Building a community of practice with EdExploreSRQ

Students visit the planetarium at Riverview High School as part of an EdExploreSRQ Exploration

EdExploreSRQ is building an inspiring community of practice in Sarasota County. A community of practice is defined simply as a community that shares practices: no longer the property or awareness of a few or an obscure representation in the heads of the promoters but rather a familiar practice that is shared and celebrated by many in the education community. (Lave &Wenger, 1991) (Brown & Duguid, 1991) Julian Orr (1990)

Traditionally, new ways of learning are promoted by experts or taught formally. With EdExploreSRQ, we see a new model emerging as a network of users are enthusiastically sharing examples of their successful experiences with the website.

Touted as a powerful resource, EdExplorations listed on the site are vetted by the Sarasota County Curriculum Department. They incorporate experiential learning in authentic contexts whether they are on location, in the classroom virtually or on-site via the talents of 25 local teaching artists. Video exemplars have been developed so teachers can learn from others who have masterfully chosen EdExplorations as integral to their core teaching units.

We see more often now that EdExploreSRQ is embedded within accepted educational norms of “research-based practices.” Word of mouth is expanding the usage within the system and we can document concrete evidence that indeed more teachers are choosing to expose their students to the wide variety of explorations.

Administrators and teachers are fostering the use by writing grants for explorations for individual classrooms and for school-wide initiatives. This year, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County selected 30 classroom grants that included EdExplorations and the award-winning elementary school-wide grant was Lamarque Elementary School that incorporated multiple explorations at various grade levels and leveraged community resources.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County www.cfsarasota.org has awarded over $273,000 in grant funding over the past two years impacting over 27,000 students in Sarasota County. Teachers can access appropriate explorations through the Instructional Focus Guides, a highly valued resource. New explorations are being added to the website weekly including Rocketman (rocketry), Hovercraft (application of the scientific method) and Jungle Gardens.

EdExploreSRQ has increased its visibility due to focused targeted marketing efforts. The collective efforts of the EdExploreSRQ Partnership Team (The Patterson Foundation, The Community Foundation of Sarasota County, Education Foundation of Sarasota County, The Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County, the Sarasota County Schools, The Science and Environment Council of Southwest Florida) have taken greater responsibility and ownership for EdExploreSRQ’s prominence.

The Community Foundation of Sarasota County proudly plays the video of the EdExploreSRQ story in its lobby. Sarasota County Schools has recently re-established their presence on social media using Facebook and Twitter. In addition, the first Vlog was launched through email and the newsletter continues to gain popularity with new readers.

Schools are replacing marketing materials that they have run out of and the EdExplore stickers seem to be the favorite with younger students. Partners reported recently that it is commonplace when they visit schools to see EdExploreSRQ signage prominently displayed.

“Hands-on learning is vital for students to fully understand the concepts that we teach in the classroom.” – Superintendent Lori White

With the strong support of Superintendent White, teachers rally to select explorations that align with the curriculum standards. They often consider time spent for the preparation and follow-up to explorations “a safe haven” or an alternative to the traditional classroom instruction that must be accomplished in preparation for testing.

It’s a win-win for students as well. They learn required content through authentic experiences that are highly engaging, and also create an indelible impression so they retain information over time. EdExploreSRQ is becoming a “household word” in the education arena in Sarasota County. Lucky kids and teachers!

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