Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A different kind of innovation

When I taught, I was the master of my classroom (self proclaimed).  My goal was to give students an education that was not only exciting, but that required students to tap into their own genius and experience to learn.  When I innovated, I only needed to convince students to give my ideas a chance.  I promised to make the material more relevant and interesting to them.  I tried new tricks all the time and when I failed, students learned a lesson about the scientific method.  It was my hypothesis that things would work.  My experiment showed otherwise.  Revise the plan and try again.  Students and I would build together, work together, and learn together.  We had fun learning chemistry together and applying the concepts to new situations.  That was my brand of innovation.

I have since transitioned out of the classroom.  My goals have not changed, but I have had to adjust my brand of innovation.  I still want to improve education for every student I affect with my actions.  The difference is that the pool of students has gone from about 200 per year to an ongoing 50,000.  We have a big district.  My roll has changed from teaching students to teaching teachers.  I want to get other teachers to teach in a way that allows students to create and students to relate to material.

So how have I changed my brand of innovation?  I still enjoy learning new tricks, apps, websites, and tech, I do not use most of those technologies in the same way that I used to.  Rather than using the latest and greatest technologies with other teachers and students, I use a handful of old tools.  Innovation has changed from 1,000 cutting edge tools to do 1,000 cool things to 3-4 tried and true, simple tools to do 1,000 things each.

I use the term expandable.  What are the tools that are the most expandable?  Teachers and students can learn to use them in one sense, then the tool can be repurposed to accomplish hundreds of different things and support learning in 1,000 different ways.  Innovative, for me, has changed from the innovative tool, to the innovative way teachers use the tool to teach students.  The teacher is the innovation and not the app, device, or program.  I, like others, have seen innovative programs, apps, and devices used in amazing ways and in ways that, for lack of a better word, suck.

My brand of innovation is less about finding teachers the next tool and more about showing them that they can use the tools they know to do amazing things.  Slideshows can be used for ignite or pecha kucha presentations or repurposed for collaborative spaces, posters, feedback, discussion forums, and developing theories.  Documents can be used for papers, hyperdocs and research or repurposed for collaborative notes, groupwork planning documents, resource documents.  Innovation becomes more like Sir Ken Robinson's idea of a divergent thinker than a search for the next program.

Educators often just need a nudge in a direction and they begin creating.  I have found that once teachers see that they can be creative with the same old programs, they are eager to create amazing learning experiences with the programs.  Not that they need to learn something new, but seeing something in a new light can be invigorating.

I often think that my brand of innovation is less about showing people new tools and more about getting teachers to take the risk of looking at something they know in a new way.  Innovate by seeing a program from a new perspective and transforming classrooms by repurposing the use of that program.

Hope you enjoyed the brain dump.

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