By GWENDOLYN WEILER
Moapa Valley Progress
Marianne Ekenstam, the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE)teacher at Grant M. Bowler Elementary school, moves around her classroom arranging and rearranging an endless train of carts. The carts are brimming with exciting educational items: Legos, textiles, Sphero robotics, and more. Once school begins, these items will be passed around throughout the school’s classrooms as part of the Grant Bowler Elementary official launch as a “Design Thinking Academy.”
Bowler principal Shawna Jessen said that the launch of the Academy has been several years in the making. “It is exciting to now be able to officially brand the school and enlist community help in strengthening the 21st Century skills for our students,” Jessen said.
As part of this movement, all students at the school will have the opportunity one day each week (usually on Fridays) to participate in an activity called “Get Smart Groups.” These groups will be set up by grade bands: Kinder-First, Second-Third, and Fourth-Fifth. Several different sessions of Get Smart Groups will occur throughout the school year and will be determined by student and teacher interest.
Ekenstam said she created her wish list for the program and would have been thrilled to get just $2,000 toward materials. Instead, the decision-makers decided to fund everything, said Ekenstam.
Long-time benefactor of local education, Dr. Ann Rice agreed to fund two different grant proposals allowing the school to purchase and stock over 20 different Mobile Maker Carts and 22 different ‘Engineering is Elementary’ kits.
Rice was the one who, a couple of years ago, funded Chromebook computers for each student in many of the local schools.
Teachers will have access to all of these new materials to enhance the learning experiences during the Groups, and the Mobile Maker Carts will be available for teachers to check out as they begin to incorporate the Design Thinking model into their everyday instructional experiences.
Design Thinking incorporates all the ideas of the recent STEM/STEAM educational craze, said Ekenstam, but goes far beyond Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.
“This is a way of thinking,” Jessen explained. “A way of approaching problems that will impact all areas of the curriculum. I am so excited that all of our teachers will be involved in its implementation. It sets the stage for profound learning experiences.”
The efforts for branding the school as a Design Thinking Academy have been in the works for several years. Three years ago, Jeff Hybarger, the supervisor of the district’s rural performance zone, allocated $2,000 towards the purchase of some of the school’s electronics equipment. The following year, the fifth grade GATE students created, procured funds for, and implemented a school-wide Maker Space. This past year, teachers had the opportunity to enroll in specific Design Thinking courses and will continue their training throughout this next school year.
“We are hoping that this becomes a community branding, not just a school branding,” Jessen said. “It is something that is uniquely appropriate for our rural community. We have such a culture of making here that it seems like a great fit.”