Leadership

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.

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.

 

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?

Jumping on the Innovation in Education Bandwagon

Our school’s leadership team is reading Tony Wagner’s book “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” as we grapple with what innovation looks like in schools. (You can follow our discussion on Twitter – #gradedllt) I highly recommend Wagner’s book along with Suzie Boss’s book “Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World”. It’s extremely easy to find definitions on innovation that we can all agree on. The really difficult step is to change practices to become innovative. I recently attended a conference where the word, “Innovation” was overused and mis-used. I went to one presentation where the presenter was convinced that his school had been innovative by adopting a program that has been around for 40 years. The new program changed their culture but it certainly wasn’t something that was innovative to the world of education.

“Innovation may then be defined as the process of having original ideas and insights that have value, and then implementing them so that they are accepted and used by significant numbers of people. By this definition, a major innovation is one that is so successful that soon after its introduction few people can even remember what life was like before the innovation was introduced.” Rick Miller, President Olin College

“creative problem solving.” She said, “Problem solving without the creative element is not truly innovative.” And creativity that is not applied to real world problems cannot be considered innovation either. Innovation is our lifeblood at P&G—but not just innovation for its own sake. It’s about taking real needs and creating a bridge to a solution.” Ellen Bowman

Our question is, “What is innovation at Graded?”  My thinking has gone in two different directions lately.

  1. What are we doing at Graded that is innovative?
  2. How are we cultivating innovators?

Since our Core Values state, “Learners at Graded strive to be Innovative: They engage in creative and imaginative thinking that enables them to extend their learning in original and insightful ways.”  I’ve been focusing on #2.

Montessori schools have been cultivating innovators for over 100 years.

When you ask someone to list the schools that they consider innovative, how often do Montessori schools make the list?

What do you suppose the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin; Amazon’s founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos; Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales; Julia Child; and rapper Sean “P. Diddy” Combs all have in common? Gregersen’s research, cited earlier, uncovered an extraordinary commonality among some of the most innovative individuals: they all went to Montessori schools, where they learned through play. (Wagner, pp27-28)

If you consider Wagner’s characteristics of a learning culture that cultivates innovators, you can see why Montessori schools most definitely should be on your list.

  • collaboration
  • multidisciplinary learning
  • thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error
  • creating
  • intrinsic motivation: play, passion, and purpose (Wagner p. 200)

I’m currently a participant in the Deeper Learning MOOC (#DLMOOC) which is organized by High Tech High and supported by a number of organizations. One of which is Expeditionary Learning Schools. I don’t know much about EL Schools other than I have worked with several educators who once were involved in the organization. I’ve frequently heard from them that, “The EL schools organization, and their schools, aren’t what I would call innovative.” If you look at their website you find no mention of innovation in the “Our Approach”section,  yet, it’s easy to argue that EL schools provide students with the type of environment that Wagner has defined.

Maybe a truly innovative school focuses on answering both questions.

“What are we doing that is innovative and how are we cultivating innovators?

How is your school handling Google Glass?

Last week we started our second semester and one of our students created a bit of a stir when he came sporting his Google Glass. Go figure…, there are only 10,000 in the world and he landed one. Several e-mails from teachers were flying back and forth asking if we needed a new policy for Google Glass. Obviously, people are worried about privacy issues and wondering if he is secretly videotaping or photographing them.

Graded Student Sporting Google Glass

Turn the clock back three years ago when our leadership team was discussing whether or not to allow cell phones in the classroom. After months of discussion we came up with the following:

Cellular phones may be used as educational tools with the permission of a classroom teacher. Otherwise, the use of cellular phones on campus is prohibited except for in the student center, cafeteria and hallways during breaks. Unauthorized use of cellular phones will result in the confiscation of the phone and the phone will be delivered to the Assistant Principal.

By the time we went 1 to 1 we realized that a cell phone was just another mobile device for students to use (this is just one example). We’ve all become comfortable with them and they are a regular tool used in our classrooms. So now all of a sudden we’re faced with an alien object that we’re not sure how to handle. We have to take a step back and assess the situation.

Cellular phones may be used as educational tools with the permission of a classroom teacher. Otherwise, the use of cellular phones on campus is prohibited except for in the student center, cafeteria and hallways during breaks. Unauthorized use of cellular phones will result in the confiscation of the phone and the phone will be delivered to the Assistant Principal.

Is it sufficient to delete “Cellular phones”and substitute it with “Mobile and Wearable Devices”? Hopefully mobile device implants are far off in the future.

A quick look at our LARK (Legal, Appropriate, Responsible and Kind) guidelines seems to show that we have policy in place to handle this new toy.

Legal

  • Get permission to record and publish images or video of others.

Appropriate

  • Access media that is focused on learning and is fitting for the academic environment.

Responsible

  • Use cell phones for educational purposes when requested by teachers.

Our director of technology was commenting that he imagined a scenario in the future where students and teachers will be using them with their prescription glasses.. Let’s face it, it won’t be long before prescription lenses are inserted into the frame.

So we have decided to engage the perpetrator in a discussion over how we should deal with this new tool. He is beginning to develop ideas for how they can be used in education. He did say that that they should not be allowed during tests and quizzes. In terms of our current policy, he thinks that they will work but that we will need to change the language. By the way, he’s sharing his feedback on Google Glass with users from around the world and knows that he has created a bit of a commotion at school. Just as we had students participate in our discussions around cellphones, we will include them in these new discussions. We look forward to dealing with this situation in a positive way to that our entire community can learn from it.

What are your schools doing to prepare for this new device?

If you’re interested in learning more about Silvia Tolisano‘s (our Middle School Academic Technology Coordinator) experience with Google Glass she  wrote an excellent piece entitled, First Experiences with Google Glass at School. I highly recommend it.

What is the pace of work like in your school?

We’re having quite a few conversations about the rapid pace of life at Graded. It’s been a longstanding discussion at the school for teachers, students and parents and we have enlisted the support of Challenge Success to help us improve the quality of our lives at school and at home. We’re hopeful that change will lead to a healthier learning environment for everyone. I’m also training for my fourth marathon which may be the reason why I keep using using the treadmill metaphor to describe the pace at Graded. I’m on my third iteration of this metaphor and I’m still not sure that I have it right. I initially brought it up at the end of last year when we were all running full speed and feeling like we couldn’t quite keep up with everything that we had going on at school. I likened what was happening to what this gentleman was facing on the treadmill.

Many of you can probably relate to life like this. At the same time I shared this video of Haile Gebrselassie running a 4 minute mile pace.  My point was that we work hard and keep a fast pace but we’re in control. While even though he’s sweating, he certainly makes this look easy.

Then, at our opening assembly where we introduced the student survey data from Challenge Success I showed the first video and then ended with this one. My comment was that we want life at Graded to be more like this guy’s workout on the treadmill.

I’m reconsidering my statement and thinking that while we need to relax and dance frequently, we’re best to focus on Haile’s workouts that lead to the world record pace. (On a side note, if you don’t know much about Haile Gebrselassie I highly recommend that you learn more about this amazing man.)  While we strive to be world class, let’s consider the pace that he kept for years during his training and races. OK, let’s forget the term World Class because it’s overused and often times meaningless. Everyone at Graded works hard and we do want to be the best that we can be so why shouldn’t we emulate a world champion? I don’t mean that we need to constantly be running 4 minute miles everyday.  That’s certainly not what his daily training regime was like. This sample schedule shows that he mixed up his training with different distances and paces each day. While during this particular week he ran 120 miles training nearly twice a day for seven days, he tailored his training to fit his goals. While all of these days look impossible to most of us, for him each day was different in terms of difficulty and stress.

So, I think that we need to consider the following as we try to translate Haile’s work into what we do on a daily basis.

  1. He had expert trainers developing his schedule and he was purposeful about how he spent his time everyday. While we don’t have expert trainers to guide us, we need to continue thinking about purpose when we plan our daily schedules and to consider what we do. Julie Graber in her post, Portion Contol: Stop Adding & Start Reducing, discusses the importance of considering what we put on our plate and to make sure that we take off those “things” that aren’t benefiting students. We do have the support of our colleagues who can help us become more purposeful.
  2. I’m speculating that he took great care of his body by eating right, getting the right amount of sleep and making sure that he had downtime. The Challenge Success survey showed that our students are sleeping, on average, 6 hours per night. This is far less than the recommended 9.5 hours for teenagers. I imagine that if we conducted the same survey with faculty we’d find that we are all shortchanging ourselves on sleep nightly.
  3. I’m also speculating that he and his trainers took time to analyze the workouts and reflect on his performance. They would then use this information to adjust for the next day or the coming weeks. Most of us all wish that we took more time to reflect and use what we learn to improve our practice.

In closing, it is really important for us to all get on the treadmill and dance as often as possible. This dance represents the times when we let down our hair, have some fun, and do something a bit silly. But the majority of our time is spent working at Haile Gebrselassie’s pace. In this type of environment teachers and students will flourish as human beings and learners. Maybe then we can get off the treadmill to enjoy our surroundings and feel confident about our work. I imagine that Haile is feeling pretty pumped up on this  run through the Ethiopian countryside (From the movie Endurance).

Just say yes and …

I am so fortunate to work at a school where we have access to resources and allowed to take risks. While Graded has always worked to be on the cutting edge, the entire community was jump started after Innovate 2013. I still remember watching the flea video just after the conference and saying to myself that I have to keep the lid off as much as possible. While the school has been 1:1 for the past three years, we’ve recently started branching out by giving students learning experiences around other technologies. I have to admit that it’s been fun saying yes to new ideas from teachers and students and then working to support their efforts. My fear of failing had diminished and my attitude is that we will all learn and benefit from the opportunity.  The results have been extremely positive and I love the culture that we’re working in.

In February, Keren Soriano organized the Graded Developers Association. She realized that we had a group of middle and high school students who wanted to learn programming and she brought in Luciano Ramalho to work with our students. She was right because the e-mail advertising the 10 week course was sent out on Friday evening at the beginning of our Carnival vacation and by the next morning the course was full. Several of our high school students worked with Luciano to teach the course and he helped them improve their programming skills. Today the high school students were in my office and we were working on a strategy for Luciano to offer Python courses after school this semester. The middle school course will continue and I imagine that our numbers will only grow in the coming years. Keren was right, there were Graded students who wanted this experience.

Not long after this we were presented with the opportunity for our students to collect data using Arduino technology that was connected to satellites in space. We didn’t even really understand how it worked but it sounded like an opportunity that we could not pass up.  Amy Flindt and Adam Cross volunteered to work with students on this project and it’s been a mix of after school and in class work with the majority of the work being done outside of class. We partnered with Manoel Belem who is a space junkie and Nanosatisfi. Belem is the man behind SpaceTrip4Us. It was challenging for the students to come up with a phenomena to study since they had little knowledge of astronomy. After hours of discussion and research they decided to study solar flares. They’re in the process of programming the Arduino board and the board will be using sensors to collect data for one week. The work has been challenging and the students are learning what it is like to work Nanosatisfi which is a start-up company, project delays that are totally out of their control and a very new subject for them. They look forward to sharing the results and the process that they went through with the world in the coming months.

Finally, Luciano connected us with the guys at Metamaquina, a start-up company that makes 3D printers and we are about to open up Graded’s Maker Space.  Instead of taking a wait and see attitude, Mike Dunlop and his team decided to remodel the space and purchase toys knowing that students and teachers would use them. We’re not exactly sure how people will use the room but we’re confident that Graded teachers and students will figure it out over time. What I love is that the students and adults will all be learners and they’ll be learning from each other.  We’re planning to host events and I’m sure that there will be many times when the students will be teaching the teachers.

Who knows what will be next but I know that it sure feels great to say yes and then figure out how we can make things happen. Anyone have ideas on what our next project should be?

I’m alive and well professionally but my blog has been dormant

Graded High School Blog

The 2012 – 13 school year has been a fantastic one for me professionally. You wouldn’t know if from looking at my blog. The main reason that Creative Tension has been dormant is that I have been focused on curating the Graded High School Blog this entire year. I’m pleased to announce that we had 103 posts and over 11,500 hits. While our primary audience is the Graded community, the Graded stories reached a worldwide audience. The concept is that the HS Blog is “where the Graded high school community shares information and ideas on education.” This has been an excellent first step to creating a venue for members of the community to share stories about learning at Graded. With the school year over it’s an excellent archive for school community members to look back on the year.

While we also have the traditional weekly newsletter that is sent out to parents each week this blog has received more viewers, given community members the chance to comment and develop a dialogue, provided the community with timely information, and opened up our school to a more global community. We have tried to limit the number of posts that are just informational in terms of upcoming events and instead tried to focus on student and teacher learning. I look forward to building on what has been done this year and improving in the following ways.

  1. Increase the number of authors. Aside from my posts, there were a handful of others who contributed during the year. I hope that we can create a culture where teachers, students and parents will contribute whenever something happens. By reminding community members that the posts don’t have to be lengthy and that they can include photos, text, audio and videos I hope that we can increase authorship. While I’ve spent a considerable amount of time curating this blog, I look forward to it becoming a place where the community shares stories.
  2. Increase the number of comments that readers contribute. Aside from a somewhat controversial post on the changes to our grade weighting policy (6) and a post asking students to comment on a draft of our self-study Executive Summary (14), there were very few comments submitted. Hopefully we’ll continue encouraging people to comment and it may require more provocative topics.
  3. Increase viewership – I’ve been promoting the blog through e-mails to the community, links in our weekly newsletter, announcements at meetings, and Facebook and Twitter announcements. Hopefully it will help to increase the number of subscribers so that they get announcements whenever new posts are made. We have a ways to go to catch our the Talonline Blog that is student focused. They have had over 78,000 views.

Image from Flickr by martin.canchola

It’s now time for me to get back to blogging and sharing the learning that I’ve been doing throughout the year. It’s certainly been a productive one for me.

What ideas do you have for engaging the school community in the discussions on learning?

This year I’ve embarked on a project to promote the work of our teachers and students through the Graded High School Blog. The blog was inspired by Patrick Larkin’s Learning in Burlington  and George Couros’s work with the 184 Days of Learning in Parkland Schools. The blog is designed for the Graded high school community to share information and ideas on education. To date, the blog has 5,717 hits which is more than the total number of hits that the high school articles in our weekly Gazette have gotten. It’s an excellent start to sharing learning with our community. It has not been a place where members of our community have engaged in dialogue. Aside from the What’s our stance on weighted grades? (a total of 6 comments) post there have been very few comments. The challenge now is to increase engagement so that teachers, students, and parents use the tool for online communication.

Anyone have examples of school blogs where the community is actively participating in the discussion? If so, I’d love to see them. Also, what ideas do you have for increasing community participation?

Never quite satisfied…

Photo from Affordable Housing Institute: US, http://affordablehousinginstitute.org/blogs/us/

This post is in celebration of Scott Mcleod’s Leadership Day 2012 (even though it’s several months late)

This post is all about Peter Senge’s concept of creative tension. The concept that I chose to base this blog on.

“The gap between vision and current reality is also a source of energy. If there were no gap, there would be no need for any action to move towards the vision. We call this gap creative tension.”

In February 2008, I attended the Unplugged Conference at the American School of Bombay. I remember it well since it was a life changing experience for me. After watching the ASB teachers and students seamlessly use technology for teaching and learning I knew that I had to be working in a 1 to 1 laptop environment. At the time I was the middle/high school principal at Mont’Kiara International School in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. By the 2009 school year, when I realized that we weren’t going to transition to a 1:1 environment, I decided to quit my job. My desire to lead in that setting was that strong. By 2010 I signed on as the high school principal at Graded in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the middle school was in the process of going 1:1. This was exactly the type of opportunity that I was looking for.

Fortunately I work with some amazing educators who were open to the idea of moving in this direction. We created a high school task force that included teachers, administrators, students and parents and the group was charged with leading the learning and planning for the August 2012 roll out. We were fortunate to be able to work closely with Shabbi Luthra from ASB and Scott Mcleod even joined us virtually for one of our meetings. There were certainly times when we questioned what we were doing but we were committed to changing our learning culture.

Over time we developed actions plans that included developing our capacity by embedding professional development into our normal work and learning, attending conferences and networking with other educators. The plans also led to a responsible use policy, identifying our digital toolkit, adding additional power outlets and making sure that there was sufficient power and increased bandwidth. On August 2nd, almost 4 years after my visit to ASB, I can finally state that I am the principal of a 1:1 high school.  For some reason August 2nd was anti-climatic. It certainly was not what I had expected it to be. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy that teachers and students have 24/7 access to technology and that the classroom learning environment is evolving. Our new focus is integrating our ICT standards into current units. It’s now about working with students to use technology to develop these skills and knowledge.

As you can imagine, there have been ups and downs this first semester and we’re all doing our best to to become “master” 21st century educators. For some reason we’re just not satisfied. While we may not realize it, changes are happening in the classroom and that this is all part of our journey.  We also have to use this healthy tension as a source of energy to move toward our vision. After all, it’s all about creative tension.