Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 4, Season 2 #IMMOOC

Your choice from the book on the YouTube Live session: (p27:3) What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but also necessary for our students?

Had to sleep on which one to pick; because I think I’ve addressed them without realizing it in the very first posts.

I think i’d have say the internet – now so pervasive that the Oxford Dictionary has demoted the “i” to lower case. Because of the internet, I can search intentionally for a new teaching idea, read blogs and books and websites of those I consider expert, or I can just stumble across something that sparks an idea on any number of social media sites.  I can find the resources I need almost in an instant.

For the students, as I noted in an earlier blog, we have a “democracy of information” that makes it critical that we move beyond read this, memorize this, get tested on this. Even the best written tests cannot fully address how students must use the information. By innovating our teaching, we can better present the necessary whatever in ways that engage the students and get them excited to learn more… and be able to apply their learning in more authentic scenarios.

Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 3, Season 2 #IMMOOC

If you started a school from scratch, what would you see as necessary, and what would you take out from what we currently do?

Well now.

I’ve actually had that honor to co-found a Nativity School, a middle school for inner city boys. They had to have strong aspirations to learn, not necessarily the brightest children, but their teachers felt that they were getting lost in their large classrooms, and these boys had the potential to do so much more.

What was essential:

  • For the students:
    • time to read for fun,
    • recess,
    • the opportunity to interact with the adults in a non-threatening environment,
    • community service,
    • sports times,
    • study time,
    • safety.
    • Hands-on learning across all disciplines.
    • We made time to talk to the students and get to know them as individuals.
  • For the teachers:
    • We made sure that we had regular professional development meetings with the teachers. Some topics ours (they were new, Americorps volunteers) and some were theirs.
    • It was important the PD was always linked to a relaxing, social event.
    • We celebrated the teachers on a regular basis, even if it was just donuts and coffee on a Friday.

What did we take out?

  • For the students:
    • We did not administer standardized tests.
    • We did not assign detentions, but the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
    • We assessed our students in unconventional (at the time) ways.
    • We took out fear (as much as we could) – of bullying, of failure, of embarrassment.
  • For the teachers:
    • We encouraged learning, trying new things.
    • We encouraged reflection on the practice.
    • We tried to reduce fear of failure.

It was the hardest and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.



Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 2, Season 2 #IMMOOC

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”  How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?

Always learning. Always refreshing my teaching. I have explored Genius Hour in my high school chemistry classes. It was great, and needs some retooling. No worries.  I saw so many positive outcomes with my students. Simplest said: they are more willing learners. I’ve given assignments as “FedEx challenges” and had wonderful results from even my weakest kids. I ask for more student feedback. Sometimes I close the book as we discuss education and learning in the classroom with the students.

I have requested that somehow my administration gives me a way to help those colleagues that are tentatively exploring new ideas. (As we work to change our educational culture, we ar finding that some teachers need an “official’ nudge – even if they are already so inclined. Adults need the freedom to fail as much as the kids do.)

I admit it – I am often in the “ask forgiveness, not permission” category.  Living on the edge.

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Still catching up: Episode 1, prompt 1, Season 2 #IMMOOC

What do you see as the purpose of education?  Why might innovation be crucial in education?

So much to learn, so little time. My mantra.

I want for my students to enjoy the pursuit of knowledge so much that they never want to stop learning. Anything. Anytime. I want them to ask good questions, and to be able to discern high quality answers. It is not about the content. In my mind, it never has been. If electron configurations are important to a student’s passion, then they will learn them. If not; I am happy if they realize that there is something about atomic structure that defines, predicts, requires a particular behavior. I do not see it as “settling” for lesser knowledge if that abandonment of specific detail means that they understand there are details they don’t know, but may need to ask about – and oh, by the way… how does science do x, y, or z – that’s a win.

Jeff Hoffman gave a talk at the end of 4th Deshpande Symposium ( that was inspiring. He gave in one line, in my opinion, the reasons we must be innovative in education: it today’s world we have a “democracy of information” that transcends traditional boundaries. And it’s how we use that information that is at our fingertips that is so important.

We are educating in a different world. We know things instantaneously, and don’t have to wait  for the morning newspaper, or even the nightly news. It is our responsibilities as educators to enable and empower our students to understand and progress the world they live in.

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Getting caught up (3) Season 2 #IMMOOC

What does innovation mean for education, and should every educator be an innovator?

Taking the second half first. Knowing that the semantics will get in the way: yes, every educator should be an innovator. We’ve all had that teacher or college professor that comes in with the ancient binder full of yellowed notes; they can’t deviate from the script.  It. Is. Oh. So. Boring.

Every educator should constantly be looking at their work and the students they teach. Is this still the right format? Is it the right time to introduce this? This lesson was awesome 5 years ago, but it seems trite now. In the now classic “Shopping Cart Video” Kelley explains that innovation isn’t always completely new, but it might be just adding something different that makes a product better. ( Education should be the same.

Using Couros’ definition that “Innovation [is] a way of thinking that creates something new and better,” (The Innovator’s Mindset, p18), then I think it should be a mandate that education is innovative. As he also notes (p20) it need not be a long stretch to bring innovation to the classroom. Didn’t we do it when we added projectors in addition to overheads (or dare I say film strips)? whiteboards over chalkboards?

In many ways we need to recognize that educators are inherently innovative, and it’s not something wicked to be feared.

Getting caught up (2) Season 2 #IMMOOC

How do we start to innovate inside of the box?

I started this journey originally with an online course from San Francisco’s Exploratorium on the ‘Art of Tinkering.’ ( ) I’d gone hunting because generous parent donations had enabled me to upgrade a good deal of equipment in our science department. I knew it would take months if not years to revisit curriculum to get some of the cool stuff I wanted to get into the hands of the students. I proposed a weekend activity based on tinkering ideas (I teach at a boarding school). The proposal was accepted and the path was marked.

That’s a long way to say that to innovate inside the box must begin with one of the tenets of tinkering: start with what you have. I am lucky to have administrators that support creative tools for learning; and that I have the ability to try something new without fear of losing my job!  But I think that comes partly from being a life-long learner myself; and always reading and keeping my mind open and wondering if that or this new idea would work for this or that. In addition, as a scientist, I know that most things are not going to work the first time – I have to be able to see the positive nuggets and pull those out for a new setting, a different twist etc.

I don’t think it’s the “how” that is often the impediment, nor the fear of failure. I think it’s the idea that innovation must be new and radically different. I once took a course on technology in STEM education. The first lesson was how the pencil was technology – it was a tool that made a job easier. And that’s all it takes.

Getting caught up (1) Season 2 #IMMOOC

So the next few posts will be just about wrapping my head around and reflecting on readings and posed questions.  The start of  #IMOOC could not have have come at a worse academic time – but it’s spring break and I can do a little more than just think about things.

How do you move from “pockets of innovation” to a “culture of innovation”? Tha’s part of my goal in participating in this. How can I halp by colleagues thing more intently on ways to improve the learning in their classrooms. I am not trying (in most cases) to make them trash all they are doing and start all over again; but to think more intently about their students – and how their lesson plan goals and objectives are reflected in real human minds.

I know that part of it must be offering opportunities for teachers to jump in themselves – in some non-threatening way – and challenge their ideas that it’s hard or threatening. I like that in the artist video (was it there on in Episode 1?) the idea of picking some non-high-stakes day to give something innovative a whirl in the classroom. But I want to do it for teachers. I know that when may places were pitching Makerspaces, some would offer “brews and builds” or other “adult” centered events to encourage people to see what it’s all about.

We need something like that in order to help shift the idea that innovative teaching is not just one more thing; it can be fun; and once you’ve experienced it, the culture is addictive.


and so it begins…

The devil made me do it? or the fact that it has been strongly recommended (required?) by a couple of online courses that I’ve participated in, that I blog.  Can’t think of much that I’d rather do less.

The idea of sharing the learning journey doesn’t bother me. Nor does exposing mistakes along the way. Just the idea of sitting still long enough to write it – rather – to keep at it on a regular basis.

So, after promising myself to look at the wordpress upgrades after/during the Genius Hour Master Class; and in the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC… here it goes.

First Epic Failure: misreading directions and having apparently lost the stuff on my earlier WordPress.  sigh….