Saturday, May 21, 2016

Design and Innovation for Teachers and Students

Ms. Duck and Lauren
Ms. Allmann and Mrs. Halbrook
North Springs Elementary (NSE) is proud to say that we have had three collaborative teams successfully participate in the R2 Innovation Incubator.  Ms. Rosemary Duck (cafeteria manager), Ms. Nichole Allmann (TLC), and Mrs. Suzie Halbrook (Kindergarten TA), went through the process early on with the idea of starting a show called Culinary One on One.  This was inspired by a student named Lauren who asked Ms. Duck one day if she would teach her how to make a breakfast burrito. From there, the idea has grown into a school club that allows 15-20 students per year to take culinary classes with Ms. Duck.

Mrs. Parker and Ms. Hunt
Dr. H, Ms. Coates, Mrs. Turnbach
This year, NSE had two teams apply for the R2 Innovates process.  Mrs. Kimberly Parker, Ms. Whitney Hunt, and Dr. Sally Catoe applied as the SLC3 Team which focused on developing a curriculum centered around sustainable energy and the dream of having a sustainable cottage at NSE.  Ms. Coates, Mrs. Turnbach, Mr. Orlando Ratliff, and I embarked on the process with the idea of bridging the gap between elementary and career.  The name of our team was Collaboration by Design which centers around collaborating with middle schools, high schools, Richland Two's Institute for Innovation, and businesses to expose our students to their future.

This cohort of educators used the IDEO process for design called Human Centered Design.  The process required teams to be very reflective and collaborative throughout the process.  The process required us to come up with a number of iterations and prototypes for our final product.  I can attest to the fact that the Collaboration by Design idea changed drastically as we went through the process.  This whole idea of design was a head "scratcher" for us.  We needed the R2 Innovator Incubator to help us find ourselves.

"Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving and the backbone of our work at It's a process that starts with the people you're designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs." ( 

As you may already know, IDEO is a global design company that designs products and ideas for companies around the world.  As educators, we need to learn how to use this process to design units of study, lessons, projects, and activities that we ask our students to complete.  The process really requires teams to think about who they are designing or doing the work for and what the needs of that person or group of people might be.  We need to teach students how to use this process when completing assignments, projects, presentations, etc...  By being able to apply this process to the work they do, students will be better prepared for the work force in the future.   

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why Magnet Schools Work?

Magnet schools generally attract a wide-range of students based on their interest in a school theme. As a result, magnet schools typically have a diverse body of students from various socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Specific benefits of magnet schools include: improved academic achievement, diverse student enrollments, reduced discipline problems, increased cultural competence of students, increased student attendance rates, higher graduation rates, greater teacher satisfaction and reduced teacher turn-over, innovative curricula, specialized teaching staff, and increased parent engagement and satisfaction. Magnet schools boast more parental and community involvement, more personalization through theme-based education, and specialized programs that create a shared sense of community that leads to a safer environment for learning. Teachers are licensed in the areas they teach, and are “highly specialized” through specific theme-based training and professional development (Magnet Schools of America). 

The Science Technology Engineering and Math School at North Springs Elementary School (STEMS) was designed to attract students from around the district who have an interest in learning through science, technology, engineering, and or math.  Our teachers design units of study related to engineering.  The themes are incorporated into science, ELA, math, and social studies lessons and are often tied to projects that are inspired by the students.  Our magnet parents are very supportive and benefit the entire school through their participation in PTO activities, SIC meetings, and supporting school wide events.  We also benefit from several business and community partners such as the University of South Carolina, the Midlands Education and Business Alliance, and Midlands Technical College.  Having a magnet program at our school helps improve the diversity of our school by including families from minority groups around the district.  We enjoy learning from these families and involving them in the learning process.  

North Springs also embraces the project based learning process developed by the Buck Institute for Education (BIE).  STEMS teachers as well as teachers in more traditional classrooms are trained to design projects that meet the BIE Gold Standard. We are finishing up our first year implementing and participating in the BIE process and look forward to our second year next year.  It has been exciting seeing many of our teachers and students try projects that they would not normally try.  BIE gives us a structure for these projects.  

While magnet schools are designed to draw students with certain interest and passions to a particular school or program, all students in a school such as North Springs benefit from the magnet concept.  Teachers who teach in the magnet program benefit from the the expertise of the traditional classroom teachers and visa verse.  Some of the best collaborations come from a traditional classroom teacher collaborating with a STEMS classroom teacher where students from both classes bring strengths to the table.  Students are able to interact with students who they would not normally get to study with in a non-magnet or choice district.

Another way that we incorporate our STEM theme through out the school is by providing all students the opportunity to design, create, and publish products in our Design Center.  Students are exposed to the Human Centered Design process established by IDEO.  Students practice coming up with problems to solve, or products to make, do the research, create prototypes, work through iterations or revisions, and present the final product.  
The Design Center at NSE is working with the Richland Two Innovation Incubator to better prepare our elementary students for middle, school, high school, and beyond.  

As you can see, magnet schools can have tremendous impact on your school, give your faculty, staff, students, parents, and community a common focus, and ultimately better prepare your students for the real world. 

NSE is honored to be considered a Magnet School of Excellence by Magnet Schools of America (MSA). A HUGE congratulations to Miami-Dade School District who did an amazing job of hosting the 2016 MSA National Conference. NSE's STEM program is seven years old and started at the kindergarten through second grade levels.  Since 2008, the program has expanded to our feeder middle school, Summit Parkway Middle (SIDI) program where our students can continue a STEM focused education.  Our Lead Teacher, Dr. Sally Catoe, and Mrs. Dea Jones, SIDI Lead Teacher worked closely to develop a continuum of STEM education through middle school.  In Richland School District Two, our students will have many magnet opportunities in high school as well.
We were excited to here about the MSA National Certification Program supported by the National Institute for Magnet School Leadership (NIMSL).  NSE definitely plans to be one of the first 100 magnet schools in America to be certified by such quality organizations.  While we feel like we meet the requirements for many of these standards, we look forward to continuing to improve our program to be MSA and AdvancED certified.

NSE has worked hard to make sure that we are preparing all of our students to not only pass state assessment requirements, but to also prepare our students for the middle school and high school programs offered in our district.  We also strive to prepare our students for college and careers with an emphasis on STEM careers.