What IS Innovation?

This is the second year that I have been teaching students in a new program called Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School. I couldn’t help but reflect on this program as I read Part 1 of The Innovator’s Mindset. In fact, I actually read this book previously, but I am reading the book through a different lens now that I am teaching in the Innovation Institute. I am so grateful that my colleagues and I seem to be on the right track with this program…. our Institute is something “new and better” for students who want to learn in a collaborative, integrated, project-based learning environment.

I completely agree that we need to prepare students for jobs that do not currently exist, and it is our job as educators to help learners become confident creators, effective leaders and CRITICAL THINKERS. I love this short film (11min) The Adaptable Mind that says the skills people need to flourish in today’s world are creativity, curiosity, initiative, multi-disciplinary thinking, and empathy. Students have access to so much knowledge that what they really need to know is what to DO with this knowledge. ‘Soft skills’ such as those mentioned in The Adaptable Mind or the 4C’s (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking) are becoming more and more valued. These ‘soft skills’ are often what set students or prospective employees apart from everyone else.

The following quote in Chapter 2: The Innovators Mindset really resonated with me:

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. – Stephen Downes (2010)

Today, I shared the above quote with my Innovation Institute students before they spent time finalizing their ideology, mechanics and dynamics for a game that they are creating relating to stimulus material about competition. They will create their first prototype this week. I reminded them that they will get out of this project what they put into it; the depth of thought and how much they challenge each other will determine how much they learn and grow.

Another aspect of this week’s reading that resonated with me is the idea of the innovator’s mindset. I have long been a fan of Carol Dweck and have encouraged a growth mindset in my math classes in particular. In fact, I have shown this amazing video A Math Major Talks About Fear to my high school math students for the last three years and I have had my grade 9 students complete the free online course from Stanford called How to Learn Math: For Students. I have also spoken to my students about the importance of resiliency and grit in the context of having a growth mindset. However, I love that I can now take this a step further with the innovator’s mindset – students need to CREATE something with the knowledge they have acquired. I often intentionally plan units and lessons around students creating in order to demonstrate their understanding, but I have could do a better job of making sure that students are aware of WHY creating something is so important. If students create something ‘new and better’ – which they certainly have the opportunity to do frequently in the Innovation Institute – they are certainly pushing themselves to deeply understand concepts and think critically about what they have learned and how to demonstrate their understanding.

So why do I feel more confident that the Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School is on the right track after #IMMOOC Week 2? Students in the Innovation Institute are focusing on the 4C’s, visible thinking strategies and design thinking. Students are learning about empathy as they collaborate and work through conflict with their peers. Students have many opportunities to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty or ambiguity, sharing ideas, accepting criticism, and taking risks. The students who have opted to participate in the Innovation Institute are taking a risk simply by choosing to be educated in a way that is new and different from their previous experience.

I have been inspired by my students and colleagues in so many ways this year. I have never before described myself as ‘innovative’, but now I hope to challenge myself to find NEW and BETTER ways to demonstrate an innovator’s mindset.

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Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC

I am so inspired by the concepts in the Innovator’s Mindset, by the Week 1 #IMMOOC discussion with @burgessdave and @gcouros, and by the very idea of this MOOC. I have completed quite a few MOOCs previously, but this particular MOOC really resonates with me. I think this is partly because for the first time, I can feel that I am legitimately doing something innovative in being a part of an integrated PBL program called the Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School (@SASchina). It is also because this #IMMOOC really models what we want our students to be doing – taking control of their own learning!

What do I see as the purpose of education? Why might innovation be crucial in education?

I think that the purpose of education today should be to help students develop into learners who are confident problem solvers. They need to be able to collaborate, find information, and think critically. I honestly think that our students will need to be able to solve some serious problems in their lifetime, and they need the skills to be able to think creatively, apply what they know, and work with others to make connections. If teachers are not modeling innovation for students and giving students opportunities to be innovative, then we are not preparing them for a future that could be very different than it is now. In his book Critical Path (1982), Buckminster Fuller estimated that in the 1900s, knowledge doubled every century. Recently, it has been said that knowledge has been doubling every 13 months, but that doubling soon may be as fast as every 24 hours. There is so much information available to students now that education needs to adjust so that the focus is not on what students know, but how well they ask questions, how they apply their knowledge, and what insightful, interdisciplinary connections or solutions they can develop.

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“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a teacher in relatively new HS program at Shanghai American School called the Innovation Institute.We have a flexible schedule and an amazing new learning space in which to continue to build a program that focuses on 21st century competencies (4 C’s)  through problem/project-based learning (PBL) and the integration of Biology, English, AP Seminar and a newly-created Innovation & Design course that has a brand new Maker Space and Fab Lab at its disposal. I am thankful for the opportunity to help students make connections between their disciplines and have the opportunity to design innovative products to represent their learning. I will post more about this program as the year progresses.

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This quote is also timely since I have just spent the weekend at a PLC at Work conference here at Shanghai American School. Change can be overwhelming at times (sometimes it is others’ negativity and resistance to change that discourages us), but I love this reminder that amazing things will not happen without change. I also loved the snowball analogy that @burgessdave shared in the Week 1 #IMMOOC discussion. We have to start small to build a snowball, just like we must start with a small group of like-minded educators to build the foundation for a culture that does something different.

It really stands out to me that both the PLC at Work conference and the introduction to #innovatorsmindset remind us of two important things:

  • schools too often reward student compliance, which prevents creativity and innovative thinking; and
  • schools need to ensure that teacher collaboration and innovation is valued by making time for it during the work day and minimizing irrelevant staff meetings, requirements, etc.

I am so inspired and excited to dig into The Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC, and also to dig into the work that needs to be done for our Innovation Institute Professional Learning Community (PLC). Looking forward to committing to regularly self-reflecting and documenting my learning journey on this blog. See you soon 🙂