#MoltenLava: ‘Straight A’ contributes to statewide culture of innovation

A blog by EnvisionEdPlus President Michele Timmons

Canal Winchester Local Schools Superintendent Jim Sotlar has been telling staff, families and community members for years that Canal students are much more than a score on a report card. He has stressed 21st Century skills, STEM (which his team describes as “Strategies that Engage Minds”), and community engagement as critical components for student success. The district’s mission “Empowering All Students for Success” has framed his transformational approach.

Educators created a district-wide “Innovation Design Process” for everyday use by adults and kids. First-graders collaborate with local entrepreneurs to solve REAL problems affecting their businesses. K-2 students solve issues, like playground behavior, previously left to principals. The design process replaces rote memorization in difficult concepts, improving students’ understanding and retention.

Straight A support

Much of this was made possible by a series of projects supported by the Ohio Straight A Fund. As an outside consultant and close collaborator with Canal since 2013, I had been trying to capture the essence of its transformation. My a-ha moment came when superstar-teacher-turned-Straight-A-coordinator Mickey Bumpus referred to it as ‘molten lava’. Canal played a small role in Reynoldsburg City Schools’ (Round 1) “Innovation Generation” grant to understand and grow college/career pathways combining high school, college and career technical training. Subsequently, Canal received just more than $1.5 million to Re-envision Education K-12, creating K-5 Innovative Learning Zones; embedding Project Based Learning (PBL) and design thinking across the district and rethinking scheduling and grading practices. Participation in these Straight A projects created the volcanic reaction which has quietly but deeply transformed student learning.

Middle and high school students have several new college and career pathway opportunities created in partnership with business and post-secondary partners so every student is more prepared for life after high school. This spring, following a year of intensive planning, Canal Winchester Middle School received Ohio STEM School designation. When students return to school this fall, they will experience a new master schedule with embedded time to create curiosity projects, build culture, and regularly receive intervention and enrichment. Meanwhile, Canal Winchester High School students and staff worked together to identify ways to improve student outcomes by changing grading practices, adding internships, creating collaboration opportunities and beginning the shift from a traditional school day to anytime-anyplace learning.

Straight A inspiration

Canal’s is just one of scores – or perhaps hundreds – of stories marking the success of Ohio’s Straight A Grants. EnvisionEdPlus has been supporting innovation since Straight A began. Our team specializes in innovation consulting, designing personalized learning experiences for adults and students, and grant writing for innovation. To date, 18 applications we supported have been funded, bringing $128 million – nearly half of all Straight A’s awarded funds – to projects we supported.

What is far more impressive, however, is the quiet incubation and replication most would never know was Straight A inspired. In 2013, college and career pathways were almost non-existent outside of career technical and/or STEM designated high schools. Few educators had heard of FabLabs and makerspaces. Innovation Generation quietly brought both the idea of pathways and FabLabs to the forefront. Schools across the state are using local and grant funds to implement these concepts. There are elementary tinkerspaces, middle school makerspaces, re-envisioned libraries and mobile FabLabs popping up all over. Ohio now has a FabLab network with regional meetings and a summer conference. Another of our partners, RAMTEC is replicating not only throughout Ohio, but in Michigan too. It was mentioned last year on CNN by then presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and described more recently on Tom Vander Ark’s Getting Smart blog.

EnvisionEdPlus is capturing and sharing these stories. We want to know how Ohio’s Straight A program has impacted your community, your teachers and most importantly, your students.

Please share your #MoltenLava stories with us and we will spread them across the state.
We are particularly interested in learning about:

  • Quiet incubation and replication most would never know was Straight A inspired;
  • Innovation ‘on the fly’ after post award changes to state policy or grant expectations;
  • Unanticipated successes or outcomes; and
  • Stories of ‘We weren’t funded but we did it anyway.’

Email your stories, photos and videos (2 minutes or less) to tricia@envisionedplus.com.

Don’t yet have a story to tell? Then check out our Personalized Learning Design Lab on June 13 and 14 in Northeast Ohio, where your team can collaborate with educators from across the state, including Canal Winchester. Our event last year incubated ideas for three Straight A winners. 

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