The KITES (Kits In Teaching Elementary Science) MRC operations manager, Anita Hennessy, created several strategies which link classrooms using the same kits and the Materials Resource Center.
At the beginning of professional development, teachers are required to participate in a summer institute workshop at the MRC. Anita and her staff explain the system of materials support and how teachers, students, school secretaries and principals, and district truck drivers are vital links in the system. The MRC staff help them understand the importance of inventorying kits before and after kit use, how to involve students in inventorying, and how to unpack upon arrival and pack the kit upon return to the MRC. During the workshop, teachers engage in a cooperative learning activity called "Broken Squares" which helps the group understand the importance of trust, clear communication, and mutual roles in the system. We sink or swim together.
(Note: The "Tragedy of the Commons" is powerful story emphasizing the importance of interconnectedness. Also, we have used the barn-building segment in the film, "Witness," as a visual example of community, cooperation, and systems thinking.)
When problems arise when using the kit, teachers know who to contact for support. Inside each kit is a list of all classrooms using the same kit. The list includes the names of users of the kits, district, school, and phone number; the names of the kit specialist (teacher leader who facilitated the kit training), phone number and e-mail address; and Anita's phone number and e-mail address. Eventually, every building will include a "MRC liaison" who can facilitate teachers' concerns about the kit materials and communicate questions and suggestions directly to the MRC.
Teachers write about what worked well or not so well with the kit materials and system of materials support in a "Teacher to Materials Resource Center" log . Upon receiving the used kit, the MRC staff compile the suggestions and modify the kit as needed for the next round of kit use.
Teachers and students reflect on their experience of using the kit in a "Teacher to Teacher" log . They share activities and materials that worked particularly well and those which were challenging. They include suggestions for mathematics, language arts, literature, social studies extensions. Periodically, kit specialists consolidate the "Teacher to Teacher" logs. The MRC staff photocopy the teachers' suggestions for the next round of kit use.
Before returning the kit, all students and the teacher sign their names on a "Classroom to Classroom" form verifying that they used and inventoried the kit. Sometimes, teachers include students' letters explaining what they learned and what they enjoyed. These letters are passed on to the next classroom.
By using these important community-building strategies, the system runs more smoothly. Kits with all of the materials arrive in classrooms on time. Teachers feel supported. And, the costs of replenishing the kits are lowered due to proper use of materials and inventorying.