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Innovation in Education is Easy, Unless You Make it Difficult

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I read a lot of posts and books on the need to “innovate” in education. The authors say similar things: We need to use more technology. We need to engage students. We need to focus on higher-order thinking. Here is the reality.

Some teachers and schools innovate. Most do not.

The teachers and schools that do innovate, have it as a part of their culture. They don’t spend too much time talking about innovation. They spend time in the trenches making it work.

The teachers and schools who do not innovate, like to talk. And debate. And then talk some more. They spend so much time talking about what they should do, and debating the various ways to go about it…that they fail to make any progress.

Our educational system is so industrialized that it is hard to not innovate. The problem is when we make “innovation” a huge ordeal. When we have to run innovative ideas past school boards and local committees it gets sticky. When we discuss innovation in department and faculty meetings it becomes an argument. We can’t always wait for change and innovation to come from the top down, most of the time we have to make it come from the bottom up. Innovation is easy, take these examples:

Want your students to become Global learners?

Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay didn’t wait for their school leaders to say, “Let’s go global with our students.” Instead, they teamed up each of their classrooms to take a look at Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” book, and research the ideas together on a wiki. The technology was available. The connection between the two was decided quickly. And their “Flat Classroom Project” has grown exponentially. They innovated without the curriculum office getting involved.

Pernille Ripp created the Global Read Aloud in 2010 with a simple goal in mind: one book to connect our students across the globe. Sine 2010 over 30,000 students and teachers have been connected by reading the same book, sharing their thoughts online, and making connections. No one told Pernille to create the GRA. And no one stopped her when she did.

Want your school to go 1:1 or BYOD?

Run a pilot in your classroom! Join teachers like Nicholas Provenzano in starting a pilot in your classroom first to show District leaders the benefits of 1:1 or BYOD. Be sure to take great data, and lots of pictures and videos. You can find many grants for technology in the classroom, or try to raise money on DonorsChoose.org.

In my school we wrote a big grant for “Classrooms of the Future” technology. This provided multiple teachers in our district with 1:1 Macbook carts in their class. It eventually led to a full 1:1 program being rolled out (this is our second year with four total grades 1:1).

Having trouble with your school board or administration not understanding how technology impacts and improves learning? Get signed up for BrightBytes. Their quick technology survey (about 10-15 minutes) in Clarity will pull together a full report on where you are strong in technology, and how it is impacting students and teacher learning.

Want to change professional development in your school/district?

A group of educators in the Philadelphia area came up with this crazy idea called “EdCamp” after going to a BarCamp (for programmers) and seeing the law-of-two-feet in action. You get to create and pick the sessions to attend and lead. If you aren’t feeling it, just walk out and go into another session. There is nothing “formal” about the EdCamp experience, but there is a whole lot of sharing and learning taking place. Thousands of educators will tell you: EdCamp rocks (please watch Bill Selak’s video). Last year I ran our very own “WissCamp” with staff at our high school…it was awesome. Ten different sessions, and teachers learning from their peers. That’s the type of PD I want.

George Couros saw an opportunity this summer to start the “School Admin Virtual Mentorship Program” (#SAVMP). Administration is a challenging job, and many times we get caught up in our district bubble without talking to peers in other places. This program give the opportunity for “mentors” to work with school leaders in helping them grow as a connected leader. What a great way to model this type of learning for the rest of your staff.

Arin Kress got educators in here district connected by setting up Skype session with other teachers, students, and principals around the world (in just 3 hrs)! Her staff was able to talk with educators like Jimmy Casas and Oliver Schinkten about connecting, twitter, hashtags and more! Check out Arin’s blog on how she did it, and how her staff reacted.

Want to bring student choice back into a curriculum filled with worksheets?

Gallit Zvi and Hugh McDonald taught together and were always looking for ways to push their students to greatness. One day in 2011 they read a post by Denise Krebs on “Genius Hour” in the classroom. The idea was simple: Give your students time in class to work on a project that they are passionate about. They would research, write, create, and present their Genius Hour project. Both jumped right in, and now have helped inspire hundreds of other “Genius Hour” teachers at the wiki they set up, and new collaborative blog. They didn’t wait for permission, they just did it.

I started the 20% Project in my classroom because I had a room full of 11th graders who had forgot how fun it was to learn. After running this project, it spread throughout our entire district. We now have 20% time, or Genius Hour, actually written into our 9th grade ELA curriculum!

Want to change the way students learn in your classroom?

Have you heard of Augmented Reality? If not, it’s very cool and easy to use. Two guys with some iPads (also known as Brad Waid and Drew Minock) have put together a great post on using AR in your classroom and how to get started. I’m planning on using AR for our Parent Conference night in November. Thanks to these guys, it should be a blast!

Erin Klein through me for a loop when I saw that she was taking away all the “desks” in her classroom this year. But she did it! Her classroom now looks like a fantastic learning environment, where the kids have multiple learning spaces. Learn more about Erin’s classroom in her post for Scholastic.

Todd Nesloney is a 5th grade teacher and wanted to do more in the classroom working with students. He chose to “Flip the Classroom” (yes you can do this with elementary students!). Todd made a great parent letter to send home (in English and Spanish) so everyone was on the same page. Not only has he made some great videos using the Sophia platform, but his students have made many videos as well.

So, what’s my point?

My point is simple. No one told these people to innovate and improve the education experience for teachers and students.They didn’t do it for credit in some class, or for a promotion. Instead, they just went out there and did it. I’m sure each of them had roadblocks and obstacles to overcome. I’m also sure that a few of them may have been called into an “office” to discuss what they were doing (read this great post from Justin Tarte on getting in trouble for tweeting). There are thousands of other educators doing innovative work that I didn’t mention. They’ll keep moving forward this year and in the future.

Get out there and innovate in your classroom and in your school. Make it easy. Make it fun. Make it a better experience for our students.

4 comments… add one

  • My idea about global learning is not just about using 21st century learning tools to engage learners and engage with learners across the globe. It’s about preparing our learners to take their place as informed, skilled and active global citizens; to think critically about issues of food security, population distribution, water cooperation, ethical consumerism, human rights, social justice, identity, cultural diversity, interdependence, globalisation, environmental sustainability, , breaking the poverty cycle, social technology, socially responsible trading, economical sustainability, sustainable farming and agricultural practices, health and human development, peace, conflict resolution and getting on with others. The future of this planet lies with globally educated learners.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Marilyn. I like your point about globally educated learners. I’d even go a step further to say that students are getting their own version of “global education’ online. We need to make it a point of emphasis to guide this conversation in our own classrooms and open up new opportunities for them to connect.

      Reply
  • Thank you A. J., for sharing these terrific examples of educational innovation. I have already “flipped” most of these resources into my “Common Sense Classroom” Flipboard magazine – named after Thomas Paine’s revolutionary era pamphlet. We live in an era where innovation is a necessary “good” in education. Thanks again for this terrific synopsis on innovation.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your comment Robert. I love the idea of the “Common Sense Classroom” magazine. I’ll be sure to subscribe!

      Reply

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