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…)

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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…)

[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…)

Regular readers here know of my fondness for Steven Johnson, and my enthusiasm particularly for his 2010 book (the book of the year, I think), Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation.

Now comes his next book,  the Innovator’s Cookbook.   I am eager to read the book and will certainly share more here soon, but the video above is a taste and a teaser.    It asks us as educators who seek to cultivate innovative mindsets among our students to think about what we are doing to help them “get a little lost,” “get out of their normal environments,” and have “show and tell sessions,” when they share with each other eclectic arrays of what they are learning about in the wider world.

[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…)

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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.