change

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

 

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?

Jumping Right into Design Thinking – Part 1

Jumping in Pool

I have always been someone who likes using defined processes groups. Probably the most useful workshop that I ever attended was David Langford’s Quality Learning seminar. I have used his tools for problem solving as an individually and with groups for years. For several years now I have been wanting to learn more about design thinking because the concept seems sensible and interesting. Instead of solving problems this focuses on finding solutions by learning about the  stakeholders. So, instead of taking the time to attend a workshop I decided to jump right in and learn by doing. Thankfully, IDEO has a free online toolkit to guide me through the process and my colleagues are game for trying something new.

For several years we have struggled with our annual week long trips in the high school. For one week in September the entire high school travels to four different locations in Brazil. The groups are organized by grade level and there have been two objectives.

To gain a deeper appreciation and knowledge of Brazil – The trips provide students with real life experiences within Brazil. Trips may focus on…

  • exploring various cultural aspects of the respective community.
  • environmental issues in the community.
  • sustainable development and the economic environment in the community.
  • fun activities that are representative of the community.

To develop relationships within our community – The trips are an excellent opportunity for students and teachers to start the year off by learning about each other in a non-classroom setting. In doing so, students and teachers can build an appreciation for others and a respect for differences. Relationship building may occur in the following ways: 

  • team building activities
  • discussion groups focused on objective #1
  • group projects
  • informal dialogue throughout the trip

We have also been working, with mixed success, to link the trips to course curricula. Each year we get mixed reviews from students and teachers and we feel like we just haven’t gotten them right yet. The factor that tipped the scale is that for two years in a row we had a large number of seniors decide to not travel with their classmates. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the design thinking process a chance.

After reviewing the trips from this year and that past we have defined our challenge, set a timeline and gathered the information that we have on hand.

“Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.”

We’re now in the research phase where we define exactly what we need to learn from our students and teachers and look for inspiration from various sources. With that information we’ll work in teams to develop prototypes of trips for review. There is still much work to do but we all seem to feel that there are plenty of possibilities for making the trips “indispensable and unforgettable”

I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions from design thinking experts that are out there. We’re definitely going to need support throughout the process.

This photo, “8579 S jumps into pool” By WoofBC under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, modified slightly from original

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?