This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Jason Hanson
Entering the second year of the Fluency Project I could not help but be excited by the prospect of teaching an Innovation and Entrepreneurship class at Bridgeport High School. My principal approached me earlier this Spring and asked if I would be willing to try it out. After all, we saw the work of Don Wettrick and all the cool things that his students were doing. We Skyped with Mr. Wettrick during an after-school leadership class. He even came to speak with members of the Fluency Project. How could I refuse such an opportunity?
After confirming that I would, in fact, be teaching an Entrepreneurship and Innovation class for the 2019-20 school year I immediately went on Amazon and purchased the paper-back version of “Pure Genius” by Don Wettrick (already had it in digital). I went a step further and purchased the book “Empower” by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. All summer I sat on the porch reading all the great ideas contained on the pages of these authors.
Soon it was time to create a curriculum map for the school year. I searched the internet for examples of how other teachers around the country structured similar classes. Borrowing from various teachers who were inspired by Wettrick’s work, I cranked out a curriculum that I felt comfortable implementing.
There is an adage that says, “Man plans, God laughs”. Well the joke was on me. I received my class roster. Having previously taught all the students on my roster who “signed up” (or needed something 9th period), I felt discouraged. Several of them struggled in my American History class as freshmen. Instead of complaining I looked at this as a new start. This was an opportunity to get to know these students in another way. Perhaps American History was not their thing. Throwing caution to the wind I was prepared to begin my first Entrepreneurship and Innovation class.
Understandably students had no idea what they were in for on the first day of school. Heck, neither did I. That was the cool part of the whole process. I made it clear to them that I did not know what I was doing or where we were heading. In other words, we were all in a car together moving forward, but not really knowing where the destination would be. As the syllabus was handed out, I let them know that each quarter they would focus on one project individually. Taking some advice from Wettrick and Juliani, I made the first 9-week project something school based and then the following quarter would be a passion project. Quarters 3 and 4 would be either refining past projects or starting new ones. Students submitted proposals, they had a weekly blog and they presented their progress.
I was underwhelmed after the first several weeks. Where were the great innovations? No interviews with Bill Gates or Warren Buffett? No attempts to curb world hunger or clean the oceans? What I got instead was one student who wanted to do a photo essay of his town. One student wanted to create a better morning routine for students. Another sought to create a digital archive of the alumni room and another student wanted to promote the theater department. I soon realized that my expectations were just that...MINE. These other issues were important to my students. Who was I to come in and minimize them?
One day as a class we went over to the alumni room and by pure coincidence one of the most active and knowledgeable members of the alumni association (class of ‘61) was just finishing a meeting at the administrative building. He gave us a very intimate tour of the alumni room. Students got to hold a class ring from 1902, they viewed old report cards from the 1930s. They saw old play bills from past BHS productions. This was a powerful moment of old teaching new. Following that encounter, one of my shy students (the one whose every morning was “awful”) asked how she could help the other student with their alumni room project. The student who wanted to promote theater now wanted to incorporate the school’s rich history into his recruiting campaign and the student who wanted to do a photo essay now shifted his focus into finding ways to tell the story of past graduates by creating a virtual “Wall of Fame”.
Looking back at this experience thus far, I feel foolish that I didn’t appreciate the small things that occur in education. My best laid plans have meandered into a learning labyrinth. As we enter Christmas Break, I realize that my students have learned to communicate with people outside of the school. They have interviewed people from earlier generations. They researched the culture of our school. They have archived, they collected data from students, they interviewed their peers and created signs and logos. Finally, they came to appreciate the talents that each one has. I have come to the realization that I have not lowered my expectations of my students, instead I have simply changed them to ones that give them their voice and not mine. The little things are truly the big things. However, an interview with Bill Gates would be amazing.
Spencer, John, and A. J. Juliani. Empower: What Happens When Students Own Their Learning. IMpress, 2017.
Wettrick, Don. Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the next Level. Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc., 2014.
Jason Hanson graduated from The Ohio State University in 2000 with a major in Psychology and a minor in Geography. He earned his Master’s in Social Studies Education from Ohio State in 2001. Jason began a career as a high school Social Studies teacher at Bishop Donahue High School in McMechen, WV. He began his fifth year of teaching at Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, OH where he is still currently teaching in his 18th year. Jason has coached numerous sports including baseball, football and girls’ basketball. Jason currently is a member of Cohort 3 of The Data and Technology Fluency Project with West Liberty University and the CREATE Lab (situated in Carnegie Mellon University). Jason’s special interests include drawing and reading.