Teacher Feature: Karen Garland and Ben English, Grove City Area School District

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Name:  Karen Garland and Ben English
Teaching Grades: 6, 7 & 8
Years Teaching: 9 (Karen) and 12 (Ben)
Subjects Teaching: Introduction to Business, Careers, and Entrepreneurship (Karen) and Technology and Engineering (Ben)

Teaching a brand new curriculum can be challenging. No one at your school can give you any tips and sometimes you may feel like you’re navigating through it alone. But it’s also exciting…no one can give you any (unsolicited) advice and you get to navigate through it alone, figuring out what works and how to tweak it to best meet your students’ needs. The course truly becomes your own and you learn alongside the students.

But what if you were a co-teacher of a brand new curriculum? How would that affect the way the course is presented? Teachers Karen Garland and Ben English are doing just that: they are co-teaching the Inventionland Institute Curriculum and we are excited to feature them as our first ever Co-Teacher Feature.

Inventionland Institute (ILI): This is your first year with the ILI Curriculum. How’s it going to far?

Karen Garland (KG): It’s going great! Not only am I excited about it, but the district and the students are equally enthusiastic. As with any new curriculum, adjustments will be made to improve each time we go through the process.

Ben English (BE):  Extremely well. We just started with our second semester students.  We learned a lot from the first semester, good and bad and have made some adjustments to that.  We are excited about the possibilities for this semester.

ILI: How did the students react to the introduction of the curriculum? What do they like best? What’s been most challenging?

KG: Students were a little anxious when they learned they were moving from our traditional entrepreneurship class into a new program, but as soon as they learned about it, that stress disappeared. Students have two favorite parts: being free to think, explore, create and make their own decisions, and secondly, having hands-on building experience. The most challenging part for the students, especially since this is our first time going through the program, was time. They wanted more of it.

Karen Garland and Ben English Grove City School District Inventionland Institute Teacher Feature

BE:  The students were extremely excited about the curriculum. We had the opportunity to work through one group of students last semester and it got the reaction we thought it would.

The production of the products was definitely the students favorite part. Students love seeing how their ideas finally come together. I think the most challenging part for the students was to stay on course and not get frustrated. Throughout this process they are presented with challenges, from the students not agreeing with their group on day one about the problem they would like to solve, to finding their solutions already exist, to finding out their solution is going to be too expensive to produce, to making their product and finding out it doesn’t work and they have to make changes to the designs again and again and again. I love this part as a teacher but it is very hard to keep students motivated when things continually go wrong for them.

ILI: What has parent support been like?

KG: Parents in this district are extremely supportive. Our school board members can’t wait to judge again, and our community representative from General Electric has already placed us on his calendar to come back and wants to judge again, too. The local college has offered to collaborate with students regarding the marketing and business aspect. General Electric has offered to send their engineers to assist students where needed as well.

BE: Parental support has been good. The parents have been on board the whole way.  They have been making donations, wanting to participate, wanting to be on the panel of judges during the presentations.  We’ve had to turn some parents away because of the overwhelming response.

ILI: You just had your first school-level competition. How’d it go?

KG: The competition went better than I ever expected. Every student–and I mean every single one–showed up and stepped up. I was super proud of all of them.

BE: As good or better than expected. The students showed up. It has been a little bit of a struggle getting the students to understand the time commitment, due dates and what it takes to finish this project in time.  I was concerned the whole time about them not finishing but they pulled it off and I am so excited about what they came up with. Our judges were blown away as well.

Jesse from Inventionland, our school board president, and a lead engineer from our local GE plant were our judges for the competition. Our school board president is a college professor and wants to work alongside us and the representative from GE is going to allow his engineers and designers to come down and work alongside our students a few times during the process. Also, the winning group’s invention is spectacular and we are so excited to see them present at the regional competition. We couldn’t be happier with how it went the first time.

ILI: How do you handle teaching the curriculum when your school schedule changes?

KG: When planning our daily lessons, we do not plan for a full 90 days. We plan for about 85 days predicting events such as school delays, assemblies, PSSA’s, etc.  Plus, we see our students in the morning so early dismissals, including athletic ones, do not affect us either.

BE: I learned a long time ago you have to be flexible and be able to modify and adjust. on the spot.  All teachers do it and need to be able to do because things change.

ILI: What has it been like teaching as a team versus teaching a class on your own?

KG: This is my first experience with team teaching. Both of us want what is best for students. We just needed to decide which path or idea might work best. It is truly and give and take. We had to remember to honestly communicate and keep in mind that because this is our first time with the curriculum, changes will be needed. As we tell students, “fail forward.”

BE: I love it. There have been challenges along the way. Just like the students, working with another person can be difficult especially when you both have a vision for what it may look like but your visions don’t match.  You work through those challenges and it helps make us better for it. I have been a one-person department for my whole career so it’s nice to have another person to bounce ideas off of.

ILI: Why do you think STEAM education is important for students?

KG: STEAM education is important for students because it helps them connect subjects traditionally taught via textbooks to real-world application.  There are different ways to learn. Project-based learning works very well with middle-schoolers. It allows them to utilize and see their science and math skills. They feel it and work with these essential lessons to produce a tangible product.

BE: Having a STEAM education allows for the practical application of knowledge. It gives the students the opportunity to collaborate and work together and solve real-world problems. I have been working with a STEM curriculum since I started teaching in 2007. It helps develop a student in a holistic way, allowing for critical thinking, problem-solving, collaborating, and creativity.

ILI: What does 21st Century Education mean to you?

KG: When students walk into their very first day of school, ever, they have already become familiar if not comfortable with technology.  It is our responsibility as educators to meet students where they are and continue their growth within the technology arena. Twenty-first Century education employs technology but also includes emphasizing soft skills such as creativity, communication, teamwork, and solving problems. Inventionland Institute IS 21st Century education.

BE: Twenty-first Century education is a different approach to teaching. Students are different than we were when we were in school. We as teachers have to stay with the times and with the technology and keep the students engaged. The content and goals may not be different than it was but our approach in teaching needs to be different in order to engage the students.

ILI: What inspired you to become a teacher?

KG:  I am naturally curious and thrive to learn. I realized that when teaching others (anything about anything), and they “got it,” I felt a feeling of immense accomplishment.  When a person truly gains knowledge, it changes them. Being part of that type of metamorphosis is a feat that I absolutely cherish.

BE: My high school drafting teacher was the person who inspired me to become a teacher. I was not a student who enjoyed regular education classes. I wasn’t a bad student, I just didn’t enjoy a typical classroom setting. I needed something different to keep me engaged. I enjoyed the hands-on learning that I got in the Industrial Arts Department. I was able to work with my hands and problem solve. I thought that I would love to be able to do this for a career and maybe help other kids who were like me enjoy what they do every day.

ILI: Have you had to learn how to use any of the technology alongside the students? Was it challenging to learn new technology?

KG: No, I have not had to learn about technology alongside my students. My first job was with the corporate headquarters of an international computer consulting firm. I have been in the technical arena for many years and have continued to remain current. My teaching certification is in business, computers and information technology. I know technology, use it, predict fallbacks and create back-ups if needed. Technology is part of my world just as it is part of my students’.

BE: We are starting to use Google classroom for our classes which took a little bit of time to learn how to implement but it hasn’t been too difficult.

ILI: Any hobbies you’d like to share? Do you run any clubs/activities?

KG: My “hobby” is spending as much time as possible with my two wonderful children.  I also enjoy spending time with friends and traveling. In school, I started and advised a student-run store, chaperoned dances, organized a school-wide Ice Bucket Challenge, and sponsored Culture Club, Educational Computer Games Club, and Stock Market Club.

BE: Along with Inventionland Institute, I teach 6th and 7th-grade Technology and engineering classes. I coach cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field. I also run the morning news broadcast every morning at the middle school along with being the Yearbook adviser. I am an avid hunter and runner. I love spending time outdoors.

ILI: Most memorable experience teaching the curriculum so far?

KG: My most memorable Inventionland Institute experience so far was when a team of struggling students, ones who threatened to skip school to get out of presenting to the judges, not only all showed up for school that day, but they presented and did an incredible job. Seeing how proud my students were of themselves after they presented that day was an unforgettable moment.

BE: The judges’ reactions during the presentations was my most memorable experience so far. We had no idea what to expect when we started this curriculum. We didn’t have a chance to see it in action in any other schools so we were a little nervous about the expectations. When our administration told us of how great things went, it was a sigh of relief that we met and exceeded those expectations that we were unsure of.