Educator Q&A: Andrew Meador from Chattanooga Christian School

In her book Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World, Suzie Boss says, “The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.”

We couldn’t agree more. That’s why we love hearing stories about how Bright Spark™ not only ignites creative confidence for students, but also empowers, equips, and inspires educators to be innovation champions.

For one of our teacher leaders, Andrew Meador, the Upper School STEM Lead for Chattanooga Christian School, design thinking has made a world of difference for his students and also for himself personally.

A nanotechnology-research scientist turned teacher, Andrew is passionate about the intersection of science and technology in assisting humankind. “I left research because I realized that investing in the next generation is ultimately more gratifying for me. I enjoy creating real-world, problem-solving projects for my students and talking about the impact of science and technology on society,” he said. A couple other fun facts: Andrew is also an avid bird watcher, skateboarder, and music producer.

Wrapping up our Bright Spark™ Educator Q&A Series (see first and second articles), we connected with Andrew to hear his story, insights on innovation in the classroom, and experience leading a student team in last year’s Bright Spark Student Design Competition.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

My whole childhood I dreamed of being an architect. I wanted to create wildly-shaped buildings and structures that ensnared your gaze. But, when I was a junior in high school, I took AP Biology and that changed everything! I had the most amazing teacher who brought the material to life for me and challenged me to be my best. Plus, she let us have rabbits as class pets and allowed them to run around the room during class.

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

Don’t let school get in the way of your education. There is a great temptation in education to “play school” with deadlines and checking off activities without truly focusing on student learning and growth. Focus on cultivating and developing skills, not just performing well in classes.

Describe one of your favorite teaching moments.

Anytime students make a discovery on their own is an educational touchdown for me. One moment that stands out to me is every year in Earth Science we complete a project where students must create an evacuation plan for Chattanooga because it is going to be crushed by a giant asteroid. Their challenge is to come up with a solution to avoid the impact altogether. We go through the design thinking process where we learn to productively brainstorm, and I love watching the presentations they give because every student has created a unique plan to avoid the impact.

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

Most of the time, for me, innovation comes in the form of lesson planning. I enjoy thinking deeply about the skills that I want my students to cultivate and then creating a real-world, problem-solving scenario that allows them to develop and hone those skills. I don’t get very excited by educational buzzwords; I’m interested in creating a classroom atmosphere that stimulates creativity and critical thinking, with projects that incorporate comprehensive and connected thought from multiple disciplines.

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

Last year was an incredible experience—from guiding students through preparatory activities to helping them navigate the prompt and hone their designs. I loved seeing how engaged they were with their ideas and how they immersed themselves in the challenge to consider every facet. It was especially satisfying to see my middle school team win because they put so much thought and energy into their idea.

Beyond the student activity, it was personally exciting to hear the keynote speaker, Marc Shillum, talk about his work with drone technology and considering the user experience as part of the engineering design feedback loop.

What was the biggest takeaway for your students?

The biggest takeaway for my students was entering the design-thinking mindset—it completely changes the way you brainstorm and go about solving problems!

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?

Before moving to Chattanooga, I had never been exposed to design thinking. What the Bright Spark Design Competition and Bridge Innovate are accomplishing has been truly life-changing for me. Even if you are feeling hesitant about jumping in, if you consider yourself a life-long learner—like I do—then you should look at this as an investment in yourself and your own future.

Any final words of wisdom?

Dream bigger than yourself.

The 2018-2019 Bright Spark Student Design Competition is open for student teams from fourth grade through college level and will be focused on the challenge: How Might We connect resources and services within and into our communities to help students and families in need thrive?

The deadline for registration is December 1, 2018. If you have any questions or if you have any barriers with registration, please contact Mary Kim at mkim@bridgeinnovate.com.