Innovation Institute

Earlier this school year, I read Innovator’s Mindset but I did not have time to keep up with #IMMOOC. Why? Because I’m in my second year as a teacher in the Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School, China. In other words, I’ve been busy innovating! It is amazing and challenging and inspiring and messy and wonderful. We are so fortunate to have the use of a recently renovated space and wonderful resources. However, multi-disciplinary learning based on design and incorporating the 4C’s can still be done – we did not have this phenomenal space last year and the program was a bit more challenging but still successful. Check out a video of our program in the newly renovated space that is our new home this year:

Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School

I previously wrote a post on Chapter 1 and 2 (What is Innovation?) so I will keep this post short. However, I really want to finish blogging about Innovator’s Mindset, which I find so inspiring. I will try my best to stay involved in the conversation this time!

Ultimately, I think education needs to produce students who can change the world for the better. From politics to the environment and everything in between, our students need to be able to solve problems and empathize. They truly do need to have not only a growth mindset, but an innovator’s mindset. If I were starting my own school, I would make sure that students truly have an opportunity to explore their passions and that they would spend a LOT of time outdoors.




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.



Balancing Teaching & Life

I adore teaching, and I am always trying to become a better teacher. Teaching is not just my job, it’s my passion. Unfortunately, sometimes this passion is not healthy or sustainable long term. There are times – more and more in the last couple of years – when I find that I do not have a healthy balance in my life. Teaching can sometimes take over to the point that I can’t find the time to work out or make healthy eating choices. It can even undermine quality time with my sons and husband. I realize that this is NOT okay.

Last year, for the first time ever, work-related stress started to affect me physically at times – feeling tired or not sleeping well, or even feeling some low-level anxiety that made it more difficult to relax. So I am now making it a priority to ensure that I have a healthier work-life balance. I am starting 2016 with some personal goals:

Of course, I still have my professional goals. My ‘official’ professional goals this year are to:

  • develop and use rich mathematical tasks to engage and motivate students (collaborative math department goal);
  • collaborate with my geometry Professional Learning Community (PLC) to develop clear learning targets and common formative and summative assessments (PLC goal); and
  • have students more deeply engage in the assessment and reporting process in order to develop self-awareness of what they have learned and what they still need to learn.

I know that this year feels stressful and hectic since I am a part of a couple of new initiatives this year. Although both initiatives excite and inspire me, it is still a big learning curve for both! One initiative is our high school’s Innovation Institute, which is an integrated project/problem-based learning program. The first cohort – two classes of 29 students total – is in their second year of the program (grade 10). I am the grade 10 biology teacher, but I get to collaborate with 3 other subject teachers (math, history and English) in order to design learning experiences that are interconnected and require students to inquire and work together. In addition to this, I am the facilitator of the geometry PLC. PLCs at Work – as well as the incorporation of Extended Learning time for students – are new to our high school this year, and it can certainly be challenging at times during this implementation phase. While both of these initiatives are something I believe strongly in, it is a lot of work and it can be hard at times to feel unsure if we are doing the ‘right’ thing.

In light of (or perhaps despite?!) everything going on at school, I think this blog will be excellent for my professional growth. My hope is that this blog will keep me focused on what is most important to me as a teacher. I also hope that it will remind me to prioritize and be more efficient and effective so that I will always have time to put my family and myself first.

Every teacher knows that teaching is not easy. Most teachers are continually trying to improve and learn new things. Like me, many teachers worry about their students and think about work even when they are at home. It can be difficult to “turn off” or forget about a long to-do list. People who are not teachers often think that teaching is an easy job and that we are SO lucky to have so many holidays. The truth is that most teachers are incredibly hard working. Many teachers put in so many hours outside of the regular school day that they eventually burn out, or have the same problems with balance that I have been experiencing. In this situation especially, winter break or summer vacation are crucial for teachers to be able to recharge. (My recent trip to Bali was exactly what I needed  – time with my family and not thinking about work at all!) The last thing I want to do is give so much of myself to teaching that I no longer love it.

I am excited about 2016… Here’s to being the best teacher, wife and mom that I can be, while making sure that I make time to stay mentally, physically and emotional healthy!

Update: The day after I wrote this post, this article from The Guardian (Work-life balance: flexible working can make you ill) popped up in my FB newsfeed. I can only speak for my experience, but of course other professions have similar issues :/