Starting Fresh

Change is an interesting thing, simultaneously invigorating and painful. I’ve spent the past 13 years at a wonderful institution, St. Matthew’s Parish School (SMPS), where I grew as an educator and as a human being, citizen of this city, this country, the world. In the words of the school, I had the opportunity to “Serve, Lead and Flourish” in the work I engaged in each day. All of these powerful experiences and memorable moments at SMPS over the years helped to shape who I am today and will help guide me forward into the future.

As I move on to a new chapter in my life, it is essential for me to remember some of those moments of professional growth that had the most impact on me.

In 2011, after two years of research in 1:1 programs, and visiting many schools, we finally launched our own 1:1 program, with iPads. As most schools learned before and since our time, a successful program of this scale relies on so much more than the devices themselves. Beyond the support necessary for device configuration and deployment, the roots of the program must find a solid foundation in the teaching and learning that happens in the classroom. While professional development plays an essential role in teacher confidence, students need help too. And when devices go home, the parent body is yet one more constituent that needs support.

It is with these needs in mind that we created three iPad boot camps; for students, teachers and parents. Students are required to “certify” through the boot camp before the start of their 6th-grade year and before they receive devices that can go home. During the boot camp, they learn about the iPad, but also the impact of having a digital footprint, how to manage their workflow, and what policies are in place to support their learning. The teacher boot camp dives into topics like using 1:1 devices in the classroom, understanding the SAMR model, and how this technology fits into a Project Based Learning approach. For parents, the boot camp covers topics such as online safety, device use at home, and resources for parenting in the digital age.

The 2013 school year was another pivotal moment in my time at St. Matthew’s, as I returned to the classroom after a long break. Although I always remained close to the classroom experience, providing professional development for teachers, and in-classroom support, it had been many years since I carried a class load of my own. I asked for this return as it coincided with the need to create a new innovation space out of an outdated computer lab. The school gave me the opportunity to design a course and a space from the ground up.

The result was Creator’s Studio, a 7th/8th-grade elective course that is best described as a place for students to explore their passions while using the latest technologies to turn their imagination into reality. Creator’s Studio wasn’t possible, however, without the space, the materials, the tools and the time for students to work.

That’s where PIRL comes in, the Project & Idea Realization Lab. Two distinct areas define PIRL, an indoor “clean” space, where 3D design and printing, robotics, electronics, and coding take place. PIRL Terrace, the outdoor “messy” space, is where material gets sawed, drilled, sanded, and laser cut.

The PIRL spaces weren’t solely for the benefit of Creator’s Studio. They played, and continue to play, an integral role in other programs across campus, including DEEP, Project Quest and the Lucas Scholars Program, and I’ve had the good fortune to participate in all of them. These programs are all explorations into project-based learning, and active, hands-on learning. I look forward to watching their growth (from afar) in the coming years.

I have moved on to new territory, about which I will write in the coming months. I cherish the memories at St. Matthew’s and continue to use all that I have gained during my time there to benefit those with whom I work today.

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