Building A Culture of Innovation

March 2017


My name is Adam Wiseman and I'm currently the Instructional Technology Facilitator at McDowell High School. This is my 13th year as an educator and my fourth year as ITF at MHS. My previous years were spent teaching in an elementary classroom where I have taught all grades 3rd through 6th.

I came to MHS at the start of the district's one to one program that began at the high school. I work alongside with the Media Coordinator and we serve close to 1,800 students. The Media Coordinator and myself had a vision to lure more individuals into the large Media Center spaces (both upstairs and downstairs).

Beginning with the Future in Mind

This all started back in 2013, when myself and the Media Coordinator set out to begin the long process of changing a 2-level Media Center space, long overdue for upgrades and updates, into an asset that it had the potential of becoming. Needless to say, students were not attracted to and definitely not excited about visiting their Media Center at that time.

Our principal, at that time, shared our vision to do what we could to begin the process of updating and remodeling of our upper level. In late 2014, the old computer lab was ripped out, which got the ball rolling for renovations to proceed. Instead of our county hiring a contractor to take on this task, it was decided, by them, for the maintenance department to tackle bits and pieces of the job. This took until the following year, for further work to proceed slowly.

A Vision of Change

Instead of naming our upstairs area MakerSpace or Learning Commons, we decided to call our space the Innovation Arena. The word "innovation" covers all that we hope to accomplish with our vision. According to George Couros from The Innovator's Mindset, innovation is "a way of thinking that creates something new and better" (p. 19). We wanted individuals to feel empowered, free, and have resources enabling them to do just that, create and innovate. We tossed around "Innovation Lab," "Innovation Hub," before we came up with "Innovation Arena." This fits the upstairs due to it being open, accessible, and visible to everyone.

Our vision for the Innovation Arena is "Where Learning and Ideas Come to Life!" Our mission , "We are an inspiring space where all are challenged to innovate, collaborate, create, and engage in critical thinking through discovery, real-world problem solving, and project-based learning."

Inspiration and Influence

In 2015-2016, I had the privilege of participating in NCDLCN which was very influential in some of the ideas for resources and tools. From my experience with NCDLCN, I had the opportunity to network with other ITFs and Media Coordinators and get a sense of what they were accomplishing at their schools. In addition, I got a chance to learn about great cutting edge educational resources and ideas that we could add to our beginning collection in our soon to be opened Innovation Arena.

The Vision Comes to Life

The Summer of 2016, work was finally nearing completion on our Innovation Arena. Some work colleagues and I spent a good part of 2 weeks over that summer painting our color scheme and abstract mountain murals on walls in the upstairs and downstairs areas. Carpet tiles were laid and pendant lighting was hung. The final touches included the mounting of our six casting TV displays and Smartboard. The remainder of our furniture arrived shortly after the new school year began. Everything was almost in place to open up our new space to students...

I developed a website that showcases what we have to offer and has general information about our Innovation Arena. I'm always asked, "You sure do have a lot of tools, how do they fit with my curriculum?" My answer is always, "It is up to the individual on how they use the resources and spaces. All our resources and spaces have multiple purposes and applications. All that we ask is that there is a real purpose/problem that the project design is centered around and we encourage dynamic collaboration throughout the process."

Over the last 3 years we have acquired several digital tools including: (2) 3D Printers, Silhouette cutter, PC/Mac workstations with various access to resources. Our goal is to provide something for everyone and every content area. We also hope to add more cutting edge resources each year, as our budget allows.

A popular addition to our space has been BreakoutEDU. We have put together several of these to be scheduled by teachers and/or student groups. The Media Coordinator and myself do all the work in putting the boxes together and helping to facilitate the session(s). We have also turned some of these into "blended" breakouts that combine both digital and physical clues and use a Google form lock box. This allows more groups to complete the breakout at one time. We have tried to pick breakouts that correlate with what departments are teaching at the time. I also encourage teachers to collaborate with me to develop new breakouts that better fit their curriculum.

We are excited about the next few weeks and Fall 2017, as we have preordered a Google Expeditions 10 kit and GlowForge laser cutter. The VR kit has been a popular item for our Innovation Arena because, currently, we have been using a portion of the county's kit to advertise the possibilities of VR. Due to it's popularity, we have decided to purchase a mini-Expeditions kit. The GlowForge will allow for additional creation and innovation opportunities for our students.

We have experienced a few challenges since opening the Innovation Arena. One of which has been communication of our vision to the student body and staff. Due to our space being cutting-edge, it will take time to change mindsets of individuals. For example, some teachers have sent students to the Innovation Arena to take tests or work on general classwork (worksheets, oh my!). We have tried communicating our vision and mission to teachers and students through whole class orientations or direct communication with the teachers. I think this mindset is beginning to catch on, hopefully. We have seen an increase in classrooms using the space for it's intended purposes.

The future of our Innovation Arena and Media Center are promising. We have seen a significant increase in usage by both students and teachers. Our vision has and is being realized. Everyone is excited to have this modern space to focus on innovative, real world projects and meaningful collaboration. Ideas are coming to life in the McDowell High Innovation Arena. Who knows...Some may even change the world for the better.