I am a teacher in Eau Claire, WI. Our school district is the 8th largest in the state of Wisconsin, and with that comes many advantages and disadvantages. A bigger district means more supports and systems for our students and families, but it also means more politics and challenge in creating change.
A family engagement survey distributed to the Eau Claire Area School District (ECASD) families in 2015 identified a desire for more innovative opportunities in classrooms. The ECASD responded by forming an innovation committee who worked to develop an innovation policy. The new policy permits any educator within the district to propose ideas for transforming current classrooms into innovative classrooms.
At the time, I was teaching 6th grade math and reading. I had a strong interest action-based learning and was beginning to dabble in a flipped-classroom approach. I knew my students and I were missing something in the classroom, but I just couldn’t quite find the right fix. The creation of our district’s innovation policy allowed an opportunity for collaboration and creation of a brand new classroom and curriculum. Another teacher on my team at the time had similar ideas and goals for his classroom, so we connected and got to work!
In January 2016, we were approved by the innovation committee and the school board to open the ARCTIC Zone at Northstar Middle School which was to be the very first “innovation zone” to be implemented in the ECASD. The ARCTIC Zone is an Authentic, Real-world Curriculum & Technology-Infused Classroom that provides a unique learning environment using personalized and project-based learning.
We work to engage and empower students with their own interests and passions, to grow confident, curious, creative, and reflective learners, and to set students on a path of self-exploration that embraces “failing forward” and striving to be your best self. Our students step into the driver’s seat on a highway to self-discovery and powerful learning. We encounter a few forks in the road, but how does one acquire the ability to drive without learning to navigate such road blocks?
The ARCTIC Zone has become my own passion project over the last four years, and writing about it regularly has served as a powerful tool for reflection and accountability. Having taken a leap into an innovative classroom, I will never look back. Education, for me, is forever changed. And I will continue to work for further change for my students and all students.