5 Practical Ways to Innovate in Your Classroom (Right Now)

Note: I’m running a free webinar on this topic where I dive into the strategies, research, and resources that can make innovation come alive in your classroom and school with these FIVE Practical Ways to Innovate. Sign-up here and find a time that works for you!

In talking with a teacher in my district last week, she asked a question we all had been thinking.

“I know we are supposed to be thinking about the future, and how to get our kids ready to face the unknown…but what can I do right now? What are some practical and doable ways to spark some innovative learning in my classroom right now? That’s what I always believe is missing in many of the conversations online and at conferences.”

Well, she nailed it. I get talking about the big picture. As Simon Sinek says, “we have to start with why”, but many teachers, instructional coaches, and school leaders are agreeing on the why…yet struggling with the HOW.

If you are feeling like you’ve got the WHY, but really want to jump into the HOW, then I believe this webinar would be perfect for you (whether as a teacher, coach, or leader). Below, I cover each of these ways briefly, but I dive into more depth in the 45-minute webinar (that you can sign-up for right here).

I’m calling these five 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. 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. The 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.

2. 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.

3. 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, courtroom 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.


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

I was in a fourth-grade classroom last year, 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!

5. 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 Kindle 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.

What are some practical ways you are innovating in the classroom? Share the HOW! Sign-up here to find a webinar time that works for you!

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Connie Halfpop says:

    So excited to be connecting with good ideas!

  • Bill Howe says:

    I am thinking we need to innovate, or evolve the education system itself. By zeroing I’m on the classroom alone, we are working with a certain set of “givens”, that I am not sure we should accept. I liken this to going north when we are heading south. We are making progress, but is it in the right direction.

    As both a teacher and youth coach for many years, I have found many overlapping issues that have now made me question everything I have done for the past 40 years, with a view to throwing it all out the window.

    In the last two years, I have really focused on using my senses, actually WATCHING what was happening and looking for different things. I was not worried about lesson plans or session plans. This was done for a couple of reasons.

    First, these plans kind of put us on autopilot and have us base our evaluation of “outcomes” (expectations), on what was set out in our planning documents. While I believe in being prepared and having some form of fame plan, we are working in microscopic time periods. This can cause us to never reflect upon or question, the overall process.

    Second we become more focused upon the structure and the environment that once again, we are unlikely to observe and hear what is really going on. I call this a results based approach to teaching. A growth based approach is more ideal to evaluate learning.

    Last, the structured approach makes everything teacher / coach focused. While we may get some of the content across, we are eternally having to spoon feed on this approach. We have not warned them off the need for teachers or coaches and have taken what should be their responsibility, on our shoulders. Then we continue to comment about how this generation takes no responsibility for their learning, or look to the bench for directions, rather than take responsibility and start solving problems.

    I focused on the reactions of students during a typical class, in all areas of learning. I did the same in coaching and practices and I found similar matters in both. That is a topic for another time, but in essence, the children will allow the teacher / coach to take control of the environment and learning process. It is less work for them and it is discouraged by the adult, as any other way has the potential to cause disruption.

    In my observations, there was more teaching than learning taking place and it got worse as the children grew older. It should be the other way around. It is tough to stop a ball that is gathering momentum going downhill.

    Bill Howe

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