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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…)

Our new St. Gregory Design Build Technological Innovation class continues to inspire me; it is so great to see students identifying their passions and designing projects around them, tackling difficult problems, and persevering through difficulties to design and build new technologies.

The video above showcases another example of the learning of this class, in this case the design and construction of a “Giant Trike.”  My appreciation goes to the excellent teacher, Dennis Connor, who runs this class and also produced the video, and of course to our fine student Alex who designed and built the bicycle.

Related Posts:

Related videos: (more…)


Among the most exciting initiatives of the past two years at our school has been our new annual Youth Leadership and Innovation Summit, presented with support from Providence Corporation.  For this event we invite principals and youth leaders from across Tucson to nominate outstanding 7th graders to come to our campus for an 8 hour Saturday workshop.

On April 2 fifty nine seventh graders from 20 Tucson middle schools came to St. Gregory College Preparatory School for the second annual Leadership and Innovation Summit. During the day the students participated in a variety of sessions demonstrating the how leadership and innovation are woven into our lives.  The hands-on activities taught the student how they too are able to unlock their own potential in these areas with a greater awareness of their abilities and a bit of creativity.

I hope you enjoy the video about the day, produced by St. Gregory student Derek Jobst’13.

Good afternoon Graduates, Students, Trustees, Parents, and Friends: welcome.We are very happy you are all here to share in this celebration of the accomplishments and unique qualities of the 35 fine members of our graduating class of 2011.Let me begin by quoting one of our graduates sitting in front of me today, from a KGUN Channel 9 interview last September at the Tucson Ethnic Extravaganza
we are here to advocate for all students being able to learn about an ethnicity and its history: this is about a privilege that I enjoy at my school, St. Gregory,  and which I feel every student should share: the freedom of knowledge.
For this purpose and ideal, Aubri Romero and Jacob Valdez, advised by Dr. Berry,  took the initiative to make a difference for our community by organizing a community-wide rally downtown. They had to overcome significant challenges,  but they persevered and did it the way they believed they could make the most difference, and it was a great success.What is especially meaningful to me about this particular action is what they were fighting for:  better education for all.   They sought to empower fellow students, and to improve our society, by influencing what and how their fellow students learn.They know that Education empowers; learning matters.Yes, this always been true, but it has never been more true. (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

Step aside Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere.   For an up-close and analytical film about building a world-class education which thoroughly prepares all students for careers and citizenship in the 21st century, take the 62 minutes to view the new film from Tony Wagner and Bob Compton: The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World’s Most Surprising School System.

Whether it will be “surprising” for all is something I question: indeed, the lessons learned from Finland align themselves so closely with the best educational thinking of the past several decades, and to my mind most particularly Ted Sizer and Tony Wagner himself, that it is legitimate to wonder whether this film finds too much of what it was looking for and projects itself too greatly upon its own subject.

One genuine surprise in this film is that it comes from Bob Compton, the film-maker of 2 Million Minutes and 2 Million Minutes, the 21st century solution.   (more…)


We are pleased at St. Gregory to announce and share our new opportunity for our high school students, diplomas in Leadership and Innovation .  As described in the slides above, the program allows those students who wish to go further in their leadership or innovation education can do so by pursuing one of these two diplomas in a program which functions in a way somewhat akin to a college major.

St. Gregory’s motto is to “Create Leaders and Innovators,” and I’m certainly confident that the school has long done exactly this, and that in recent years the school has taken very excellent steps forward in doing so even better.   Our school will continue to do so for all our students, and we will work to ensure that this new opportunity for some students to go further or deeper doesn’t in any way result in any diminished such education for all other students.

This program has a few parallels at other schools around our continent.  A particular inspiration for our initiative has been the Global Studies diploma offered by Providence Day School, which I first learned about at an NAIS conference in Chicago, two years ago. (more…)


After my talks last week on the topic Innovative Schools, Innovative Students, Karl Fisch suggested to me to Dan Meyer’s talk, and I thank Karl for that.   Dan’s terrific talk has a great resonance with my argument that if we are to teach our students to become innovators, we must move them away from simplicity and formulas and most of all from absolute answers,  against actually.   We must become more comfortable with discomfort, with lack of clarity, with a lack of simple or certain solutions.

Dan says early in his talk that this is an amazing time to be a math teacher, and this is certainly one of my larger arguments in parallel: this is an amazing time to be an educator.

Dan fears that our educational system is inculcating in our students exactly the wrong traits for their future success, and I would extend, exactly the wrong ones to prepare them to be innovators.

  • Lack of initiative
  • Lack of perseverance (more…)

[cross-posted from Connected Principals]

“Shouldn’t we test it now? Shouldn’t we?  I want to try; let me put it on top now.”

The boy circled the table, holding the marshmallow, being a bit of a pest.  Perhaps a tad hyper, even, he kept asking, testing the patience of his team-mates who very responsibly maintained their focus on the structure they were building, ever and ever higher.

“No,” one girl replied.  “It’s not ready yet. Wait until we are done!  We still have seven more minutes.”

Many of us are chattering with increasing enthusiasm about the importance of learning from failures, mistakes and errors.   Doing so it is not only a valuable part of learning,  it may well be an essential element of effective learning.

As educators we are always looking for concrete examples and active experiences to better advance understanding.   Last Saturday I spent four hours with groups of 15-20 seventh graders, about an hour at a time, undertaking an activity which has (at least)  two powerful take-away lessons, one of them being the critical importance of error in achieving success.

The activity is called the Marshmallow Challenge, and it is incredibly easy and amazingly powerful.  It has its own website with thorough directions, including a fascinating Ted-talk by Tom Wujec who articulates astutely some of its lessons. (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.”

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of sitting to hear a “pitch” from a group of four students proposing a new green energy patio area as a laptop recharging station.  The students are all participants in our new Innovation course, called Design/Build Technology Innovation, taught by our excellent Physics instructor Dennis Conner.

This is the proposal the students submitted in advance of their “pitch.”


  • Use the Maintenance Building as a “base” for a solar panel recharging system.
  • (Set up display that monitors energy output from the panels.
  • Construct a ramada/patio area that showcases these technologies.
  • In future, we would like to add a wind turbine to the power system.


  • We would like to use the storage closet next to the storage room(old photo lab) to house electronics that should be shielded from the elements.
  • We would like to use the roof of the building to try various orientations of solar panels. (more…)