personal life has taken an exciting entrepreneurial turn as well. When I got to Fair Haven, I met Chris Dudick. Chris is an innovative art teacher who had created an app to make animations with his special needs students that help improve their social skills. I loved the idea, and when Chris wanted to get serious about it, he asked if I would come aboard to help him bring his idea to market. Together we launched SiLAS. SiLAS has been a huge hit. SiLAS has spread word-of-mouth to more than a dozen districts in our area. We recently received a huge Phase I NSF grant to develop SiLAS for the browser and virtual reality. When I’m not working on The Innovation Lab, I’m working on SiLAS.  Through Teched Up Teacher, FH Gizmos, and SiLAS I’ve come to realize the power of teaching students through the lens of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship has taken over my life!

That’s why I was so excited when John and Elyse from Real World Scholars reached out to me with an amazing opportunity. RWS provides funding for K-12 teachers to build student-run Education Corporations in their classrooms to use business as a force for learning. RWS asked if we would like to become an edcorp and receive an inventory grant that we can use to turn FH Gizmos into a real student-run startup.

Absolutely!

Funding in hand, I set out to evolve The Innovation Lab again. I wanted the new FH Gizmos to have an authentic audience and be student driven. I also wanted students to grow the skills that pay the bills. One of the most important skills students need to learn is how to communicate asynchronously effectively. This belief led me to call up one of my edu-heroes, Kristen Swanson. Kristen is one of the original founders of Edcamp and now works for a company called Slack. Slack is my go to for asynchronous communication: SiLAS, my fantasy football league, and even one of my grad classes runs on Slack.

While it turns out, I couldn’t use Slack with my students because they weren’t thirteen yet, Kristen was curious enough to ask why I wanted to use Slack in the classroom. An FH Gizmos elevator pitch later, Kristen loved the idea and offered to have Slack be our first client!

FH Gizmos landed a multi-billion dollar client!

This Monday, we started our Slack Design Challenge. I shared these well wishes from Elyse at RWS as my kids began their new life as an edcorp:

To help us kick off the empathy phase of our design process, Kristen and Kelly sent over this design brief on Monday:

We’ve been making empathy maps all week in an attempt to better understand Slack’s need, but I really want you to know what makes this program we’re building extra special:

Beyond FH Gizmos making real money and having a real customer for their creations, students were most excited about FH Gives (also under construction). RWS not only helped us become a real business, but they also helped us build a real student-run charity. We’re social entrepreneurs! The kids voted to give 25% of FH Gizmos’ profits to the FH Gives foundation where Fair Haven students will decide how to distribute Impact Grants in their community.

I’m going to try and write weekly about the Slack Design Challenge and how we are evolving our makerspace because I hope to inspire other educators and (especially) admins to break down these edusilos we teach kids in and move toward a more real, authentic, and relevant curriculum. The type of teaching going on in most schools was meant to provide workers for the factories during the Industrial Revolution. Now, we will be sending our kids into the businesses of the Technological Revolution. Its times to evolve. I plan on evolving our program further:

The state of New Jersey has mandated new 21st Century Life and Career Ready standards. These fit perfectly into my new vision for our makerspace! A vision for a program that combines a 21st Century Life and Career readiness program with The Innovation Lab that teaches through the lens of social entrepreneurship. I pitched my vision for the program to my awesome superintendent, Sean McNeil and Principal, Amy Romano, and our amazing board of education. Next year, if everything goes according to plan, this new program, Fair Haven Innovates, will see The Innovation Lab slide down to 4th and 5th grade. 6th grade will become a class built around FH Gizmos, a student-run startup where we will tackle tame problems, sell the solutions, and grow an empire. 7th grade will be a class where environmental stewardship and innovative gardening practices meets entrepreneurship and the Internet of Things in a class called FH Grows. 8th grade will become Fair Haven Innovates’ crown jewel: a student-run consulting firm that works with small businesses in our community to find innovative solutions to their wicked, real-life business problems in a class called FH Leads. All the classes – FH Gizmos, FH Grows, and FH Leads – will donate 25% of their profits to our student-run charity FH Gives so we can make a difference in our school and community.

The Fair Haven Innovates program will change the world. Join us!

As a RWS Ambassador, I have nine more funded slots to give away to teachers and students who want to leverage the power of entrepreneurship in the classroom to breakdown edusilos and get relevant. Email me a video of your 60 second elevator pitch. If it’s awesome, you win a slot!

Until next time,

GLHF

Helping Students Pull Back The Curtain To Find Empathy

This year at Sickles, Fair Haven’s elementary school, I started Sickles Studios. Sickles Studios is our student-run news show. I’ve written before about the unbelievable difference a student-run news show can make when we let kids highlight the amazing things their peers, school staff, and community members are doing. There is one major difference I’ve found between an elementary vs. high school news shows: I’m helping my little ones pull back the curtain to help students learn how things work.

When I was teaching high school kids, I was able to send anchors out in their cars to go to get the scoop on a feature. With third graders, it is much harder but every bit as important. Last week, our Friendship Club held a school-wide food drive for our local soup kitchen, Lunch Break. Originally, we were going to do a piece on the success of the food drive, but our awesome principal, Cheryl Cuddihy, teacher, Pam Greenhall, and I thought it was important for students to see how the food got from the school and onto the plate of someone in need. We wanted to take students to Lunch Break, but the logistics just didn’t work out. Instead, we went and filmed the process for the kids to see. Check out the video we made about Lunch Break featuring the made-for-the-limelight Mrs. Rizzo!

By showing our kids what happens when the food leaves our school, we hope to grow empathy in our students. Often, especially at the elementary level, students either don’t understand or are disconnected from the end results of things like food drives and they don’t see the people and the processes involved in the systems they interact with on a daily basis. Another example: our students have recess in a township-owned park. The park is beautiful and well maintained, but how does it get that way? To find out, Sickles Studios booked an interview with Mr. Breckenridge, Parks & Recreation Director for Fair Haven, who talked about the parks, his job, and some of his hobbies. Kids gained a better understanding of the work that went into maintaining the park and the people behind the curtain.

Pulling back the curtain and helping show all the moving pieces that make systems work helps teach empathy. Empathy makes people better and I’m proud to promote it through Sickles Studios. Imagine if students (or anyone, really) thought about the people and the hard work that goes on behind the curtain before they acted. I bet a feature on the custodians who clean up after students in the lunchroom could lead to more students throwing out trash. I bet a feature on where garbage goes when my kids put it at the end of the driveway or into the lunchroom garbage cans could lead to more recycling.

Consider harnessing the power of a student-run news show as a means to improve school culture and help teach empathy.

If you were inspired by Mrs. Rizzo and the work she and the rest of Lunch Break are doing, make a donation! They’re making a difference in our community.

Until Next Time,

GLHF

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