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Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

fishbowl jump

“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study

Ben Nelson with Graded’s Innovators

We were fortunate to have Ben Nelson and his team present at Graded this month and we got a first hand look at The Minerva Project. It was also a pleasure to be able to meet Ben at Transformar 2014 the day before.

Michael Horn speaking at Transformar

Michael Horn was also at Transformar and it didn’t dawn on my until yesterday that Minerva is an excellent example of what Horn and Christensen refer to as disruptive innovation.

The theory explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost are the status quo. Initially, a disruptive innovation is formed in a niche market that may appear unattractive or inconsequential to industry incumbents, but eventually the new product or idea completely redefines the industry.

- See more at: http://www.christenseninstitute.org/key-concepts/disruptive-innovation-2/#sthash.bUb4ndYu.dpuf

While reading the NYT Innovation Report 2014 I came across the following.

Hallmarks of Disruptive Innovation

  • Introduced by an “outsider”
  • Less expensive than existing products
  • Targeting underserved or new markets
  • Initially inferior to existing products
  • Advanced by enabling technology

This seems to be a textbook case study for innovators to follow. Here’s what their press release states.

Minerva provides a reinvented university experience for the brightest, most motivated students in the world. Combining a redefined student body, a reinvented curriculum, rigorous academic standards, cutting-edge technology, and an immersive global experience, Minerva is committed to providing an exceptional and accessible liberal arts and sciences education for future leaders and innovators across all disciplines.

The Outsider

Nelson is definitely an outsider to the higher education scene. He talks about the initial ideas for Minerva came while he was an undergraduate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. It was then that he realized that the learning experiences could be dramatically improved. After leaving Penn he went on to several business ventures but most notably Snapfish. Hardly the path that university founders typically take.

Less Expensive

Tuition for Minerva is USD$10,000/year. The total estimated costs for housing, student services, food, books supplies and health insurance is $28,850. This is far below the $50,000+ that it costs to attend the Ivy League universities that Minerva is trying to compete with. Nelson is adamant that Minerva is going after students from throughout the world who are Ivy league talent. Minerva will not have athletics programs, student services facilities, teacher tenure and many of the other amenities that universities provide. Instead they are strategically locating their housing in exciting cities around the world.

Target Markets

Minerva is targeting students from around the world and the low tuition and their quest to provide students with financial aid will attract students from around the world. Nelson reported that 80% of the inaugural class is from outside of the United States.

We believe drive, talent and hard work should be the only factors that determine access to an extraordinary education. Minerva is committed to ensuring that all accepted students are able to attend.

Initially Inferior

While Minerva has put together an impressive lineup of professors and they are recruiting the best at the brightest, it’s hard to imagine that the initial product will rival the Ivy League schools. The curriculum is also new which means that there will certainly be wrinkles to be ironed out. The initial cohort will be small which means that the thought partner pool will be small. I’m guessing that the university will attract risk-takers which will make for an interesting mix of students.

Technology

With students and professors at various places in the world Minerva has developed the Active Learning Forum to facilitate learning in the virtual classroom.

  • Rapid Break-Out Groups
  • Individualized Instruction
  • Collaborative Documents
  • Dynamic Polling
  • Real-Time Simulation
  • Enhanced Debates

You can check out the video which shows what the experience is like.

I’m rooting for Minerva to succeed in the long run and to cultivate innovative leaders for our future.

Design Thinking: Part 3

I’ve talked about our leadership team’s experience with design thinking when we redesigned our high school trips earlier this year. As I mentioned, we literally learned by doing.

Today a small group of us were able to experience a 1 hour workshop from the d.school on design thinking. If you’re interested in a primer on design thinking, this is the one for you. It’s so easy to organize because you just need the video, a partner and some materials to use for prototyping.

The design thinking process from the d.School at Stanford. Image licensed for reuse – http://www.legaltechdesign.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/steps-730×345.png

Today’s group experienced the following:

  • The pace is fast which is just part of the process. This workshop is an abbreviated process but in general, the pace is fast when you’re designing.
  • You have to really learn about your partner during the process. You’re forced to study his/her process for giving gifts and learning as much about them and the process in a very short amount of time. At one point the facilitators tell you that the session should get emotional and people may cry.
  • Prototyping can be quick and dirty and you need to share unfinished work to test out your solution. It’s somewhat strange to build a 3D item that shows a process.
  • The process does lead you to test something and then make revisions. In this workshop you just don’t have much time to revise.
  • You can really become engaged quickly when your working on a design challenge.

I see many ways that our organization can use these principles when we are looking for solutions. There is less talk and more doing and testing out concepts and you’re really focused on the users. I’m looking forward to finishing up the our trip project and starting something new.

  • Bias for being more human centered
  • Prototype Everything
  • Collaborative
  • Bias toward action

 

 

 

Inspired by Passionate Students

Presenting with Two Young Visionaries

Me with Two Young Visionaries

For the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with Gabi Campos and Nik Hildebrandt, two Graded students who are passionate about what the future of education can look like. So passionate that they took the initiative yesterday to present at the 2014 School Leadership Summit.

Gabi and Nik are currently 11th graders who have developed bold ideas on education that are based on their experiences and research.  Several weeks ago they presented these ideas to their IB English teacher with a proposal to present at the AASSA Conference that Graded hosted. While it was too late to present at AASSA they were determined to share their message with a wider audience. The School Leadership Summit now provides them with a global audience.

Gabi and Nik shared a story about “Caroline” a high school student who is very good at “doing school”. Their ideas for the perfect school include:

  • Promoting Creativity and Real-life Projects
  • Abolishing Grades
  • Providing Opportunities for Failure
  • Focus on the Future
  • Developing Life Skills

They have even bought into Tony Wagner’s model of learning environments that cultivate innovators that include Play, Passion and Purpose. Gabi and Nik were so excited after the presentation that the first words out of the mouths were, “What’s next?” I encourage you to spend 45 minutes listening to their presentation. The recording is available here.

Whether you agree with their ideas or not you have to admire their enthusiasm and desire to make a difference. I know that I have truly enjoyed partnering with them and I look forward to supporting their work in the coming months. There may be a new club on campus for student innovators that needs an advisor.

 

The Future of Math Education

Lately I have been asking the question, “What is  math education going to look like in the future?” As of right now, I don’t have a clear picture and I’m fairly optimistic that significant changes will not take place in the near future. While I frequently hear from teachers (not all) that math requires students to practice learning the steps to solving problems that will lead them to being able to apply their learning afterwards. It seems to me that they are saying that the traditional lecture, in class practice, and homework practice is the way that it has to be.

“If we taught dancing like we teach math we’d never let people dance until they drew out all steps on paper.” Seymour Papert (From Gary Stager’s TEDxASB talk)

On the other hand I’m hearing from others that math education has to change. Forget the flipped classroom and Khan Academy, they’re talking about substantial changes. What are they?

Dan Meyer’s 2010 TED Talk, “Math class needs a makeover”, certainly got people thinking about this topic back in 2010.

Since then I’ve been on a quest to search for the future of mathematics. I had a small epiphany at the recent ASB Unplugged Conference when I attended Gary Stager’s workshop, Electrifying Children’s Mathematics. Now I’ve seen Gary speak many times but this was the first time that I participated in one of his hands on workshops. By actually being able to work through the exercises in a constructivist way I was able to make just a little bit of sense out of the possibilities in the math classroom.

Gary started the presentation by showing us that,

“The NCTM Standards state that fifty percent of all mathematics has been invented since World War II. (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989) Few if any of these branches of mathematical inquiry have found their way into the K-12 curriculum. This is most unfortunate since topics such as number theory, chaos, topology, cellular automata and fractal geometry may appeal to students unsuccessful in traditional math classes. These new mathematical topics tend to be more contextual, visual, playful and fascinating than adding columns of numbers or factoring quadratic equations. ” (Stager and Cannings, 1998)

We then watched a video of math instruction in an elementary class where the teacher uses Piaget’s theory to help students construct knowledge on concepts. The videos are the work of Constance Kami, Professor of Early Childhood at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. My take-aways from this video are that…

  • students don’t need to know all of the ways to solve a problem. Whatever works for them is sufficient.
  • the refrains from telling the student whether or not their answer is right or wrong. teacher should let the students talk through their methods and to let them work through the problems together. The less teacher involvement, the better.
  • doing endless numbers of problems that you already understand does not do you any good.

We then moved into the hands on portion of the workshop and in a very short amount of time I realized the value of playing with tools and ideas to learn mathematical concepts.

We played with Turtle Art. We were given a simple exercise to get started and then were left to play on our own. The connections to mathematical thinking were easy to make and the results were definitely visual.

We used MicroWorlds to try to figure out a problem that we later learned was unsolvable. Something that is referred to as the 3N + 1 Conjecture, Collatz Conjecture, Ulam Conjecture, and many others. It was amazing how much math we were having to use to struggle through this problem. It was a good learning experience and it’s probably better that we didn’t know that it was unsolvable.

But, my favorite activity had to do with determining values for iTunes radio users’ actions. The work had us tackle computational thinking. Gary was very clear about his views on teaching computational thinking skills.

Computational thinking is useful when modeling a system or complex problem is possible, but the programming is too difficult.

The activity involved assigning values to the following actions.

Photo from About.com from Sam Costello
We also considered when the person just let the song play.

This was a room full of math teachers and I’m pretty sure that none of them had the programming skills to code the algorithms behind these choices. We did struggle with equating a value while thinking about the users’ thinking and how the numbers would be used behind the scenes. Many of our students have no idea of what is taking place behind the scenes when users click on a button. While very few actually have to know how to do the programming, there is definite value to understanding the computational thinking.

So, after the workshop I asked a couple of math teachers if they felt that they learned skills and/or knowledge that they could take back to their classrooms and, the general consensus was, “most definitely”. These were primarily teachers in international schools.

So, what are your thoughts on the future of mathematics?

Organizational Inertia -Does it make you uncomfortable?

As we deeply think about innovation and what it takes to create an innovative culture we’re seeing the real challenges and barriers that organizations face. In February 2013 Graded hosted the Innovate 2013 Conference and Fabio Gandour, IBM Brasil Chief Scientist, was one of our panelists. He presented a wonderful metaphor for what inertia looks like. He says that this metaphor can make people feel a bit uncomfortable.

Organizational inertia is the tendency of a mature organization to continue on its current trajectory. This inertia can be described as being made up of two elements — resource rigidity and routine rigidity. Resource rigidity stems from an unwillingness to invest, while routine rigidity stems from an inability to change the patterns and logic that underlie those investments. Resource rigidity relates to the motivation to respond, routine rigidity to the structure of that response.

In the face of rapid or discontinuous external change, it is the organizational inertia that must be overcome if a firm is to survive. In a competitive situation where new players are entering the industry, it is the incumbents that are particularly susceptible to the downside of this inertia. In this case it is often referred to as incumbent inertia.

Overcoming organizational inertia –
Threat perception in organizations experiencing discontinuous change is often thought to be the impetus necessary to prompt organizational change, a change in inertia, by decreasing the current inertia through changes in resources and routines. While threat perception is a response catalyst, it has been found to decrease inertia in some cases, a good thing, but increase inertia in other cases.

Source: http://www.createadvantage.com/glossary/organizational-inertia

What is your organization doing to overcome inertia?