10 Practical Ways to Innovate in Your Classroom

By AJ Juliani, 8 comments

I recently wrote a post (ok, it was kind of a rant) about “innovation” in education and who get’s to decide what is innovative. The bottom line of my argument is that the teacher and students get to decide, and what is innovative for you, may not be for others–which is completely ok!

That being said, I received a number of emails and questions about what types of “innovative work” I’ve seen in my role as a teacher, administrator, and speaker around the country. To be honest, there has been so much great work I’ve witnessed in my own district and traveling that it is hard to share it all. I’ve widdled it down to ten (because that seems like a solid number right?). These are some of the examples I share when doing workshops and working with teachers because I know they work and there are many teachers they can collaborate with that are already doing this type of learning.

I’m calling these 10 examples practical because I believe they are doable. They work in most grade levels, in most schools, in most situations. However, as we talked about in a previous post, you and your students are going to have to be the ultimate decision makers on whether or not any of these ideas would work.

1. Let Your Students Design the Learning

We all have those assignments, assessments, and units that need some revitalization. Often we toil, thinking about how we can design a project or activity that is going to engage our students and empower them to do amazing work. One time, I didn’t do this. One time, I asked and had a conversation with my students about the final assessment. And that one time turned into one of the most innovative projects I’ve ever been a part of: Project Global Inform. You see, when I brought my students into the actual “designing” process they took an enormous amount of ownership in how we would structure this final project, how we would grade this final project, and what the expectations were from them. Give your students a chance to design the learning with you and watch what can happen.

2. Run a Student-Led Edcamp

In 2014 I read about Jason Seliskar running an “Elementary Unconference” as an Edcamp for his 4th grade students. It was fantastic. Thes students create their own learning boards (just like in Edcamp), schedule for the day/class, and then become experts and learners in each other’s session. Since then I’ve seen a number of schools and teachers run student-led edcamps (here is one at a MS) with great success. Why does it work? For the same reason Edcamp works for us teachers: They own the learning and experience.

3. Collaborate Globally

I’ve written about this before. Participating in my first Global project (Flat Classroom Project) with my students changed me as a teacher and my perspective of what types of learning experiences we can have “in school” with our students. Now there are many different global collaboration/learning experiences you can take part in. Whether it is joining up for the Global Read Aloud, setting up a Mystery Skype call with another class, or taking part in the first-ever Global Day of Design, your students can have the opportunity to work and learn with peers from around the world.

4. Maker Projects and Design Thinking Challenges

Get your students making, creating, designing, building, and solving problems together with a Maker Project or Design Thinking Challenge. Check out the GlobalDayOfDesign.com for free ideas and Maker Projects to get started.

5. Genius Hour and 20% Time

I get messages from teachers every day that have taken my free course on Genius Hour and 20% Time or read my book that are so excited about the work their students are doing. Genius Hour and 20% Time empowers students to go into a depth around a topic that they are curious about. They learn, research, document, and share their process with the world. This eventually turns into a time to create (based on what they have learned) and then present with their peers and much larger authentic audience. Giving students choice to learn and create based on their interests is one of the best ways to create the conditions for innovative work.

6. Class Challenge (Do It Together!)

When I taught 11th grade English one of the best experiences was collaborating with my good friend and colleague Steve Mogg on a daily basis. Throughout the year we taught a number of novels and stories that had mystery, court room scenes, and crime scene investigations. So, at the end of the year we created a Class Challenge project that would pit each of our classes against each other in a 3-day long “CSI:Wissahickon” challenge. At the start of the project we would present the crime that had taken place, who the key players were, and what they needed to solve. Each day we would leave a series of clues around our classrooms and the school that would help each class solve the crime. By the end of the 3-days they would have to present their case as a class and we would decide who had the winning argument. It was a blast and incorporated all of those problem-solving and team-building skills we were looking for–but the students always loved it because they worked together as an entire class to complete the challenge.

10 Practical Ways

7. Community Project

I’ve recently witnessed students at my school building a beautiful table for the opening of a restaurant; working with the local watershed to solve water run-off problems; connecting with the community to run technology training; and putting on an entire TEDx production from start to finish. In each of these examples the project and work they were doing in school directly impacted the community. Sometimes we take for granted the opportunities for authentic learning experiences that are right outside our school doors. Connect with your local organizations, companies, and residents to see what types of projects would benefit the community while also empowering students to solve problems and create solutions.

8. Teach the World What You Know (create YouTube tutorials)

I was in a fourth-grade classroom last month, watching two Garnet Valley school district teachers explain circuits (and how they work). Afterwards the students went through stations where they created circuits using Snapcircuits, Legos, and Minecraft! What was fascinating is how many of the students wanted to create Minecraft tutorial videos teaching the world how to make and design circuits. The students took pictures of what they created and shared them via their teacher’s class Twitter accounts. It reminded me that so many of our students want to teach the world what they know, have the platform to do it (YouTube), but aren’t always given the time in school. These teachers made time to allow their students to not only do the work but also share it with an audience!

9. Let Your Students Debate

My favorite day of the marking period as a teacher, was the last day. Not because it was over, or grades were in, or we had a final assessment. It was the day I let my students argue and debate with me the entire class period. We created an Appeals Day where everything graded and assessed was up for discussion and debate. My students spent hours perfecting their arguments, teaming up with each other, collaborating, and building out their cases. It wasn’t so much the fact that they could get points back (they could if their argument was strong) but instead it was the opportunity to debate. You can read more about it here: Why I Let My Students Argue for Their Grades.

10. Write a Book/Release a Podcast Together

This last one is something I’ve seen in a number of schools (including our own). It’s so easy now to publish a Kindel ebook or create a paperback book using CreateSpace and/or Blurb. Have a class writing assignment? Turn it into a published book by collaborating and putting it all together before getting in into the hands of parents, students, and other community members. The same thing can be done by recording students and creating a podcast that you can upload to the iTunes Podcast app using services like Libsyn or Stitcher.

Have you tried any of these 10 things in your classroom? Would love to hear what you’ve done in the comments so others can try and learn from each other! Keep sharing and keep innovating 🙂

Get the Innovative Teaching Toolbox

Innovative
Powered by ConvertKit