Teaching Innovation

“It is not working”“The wheel is not spinning”“Why not?”“I do not know”“Let’s try…”And the conversation continued. Another year of robotics has started for our robotics team. This robotics challenge, presented to thousands of students around the globe, has no one correct answer, but an infinite number of solutions. This is innovation at its best – creating new solutions for multi-faceted problems. By definition, innovation is defined as “the introduction of something new.” However, the skills required to innovate: creativity, problem solving, collaboration, persistence, analysis – all fall under the core competencies of our school (found at https://www.tetonscience.org/index.cfm?id=journeys_academics). As I surveyed our last six months of curriculum, I saw frequent examples of innovative ideas in classroom from Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Last spring’s building project in Pre-Kindergarten presented students with the challenge of tower construction, innovation appeared in structural supports and safety measures. In elementary school, students innovate on the hill every day – designing forts, testing structures, and creating new concepts in shelter building – all during recess. Middle school students are presented with culminating projects three times a year where they are grouped and presented with a project. This project takes one week to finish and emerges as many different products.

This past year, students used a weather event from history to integrate their core classes. The final product was a presentation before a “FEMA” board (of parents and teachers) to request funds for recovery from the weather event. In middle school science this fall, a small group of students is designing an experiment to test the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics. They will need to innovate to create a methodology that works to answer their research question. At the faculty level, we constantly ask, how can we better reach students? The placement of digital white boards in classrooms has driven an online interactive component into our curriculum. Students can create, collaborate, and then innovate in virtual space. Just as important, teachers have had to innovate to determine how to allow this technology to enhance, and not detract, from the learning process. Despite these examples, we are just beginning to embed these skills into our curriculum. Innovating is about creating new solutions. I believe that too many times in our educational systems we tell our students what to do rather than presenting them with a challenge with multiple and non-predetermined solutions. Nothing is more dis-empowering for a society than creating a legion of young people who have neither the interest nor the ability to be innovative – whether on the scientific, technological, or social front. And what our world needs more than ever are these types of thinkers.

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