Calling All Innovators
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Amanda believes her Intel Club students are learning far more science than are students in her regular classes, where she has to cover the content required for state tests at a pace that allows less time for inquiry, exploration, or discovery. And she refuses to teach advanced placement courses because she believes they are far too content-driven. Amanda explained, “In my required classes, I have state standards that I have to teach, which are all about content knowledge. Students have to know that mitochondria make energy. Whereas in the noncredit seminars where I introduce students to the scientific method as a preparation for the Intel competition, I am teaching them how to figure out that mitochondria make energy, as well as how to ask good questions, problem solve, and come up with novel solutions.” After students in her regular biology class have taken the state test, she has each student develop a research proposal on a topic of interest to him or her and present it to the class. “Many go on to pursue their ideas for experiments on their own or join the Intel Club in the fall,” she added.
Creating Innovation-Driven Schools
To motivate today’s students and prepare them for a world that will require them to innovate, educators must be far more intentional in designing cultures of innovation that foster the skills that matter most. But we cannot mandate that teachers or school systems develop such cultures. The education environment must inspire and encourage educators to innovate. Policymakers need to promote the development of more authentic, performance-based forms of assessment, such as digital portfolios that follow students from 1st grade as a record of their progressive mastery of the skills and dispositions of innovators. Schools need to provide focused professional development that enables teachers to create hands-on, project-based, interdisciplinary courses. Larger school districts and states should establish laboratory schools that can pioneer these new approaches to teaching, curriculum, and assessment. As we create many more transparent models of success, the skeptics will better understand both what is possible and what is necessary for a better future, thus creating more demand for innovation in classrooms.
The education profession has traditionally been risk-averse, and current punitive accountability systems have greatly exacerbated this tendency. Do we have the courage and sense of urgency needed to make a radical break from the old ways and create schools with the cultures of innovation that our students want and our economy needs? Can many more educators become innovators? Can we work together to ensure that all students graduate from high school innovation-ready?
1 Friedman, T. L., & Mandelbaum, M. (2011). That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it invented and how we can come back. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.
Tony Wagner recently accepted a position as the first Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. Prior to this, he was the founder and co-director of the Change Leadership Group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education for more than a decade. He is the author of five books; his latest, Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World, will be published in April by Simon & Schuster.