Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Teaching Innovation- What does it look like?

*Image from

I have been reading How - and Why- to Teach Innovation in our Schools by Alexander Hiam. I highly recommend you read this article if you have not already done so. It really helped frame this idea of how to teach innovation in our schools.

Our technology integration curriculum includes a strand on Creativity and Innovation, and Creative Thinking. However, when teachers ask me what does that look like, I don't always feel as though I have a great answer. This article has really helped me frame my answer. I knew it was there, I just couldn't put my finger on it.

First, Hiam breaks innovation down into the Five I's: Imagination, Inquiry, Invention, Implementation, and Initiative. The fuel for imagination is defined as the "bridging between apparently diverse or unrelated ideas, skill sets, or objects." He asserts that many innovations in our lives come from combining two different concepts. Many inventors are skilled in two separate areas. For example, being skilled in science and art may lead to increased comfort with design. There are many examples where combining two or more skills would lead to improved innovations. Yet our schools are increasingly stratified. We study math during math and science during science.

Hiam asks who is doing the most questioning in classrooms. To improve inquiry, we need the students to generate more questions and then have the ability to pursue the answers. Too often our classrooms teach the content without allowing students the time or access to pursue the questions that arise from their learning. We had a discussion recently in our district about scheduling inquiry time into our day. Allow students time each day to research areas of interest to them. It didn't happen, but I am hopeful that we can continue the discussion around student based inquiry projects. I want to be clear that I mean ongoing research, not a one time project. Let's not make inquiry an event, but rather a habit. This is really the point that Hiam makes about invention. Science Fair projects are one time events, the exception. Inventive thinking needs to be integrated into all areas of learning.

As for implementation, I agree with Hiam's point that usually ideas don't work the first time around. We often have students do a project and hand it in, but we rarely ask students to go back to the drawing board. Organizations like Destination Imagination teach kids how to solve complex problems over a long period of time, much like the problems we are asked to tackle in our jobs. Yet, in schools too often, we ask students to solve problems within a short period and move on before revisiting and improving upon our thinking.

Finally, we view initiative as an innate personality trait. While it is more natural in some than others, Hiam shares some research that initiative is more prevalent in organizations that are less hierarchical. While our classrooms are centered around order and control, we stifle the initiative of our students. More regular project-based and research-based learning opportunities would also be a great way to encourage initiative in students. I often hear from teachers that they did a research project and many students ignored deadlines, lacked initiative, or performed poorly. Many use this as an excuse to do more structured assignments and fewer inquiry based projects. My contention is that some of these issues are due to the fact that these projects are one time events. With more practice and experience, students will improve on these skills.

In Hiam's article, he also talks about how many inventors do we need? He contends that we need a relatively small number, but we need more than what we are producing today. While I agree with this, I think he may be missing a key point, that these skills are valuable in the vast majority of jobs. Creative problem solving, inventive thinking, taking initiative, effective implementation of long term projects: What company would not want these skills in their workers?

In our increasingly test-focused society, I hope we don't lose sight of the most important skills our students will need for success. We need to ensure that our students graduate from us capable of taking on the complex problems our society faces in the future. That starts by addressing the Five I's.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's in a Name?

My official job title is technology integration specialist. The implication of that title is that my job is to help teachers integrate technology into the classroom. Makes sense. A large aspect of my job is to help teachers do exactly that. I do a lot of training on how to use our district technology tools. I answer numerous questions about how to use these tools effectively in the classroom.

But... increasingly, my job is about other things. Redefining literacy, effective formative assessments, global perspectives, problem solving, and many other things that aren't solely dependent on technology.

So maybe I need a new title. Something that focuses on learning rather than on the tools. Here are a few that come to mind. I would love your input!!!

Learning Integration Specialist

Learning Constructivist

Digital Literacy Specialist

Digital Instructor

Digital Integrationist

Information and Communication Specialist

Digital Facilitator

Curriculum Integration Specialist

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Smart Libraries

I came across this video from Library Ireland Week.

Library Ireland Week

It got me thinking about today's libraries. Our school and community libraries are really in a state of transition. They want kids and adults alike to continue their love of reading yet what reading looks like is really changing. As reading becomes increasingly digital, how do libraries (or media centers, if you prefer) provide literature, research resources, and etc... in a format that people want? Do we still need brick buildings to provide them. Many libraries have robust websites for reserving books, doing research, downloading ebooks, etc..., but at what point, if ever, do we cease to need a place to go.

I know,  I can hear many people arguing that the library is also a community space and we need to bring people together. When I visit the library (Yes, I go often!), I often see tutoring, meetings, collaborating, sharing, and librarians helping people. I love the collaborative spaces that libraries provide and would hate to see this disappear. But as someone who increasingly reads electronically, what is the value of large spaces that provide books? Will these spaces transition to smaller meeting spaces that facilitate learning and research? How can we support our libraries in making this transition?

I know that my kids love going to both the school and community library. There is an excitement around being surrounded by learning. Some might argue it is about being surrounded by books. I don't know the answer, but I suspect that this is not the case. I think it is much broader than that. I think they are excited about being surrounded by information, in whatever format it takes. How great that all people, no matter what their economic background, have the opportunity to be surrounded by knowledge. That they can reach out and grab it and take it home with them.

I would love to hear from others about what libraries need to do, if anything, to help with this transition to a more digital society.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blogging is my Scrapbook of Ideas

It's been a while since I posted to my blog. I had very good intentions to get back to it, but other things came about. So that has me wondering. How important is it to make time for blogging? We're all busy. We all have things competing or our attention and time. Where does blogging fit?

The easy answer is that it is not that important. In the course of my day, I am inundated with projects, requests for help, needs to research new tools, communications, and much more. Giving up blogging would be a nice way to shorten my to do list. On the other hand, it has led to some really significant experiences. I have had people who I respect (and some who I do not) comment on my posts, leading to great discussions about topics important to me. Without my blog, these discussions might take place but they might only take place among those who I see regularly at work. This does not necessarily lead to a broader perspective. My blog allows the conversation to grow beyond our organization.

I also find that when I blog, I take the time to reflect and research a topic that I might not otherwise spend time thinking about. It helps me formulate my thoughts, which then leads to decisions down the road. It is like a virtual sounding board where I can find out if my ideas are crazy or not.

Finally, it helps me organize my thoughts and conversations. Just today, somebody asked me about an idea that I had a long time ago. I was able to refer her to the blog post. It was like a snapshot of how I felt about that topic at that time. Otherwise, I would not have remembered my thoughts. Like a scrapbook of ideas, I can look back through time and see how I felt about a topic and how others reacted to it.

What a great tool. Now I just need to recommit to making time for it. I think I have 6 minutes next Friday...

Why do you blog? How do you make time for it?