Sunday, April 21, 2013

"E" Is For...

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have heard me refer many times to what we at Austin Elementary know as "E-Time."  So, what exactly does the "E" in "E-Time" stand for?  The easy answer to this question is "Enrichment," for enrichment has been our intent since we began this Austin Elementary version of "genius hour" about a year and a half ago.  This "genius hour" is an hour long period of time each week during which our learners are given opportunities to pursue a passion, explore an area of interest, develop a new talent, or share an area of expertise with like minded peers and adults who share those same passions, interests, or talents.  It is a time when the normal routines and schedules of the school day are suspended, and strength based enrichment is put in their place.

This week, I was scheduled to be off campus during our E-Time activities on Friday morning, and was disappointed that I would not be able to participate in this exciting highlight of our week.  However, I was pleasantly surprised when I began to receive tweets from my principal, Laurie O'Neill, and my A.P., Cooper Hilton, documenting the explorations, discoveries, and creations of our learners during this special time.  As I read the tweets and viewed the pictures, I began to realize that, while the "E" in "E-Time" does indeed stand for enrichment, in practice, it goes far beyond that one, simple definition.  Come explore with me as we take a virtual tour of Friday's "E-Time" experiences and examine the many facets of this "E"mazing "E"vent!

 "E" Is for...Exposure:

During "E-Time," our learners are exposed to a variety of concepts and topics that they might not otherwise encounter in the regular curriculum.

K/1 Learners Discovering Petrified Sand Dunes With Some Help From a Real Geologist! (Rockasaurus Cluster)

 "E" Is for...Explore:

 During "E-Time," our learners...and educators...are encouraged to explore new ideas and interests.

K/1 Learners Getting Ready to Make Jewelry from Paper! (Trash to Treasure Cluster) 

  "E" Is for...Excitement:

During "E-Time," everyone is excited about learning!

K/1 Learners Deconstructing Toys - Looking for Simple Machines! (Tinkering with Toys Cluster)

"E" Is for...Engagement:

During "E-Time," not only are our learners authentically engaged in the learning, but our educators are too!  They are often just as fascinated by the new discoveries as the learners they are leading.

Fifth Grade Facilitator Assistant Teaches K/1 Learners About Angles! (Woodworking Wizards Cluster)

"E" Is for...Enjoy:

During "E-Time," our learners are given opportunities to enjoy seeing their world through a new lens.

K/1 Learners Upcycling Old Books into Something New! (Altered Book Blast Cluster)

"E" Is for...Experience!

During "E-Time," our learners get to experience potential careers first hand!

K/1 Leaner...Future Secret Agent! (Crime Scene 101 Cluster)

"E" Is for...Everyone!

During "E-Time," EVERYONE on our campus is involved in enrichment...learners, educators, parent volunteers, community members...everyone!

K/1 Learners Transform Music Room Into a Woodworking Shop! (Woodworking Wizards Cluster)

I could go on and on...E-Time is Extravagant, E-Time is Extraordinary, E-Time is Electric...but I think the most important thing about E-Time is that it is the Essence of Education!  E-Time provides opportunities for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration.  It allows our learners to develop problem solving skills and to learn how to communicate, not only with their peers, but with the world around them.  It is a time of enrichment and talent development for ALL learners...a time when each child's strengths and passions are honored, and their ideas are valued.  It is a time when we say to every person in the building, "You Matter!"  What better message is there to send to today's kiddos?  What better message is there to send to today's teachers?  What better message is there...?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Here We Go Again - Our Youngest Learners Begin the Enrichment Cluster Journey!

Friday was an exciting day at Austin Elementary as our youngest learners began their own journey into the world of enrichment clusters.  These kindergarten and first grade learners were full of excitement and wonder as they stepped out into the hallway and made their way to their chosen cluster location where they would join with other children and adults who shared their unique interests.  One of the highlights of the enrichment cluster experience is the idea that the passions and interests of the learners determine the topics to be explored.  Please click on the link below to see the clusters that these young learners had to choose from.

A unique aspect of this particular round of enrichment clusters is the involvement of our fifth grade learners as Facilitator Assistants.  As we were preparing to launch the K/1 clusters, we recognized the need for an extra set of eyes, ears, and hands in the classroom to help guide these young learners through the cluster experience.  We sent a request for help to our fifth grade learners and were absolutely thrilled by the overwhelming response we received.  Our student leaders were more than ready to answer the call.  In fact, we had so many fifth graders respond to our request, that we were even able to create a list of alternates to be used in the event of an absence of one of our regular assistants.  These fifth graders appeared to be as excited as the little guys as they began their new role on Friday morning, and they did a great job of welcoming their younger school mates into the cluster experience.  Way to be, fifth grade!

Another feature of enrichment clusters that I find incredibly exciting is the opportunity that is created for  our learners to interact and build relationships with parents, friends, and community members in and around the Coppell area.  This week was no exception as we had parent and community volunteers join us from all walks of life.  A former attorney, a make up artist, a newspaper professional, as well as moms, grandmas, and many more joined in the fun as we not only launched our K/1 clusters, but also continued our E-Time journey throughout the building.  These visitors bring depth, authenticity, and real life experiences to our learners as they share the highlights, pitfalls, and lessons learned from their own life journey.  We are so grateful to the many people who have willing given of their time and talents to enrich the lives of our learners!