Create and Collaborate

As many of you know, I am in the process of transforming the traditional laptop lab in our elementary school into an Innovation Lab. While this may seem like a simple task of just moving furniture and buying supplies, it is actually a complex, thought-out process that has been swirling in my mind for years. Like a painter who mixes colors on a palette to get just the right shade of blue, I’ve been gathering insights and ideas from countless students, teachers, and parents of what this transformation could become.

Now is the time to make those dreams come true.

Through the month of September, I will guide you around the various aspects of our Innovation Lab, spotlighting Innovation Stations, creative collaboration, and think-outside-the-box opportunities.  It’s my hope that you, too, might be inspired to view learning from a different perspective, to embrace the unknown, to join us in this journey of innovation.

I do have a confession to share right off the bat:

This project is a huge step outside my comfort zone.

In my twenty years as an educator, I have spent half that time as a technologist. Which means, quite simply, my duties have been focused on instructional design not classroom decor. I am not a “pinterest-worthy” decorator. In fact, interior design is probably one of my greatest weaknesses (to the chagrin of many family members.) Creating bulletin boards is not my area of expertise and my eye for color and style is a bit lacking. While these may seem like trite issues to ponder when redesigning a learning space, they are huge challenges for me.

So I turned to Twitter for inspiration.

Scrolling though my home page, I discovered a fantastic artistic display created by another teacher: a collaborative coloring board!

I stared at that photo, mesmerized by the patterns, the flow of lines and shapes mingling together, the potential for collaborative ownership sparking my mind. Wouldn’t it be great to have a board like this displayed in our Innovation Lab?

I went to the store and bought a few supplies. I didn’t need much, just a tri-fold display board, a pencil and a black Sharpie pen. I found a ruler in one of my children’s backpacks, spread the board out on my piano room floor, then picked up my pencil to draw.

Friends, let me tell you… this drawing from scratch business is no simple task!

I have never considered myself to be an artist. While I don’t critique my drawing ability aloud to others, it’s not a skill I would list as a strength. You would think something like this would be easy; after all, you’re just drawing little shapes and lines, right?

I stared at that white board for a very long time, completely overwhelmed, not knowing where to start.

It made me think of my students, when I hand them a piece of blank paper and say, “Just draw!” or “Just write!” The vast emptiness paralyzes the hand and stifles the creativity for some. How would I guide my students to overcome this feeling? To give them a jump-start? To show them that anything they put on the paper is better than nothing at all?

Start small.

Baby steps.

Bite one piece, not the whole pie.

I followed my own advice. I created a title for the center of the board. I drew straight lines around the word to form a rectangle, then used my ruler to connect the vertex of the shape to the vertex of the board. (I threw in that vocabulary word to impress my math friends reading this post, lol.)

Then I started to draw and design.



It took a very long time to draw each small shape, then create flowing lines and patterns around the objects. I quickly realized that this project might take weeks, possibly months, as my perfectionist spirit wanted the board to be “just right.”

But I kept at it. A few minutes here, an hour there, I continued to draw.




Step by step, piece by piece, my coloring board came to life with hidden animals, swirling stems and flowers blooming in the sun. I discovered that the more I drew, the easier it became, and I began to understand how artists find such joy in creation. I borrowed a coloring book from my daughter to guide me in creating images, glancing from paper to cardboard as my pencil continued to glide from shape to shape.



With a few final strokes of my pen, the board design was done!
During teacher work week, I set out the board and some markers outside our Innovation Lab with an open invitation to color. It was a delight to see so many teachers “take a break to create.”



I even saw our Assistant Principal add to our display board late one afternoon.
During Open House, I moved our coloring board to the front office lobby where students and parents joined in the fun of collaborative creation.



Oh the joy!
Our poster is still a work-in-progress, much like our Innovation Lab, but it’s inspiring to see how the collective creativity of many can transform a black-and-white board into a masterpiece.
Amazing creations take time to complete. Check back soon to see our finished poster and learn more about our Innovation Lab!


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