The Art & Science of Innovation

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In mid-November George Couros wrote a blog post entitled, “How do you focus on being innovative while still teaching the curriculum?”, which also prompted the powerful quote above.  

The curriculum tells you “what”, not “how”. The “how” is the artistry in education.

This post prompted A LOT of rich dialogue among educators with literally thousands of retweets, and replies. In it George Couros goes on to explore a common perception or perhaps misconception of educators around teaching and innovation, that the curriculum is on one side of the spectrum, and innovation is on the opposite side. He goes on to suggest:

What I try to get people to understand is that how we teach the curriculum, often, is the innovation.

As educators, we often don’t have a lot of control over the “what”. We have student learning outcomes to plan for, formative assessment to consider, and reporting mandates to meet. One might look at these pieces as “the science” that drives our role as educators.  But in preparing for our work with students, we do have a lot more control over the “how”.  That is where the artistry comes in. We may not have a whole lot of say into “what” learning outcomes we need to focus on with our students, but we do have a lot more say into “how” we are going to get them there and the learning opportunities we provide to set the stage. That is where we can often be more creative in our approaches.

Realistically, even the “how” can be fairly prescribed for some educators in some contexts with particular program initiatives and mandates.  As suggested later in George Couros’ blog post, teachers must learn to #innovatewithinthebox.  If it feels like much of our time with students is highly prescribed by things that are out of control then we will need to make the small amount of flexible learning time we do have really count! We all have boundaries, policies and hurdles to work around. The creative problem solving we use to power through and work around these obstacles is once again where the true artistry comes in. We must focus on what is important.

Innovative teaching and learning is about always looking for a better way to do things. It  is about upping the ante with our students and ensuring we are offering them the most meaningful, enriching and empowering learning opportunities possible that meet their needs as individual learners.  Innovative teaching and learning is about moving away from a one size fits all model of instruction that often puts students in the place of passive learner. It is about finding more frequent opportunities for students to be active learners in turn building the skill sets necessary in today’s shifting context.

Innovation in education is about looking closely at “the how” we do business.  One might argue that even more importantly it is first and foremost about “the why”, but that’s for another post…stay tuned! The chart below offers some specific examples as ideas to shift “the how” from a more traditional approach of the past to a more innovative, student centred, creation driven approach moving forward.

           SHIFTING” THE HOW”→Innovative Approaches

Student as Passive Learner

Student as Active Learner or “CREATOR”

Students read assigned chapters of a novel, and do end of chapter questions

or

The teacher reads a picture book, class discusses the protagonist’s problem and predicts solutions that might occur later in the story

Novel or Picture Book Engineering

  • STEP 1-  Student or class reads the book
  • STEP 2- Student creates a character sketch or profile
  • STEP 3- Student identifies a problem or goal the character faces
  • STEP 4- Student ideates 3-5 solutions for the character’s problem
  • STEP 5 – Student chooses one and creates a prototype
The teacher provides information information on an Ancient Society in a lecture format. Students read sections in a textbook and answer questions in their notebooks. Students are given some guiding questions to investigate on an Ancient Society. In groups they determine an area of interest and decide on what they are going to create to show understanding of their topic (3 D model, video, art pieces, skit etc)  They present their learning  to the class.
The teacher does a 4o minute lesson on the board on a math topic. Students are assigned 20 textbook questions as homework. Students are given a math topic to investigate after the teacher does an introduction. They are tasked with watching videos from a list of resources (i.e. Khan Academy) to build understanding then given a handful of problems to solve. They are asked to show their thinking and create their own video using an app like Explain Everything or another screencasting tool.
The teacher shows videos and demonstrates different types of simple machines. The class discusses examples. Students do worksheets on simple machines.At the end of the unit there is a test. Students ask questions about and then investigate simple machines. As a group, they are tasked with designing a Rube Goldberg machine to complete a simple task, that includes 3 simple machines, which they must explain in their video documenting their learning.
Research Project- students are assigned a topic to investigate, given a list of questions to answer and told what format they must present in. Genius Hour- students are invited to take on a project of their own choosing based on their own individual questions, interests, and/or strengths. With guidance they plan all elements of their own learning focus.
Teacher scribes the story of a reluctant writer during Writer’s Workshop after the teacher has done a mini lesson on parts of a story . Student uses Lego Story Starter to build a beginning, middle and end of story. Student takes pictures of lego scenes using an iPad and inputs the pictures into an app such as Adobe Spark.  Student tells his or her story orally to go with pictures and creates a video in minutes.

There will always be a time and place for teachers to use a more lecture-style format, offer mini-lessons, and use direct teaching, but in today’s changing world we know that our students also need more than that.  Innovative teaching and learning is about finding a balance that offers our students more regular opportunity to play an active role in their own learning.  When we open our minds in regards to “the how”, and imagine the possibilities, we can drive innovative change in our own practice. That is where the artistry comes in and that is where innovation begins.

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