Thinkery EdExchange: A Fall Full of Fun and Learning


Written by Brenda Lopez, Community Education Manager.

Thinkery EdExchange

“I’m going to put my Thinkery sticker where my heart is.”

“Ms. Karen, I need help!”

“Mr. Jesse, this is not working!”

Those are just some of the comments I heard from students in the 11 Austin-area classrooms that Thinkery’s EdExchange program visited in the fall of 2017. But what is EdExchange, and what does it look like in a classroom?

Our signature professional development program, EdExchange empowers educators to use technology and innovative practices in diverse learning environments to inspire students in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. (Yep, that’s STEAM!) After educators participate in our hands-on professional development workshops and activities, our team works with them on a collaborative project in their classrooms for 6–8 weeks during the following semester.

I could list the perks of being in the program, but what educators really want to know is: What would EdExchange look like in my classroom?

Controlled chaos. Engaging. Loud. Creative. Frustrating. Exciting. Inspiring.

One of my favorite aspects of my role as Thinkery’s community education manager is observing each of our classrooms. Observations also lead to me to sitting on the floor helping a student complete their Makey Makey diagram, or repeatedly cutting cardboard tubes, or asking students about their observations during an Ozobot exploration. It brings me pure joy to witness students problem-solve an issue or collaborate with a friend to teach each other something in Scratch Jr. I’m constantly inspired, I’m constantly “wow”-ed.

This program wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for our amazing staff, who act as learning researchers in the field. They prototype, test and refine constantly!

I’ve asked two of our technology education specialists, Karen Wylie and Jesse Mesa, to weigh in on their experiences from this fall. Check ’em out below!

Thinkery EdExchange
Ozobot exploration and observation with Karen.

Karen Wylie: We recognize that, in many ways, we are Thinkery ambassadors—we take Thinkery mindsets and ways of teaching out of our big red box and bring them into the classroom, because we understand that not every kid in Austin is able to join us in our space. Imagine walking through school hallways in a red Thinkery shirt and being treated like a minor celebrity. (Think: Lots of whisper-yelling. “Thinkery? Thinkery! THINKERY!!!”) It’s just one of the perks of our job. My favorite moments during this semester, though, have been a bit different. I could talk for hours about my favorite moments with individual students… but I’ll save those for another time. This semester, let me brag about my teachers.

I have a couple of educators who I’ve now known and worked with for an entire year. (Which, to me, is crazy! Time flies.) I have watched them become more confident as they integrate different technologies into their own project ideas (like telling a fairy tale through code or using color-reading Ozobots to practice measuring and addition skills). While it’s always bittersweet when our time in any classroom comes to an end, I left my classrooms this fall feeling sure that these teachers and students will continue to take on projects that blend technology and learning in innovative ways. Educators like these inspire us to keep doing what we do, each and every day.

Thinkery EdExchange
Building sculptures with Jesse!

Jesse Mesa: Every day in my role at Thinkery is different, and I love it that way! I am fortunate to be part of a program that takes Thinkery materials and STEAM-based activities out to classrooms and libraries, offering a chance for our community to experience what Thinkery has to offer outside of the museum’s walls.

One aspect of the program I love reflecting on is how “full circle” Thinkery has gone with this very process. Thinkery was started by informal educators in the 1980s. They took their cars and wagons full of STEAM materials and activities out into the community until they established a permanent location. 30 years later, I’m loading a red wagon with STEAM goodies, and now *I’m* the one taking the wagon out of our building!

Some days it entails finding all the conductive materials we can for a Makey Makey diagram with fourth graders in far east Austin. Other days, it may be troubleshooting an Ozobot with kindergartners in central Austin. I have never been more empowered or inspired to do what I do. Every day, I am proud to be part of the work we are doing.

Interested in learning more about Thinkery’s EdExchange program? Click here to learn more about our professional development program for educators!

EdExchange is made possible with the generous support of 3M, Applied Materials, Capital One, City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Dell, KDK Harman and National Instruments.

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