By Valerie C. Lewis
Over a year ago, an idea had been brewing and stirring in the hearts and minds of a few educators across the nation. The excitement of working together was shared amongst all of them but most importantly, a plan was set in place to launch this concept. This would ultimately transform teaching and learning. The team split into subteams to work on differentiated and leveled activities for grades K-6 but had to ensure they were married to national content standards. The creativity and excitement that came from these sessions were so exhilarating. As the magnitude of this project set in and we became engrossed in the process, summer also came to a close. The reality of getting back to the start of the year brought us to the agreement that we needed more time–perhaps another year would be sufficient for us to reveal our plan.
Where Preparedness Meets Opportunity
As fate would have it, the idea of pushing EdObstacles to the side for another year was short-lived! Tanya Hyman, founder of MakEDU and president of Atlanta Maker Faire emailed an invitation for me to bring EdObstacles to Atlanta Maker Faire as they sought out something more exciting for children and families. My heart began to panic because we were less than 8 weeks away from this mega event. I had no team members in Atlanta nor materials or funding to make this happen. It would have been easy to say “well I am not ready and maybe next time” but Tanya said “start small and do a mini-version but just start somewhere.” Her words assured me that it was okay to take a risk and give it a try. Wasn’t this the same message I told my students often? I knew it was time to put a plan in place and execute but I truly wanted students at the core of this project!
Immediately, I spoke to my administrators , Dr.Gene Taylor and Dr. Stephen Black, and they agreed that whatever was necessary to support our students– we could rest assure they would support. I reached out to Tommy Nguyen, lead Math Teacher and of STEM Academy and he knew his 9th graders could use this as a Project Based Learning (PBL) task. From there, Mrs. Nicole Meade-Franklin wanted her Engineering students to be part of it as well. Once I pitched the concept to students, they were onboard and almost immediately formed teams to to create activities and design a course to bring EdObstacles to life.
Students worked collaboratively with each other but also sought counsel from community advisory members to beat the clock towards our October 1-2, 2016. There were great ideas pitched and those that needed lots more work. There were edits, revisions, materials checklists, budget spreadsheets, rules for each activity, and project design plans.
Ian Bryan played a large part in helping us get logistics in place. He is like that voice of reason that helps you think through things you had no idea you needed to think through. He was a checks and balance but also a jack of many trades. Some of my good friends at Cox Communications helped to get our logo created and small sponsorship dollars helped towards the cost of materials but our administration took the bulk of the expenses to ensure we executed! The process wasn’t easy but the learning that happened along the way–was priceless.
The morning of Oct.1st, we arrived at Discovery excited yet quiet because we were about to face 30,000-40,000 people to test our concept. We were uncertain about the results we would get or just how we would be received but I am proud to say WE ROCKED IT!
The opportunity fell in our lap and we rose up to the challenge and delivered. This lesson was meaningful and authentic for us all. The raving testimonials received from young participants, their parents, fellow educators, administrators, other Maker organizers, and makers themselves taught us that we had something magical and had a green light to move forward with EdObstacles 2.0 in Spring 2017 for grades 7th-12th.
All gratitude goes to my Professional Learning Network (PLN) on Voxer, administrators, the students, and teachers involved that came together and seized this opportunity. I sign off my saying “ The Discovery Titans came, saw and conquered! We Did It!”
Valerie Lewis is a Georgia educator of 11th and 12th grade Language Arts. Her passion is to empower students but recognizes that One Size Fits One and that students learn best in authentic ways. Her mission is to transform teaching and learning for the modern student and disrupt the norms that somehow have seemed to disengage students. Find her on Twitter @iamvlewis