Tag Archives: innovation

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.



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.”


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


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.





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?


Shawn Rubin

In yesterday’s post, I gave some suggestions for ways that corporations could support educators.  There are a lot of great educators who want to stay in the classroom, but find themselves spinning their wheels after several years.  For many, the only opportunities to improve their craft come from district-sanctioned professional development.  The only way they can advance in their field is to leave the classroom to become an administrator.

There are a growing number of teachers, however, who are trying to innovate while continuing to teach.  Different words are being used to describe this group of trailblazers – teacherpreneurs and intrapeneurs being the most frequent that I’ve seen.

At a recent session at SXSWedu, called, “The Competitive Advantage of Teacher Leadership,” some people who are very familiar with teachers as innovators spoke about their experiences and what they think needs to happen to encourage more educators to follow this path.  Shawn Rubin (@shawncrubin) was one of them.  He recently, with the support of administrators and many other mentors, developed a product called Metryx that he saw a strong need for during his teaching day.  But he acknowledges that his situation was very unique in the support that he received.  As Rubin commented, “Education space has a bank teller mentality.  You work in your cubicle and do what you’re supposed to be doing.”  Collaboration and innovation are not promoted on a regular basis in our profession.

Barnett Berry (@barnettctq) agrees.  During the session I attended, he represented the Center for Teaching Quality, which “gives time and space to teachers to incubate their own ideas while continuing to teach.” He also said, “We don’t utilize all of the fabulous teachers we have now.”

Along the same lines, I recently read an article entitled, “Where are Educators in the EdTech Revolution?”  It stated, “some classroom educators worry that corporations are gathering input from industry consultants rather than tapping into the veteran experience of the very teachers who will utilize their apps.”  The claim is made that many tech companies turn to the younger, newer teachers, who they perceive to be more tech-savvy, rather than tapping the knowledge of experienced, master teachers who may be able to contribute much more to the conversation.

How can we, as teachers, develop more support for our innovative ideas?  Shawn Rubin’s advice was to use meetup.com to find others in your area who have similar interests.  In addition, he mentioned a group called “Edunderground” that he started in his own city.  They meet regularly at a local business office to network and bounce ideas off each other.  Also, try to connect with companies like the Center for Teaching Quality, or E-Line Media (whose founder, Alan Gershenfeld, also spoke at the session), who wholeheartedly support the idea of teacherpreneurs.

There are some teachers out there with amazing ideas that could revolutionize education.  They just need some help to make it happen.

(Click here for additional information about teacherpreneurs from Ariel Sacks, and here for more information about teacherpreneurs from the Center for Teaching Quality.)

Sometimes We Just Need to Throw Out the Instructions

Quote from Randy Rodgers
Quote from Randy Rodgers

In his TCEA 2014 presentation, “Failure to Innovate,” Randy Rodgers stated the above quote, and I realized that it really says a lot about the problems in education today.  Our students are far too reliant on following directions, and so many are afraid to deviate in order to do some creative thinking.  I remember my daughter being the same with an old Lite-Brite we had inherited from a friend.  She loved it as long as there were papers she could stick on it to make the designs.  But as soon as we ran out of the papers, she didn’t know what to do.  When I suggested she make up her own designs, she looked at me like I was crazy.  As parents and teachers, we need to find ways to encourage creation, rather than only rewarding products that basically just prove our students know how to follow directions.

Even though I feel this in my heart, I still catch myself squelching innovation sometimes.  In our new Maker Studio, the students have a Little Bits station.  I downloaded task cards from the site that give suggestions for exploring the different parts.  Ten minutes after one group started with the task cards, I walked by the table to find the cards strewn about and various “Little Bits” being connected in the spirit of complete exploration.  I had to bite my logical, sequential tongue to stop from saying, “Wait!  But you didn’t do the task cards in order!  You didn’t even do the task cards!”  One of the few times my students didn’t consult me to find out what they were supposed to be doing, but dove in without fear, and I almost blew it!

If you’re looking for tools for innovation, check out Randy Rogers’ presentation, as well as his website.  He has a great list of all kinds of fabulous resources for those of us looking to bring more creativity into our classrooms.  A couple that I am hoping to add soon are: MakeyMakey and Hummingbird. (Watch the MakeyMakey video that shows bananas being played like a piano, and you’ll be sold, too!)

Whether it’s high-tech or low-tech, try to resist telling your students what to do with everything.  Sure, they need to know how to follow directions in certain situations.  But they also need to know how to lose them.