A recurrent theme on this blog is advocating learning by doing in the 21st century, and I argue that we should be seizing the opportunities new technologies present to facilitate our students in shifting their focus from consumption to creation, from receiving information to producing knowledge and applying it to become themselves active innovators.

We have been working throughout our curriculum to promote this idea– see the way that our AP Gov’t class has written their own textbooks or created their own political campaigns complete with TV ads and websites as examples.   Our Design Built Tech Innovation class, often celebrated here on the blog, is a highlight of our efforts in this direction.

In the TED talk above, MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld explains that we need in our schools a  “Fab Lab — a low-cost lab that lets people build things they need using digital and analog tools. It’s a simple idea with powerful results.”

We’ve won the digital revolution; let’s look after the digital revolution to what comes next.

I’ve never understood the boundary between computer science and physical science… Computer science is one of the worst things ever to happen either to computers or science.

I started a new class, How To Make Almost Anything.   Students were not there [in this class] to do research, they were there because they wanted to make stuff.

Just year after year — and I finally realized the students were showing the killer app of personal fabrication is products for a market of one person. You don’t need this for what you can get in Wal-Mart; you need this for what makes you unique.

[paraphrase] When we opened FabLabs, we found a pattern: Empowerment begins, and then Education follows, serious, hands on education, Problem-Solving follows, and in turn Businesses grow around this problem-solving, and eventually there is Invention: real invention happening in these labs.

So, we’re just at the edge of this digital revolution in fabrication, where the output of computation programs the physical world. So, together, these two projects answer questions I hadn’t asked carefully. The class at MIT shows the killer app for personal fabrication in the developed world is technology for a market of one: personal expression in technology that touches a passion unlike anything I’ve seen in technology for a very long time.   And the killer app for the rest of the planet is the instrumentation and the fabrication divide: people locally developing solutions to local problems.

With this as inspiration, we at St. Gregory are pushing ahead to develop further our own version “Fab Lab” in Dennis Conner’s Physics classroom.   Already it is an astounding place, filled with terrific tools and resources for construction, measurement, and analysis.   Students are building solar energy stations, trebuchet catapults, and much, much more in this FabLab.  But we are not done: there is more to do.

Next on our list is the installation of a 3D printer, ordered recently from MakerBot and which will be ready to go for students next month. (more…)

The TEDx talk above is a treat, presented by two faculty members of the d. school (Design) at Stanford, one of them, Scott Witthoft, an alumnus of our school, St. Gregory, and a great example of what we mean when we say we “create innovators.”  Scott Doorley is his colleague; their titles are co-directors of the Environment Collaborative .

The talk is engaging and visually enriched by the slides; it should be said that it is not particularly detailed, comprehensive, or sophisticated. It serves as a lovely prompt to think more carefully about what we want furniture to do for us, and their specific topic, though not deeply explored, is what we want furniture to do in classrooms to promote creativity.

Some key quotes:

We think about tables a lot,  not for what they are but for what they do.

What role do you want a table to play in a creative learning environment or experience?

We think of creative spaces as spaces where people make things, like a Fab Lab, or any places where an idea gets embodied or advanced:  Where do the ideas lead students? What are their next steps?  A critical aspect of designing that table or that experience is leaving room to evolve. (more…)

Several of my great enthusiasms come together in the the video above and below from the School at Columbia and their outstanding, superb Tools-at-Schools project.   Don Buckley, the School’s Director of Innovation, seems a prime driver here.   For me, watching the videos is a wonderful learning experience; I was able to learn more about the design process (so crucial to innovation),  visualize quality PBL in action, and at the same time gain new understanding of how school furniture can be updated to better enhance innovative learning environments.

Several elements stand out:

1. The program gives students real-world tasks connected to their own experience and relevant to their lives, tasks to which they themselves can bring their own expertise. (more…)

The recent Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson is, I found, un-put-downable and compelling: a sweeping, stimulating, poignant narrative of one of the most fascinating persons of our era.

Jobs is not an exact contemporary, being about 12 years older than I am, but he is near enough to make the book that much more connected to my own experience.  I found the book vastly more fascinating when its narrative timeline intersected with my own personal experiences with Jobs’s products: experimenting with an Apple II in the early ‘80s, excitedly acquiring my own Macintosh in 1984, thrilling to my iPhone in 2008.

Isaacson doesn’t hold back on the negatives: this is not a hagiography.   As fascinating as the book is, it does not lead you to like Jobs as a person, and it leads you only to a very qualified degree of admiration for him as a leader, even as you are (or I was) astounded by his accomplishment.

Of course I was taken aback, even appalled, by his ferocious cruelty toward nearly everyone around him.    Isaascson similarly is repelled, and makes clear in his conclusion that it was unnecessary and at times detrimental to his success.    But—is it possible there is something to learn from here? Is it possible that we could all benefit from being a little bit less determined to spare people’s feelings? Isaacson:

The nasty edge of his personality was not necessary.  It hindered him more than it helped him.  But it did, at times, serve a purpose.  Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change.  Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible.

I think of some of the cooking competition TV shows I like so much, such as Next Food Network Star and Top Chef,  and one of the things I appreciate most about these shows is the skillfulness by which they give strong, direct, frank, honest, cutting, criticism, and, even more, the way most contestants take that criticism and use it to make themselves stronger.  (more…)

[cross-posted from  Connected Principals]

Heidi Hayes Jacobs:  ”If you’re not updating your curriculum, you are saying that nothing is changing.”

“Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of school administrators who responded to a recent survey said 1:1 computing classrooms where teachers act as a coach for students are the future of education.” (T.H.E Journal)

“Innovative teaching supports students’ development of the skills that will help them thrive in future life and work.” (ITL Research)

One of the most exciting books of the year for those of us seeking to become ever more effective as innovative school-leaders and leaders of innovative schools, and, even more importantly, seeking to facilitate our students’ development of more innovative mindsets, is the new book from Clayton Christensen (et.al), The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the 5 Skills of Disruptive Innovators.

(Bill Ferriter has written brilliantly about this book herehere, and here).

The book is framed around the Five Core Skills of Innovators, a framework highly valuable for ourselves and our students: What are we doing to do more of and become better at

  • Associating,
  • Questioning,
  • Observing,
  • Networking,
  • Experimenting. 

It is my aim to write more about these five traits, particularly for teaching and learning, but here I want to focus upon school leadership and the book’s concluding three chapters, People, Processes, and Philosophies, to draw and offer 15 takeaways for Principals and School-Leaders: What You Can Do to Become Stronger Innovation Leaders in Your School:

1.  Own as Principal the role of Innovator-in-Chief: You can’t delegate innovation:     

Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  Steve Jobs.

Christensen:

“In the most innovative companies, senior executives didn’t just delegate innovation; their own hands were deep in the innovation process… (more…)

I greatly admire author Cathy Davidson, and I very much wanted to love this book, but sadly I don’t.

Now You See It comes from an exciting intellect, a scholar and an academic, a sparkling enthusiast and vigorous advocate for the “new learning” modes that my blog here promotes and celebrates.   Davidson’s focus is the university, and as a Vice Provost at Duke she led that university forward in meaningful and important ways; now at HASTAC she is clearly one of the nation’s most important educational thinkers and innovators in her work seeking to transform learning to modes that are contemporary, relevant, engaging, and preparatory for students.

So why I am so disappointed in the book?  As I’ve reflected about it, I think my main sadness is that in her advocacy for students being online and networked, and in her defense against what we all can recognize has been at times a loud and emphatic backlash against the problems of multi-tasking and digital distraction, she seems to work so hard to defend her turf that she allows for no compromise, no middle path, no synthesis, and the extremism of her position and/or rhetoric undermine her very argument and what are our shared goals.

There are terrific elements in the book.   She relates exciting educational innovations that she helped to pioneer at Duke; I am very inspired by the way she implemented the iPod experiment with undergrads at Duke, a “calculated exercise in disruption, distraction, and difference,” and the great advances in creativity, collaboration, and communication that unfolded as a result. (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Dad, there’s your favorite word again,” my son calls out, a tad cynically, when we are driving to  school listening to NPR and a reporter uses the word  innovation.   I am aware that my son, and others, believe this word has become too much of a buzz-word and perhaps a fad,  too often so broadly defined that it becomes generic, empty in content, and devoid of true significance.

 

But, I refuse to be deterred.

 

Like Tom Friedman in the New York Times, President Obama, and many others, I think the word and the concept capture and describe something both wonderful and incredibly important in our world today– and in fact, more important than ever before in our fast-changing times.   Educational innovation, and, more importantly, educating students to be innovative, are the intertwined twin concepts I spend the most time trying to learn about more deeply, understand better, write about more often, and implement more effectively.

 

Looking back, I recognize now that the slogan change made in my first months (2009) at my school, St. Gregory, by the Board of Trustees and myself,  came too soon and too abruptly, without enough preparation and inclusion, and I regret the rushed process.  But, nevertheless,  I love the phrase which adorns our website, brochures,  and advertisements and which looms large on the walls of our major meeting areas: Creating Leaders and Innovators.

 

Creating Leaders and Innovators stood proudly tall in foot-large letters high up on our gymnasium wall in 2010 when Tony Wagner, Ph.D., visited our school and spoke beneath this banner to an audience of nearly 500 about the educational change our fast-changing world demands and how we can bring about this change.

 

So it should be no surprise that I am greatly enthusiastic about Dr. Wagner’s forthcoming book, (April, 2012),Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World. I think every 21st century educator who seeks to strengthen our national and global future by teaching our students to be more creative and successful problem-solvers should put this book on the very top of their must-read list for 2012.

 

Last week, I had the good fortune to participate in a webinar organized by Edleader21, the fine “Professional Learning Community for 21st century educational leaders,” with Dr. Wagner, and I received his permission to share this “preview” of his forthcoming book’s exciting insights and lessons.  (These are my notes recapitulating his remarks, not a verbatim transcript.) (more…)

Watch and enjoy.

We all are working to promote more innovative school cultures, and, more importantly, to facilitate our students’ development of more innovative mindsets.   But I fear that too often we see innovation as an extraordinarily complex or sophisticated concept.  In thinking this, we set the bar so high that we lose confidence in our ability to reach it, and hence, stop trying quite so hard.

Instead, we should continue to recognize how elemental and elementary innovation is: it is an art of copying, transforming, and combining, as Kirby Ferguson explains in this very charming, colorful, fun and informative video.    Innovation isn’t epiphany, it is effort, experiment, and practice.    It is copying with intentionally allowed mutations; it is experimenting with the possibilities mutations make available; it is refusing to stop at any limit or boundary but instead continuing to ask what next, what more, what else?

More about Kirby Ferguson’s fascinating project is available here.

The accompanying online article can be found here.

From that article, by Arizona Public Media reporter  Luis Carrión :

St. Gregory College Preparatory School will begin the new school year with an oversized addition: one of the largest solar arrays in any Tucson school, producing 140 kilowatts of energy. The project consists of more than 600 locally produced solar panels that will offset St. Gregory’s energy bill by a minimum of $1,000 a month.

Jonathan Martin, head of St. Gregory, says the project will not only offset dependency on the grid, it will also provide students with valuable opportunities to learn about an important sustainable energy source.

Young people care about the environment, Martin notes, and they are passionate about making changes that will benefit the planet and future generations. (more…)

I’m very pleased to report that our major solar panel installation is well underway (Click here for the press release with all the details).

This is a 140 Kw project, entailing more than 600 panels on six of our major buildings which we have undertaken in a partnership with a Tucson company, Solar H20.   This is an all-Tucson project: the partner utility company is Tucson Electric Power (TEP); the solar panels are manufactured not in China or overseas but right here in Tucson (though by a German company, Solon), and even the racks are manufactured here in town.

Yesterday, I was interviewed by KUAT, Arizona Public Media, for a television news report they are preparing for their weekly television “newsmagazine” show, Arizona Illustrated, about this project. It is my hope and intent to be able to share that news report here soon.

I was asked two main questions, and I thought I would do my best to share and replicate my answers here (in fairness, these written answers are a bit expanded).

Q: Why is St. Gregory undertaking this project? 

A: It has been a high priority of my leadership to embark on alternative energy support for our school, and to not go solar in this Southern Arizona sun seems foolish.   Rick Belding, our business manager, and I had been discussing and seeking opportunities to make this go, (including multiple conversations with Tucson’s Solar energy project manager, Bruce Tunze), when we were approached by a new company, Solar H20, which was ready to seize on certain incentives available from both our local utility, TEP, and the federal government.  After a very thorough review of the contract by Rick Belding, we were ready to commit.

This is a win-win-win project. (more…)

Above are the 49 slides from my keynote presentation to the NCAIS Innovate (North Carolina Association of Independent Schools) and the VAIS Tech (Virginia Association of Independent Schools) conferences.

After an introduction on the topic of why innovate, and an argument that independent schools are not innovative enough, the presentation shares seven conceptual approaches by which schools can better facilitate innovative mindsets among educators and students both.  Although the presentation draws on many sources, Steven B. Johnson’s recent book, Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation is especially influential.

Time limitations made it impossible to spend as much time as I would have liked to discuss specific, concrete as it were, applications of each of the seven concepts, but the slides below offer suggestions for each.   I’d be delighted, of course, if readers were to offer their own suggested specific applications of these concepts to school cultures.

Click more to view the three videos shared  in the presentation.  (more…)

This morning at all-school meeting, I shared this video with our students and school community.   It was particularly fitting to do so today, I explained to the assembly.  The video features author Steven Johnson explaining the incredibly important value of on-line networking in the development of better thinking and “good ideas.”

Appropriate it was, today, because we had visiting our campus three educators from out-of-town, two from Phoenix and one from Atlanta. They were here at our school to share and develop further their own “good ideas,” and all three had come to us, in one way or another, via communications along on-line networks such as Twitter and blogging.

I encouraged our students, after the video’s conclusion, to reflect upon the ways in which they were using online networking in ways beyond the merely social: were they using it, or could they be using it more effectively (and safely, of course), to communicate with others who shared their passions and hobbies and with whom they could share their own “good ideas,” and through this intellectual networking, better develop new “good ideas.”

We need not just educational innovation, but education for innovation.   Our problems are too great, and our global competitive challenges too significant, for us to feel successful unless we educate our students to be effective innovators.

We know too that innovation happens in clusters, it happens in open societies which value and affirm innovation and create communities of inquiry, experimentation, and practice.   Let’s help our schools be such places.

Two articles I encountered just today offer valuable insight into what I like to think of as the Ed2In project.

The first came from Harvard University’s Gazette, in an article entitled Innovate/Create: Innovation, Creativity power fresh thinking at Harvard.   What is the formula, simplified?  “Harvard’s combination of questing minds, passionate spirits, and intellectual seekers tackling society’s toughest problems fosters a creativity that has produced a stream of innovations.” (more…)

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