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‘Every kid is a genius’

Coordinator of Chaos in Texas sees 1,000 students a year in his STREAM lab

Published November 26, 2018

SWEENY, TX – The right solution at the right time in the right school. That’s what it took to prove Matthew Way’s theory that every student is a genius.

The solution added at Sweeny Elementary School in summer 2017 was a Pitsco Education STREAM lab that Way volunteered to run and facilitate. Something told him that the innovative, hands-on lab would help even more of his students experience success. After one year, the results are in.

“Many educators have a difficult time, I think, accepting the idea that every kid is a genius. And through testing and labeling and tracking and textbooks and mediocre content and the constrictions of a skills-driven curriculum, the school environment can be counterproductive to the development of that genius,” Way said. “What I love about STREAM and what I’ve seen in the past year is that it is essential to reaching students who may not excel in that traditional classroom by giving them the opportunities to discover who they are, what they love, and even potentially what they want to do when they grow up. I’ve seen that happen in this past year, and it’s remarkable.”

Way is the walking definition of a Coordinator of Chaos teacher type. After all, he is tasked with getting all 1,000-plus K-5 students through his lab each year. K-2 students experience whole-class STEM Units for 30 minutes each week during the school year, and students in Grades 3-5 explore the rotational STREAM Missions for one hour every third day for a semester.

“As far as really getting to know the students, I don’t have that opportunity. Of course, the flip side of that is I get an opportunity to have some impact on every student in the school, which is great,” he said.

Other teachers have taken notice of student excitement and engagement in the STREAM lab and carried some of the lab’s principles and approaches back to their classrooms, particularly after seeing how the difficult-to- reach students have responded to the opportunity to tap into their genius via the student-centered content and delivery.

More than once, Way has had a lunch conversation with classroom teachers that’s gone something like this. “I’ll mention a student’s name and I’ll say, ‘It amazed me what they accomplished today in the STREAM lab.’ Or, ‘What they said, it was just really genius.’ They all stop eating and look at me and they’ll say, ‘Who are you talking about?’ And I’ll tell them again, and they’re like, ‘No, not that student.’ And I’m like, ‘Yes, it’s that student.’”

Having students fill distinct roles – Commander, Communications Specialist, Materials Specialist, and Information Specialist – and eventually experience all of them is a real-world approach that hones social and emotional skills as well as soft skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking. “I love that because in the workplace you’re given certain responsibilities. That’s what you do in a job,” Way said. “The fact that they’re learning that now at the elementary age is amazing.”

Sweeny ISD Superintendent Dr. Tory C. Hill effusively praises Way for his approach with the versatile new program, how he enables students to develop and flourish in whatever learning style they favor. “Tapping into the genius of every student, that has just really become sort of a tagline for the STREAM lab,” Hill said. “[Way] has proven to be just the right fit. He builds great relationships with students. He understands how to manage a classroom environment where students are actively engaged. It’s noisy and busy but yet focused on projects that are based on very clear outcomes.”

Hill added that the student energy he’s witnessed in the lab is “unparalleled,” and parents are equally inquisitive and excited about the STREAM content their children are learning. Better yet, at the end of the first year with STREAM, scores on State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) testing went up across the board – in math, science, and reading. “We selected Missions to support areas where our students could grow in math and science. We witnessed unprecedented growth in those areas this year, despite losing 10 days for construction due to the hurricane.”

Call that the fruits of having the right solution at the right time in the right school – with the right Coordinator of Chaos at the helm.

“It makes me work. It doesn’t give you the answers clearly . . . it gives you information about what to do to get the information. It doesn’t tell you what to do. It just gives you hints about what to do.”

– Cooper, seventh-grade student, Pittsburg Middle School, Pittsburg, Kansas

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