Last week I got to attend the Center Grove Innovation Academy at the new Innovation Center. During the three day academy, teachers were able to create an inquiry-based PBL unit for their students. The academy included grade levels from K to HS and all subjects which provided a wealth of like-minded professionals from around the district to assist each other with the lesson development and curriculum planning. I am not overstating it when I say the Innovation Academy was the best professional development I have had in my 13 years of teaching.
It is really hard to create effective, PBL units during the school year. It is not impossible but I have found PBL units that I create “on the fly” usually are not very good. They might become great over time but I just do not have the time during the school year to process all the moving parts on a big project. My time is often spent thinking about parent/student communication, coaching assignments, extracurricular tasks, department meeting agendas, consumable orders, and any of the other countless details teachers have to juggle during a typical school day. Providing teachers time in the summer to develop effective PDL units communicates to the entire school community this is something we as a district think is valuable and important. It is not a 50 minute “chalk and talk” early release day or “unfunded mandate” from people outside my classroom. This is me being proved everything I need to try that “moon shot” unit I have always dreamed of.
There were many people who made the Innovation Academy a success. The first is the leadership team that found the funds to pay teachers, coordinators and instructional coaches for their time. The Academy was planned by our STEM Coach, Matt Ehresman, an Instructional Coach, Nancy McDowell, and the Coordinator or Connected Learning, Jenna Cooper. All three of these coaches embraced the PBL culture and process. They would provide some simple framework outlines of the process or task, then allowed each group of teachers to set up in different places around the room to get the job done. They put themselves into the role of a resource, the THE Source. They modeled the PBL process and demonstrated the authentic, collaborative learning that this process facilitates. Each were able to provide their own experience and guidance.
I also greatly benefited from the opportunity with work with other teachers. It can be difficult to develop a diverse professional learning network in a district of our size. It is rare I have the chance to plan a lesson together with others. I cherish the chance to work with other teachers from different schools and subjects.
Center Grove is a resource rich environment. I have access to countless edtech tools, web pages and media types. While creating my PBL unit, I was able to work in the new Center Grove Innovation Center. This learning space was developed with the PBL process in mind and despite some power and display glitches, the Innovation Center did not disappoint. We were also provided a copy of The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros about a month before the Innovation Academy began. This insightful book helped to “set the mood” and gave us a good launch pad for our ideas.
After my three days at the Innovation Academy, I have a great start on a PBL unit on Climate Change. I was able to contact several authentic community members to help me review the projects. My curriculum is stronger and will provide my students better learning opportunities. My hope is that the Innovation Academy will be a yearly event where teachers from across Center Grove will be provided the same chance to have a “inspirational and innovative learning opportunity.”