Preface: An Overview of In the Box Design

Welcome to In the Box Design by Matthew Worwood, a dynamic website/interactive e-book that I constantly update. I will refer to the site as my online book; I’ve structured it like a book; you’re reading the Preface. So what will the book explore?

Teaching in the Classroom

I’ve worked in education for over a decade. I started as an elementary school teacher, teaching grade one in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. In my first year, I taught a class labeled the most challenging first-grade class in the borough. It was large and mostly boys; many students didn’t speak English as a first language, and there was a massive competency gap in reading, writing, and mathematics. I worked hard to follow the national curriculum but differentiating the material was incredibly hard. I knew I was failing students, but I felt powerless to address the problems with behavior, language barriers, and inadequate resources. I was utterly unprepared and left after my first year feeling like a failure. After leaving, I had some other teaching gigs. I also opened an education production company before immigrating to the United States in 2007.

I felt powerless to address the problems with behavior, language barriers, and inadequate resources.

In the U.S. I began working for an education non-profit in Connecticut. It was a fortunate situation; the company was looking to hire a program manager to lead a statewide Digital Media initiative. My new film and web design skills presented me as an exciting prospect.

The company was the Center for 21 Century Skills, a unit inside EdAdvance. They had received funding to develop online learning materials to support a STEM program in K9-12 schools. Digital Media was viewed as the tool to help the technology aspect of the program; however, there was also a focus on film, which supported the state’s film tax initiative. It was an exciting opportunity. In my first few weeks, I was sitting at a table with Studio Executives at Blue Sky Studios (at the time 20th Century Fox’s Animation Studio) and state representatives discussing how to build a talent pipeline in Film and Digital Media. This experience alerted me to the long-lasting relationship between education and industry, which continues in my work for Digital Media CT.

At the Center for 21st Century Skills, I was lucky to work with some incredible people. My boss was a natural innovator, determined to challenge the system. However, his second in command recognized the need to facilitate change inside the system. He could re-package the big ideas into strategic phases introduced and discussed differently within our partnering schools. Combined, these two stewards made an exciting partnership, and I credit much of my success in education to their mentorship and teaching.

I worked in an innovative environment where Creativity, failure, and ambiguity were an excepted part of the culture.

Others in the team also helped me succeed during my first years of developing and implementing the program. I benefited immensely from the energy and enthusiasm of the administrative team and their openness to my own crazy ideas. They helped secure the resources I needed when founding the state’s first student film festival and producing a sequence of the film and digital media challenges. I also had the opportunity to work with some of the best educators in Connecticut. These teachers kept me on my toes, remained flexible when we experimented with new technology, and served as essential collaborators when developing or modifying aspects of the curriculum. In short, I worked in an innovative environment where Creativity, failure, and ambiguity were an excepted part of the culture.

As I look back on this TedX presentation, I cringe because I was still early in my career.

Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live During this time, I started to develop an interest in Creativity. I had an opportunity to take some of my graduate classes at the Center for Applied Imagination at Buffalo State University. This was a game-changing experience for me. I learned about Creative Problem-Solving, and thanks to my work environment, I could immediately begin implementing the teachings into my program and the curriculum. I modified our annual challenge to incorporate aspects of the Torrance Incubation Model for Teaching and Learning. I also began teaching teachers about Creative Problem-Solving and presented on Creativity topics in education.

I was invited to participate in a TedX talk in 2012. As I look back on my presentation, I cringe because I was still early in my career. However, I still see the potential of assignments like the 10 Cube Challenge and our success in integrating 3D Virtual Words into a high school science curriculum. I was slowly specializing in Creativity, focusing on project-based learning and Digital Media integration in the classroom.

My work at the Center for 21 Century Skills eventually found its way to the University of Connecticut, which was planning to launch a new Digital Media and Design major. I pursued an opportunity to lead this program at the UConn Stamford campus and relished the opportunity to continue my work with underserved students. More importantly, I had a chance to return to the classroom as a faculty member. Sharing my transition to academia expands far beyond the goals of this book. Still, in short, I found myself in a different environment. I recall a feeling of dissatisfaction with Blackboard during the first semester and began using Facebook as my preferred Learning Management System. Let’s just say this type of innovative instructional approach in higher education was short-lived. I didn’t feel confident in my new setting and slowly began playing it safe. However, I still looked for other outlets for my Creativity. More importantly, I identified opportunities to implement wild and whacky ideas that helped grow Stamford’s major and Digital Media and Design community.

I left that classroom in pursuit of other spaces to express my Creativity in education.

Recently, I’ve come to realize that I need to innovate. I need to pursue opportunities for new and different ideas. I want to grow. I want to have an impact, and most importantly, I’ve accepted that my future will always include some type of classroom environment.

As I reflect on my first years of teaching, it’s unfair to make a judgment on my perceived failures in that first-year classroom. I fell into the statistics of many new teachers who leave the profession within five years. I was underprepared, lacked mentorships, and became overwhelmed and dissatisfied. I left that classroom in pursuit of other spaces to express my Creativity in education. However, as I look back on that experience, I realize that it was less about the challenges of that environment and more about how I perceived those challenges.

I’m writing this book for my past self, who felt powerless to influence change in his environment. Looking at the experience now, I realize there were many opportunities for classroom innovation despite the constraints. Sociocultural theories of Creativity tell us that Creativity rarely occurs in a vacuum; much of Creativity is how we view and respond to people and context. Since working at UConn, I’ve continued my interest in Creativity, but my research now includes Design Thinking and how we engage in the creative process when designing and developing technological solutions for the classroom.

My decision to share this book as a Website is part of my continued efforts to pursue innovation and grow as a professional. I’m not sure where it will go or if it will impact anyone other than my past self. Still I like to think he can still benefit somehow… and I like to think that any educator looking to grow and better their classroom environment might also appreciate this work.