Bright Spark™ Educator Q&A: Martha Thomason

Albert Einstein once said, “It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.” Watching educators inspire their students is one of the greatest privileges in our work with Bright Spark™.

Leading up to the launch of this year’s Student Design Competition in November, we are excited to feature educators who are on the front lines of reimagining education and gather insights on how they are transforming learning through innovation and creativity.

One of our teacher leaders, Martha Thomason, Lead Gifted Teacher at Westwood Elementary School, has been a long-time champion for igniting creative confidence in the classroom.

For Martha, the answer to the timeless question of what do you want to be when you grow up was always the same; to teach and work with children.

“For as long as I remember, I wanted to be two things; a teacher and a mom,” she said. “I have been blessed to be both and I am now a grandmother of a precious baby girl, Maebelle. I love to spend time with my family, read, and travel.”

A lifelong learner, Martha is always looking for new ways to challenge and intrigue her students. Some of those tools have included participating in various Bright Spark programs through the years.

We had a chance to connect with Martha to get her take on innovation in the classroom and experience leading student teams in Bright Spark Design Competitions.

What does innovation in the classroom look like for you? And, what kinds of design innovations are you most excited about these days?

Innovation in the classroom is about allowing students to take ownership of their learning. Whether it is teacher directed or student chosen, they are much more likely to become invested if they are allowed to create and design their learning. Innovation is exciting and difficult. When we allow students to explore their ideas, I truly believe we are helping them to be prepared for their futures. I am excited that many young people are coming up with new and exciting ideas to help improve our world.

What was the initial draw for you to enter your students into the Bright Spark Student Design Competition?

I have been using design thinking in the classroom and school for several years. Students in our school led a redesign of our school library and I have had groups do projects using design thinking in my classroom. I thought my students would enjoy the competition and would become more confident design thinkers. Design thinking is the perfect way to foster collaboration and critical thinking, and to expose students to real-world problem-solving.

Tell us about your experience participating in last year’s Student Design Competition.

Last year’s challenge of reimagining transportation of the future was a little difficult for my fourth graders since they do not drive. The information shared by many of the experts who presented remotely to the students was often over their heads, but they persevered and created two amazing solutions. Design thinking requires the students to use a wide variety of skills—including research, writing, collaboration, critical thinking, compromise, and logistics. Learning to incorporate these skills and using design thinking made all of them stronger students and more confident learners.

What was the biggest takeaway for your students?

My students were so proud of their projects and loved presenting their ideas to adults and other students. Many of my students had difficulty sharing their ideas in the beginning, but the growth in confidence and the pride in their final presentation validated all their hard work. Learning to work together and to recognize and celebrate their own strengths and those of each team member was probably the biggest takeaway for them.

What would you say to other educators who are on the fence about getting involved in this year’s Student Design Competition? Why should they take the plunge?

I believe incorporating the use of design thinking into my classroom is one of the most valuable things I have done for my students. It has made my students more independent thinkers and problem-solvers. I have become even more of a facilitator of learning and have enjoyed watching students taking control of their own learning. They are learning that they can improve their homes, schools, communities, and the world. If you want your students to be lifelong learners and contributing members of society, allowing them to problem-solve through the design thinking process is extremely worthwhile.

If you could go back in time to when you were a student, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself to be willing to take more chances and to travel every chance I got.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am extremely thankful that Bridge Innovate/Bright Spark and their sponsors are providing opportunities for students and teachers to learn about and participate in the design thinking competitions. One of my favorite statements from one of my former students says it all: “We have all learned that we can make anything happen if we set our minds on our goals.”

The 2018-2019 Bright Spark Student Design Challenge is open for student teams from fourth grade through college level and will be focused on the challenge: How Might We design a connected community to help students and families in need thrive?

The deadline for registration is November 15, 2018. If you have any questions or if you have any barriers with registration, please contact Mary Kim at