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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“The Relentless Principal”

If you haven’t seen the video entitled The Tattooed, Skater Principal Making School Fun Again, it’s worth a watch. It was recently featured on Freethink which shares stories of people thinking differently and making a difference.

 

This is the summary that accompanies the video:

Hamish Brewer, a tattooed, skateboarding principal in Northern Virginia isn’t your normal principal. Hamish is a born motivator, constantly calling on his students to “Be Relentless.” The New Zealander with an infectious energy served as principal of Occoquan Elementary, a school serving a large low-income and immigrant community.

His unique leadership approach turned Occoquan from a struggling school with sagging test scores into one of the best schools in the state. Now, he’s in his first year at a new school, tasked with spearheading the same transformation he led at Occoquan. Can he replicate his remarkable success at Fred Lynn Middle School?

Hamish Brewer is exciting to watch. His enthusiasm is contagious. His energy is unparalleled and the vision of change he brings to a school building and culture is inspiring. However, the reality is that every leader is NOT Hamish Brewer. Many principals may not possess his larger than life personality and comfort level in front of an audience on a mic. Some administrators may not have his easy way with the kids or huge sense of humour. Many will certainly not be skilled as on a skateboard or with a spray can of paint, as he is :).  However, although those pieces have undeniably contributed to Hamish Brewer’s success in transforming the schools he leads, this is not what struck me most. What stood out for me was his relentless pursuit to do the best for kids in a quest for his school to be amazing. It was instead his relentless commitment to changing the game, and being an educational disruptor. And it was his relentless focus on changing the narrative of school, away from “archaic educational processes” towards making learning more authentic and relevant. The word relentless is one he uses regularly with students and it is a prominent fixture all over the walls of the school.

The word relentless resonates.

In his book The Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros talks about “relentless restlessness”, a term suggested by Pixar’s Brad Bird as a phenomenon that serves to spread and sustain excellence in an organization. George suggests that it is this “relentless restlessness that will serve our students well and empower educators as learners”. We must be relentless in our pursuit of innovative teaching and learning that improves the lives of our students.

In a blog post summarizing and reflecting on The Innovator’s Mindset, Gerald Fussell a principal from Vancouver Island, focuses further on the idea of “relentless restlessness” with the following statement:

Hamish Brewer’s relentless restlessness shines through in; his passionate devotion to innovation and the learners in his school, his commitment to the constant evolution of student learning, and ultimately his success as a leader. His innovative, creative approach to meeting the diverse needs of his students is to be commended, however it is his relentless vision and commitment which we must emulate.   We look forward to hearing about Part Two  of Hamish Brewer’s adventures as he moves on to Fred Lynn Middle School!

Press Restart

In thinking about the #IMMOOC blog prompt from last week, Why is innovation in education so crucial today?, George Couros’ blog post Restart vs Repeat, really resonated with me. The post talks about the necessity of separating students from the mistakes they may make, and the importance of believing in them. In it he says the following, “I am a big believer that we are creators of our destiny, but having people believe in you along the way, sure makes the road a lot less bumpy. As many schools around North America are well into the school year, remember that a fresh start can happen daily, or even more frequently, and kids need adults who show they believe in them. We need to sometimes hit the restart button with others instead of the repeat.”

This last statement is good advice not only in working with students but really in all aspects of life and relationships. It also rings true when talking about innovation in schools.

We need to sometimes hit the restart button in schools instead of the repeat.

In today’s dynamic, changing world innovation is crucial. Finding new and better ways to optimally support the world of learning for our students has never been more imperative. Yet, as educators, we often get caught up in the mode of REPEAT. For some tried and true practices, that is, things that really work and are in the best interest of student learning; we should continue to hit REPEAT. But when that isn’t the case and we do things the same old way because it’s just easier, or comfortable, or we don’t know a better way, or merely because that’s the way we’ve always done it, that’s when we need to consider that it’s time for a change. When what we are doing is not best serving the needs of our students, then it’s time to come up with a new and better way of doing things…it’s time to press RESTART.

A RESTART is defined as a new start or beginning and in fact, the action of restarting can be interpreted in many ways and is broad ranging (see below). A restart may not mean changing everything, but it means changing something. Constantly striving to find new and better ways to support our learners is not optional. Innovation is crucial.

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