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It's About Innovation: Nicole Parr

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“Fun” and “interesting” are words that frequently came up in an anonymous student survey to describe Nicole Parr and her 7th grade social studies and world history classes.

“It’s exciting that what I’m teaching and how I’m teaching it is resonating with the students,” said Mrs. Parr. “I always loved history as a kid, and to take students on a fun journey of the past and help them to connect it to the present is a gift. I feel privileged to play the role of teacher in these students’ lives. It’s an incredible experience working with kids and seeing their excitement to learn and grow.”

Mrs. Parr completed her undergraduate degree at Miami University and her Masters degree at Xavier University, and, in 2000, she took her first teaching job with Mariemont City Schools and hasn’t looked back. Parr has seen education change rapidly and feels it is an exciting time to be a teacher and a student. “Technology is enhancing the students’ learning, allowing them to access so many different resources and access them so quickly,” said Parr. “There is a shift in education right now, a shift toward focusing on problem solving and critical thinking. And this shift is influenced by technology – bringing the outside world in and being more creative.”

And Mrs. Parr is the embodiment of creative teaching and learning.

She is a huge advocate of project-based learning, in which she gives the students a real-life scenario or problem to map out and solve. The students work with local architects, designers and historians, and then present their end products to an authentic audience.

She kicks off this project-based learning unit by engaging the students in a walking tour of Mariemont, with the help of the Mariemont Preservation Foundation. The high school digital video class made videos that coincide with different sites around the village, and then her students use QR codes to scan and watch the videos while taking the tour.

“All of this is at our fingertips – not every community has that. It’s something that’s so special. We are fortunate to have the history and architecture of a planned community all around us. I couldn’t have done this project everywhere – our community is unique.”

And she is constantly on the lookout for new and relevant ways to engage her students and help them make real-life connections between history and the modern day.

“I was thinking about approaching the designers and residents of the new condos in Mariemont. Why? The Romans built their cities and civilizations and we’re doing similar things today. Look at how this square is planned. We have the Mariemont Theatre, the Romans might have had an amphitheater. They had law and order with soldiers and we have with the police department right here on the square. Mariemont is a planned community with a history that is very interesting.”

She also maximizes education by using flexible learning space in her classroom, made possible by Mariemont School Foundation. The students have the creative space to design their community – map it out, sketch it and create a scale of it. The students create blueprints for their planned communities, inspired by Greco-Roman life. And to keep the students’ minds and brains moving, Mrs. Parr incorporates kinesthetic brain breaks to stimulate the mind-body connection and enhance learning while in the classroom.

She also brings innovation into her involvement with the Expeditions program at the junior high, in which she co-leads the Art Scavengers expedition with Shelley Komrska, district art teacher. As part of their expedition, they Skype with one of Cincinnati Art Museum’s in-house experts, giving students access to someone they might not have access to otherwise.

“During this expedition, I get to see the kids in a different environment than my classroom while still tying history in with art. My passion for history and museums coupled with Shelley’s art knowledge and expertise makes for a comprehensive and fun learning experience for our students.”

Nicole is also the Builders Club advisor, organizing junior high volunteers for local and national causes.  She assists students with various community service projects. Inspired by her work with students, she now volunteers with the National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association.

“I feel very fortunate that I am given the opportunity to help guide students, foster their strengths and see them shine.”