Tag Archives: innovation

Some Roads are Better Not Taken

Yesterday’s post, “The Trailblazer,” reminded me of an article I wrote awhile ago called, “Tell Your Students to Get Lost.” Both essays carry the message that it is important to give our students opportunities to find their own ways.  Every time I see an innovation, I think to myself, “Now that person understood that we don’t always have to do things the same way.”

One of the readers of yesterday’s post made a good point, however.  How can we allow students to blaze their own trails while still ensuring they comply with non-negotiable rules?

For example, I realized I had created my own monster this year by making it very clear that I wanted my students to do their own problem-solving attempts before coming to me.  One day, when I needed everyone to learn some tricky maneuvers for logging in to a web site they would be using, chaos ensued.  After I told them the first step, they decided to figure out the rest on their own – leading 10 different students to 10 different illogical pages and a quicksand of links that would never take them to the right destination.

And so I learned that, just like life, we need to know when to be adventurous and when to be compliant.  What I needed to teach my students was how to determine the difference.

Now I try to verbally model the inner dialogues that I hope my students will eventually develop as habit.

“Is this a time I can be creative, or do I need to do the exact steps my teacher is giving me?”

or,

“Can I use the loopholes in this task to do something unusual, or do I need to honor the intention of the assignment?”

Just as I imagine Angelique’s trail guide taught important safety rules and basic riding techniques, we teachers need to gently release our students to blaze their own trails as they adhere to certain behavior expectations and learning standards.

I am not advocating complete student anarchy just as I don’t advocate for complete student compliance.  However, I think many teachers rely on the “nose-to-tail” type of journey a large percentage of the time.  I think our schools would better serve our students by preparing them for and allowing them to go off the beaten path – while teaching them to recognize the occasions when it’s better to pay attention to your guide.

3411112831_5d5b2d718f_b.jpg
image from Jonathan on Flickr

The Trailblazer

One of my good friends, the incredible @lackeyangie, sent an e-mail about a recent vacation experience, and I asked her permission to share it here.  The implications for education are apparent, especially if you have heard George Couros speak – or read his book, The Innovator’s Mindset.

“Hi!
So yesterday I had an amazing day! We went to the Rusty Spurr Ranch, which is about an hour northwest from Breckenridge. We went to this ranch because they market themselves as being different from the regular “nose to tail” trail ride. They actually do NOT want you to follow the same trail, but pick different trails to get to  destinations on the ranch.  We had a really patient and knowledgeable wrangler named, Tess, who accompanied us on our 2 hour ride. I was riding a beautiful strawberry roan horse named Rosie. About an hour into the ride:

Me: “Do we HAVE to stay on a cut trail, or can we make our own path through the sagebrush?”
Tess: “Oh, we love for our guests to go off the trails! Blaze your own trail; that makes you a ‘Trail Blazer’!
Me: “Really?”
Tess: “Yes! It’s actually great for the horses if you get them off the trail. They get in such a rut following a cut trail. We don’t want them to become complacent.”
Me: “Really!” (Yes, same word, but I sounded more astonished this time.)
Tess: “Yep, if the horse is complacent, then they tend to become stubborn. Then, it’s extremely hard to teach them new things. We want them to wonder what turn is coming next.”
Me: “Look at me! I’m a Trail Blazer!” ( Yes, I actually said this as it was only my husband and kids on the ride.)
Marie: “I want to be a trail blazer.” (And she does with a proud smile.)
Sam: (Already blazing a trail with a smirk on his face.)
Then, before you knew it, everyone was blazing their own trail, and they were all the more excited for it.

Disclaimer: It must be said…Trail blazing did have it’s pitfalls at times! There are more mosquitoes in the tall grass and occasional missteps as the horse had to overcome various obstacles in it’s way like fallen Aspen trees. Moreover, Rosie got spooked by something and reared up! She tried to cut back to one of the trails for safety, but I calmed her down and kept on blazing.”

We often talk about teachers who are trailblazers, but how frequently do we encourage our students to search for new paths?  As George Couros states, “Compliance does not foster innovation. In fact, demanding conformity does quite the opposite.” Yes, there are pitfalls, but insulating our students from those will only make them less prepared when they encounter them in the future.

silhouette-2124183_1920.jpg
imae from Pixabay

How Play Leads to Great Inventions

Dr. Pauline Dow (@PaulineDow), an Associate Superintendent in our district, shared this recent TED Talk by Steven Johnson, “How Play Leads to Great Inventions,” in a tweet this week.  Steven Johnson, you may remember, is an author I’ve mentioned on this blog because I was fascinated by his book, How We Got to Now.  Johnson is adept at tracing innovations back through time to discover the (often surprising) building blocks that made them possible.

In this October, 2016, TED Talk, Johnson claims that necessity is not always the mother of invention – and that play may be just as, if not more, important when it comes to generating new ideas.  I’m pretty certain that Sir Ken Robinson would approve this message.

I will be adding this video to my Pinterest Board of Inspirational Videos for Teachers.  Click here to see more.

Play

https://embed.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_how_play_leads_to_great_inventions

Make Your Classroom the Etsy of Education

You’ve seen schools compared to factory assembly lines, systems designed to produce a uniform product that can safely pass inspection before being released to the market.  It turns out that some people (many, actually) don’t feel that is a great way to educate.  We’ve realized that expecting everyone to conform to one set of standards is probably not in the best interest of our children – or their futures.  But, just as you can’t shut down a factory and immediately expect the employees to start producing their own individual creations, you can’t put the brakes on an educational system that has thrown all of its resources toward one goal for decades and expect teachers to suddenly shape our students into innovators.

In his book, Originals, Adam Grant, an University of Pennsylvania professor, offers ideas for developing a culture of non-conformity.  In this interview that he did with Elissa Nadworny, Grant specifically addresses ways that we can help children to grow to be individuals with unique personalities and strong values.  He gives advice on rules, group work, and deadlines.  He also describes an interesting project he assigned his students that required them to challenge assumptions.

Many times we champion conformity without even realizing it. Certainly there are situations when it is helpful to us as individuals and even beneficial to society.  But innovation needs to be encouraged and celebrated as well, and Grant has some suggestions for how to do just that.  As a teacher, I have sadly observed students who have surrendered their uniqueness in order to fit into the system.  Sometimes, it is difficult to retrieve those uncommon qualities that make people stand out, but I think it’s our responsibility to help our children to embrace them and view them as strengths.  If we want each child in future generations to be one-of-a-kind, we need to change the system designed to expect the same from everyone.

Originals, by Adam Grant
Originals, by Adam Grant

Makey Makey Go

I really wish Kickstarter would offer gift cards.

I have a huge obsession with creativity – and browsing Kickstarter fuels that craving.  I am awed by the imagination of the inventors, and constantly berating myself for not coming up with any of these ideas.

So I do the next best thing.

I back them.

Because it takes imagination to recognize imagination, right? By throwing in my ten or twenty dollars I’m saying, “Well, I may not have dreamed up this awesome product, but at least I’m innovative enough to realize its cutting edge potential.”

Right?

Anyway, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that Makey Makey Go is going to “go” far.  Its predecessor, Makey Makey, was one of the 50 top-funded Kickstarter projects ever. I’ve mentioned Makey Makey on this blog several times, including recommending it as a great holiday gift. Jay Silver, the inventor of the original, is behind the new, portable version.  You absolutely must see his suggestions for the many uses of Makey Makey Go, including several taking-selfies-in-odd-situations solutions.

I, of course, went with the $39 Pledge because:

1. You get a Bonus Tin

and

B. You get two Makey Makey Go Sticks – which means I can wear them as earrings.

image from: Makey Makey Go Kickstarter
image from: Makey Makey Go Kickstarter

Totally worth it.

 

 

Edcamp

edcamp_logo2

I’ve been using this week of my Spring Break to write about some innovative ideas in education, and a comment from a reader on my “Teacherpreneurship” post, motivated me to include the concept of Edcamps in this series.

I’ve been meaning to write about the Edcamp model for quite some time now, but I was holding back until I actually attended one.  I never even heard of Edcamps until I started getting more involved with Twitter.  Even then, I just thought it was another name for professional development.  It wasn’t until I attended a local Google Summit, during which the last part of the day followed the Edcamp model, that I realized that Edcamps are professional development done in a very non-traditional way.

When you attend an Edcamp, you cannot sign up for sessions ahead of time.  In fact, there are no sessions planned.  The agenda for the day is set on the day of the event by the people who are attending.  That’s right.  You arrive that morning, and you decide what you want to learn about.  And then you learn.

According to the Edcamp Foundation website, here are the criteria for an Edcamp:

  • free
  • non-commercial and conducted with a vendor-free presence
  • hosted by any organization interested in furthering the Edcamp mission
  • made up of sessions that are determined on the day of the event
  • events where anyone who attends can be a presenter
  • reliant on the “law of two feet” that encourages participants to find a session that meets their needs

Revolutionary, right?  Or, perhaps you are thinking that it is just a recipe for chaos…

Apparently, it works.  You can use the Foundation’s website to find an Edcamp near you, or you can organize one of your own with their suggested resources.  One of the most comprehensive resources that I’ve found has been this PDF, “How to Start and Run Your Very Own EdCamp.

Now, as I mentioned, I have not attended a full-day Edcamp.  But I certainly saw the value when I participated in the “mini” Edcamp last December.  Teachers volunteered topics they wanted to learn more about, or that they wanted to discuss with others, and the topics were assigned to different rooms on the campus.  People volunteered to moderate in each room, and then everyone migrated to the topic of their choice.  The only complaints that I heard were that people were having a hard time choosing just one room!

I love this idea, and can’t wait to participate in a full-day version. On Twitter, I’ve seen some educators mention that they have used the Edcamp model with their students, too.  I think it would be great for a school Parent Night, as well.

If you’ve attended an Edcamp, I would love to hear your thoughts.  And, if you have organized one for students or parents, please share your impressions of extending Edcamp to these populations.

Update:  Here is a recent article from Edutopia (3/19/14) about Edcamps. 

Example of an EdCamp Schedule from Innovation on Earth
Example of an EdCamp Schedule from Innovation on Earth

Thinking Outside the School

Pop-Up Museum Exterior
Exterior view of the future “Pop-Up Museum”

Some people look at space differently.  For example, you might walk past a suddenly empty retail space in an outdoor mall, and completely ignore the “For Lease” sign.  At most, you might think, “What a pity.  Another store has gone out of business.”  But, I’m betting you don’t think, “Wow, that would be a great spot to have a “Night at the Museum” event showcasing student art and other great projects!”

That’s what John Hinds thought.  And, he set about making this “pop-up museum” idea become a reality.

John Hinds is the Principal at Encino Park Elementary.  (You can stalk him on Twitter @johnghinds.) More importantly, he is a man of ideas – especially ideas about maximizing space. I used to work for him until our paths diverged, and I’ve never known a person as passionate as he is about creating unique learning environments.  This is the man who spearheaded the class on wheels in our former school, and currently has an initiative where parents artistically design ceiling tiles for his current school. Yes, ceiling tiles – because, of course, students should be just as inspired when they look up as they are when they look at the walls.

When John noticed a furniture store had vacated a uniquely designed space in one of the local outdoor malls, he knew it would be the perfect spot for a “Night at the Museum.”  He made a deal to secure the space for a day. That evening, students will showcase art and clubs.  Other schools in the cluster will participate.  Students will provide music.  Photos from the school year will be streamed, and new pictures will be taken and added to the stream that evening.  One of my favorite ideas that John just shared with me is a “recording booth” where parents and students will have the opportunity to share their favorite memories about their school.

This will be an enjoyable evening for families, but businesses in the area will also reap benefits.  It’s certain that this influx of families on a week night will flood the local restaurants (who might be generous enough to donate some of their profits to the school).

Sometimes, it’s nice to invite the community to your school.  But, like John Hinds, maybe we should consider switching things up and bringing the school to the community.

Night at the Museum Interior
“Night at the Museum” Interior – Doesn’t this space inspire you?