The Expert in the Room

One of the student-run businesses in my Fair Haven Innovates program is FH Grows. FH Grows is where my 7th graders learn to be entrepreneurs and stewards of the environment while leveraging technology and the Internet of Things to help our gardens grow. We sell our produce online and in our student-run farmers market. When we’re not working in the gardens, we are trying to solve the food problems of our future. At FH Grows, our customers know when they buy from us, they grow learning. But they aren’t just growing student learning. I’m learning right alongside my kids because when it comes to running a school garden, I am not the expert in the room.

In total, I manage 96 relationships as part of my Fair Haven Innovates program. By far, FH Grows has the most valuable relationships because I’m no gardening expert. I’ve had a garden since I’ve owned a house, but, as I’ve been learning, I only know a fraction of the tips and tricks that go into running a successful garden. Luckily, I’ve gathered a stable of experts who are willing to help me run the best school garden I can.

When it comes to gardening dos, don’ts, and what’s wrong with these plants?!, We direct our questions to the wonderful master gardeners of the Rutgers University cooperative extension. This Co-op connected us with a host of master gardeners, all within 15 minutes of our school. Our master gardeners have all been so gracious in teaching us what goes into creating a successful, year round garden. While these master gardeners aren’t classroom teachers, with their knowledge, we’ve been able to solve our school garden problems such as figuring out how, when, and what to plant knowing that they (students) aren’t in school during the peak growing season. With their help the kids and I have figured out how we can get three “grows” out of our garden while school is in session and have they otherwise helped us navigate the unique problems a school garden presents.

After our produce is harvested, we bring some of it to market. I own an edtech business and help run another, but selling produce is a world apart from working in edtech. Enter Molly Gearty, a certified horticulturist, and her wonderful crew at our town’s local nursery Sickles Market. They have been amazing in helping us learn the ins and outs of selling plants for profit. With her support, FH Grows just broke $100 in sales and landed our local pizza place, Umbertos, as our first client. Umbertos orders from us weekly, and is only using FH Grows herbs in all their dishes! They’ve even asked us to name their new pizza creation that uses all of our school-grown ingredients. Without understanding how to prep, package, and care for our plants set to be sold, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are starting to become.

Chef Steve and FH Grows having a tasting.

You can still learn a lot from running a school garden even once you’ve picked your produce, so I don’t want the learning to stop after we harvest. While I’ve mentioned we sell some of what we grow online and in our farmer’s market, FH Grows goes further. I want students to learn everything they can about food as it takes the farm to table journey. Again, I’m no expert in these fields, so I “hired” Chef Steve to cook with students at least once a month. Chef Steve works for Maschio’s Food Services, which is the company that provides our school lunches. I found out about this cool perk that Maschio’s offers from the wonderful people at the state Department of Agriculture who run the NJ Farm to School initiative and have been so, so helpful. With Chef Steve and the rest of his crew, students are being exposed to potential careers in health and food services and learning about nutrition, wellness, and all the other lessons the farm to table journey can teach us.

The examples I’ve listed above are just a fraction of the ways the experts I’ve sourced support my Fair Haven Innovates program. The reality is, FH Grows and a lot of the other amazing experiences my students get to learn from wouldn’t be possible without these experts because I’m not an expert in everything. I’m open with students about my level of expertise. I tell my kids how far I can take them, and then tell them when we’re gonna have to learn together from someone else. Modeling what lifelong learning looks like for students and teaching them how to find the human capital they will need to support them when they need help in life is as important as teaching them how to find good information. As teachers, we don’t always have to be the expert in the room, but we should try to fill our classroom with experts. If we open up the classroom and invite these specialists in, not only will we do better for our kids, we ourselves will grow too.

Until next time,

 

GLHF

 

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