less curriculum + less criteria = no limit

What my students had to say about cultures of innovation.

Photo of Gel Hannan
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When I asked some of my students to spend some time thinking about cultures of innovation, their responses revealed some interesting results and insights. 

Whilst the vast majority of them believed that innovation was a skill that could be learnt, almost 30% of them thought that you had to be born with it. I felt this to be a sad indictment of how we're neglecting to teach them how they can cultivate innovation in themselves now. To leave high school without this growth mindset is not the best start to life in the 'big bad world.' 

When I asked them to rate the variables which would help develop innovation with a class or the skills for innovation within a student, none of them believed that learning how to learn or completing tasks that have high expectations helped. Instead, they overwhelmingly thought that being able to suggest 'crazy' and original ideas without fear of being laughed at, as well as when others (especially teachers) nurture what it is that makes them curious, were two factors which helped foster a sense of innovation and a desire to be creative. From this, I've learnt that teaching them how to 'fall forward,' and building a sense of resilience in students so that they have the confidence to take risks is key. 

It taught me that students are concerned about their marks rather than the process because of course, assessment tasks and exams reward achievement rather than effort or approach. They also mentioned that they felt restricted by the curriculum and the criteria and by limiting these, they would be freed to be innovative. 

From now on I am going to start asking my students one question: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? And then I will challenge them to do it.  

And I will ask myself: In what ways am I as an educator inhibiting the capacity for innovation in my students? Teachers face restrictions too: there is a lot of content to work through, a lot of administrative tasks to process, etc. So how can we be innovative all the time (or do we need to be innovative all the time?) in light of this? 

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Photo of Bob Weiman

First of all, I love that you asked this question of your students. Often we think that we know what they think, but we only really know by asking them...and by creating an environment (as you have obviously done) where they will be honest and open and not just tell us what we want to hear! You also point out an important challenge- even if we create the most innovative classroom environment, there are outside pressures to conform (standardized testing, community norms, etc.) And these imagination/creativity-sapping forces seem to increase as students go through school, as Sir Ken Robinson so passionately described in his TED talk Do Schools Kill Creativity? Keep doing what you are doing- it's counter-culture and so important!

Photo of Gel Hannan

Thank you for your kind and encouraging words, Bob! I agree with you re Sir Ken's speech - each day I am constantly trying to reconcile the fact that I love being a teacher and I work in a system (as many of us do) that most certainly does kill creativity!

Photo of Moss Pike

This is great, Gel! In reading it, it amazed me to think about how infrequently we ask our kids about innovation, despite being so wrapped up in it ourselves. And it's also interesting to see the bias kids have toward "moonshot" ideas as innovation, rather than effort-based incremental steps. How might we create a culture that teaches our kids what a growth mindset is and supports it in our work? Love your question you ask them to move in this direction! Perhaps we can design some ideas and activities around it in our next phase.

Photo of Gel Hannan

Hi Moss! I agree - 'thinking about thinking' is not really something that is embedded in the curriculum of most schools but I am trying to do it more and more in my own classroom. When I attended a conference some years back with Sir Edward de Bono as the guest speaker, he thought it unbelievable that there is no subject in school that is mandatory for all students and teaches them how to think. I agree. I love your suggestion about designing some ideas and activities around teaching kids about a growth mindset! In this way, it would be building their social-emotional faculties as well and encouraging resilience.

Photo of Karen Qualey

I'm excited to hear that your students desire a safe place to take risks, fail and try again. Creative competency doesn't come quickly (at least in my limited experience). I'm so glad you captured this conversation; thanks for sharing!

Photo of Gel Hannan

Thank you so much, Karen! Like you, I'm also interested in online learning and design thinking - at the moment, I've been puzzling on how I might be able to use design thinking and online learning to work with pre-service teachers in Timor Leste to develop some context-appropriate strategies that will hopefully generate more innovative classroom strategies and therefore better learning experiences for their students!

Photo of Mark Carlucci

We probably don't need to be innovative all the time, just always be open to find ways in which to innovate. If we can teach students, teachers and administrators to be innovative, it will always be on around us.

I have often encountered the idea of being "born with it." During a math lesson I once had a student say, "You expect me to learn something I don't already know." A number of students though he was on the right track. Too often people get into the mindset that they can't learn something.
"I'm not math minded."
"I'm not artistic."
"I can't draw."
"I can't write."
"I don't know how to cook."
People can learn, but just teaching them how to learn is not what will get them learning. We need to inspire their curiosity and desire to learn. Sometimes that is being creative with curriculum. Curriculum usually tells us what to teach, but not how to teach or package it.
In the past I took advantage of this and in a grade 9 computer course, that often has many students not interested in being in it, I themed it around video games. The curriculum said we had to study computer hardware, but not what type of computer. We studied video game consoles. Learn about networking, we played multiplayer network video games.
I have a senior math class that is part of a house construction program. Students work on-site building a house for 3 of 4 periods each day. I themed that math class around construction. Pythagorean Theorem, roof and stair slopes. Algebra, rearranging housing tables. Graphing, insulation and heat loss.
In both cases I have seem increased student participation and interest. Next up is finding a theme for grade 10 math.

Photo of Gel Hannan

You are quite right, Mark! Innovation all the time is probably not necessary and, perhaps I might be mistaken but I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that it is maybe not even feasible or productive. I love your idea of being creative with curriculum - sometimes it is easy to fall into the same trap of delivering content in a predictable way.