By Tom Farmer / January 26, 2019

Texas educator on a mission to discover every kid’s genius

Last fall, we released our first ever teaching type personality quiz. We featured five general teaching types that we believe encompass educators you’d find in today’s classrooms: the Merry Maker, the Inspiring Innovator, the Prudent Planner, the Technology Trailblazer, and the Coordinator of Chaos.

Matthew Way, educator at Sweeny Elementary School, in Sweeny, TX, is the walking definition of a Coordinator of Chaos teaching type. In summer 2017, Way volunteered to run the new Pitsco Education STREAM lab. He sees more than 1,000 K-5 students in his STREAM lab each year. K-2 students experience whole-class STEM Units for 30 minutes each week during the school year, and students in Grades 3-5 explore the rotational STREAM Missions for one hour every third day for a semester.

 

Tapping Into the Individual Genius

Way firmly believes that every student is a genius. It takes the right solution at the right time in the right place, but with those conditions every student can experience success and show his or her genius. The STREAM lab was his way to prove it. Something told Way that the innovative, hands-on lab would help even more of his students experience success. And, after one year, the results are in.

“Many educators have a difficult time, I think, accepting the idea that every kid is a genius. And through testing and labeling and tracking and textbooks and mediocre content and the constrictions of a skills-driven curriculum, the school environment can be counterproductive to the development of that genius,” Way said. “What I love about STREAM and what I’ve seen in the past year is that it is essential to reaching students who may not excel in that traditional classroom by giving them the opportunities to discover who they are, what they love, and even potentially what they want to do when they grow up. I’ve seen that happen in this past year, and it’s remarkable.”

Student-Centered Approach Nets a Broad Reach

Shuttling such a large volume of students through a hands-on learning scenario in a meaningful way doesn’t always lend itself to deep relationship building with all his students, but it does pay other dividends. Way shared, “As far as really getting to know the students, I don’t have that opportunity. Of course, the flip side of that is I get an opportunity to have some impact on every student in the school, which is great,” he said. In particular, Way shared that difficult-to-reach students respond well to the opportunity to tap into the student-centered content and delivery. More than once, Way has had a lunch conversation with classroom teachers that’s gone something like this. “I’ll mention a student’s name and I’ll say, ‘It amazed me what they accomplished today in the STREAM lab.’ Or, ‘What they said, it was just really genius.’ They all stop eating and look at me and they’ll say, ‘Who are you talking about?’ And I’ll tell them again, and they’re like, ‘No, not that student.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, it’s that student.’”

The excitement and engagement in the STREAM lab are hard to miss in the elementary school. So much so that they’re contagious; other teachers have started to implement some of the lab’s principles and approaches into their own classrooms.

Real-Life, Workplace Relevance

Because the content is student-centered, students are expected to be actively engaged in their individual and group learning. Students fill distinct roles – Commander, Communications Specialist, Materials Specialist, and Information Specialist – and eventually experience all of them. With this delineation in tasks and knowledge sharing, students have a dose of what it might be like to carry a specific title or role in a real-world job. This helps them develop and practice their social and emotional skills as well as 21st-century skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking, Way’s favorite elements. “I love that because in the workplace you’re given certain responsibilities. That’s what you do in a job,” Way said. “The fact that they’re learning that now at the elementary age is amazing.”

Sweeny ISD Superintendent Dr. Tory C. Hill enthusiastically praises Way for his approach with the versatile new program, how he enables students to develop and flourish in whatever learning style they favor. “Tapping into the genius of every student, that has just really become sort of a tagline for the STREAM lab,” Hill said. “[Way] has proven to be just the right fit. He understands how to manage a classroom environment where students are actively engaged. It’s noisy and busy but yet focused on projects that are based on very clear outcomes.”

Hill added that the student energy he’s witnessed in the lab is “unparalleled,” and parents are equally inquisitive and excited about the STREAM content their children are learning. Better yet, at the end of the first year with STREAM, scores on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing went up across the board – in math, science, and reading. “We selected Missions to support areas where our students could grow in math and science. We witnessed unprecedented growth in those areas this year, despite losing 10 days for construction due to the hurricane.”

Way continues to prove that as a Coordinator of Chaos he can juggle with the best of them, consistently delivering educational experiences that make a difference. He wrangles challenges with purposeful action. And, more than that, he makes sure learning is fun. It’s the perfect formula for student achievement. Way’s work means his students not only recognize their genius, but they’ll be future-ready.

This article originally appeared in the November-December 2018 issue of The Pitsco Network.

 

 

TOPICS: STEAM, Hands-on Learning, Future Ready, Social and emotional learning, Missions, IDEAS & INSPIRATION, IN THE CLASSROOM

Tom Farmer

Written by Tom Farmer

I love to tell stories, which is exactly what I do as editor of The Pitsco Network Magazine and other Pitsco publications. My background in journalism created a constant curiosity that carries over into my personal interactions. As the communications manager at Pitsco, I serve on the Pitsco Way Leadership Team, the Media Relations Team, the Cares Team, and I’m head of the Communications department. I’ve been surrounded by teachers most of my life. My wife and oldest daughter are teachers, another daughter is on track to become a teacher, and I’ve been with Pitsco since 1997 (we have lots of former teachers working here). If you have a story to tell about you or your students’ experiences with Pitsco products, I’m ready to listen!