In May of 2015, Kirsten Brown was getting ready to finish the school year at the Kauffman School. At a year's end professional development meeting, Kirsten's friend Katie Laird had approached her with an idea she was excited about. Katie was also planning on applying for The Lean Lab's Incubator Fellowship program that was taking place over the summer and was interested in partnering with Kirsten on the venture together.
As a result, the two had applied to the Lean Lab and we accepted them into the Fellowship later that June on the premise of building a leadership pipeline.
One of the first skills every Lean Lab Fellow learns is user validation. This is the art of confirming that the problem you want to solve is actually a challenge that your intended audience is experiencing. "After going through user research and speaking to group of administrators and other educational professionals, we realized that the real issue was not a lack of interest, but a lack of sufficient professional development and collaboration opportunities for current leaders in education" Kirsten said.
This lead Kirsten and Katie to pivot to an initiative focused on effective and comprehensive professional development that could help educators across schools and districts easily share best practices. Kirsten and Katie continued developing the pilot after the fellowship concluded and gained enough traction that Lean Lab decided to add this initiative to their regular programming. After concluding, Kirsten utilizes many of the lessons and skills developed in the Lean Lab Fellowship in her career today.
Her latest project is Crossroads High School, set to open this August 2017. "Former students' parents would call me anxious about high school and their children's future. I've received so many calls and questions that I had to be part of the solution" Kirsten speaks as to the reason she decided to open the high school. "I want to take the community and principles that Lean Lab has built and create our own innovative and driven community in the school." During the Lean Lab Fellowship, Kirsten listed three ways the program really pushed her to become who she is today.
"The coaching and mentorship are really key to the success of whatever goal you are trying to accomplish. We could have worked on the project ourselves, but The Lean Lab gave us the tools and resources to accomplish our goals more effectively. As a result, we learned how to hone in on the real issues and challenges of our audience."
Among the coaching and mentorship, Kirsten also mentioned that the ability to challenge oneself and learning how business models are designed have also made her a more effective educator. Despite first impressions, schools have many things in common with regular businesses. "It's a really complex system building a school from the ground up. You have students and parents, administrators and policy-makers, and you have local government officials who all are invested in making projects like a new school a reality." While she still has to find more teachers and complete the strategic vision for the year coming up, Kirsten believes that The Lean Lab was one of the reasons she was able to make Crossroads High School come to life.
The Lean Lab is a Kansas City based community that launches transformational ed innovations that have national impact. They host an annual Incubator Fellowship program, to support 5 bold innovators, unafraid to push boundaries and build something that changes the way children learn. Become a Lean Lab fellow and receive coaching, capital & connections. #LLFellowship #LLCohort4 http://bit.ly/2oJyN68
Lean Lab To Host 100+ To Build Solutions for School LEaders' Challenges
It is easy to have an opinion about what needs to be done to transform our city’s schools - it is much harder to take action on those opinions. But action is exactly what will occur at The Lean Lab’s ReversED Pitch event on January 29-30, where five school leaders will pitch challenges within their districts and buildings to an audience of 100+ educators, innovators, technologists, and community leaders who will spend the next 24 hours designing solutions.
Inspired by KC Next’s hallmark Reverse Pitch, The Lean Lab’s ReversED will include leaders from Kansas City Public Schools, Hickman Mills, Genesis Promise Academy, KIPP Endeavor, and University Academy, who will take the stage Friday evening, January 29, and share challenges in need of innovation.
Attendees will then have the opportunity to unleash their unique talents to create change in their city’s school systems, forming teams to take on each problem in less than 24 hours. ReversED will conclude with the teams pitching their innovative ideas back to the education leaders on Saturday evening.
Of the event, Kansas City Public Schools' Interim Superintendent, Al Tunis says "I’m excited for KCPS to be participating in such an extraordinary educational event like ReversED because it offers a platform and voice for innovative and creative educators and entrepreneurs with ideas and input that could potentially be transformational to the school system.”
The event is open to the public and includes all meals for the weekend. Get your tickets here.
Meet The School System Leaders
Kansas City Public Schools' Interim Superintendent & Chief Financial Officer
Allan H. Tunis joined Kansas City Public Schools as Chief Financial Officer in November 2011. In June 2015, the KCPS Board of Directors chose Tunis to be Interim Superintendent during the search for a new, permanent superintendent.
Tunis brings considerable experience to the position. Since 2009 he served as a consultant to the Institution for Workplace Innovation at Metropolitan Community College (MCC), where he led the charge to create a self-sustaining new department designed to quickly put people back to work during tough economic times. Before that role, Tunis was vice chancellor for Administrative Services for MCC from 1999 to 2009, acting as the college’s principal non-instructional operations leader.
Genesis Promise Academy
KIPP Endeavor Academy
The LEan Lab Asks KC to Re-imagine Public Education
Over 100 educators, architects, designers, artists, and business leaders, as well as The Local Pig, Room 39, The Jacobson, Blvd Tavern, Port Fonda, Dark Horse Distillery, and Cee Cee’s Sweet Creations will come together on November 16 to build the future of KC schools.
Because Kansas City has undergone an urban renaissance.
In recent years, KC has seen extensive redevelopment in its downtown area with over $6 billion in improvements and projects. The community responded with an equally strong investment in people by organizing entrepreneurial and innovation events to spur continued growth and attract talent. "Cow town" started to become cool again.
But our schools have not kept up.
If we are to continue to see Kansas City grow into a world-class city, we need a world-class education system to match.
The Lean Lab believes this is the responsibility of not just teachers and schools, but of the community itself. Therefore, on Monday, November 16, The Lean Lab will give a handful of amazing KC educators and students the stage to posit new, bold ideas that push conceptions of what education is and could be at its inaugural event T(eacher)ED Talks.
All proceeds will help expand Lean Lab programming so that more teachers across the KC region have access to a community of progressive innovators willing to share, test, grow and launch new ideas that redefine education.
Seven local Kansas City restaurants will create a tasting “tour” for attendees before the talks, continuing to influence The Lean Lab’s origins of bringing a community together over shared food.
Tickets can be found here for all in KC who are ready to build an education innovation hub to match the renaissance our city has seen.
Teachers all know the feeling: sitting in a musty library after school, the students long ago whisked home on busses, and the entire school staff crowded into one room for the what is often the two most dreaded words in education: professional development. Eyes glazed over, you sit and stare at a PowerPoint presentation that contains all the information the speaker is lecturing about, which - ironically - includes things such as “differentiation” and “active learning.” You wonder why, if engagement and personalized learning are so important to students, you find yourself lacking the same treatment in your own development.
Daydreaming, you begin to imagine a room of teachers crowded around whiteboards, sketching and diagramming out their ideas to big, bold questions about Kansas City schools. They are asking questions like, “What are things we can do to stay relevant with content in all classes?” and “How do we bundle our school’s strategies into one ‘package’ and make it our school brand?” No idea is too crazy, no source of inspiration too far-fetched for these groups of educators as they develop themselves into innovators who can create the future of education.
Such is the scene you would have found at The Lean Lab when North Kansas City High School (NKCHS) staff members gathered on Monday for “professional development.” The dreaded look was already on their faces as they walked in: the tradition of empty, one-size-fits-all trainings had jaded some of them into thinking this was going to be two hours that could have been better spent grading, lesson planning, or napping.
But something changed when NKCHS staff began to question one another about the structures in their school -- team morale, content creation, curriculum, 504 plans. Through an initial Listening phase, NKC educators came together to candidly discuss big challenges that frustrated them, but ones that had never perhaps been fully voiced or even heard. They identified these common problems at their high school by sharing stories, asking questions, and distilling down to root causes.
Then, NKC educators came alive with creativity when they were asked to Imagine all the possibilities to address the problems they had uncovered. Forget budgets, barriers, guidelines, and standards - these teachers began to think outside the box and dream -- dream big. Teams began sharing ideas for “hotdog church” sponsorships, a “rogue,” student-centered curriculum, student shadow programs, and new staff positions.
Their creativity was then put to the test as they attempted to build physical representations of their ideas to Prototype and Test their solutions. Using nothing more than plates, magnets, clips, tape, paper, and pipe cleaners, NKCHS teachers pushed one another to clarify their ideas, explaining, building, taking apart, rebuilding, and refining their prototypes. Teams then went a step further and rotated through to other groups, asking for feedback in two tests in order to Iterate their solution and make it better.
Teachers must see themselves as creatives, innovators, and artists who do not complacently accept curriculums, school designs, products and services, but actively build them.
Finally, the whole staff came back together to share what they had developed in a Pitch. Each team presented the problem they had identified, the creative solution the group had created to address it, and their plan to implement the idea at North Kansas City High School.
At The Lean Lab, we believe that in building the future of Kansas City schools, teachers are the most valuable piece in shaping that future. Therefore, we believe in giving them the time, space, resources, and framework to explore BIG, BOLD questions that keep them up at night. If we are to confront the systemic issues that plague our city’s schools, we have to change not only how teachers develop, but also the perceptions of how teachers view their development. They must see themselves as creatives, innovators, and artists who do not complacently accept curriculums, school designs, products and services, but actively build them.
At the end of the pitches, NKCHS staff walked away with 5 prototypes of solutions to tackle larger problems faced by their school:
1. A newly-created role for a 504 plan coordinator to address special needs students and increase capacity for classroom teachers
2. A need for a common “language” to build the culture of North Kansas City High School and identify its branding
3. A career-development framework to layer over any course to ensure teachers source content that is relevant to students’ interests
4. A teacher-to-student shadow program that allows teachers to “see” through the eyes of their students
5. A school community organization, complete with staff highlights and retreats, a reward system, and incentives to engage in school activities to increase school morale and pride
The work of North Kansas City teachers is evidence that when we give teachers the autonomy to lead their schools, we see solutions that respond to their students’ and communities’ specific needs. Staff at North Kansas City still face a long hill as they continue to test, iterate, and refine each solution, but more than anything, the Innovation Workshop for Education was created specifically to remind educators of the power they have to lead the future of Kansas City education. As one NKC teacher put it, “Actually getting to discuss issues with colleagues and brainstorm solutions instead of just problems was the most valuable part.”
Community-driven solutions -- this is what innovation looks like if we hope to close achievement gaps, meet the growing needs of an ever-changing workforce, and build the future of Kansas City schools.
Use code InspireKC to gain free admission to The Lean Lab's October Innovation Workshop for Education to learn how you can build the future of schools.
How The Lean Lab created a grassroots movement around education in Kansas City
It started as a monthly brunch with 20 educators, social workers, and artists discussing how to make Kansas City education better. That group has evolved into the nonprofit organization The Lean Lab, which has gone on to convene over 1,000 people, host 18 events, and incubate 15 education ventures (products, services, school designs). Those ventures have gone on to impact 2,410 Kansas City students to date.
The Lean Lab, a group of innovative educators, looks to build a hub of education innovation in Kansas City. Begun by two frustrated Kansas City teachers, the nonprofit was founded upon the belief that educators have innovative ideas to shape the future of school, but too often those creative talents go untapped.
Progressive educators have more opportunities to flex their creative power as The Lean Lab is expanding its offerings to give educators the dedicated time, space, framework and resources to create new solutions for that push the boundaries of public education - what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Through community organizing events and training in innovation frameworks, educators can access a broadened network of inventive educators, industry professionals, and resources that give the community the power to be the change in Kansas City schools.
This fall will be the true test to see if this ambitious goal is possible. The Lean Lab will host three different events and begin to build out local and national partnership to attract and increase the capacity of the most innovative teachers, schools, and districts in Kansas City.
“We, at The Lean Lab, feel that educators deserve a stage to share their bold, new, and progressive ideas,” says CEO and co-founder, Katie Boody. “They deserve to be elevated, to be put on a pedestal.”
To do this, The Lean Lab will host an innovation workshop on October 22-23 to train educators to use Lean Startup and design thinking frameworks to catalyze change for education. Then, Lean Lab program alumni will take the stage and share their bold ideas for the future of Kansas City education in TED-talk style at T(eacher)ED Talks in November. Local school districts will then share their challenges to crowd source solutions at a Reverse Pitch event in January.
All the events are open to the public. Get more information and tickets here.
Beyond The School Building
To take a peek inside the most beautiful classroom in Kansas City, you’re going to have to get far away from a school building.
From the heart of downtown, head about 30 minutes west to Wyandotte County Lake where Dr. Hotz of Wyandotte High is hosting class - outside. Out here, there are no slumped bodies in chairs, or four walls encasing these 10th graders as they explore the effects of watershed (area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place). Instead, 38 students hover over the edges of Wyandotte Lake on a brisk September day peering into test tubes, squeezing pipettes, and throwing nets into blue waters.
Dr. Michael Hotz provides hands-on, real world experiences for his biology class by writing numerous grants to extend learning opportunities far beyond the boundaries of his classroom.
A 31-year educator, Dr. Hotz has taught at Wyandotte High School for 19 years and recently was the recipient of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). His innovative approach to grant-writing has led to projects with his students which include an aquaponics program, school greenhouse, courtyard garden combined with a compost system, and energy audits that saved over $100,000 in utilities’ costs.
But on this particular day at Wyandotte Lake, Biology 1 students were broken up into six groups focused on several experiments. Four stations involved testing for temperature of air and water, pH levels, conductivity, turbidity, phosphate levels, nitrate concentration, and dissolved oxygen. Students also performed fecal coliform tests and collected & identified macroinvertebrates from the lake’s waters. Finally, the last two groups calculated the run-off of the lakefront’s parking lot using a GPS to measure its area, while another station utilized oximeters to demonstrate oxygen/pulse rates before and after students exercised.
Dr. Hotz could not have pulled off this project, or his prior ones for that matter, without partnering with community groups. He’s a progressive educator in this sense - extending his networking outside of traditional education circles to include Friends of the Kaw, Mid-America Regional Council, and even the Environmental Protection Agency. All of these partners were on the ground with students, coaching and guiding them to complete accurate tests of the water in the lake.
So how did Dr. Hotz become not just a teacher, but almost a nonprofit executive, community leader, and environmental pioneer all at the same time? Initially, he was sparked to begin thinking outside of his classroom by an in-service training with the Environmental Protection Agency, pushing him and his students to turn an unused courtyard in the middle of Wyandotte High into an outdoor classroom complete with over 20 gardening beds, automatic irrigation system, and two ponds filled with fish, turtles and aquatic plants. After seeing an EPA video “After the Storm,” Hotz then collaborated with an English, math, and engineering teacher to create a challenge-based learning project where all the curriculum centered around Big Eleven Lake’s watershed. In addition to studying its effects, students also reported their findings to the Kansas Health Department.
On how he funds the projects, Hotz says he writes 3-4 grants per year, looping in community organizations that not only serve the surrounding area around Wyandotte High School, but expand his students’ opportunities. “Oftentimes other organizations are just look for someone to collaborate with,” Hotz says, “and I am willing to do things that I think are best for my students.”
For other teachers looking to begin writing grants for their own classrooms, Hotz says it can all start with a basic internet search. But more than that, Hotz suggests that a successful project and grant will come from getting outside of the classroom - go to conferences and extend your network.
As Hotz puts it, “Think outside of the box and have fun doing it - take some risks.”
Have an idea for a classroom project or grant? Attend The Lean Lab's October Innovation Workshop for Education to learn how to take your idea and turn it into a reality. Use code FutureKCschools10 for $5 off your registration.
More than a Mission to Mars
It was a typical Monday morning in high school: dreary-eyed teens shuffling through hallways on their way to their first class looking less than enthused to be participating in the “extraordinary educational experiences” North Kansas City School District promises its students.
But ninth graders in Mr. Jensen’s physics classroom at Winnetonka High School seemed alive with a mission: they were learning how to calculate the density of a substance not to earn a grade, but to win a game. All of the 28 students in room B3 that morning promptly took their seat, opened up notebooks, (perhaps whispered a joke briefly with the person next to them), and looked up at the screen illuminating the day’s lesson, waiting to begin. How, you may ask, is it possible to engage that many students in physics, a subject that many would consider, well, less than intriguing?
Answer: Mr. Jensen has gamified his classroom.
Rather than have students memorize equations to calculate density, mass, and other isolated variables with no connection to their current lives, Mr. Jensen has taken all of the typical curriculum and content that he would normally teach in a year and created an alternate reality: his students are competing in a mission to Mars using layers of game mechanics.
Not only does Mr. Jensen believe this will increase his students’ engagement and success in his classroom, but also in life: “My students play games. By this simple realization, I want them to win at the game I call school.”
The basic structure goes like this: students are still graded and assessed on a normal point system, but they also have the opportunity to earn “XP,” or experience points, that determine their rank in the game. This is important, Jensen says, because students’ grades are not tied to the leader board, visible by the entire class.
Even better is that students have the option of what challenges they can complete to earn their XP points. The more XP a student has, the more perks they earn from the game. Things such as listening to music during work time, forming guilds, or a 50/50 elimination on test questions are all part of these perks, but Jensen believes the leader board is the key component in earning students’ engagement.
Perhaps the most innovative piece of the entire classroom, however, is a concept that many of us take for granted each time our World of Warcraft avatar dies: multiple lives. As Jensen describes it:
“Every game out on the market allows the player to die hundreds if not thousands of times. This same game mechanic needs to be embedded into any education curriculum. If a player is not devastated by failure then he/she will try again, and again, until he/she succeeds.”
To put this theory into practice in his classroom, Mr. Jensen “pools” all of his quizzes: each quiz has 30 questions, but only 10 questions are released at a time to the student. In order to move on from the quiz and “level up” in the game, the student must score 90% or higher. But the student can also retake the quiz as many times as they wish to score this 90%, with new questions being released each time a student (re)takes the quiz.
So far, his hard work to innovate his classroom is paying off. In the first unit test of the year, Jensen compared last year’s test scores to this year’s and noticed that in his regular physics class, first unit test scores rose by 5.76%. The increase was even more remarkable in his honors courses, where the scores rose by 10.04%. But beyond the test data, the gamified curriculum seems to be doing the true job that Jensen set out to do: engage his ninth graders. With only three weeks into the school year, students are even asking Mr. Jensen for extra work on top of the XP challenges and tasks.
“That’s really fascinating to me. They are moving at their own pace and constantly finding success.” Jensen says, “They like the autonomy.”
You can read more about Mr. Jensen’s classroom at his blog, EduBlurbs and learn how you could gamify your own classroom.
Brice Jensen is a ninth grade physics teacher at Winnetonka High School in the North Kansas City School District. He is a believer and advocate that engagement leads to success. In his classroom he is currently working on applying gaming principals to increase student motivation and individualize their learning experiences. Follow his classroom on Twitter: @whsjensen
The challenge was seemingly simple. Over 120 local superintendents, school building administrators, executive directors, educators, and city leaders gathered at Turn the Page KC's GradNation Summit on September 1 to develop a citywide plan to address student mobility across schools and districts in the Kansas City region.
But the issue of mobility proved much more complicated than students and families just moving to different schools.
Data collected from Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as well as Center, Grandview, Hickman Mills, Independence, Kansas City, Liberty, North Kansas City, Park Hill, and Raytown school districts and compiled by KC AERC show that mobility is a particularly unique problem in the Kansas City metro region. With 15 separate school districts and 20+ charter school operators in Kansas City boundaries, patterns of mobility are governed not just by families exercising school choice, but by systemic issues such as poverty, homelessness, and race (Black students are 17% more likely to transfer than white students while Hispanic students are 11% less likely to transfer than white students).
These systemic factors are most apparent in Kansas City's urban core, where many individual schools experience churn rates of 70% or more before the end of September. (Churn rate is the number of transfer students into a school + number of transfers out divided by the total enrollment at the end of September).
Couple this with statistics from KC AERC that show highly-mobile students have an average 4.5% lower attendance rate than their peers, resulting in drastic consequences on academic achievement: they are only 60% as likely to be proficient in communication arts and 62% as likely to be proficient in math.
transfers in + Transfers Out