One of the most prevailing challenges are now coming in the public consciousness: We need to change just about everything. Whether scientific advances, technology breakthroughs, new political and economic structures, environmental solutions, or an updated code of ethics for 21st century life, everything is in altering—and everything demands innovative, out of the box thinking.
The strain of reinvention, of course, falls on today’s generation of students. So it follows that education should focus on fostering innovation by putting curiosity, critical thinking, deep understanding, the rules and tools of inquiry, and creative brainstorming at the center of the curriculum.
This is hardly the case, as we know. In fact, innovation and the current classroom model most often operate as antagonists. The system is evolving, but not quickly enough to get young people ready for the new world. But there are a number of ways that teachers can bypass the system and offer students the tools and experiences that spur an innovative mindset. Here are ten ideas:
Move from projects to Project Based Learning – Most teachers have done projects, but the majority do not use the defined set of methods associated with high-quality PBL. These methods include developing a focused question, using solid, well crafted performance assessments, allowing for multiple solutions, enlisting community resources, and choosing engaging, meaningful themes for projects.
Teach concepts, not facts – Concept-based instruction overcomes the fact-based, rote-oriented nature of standardized curriculum. If your curriculum is not organized conceptually, use you own knowledge and resources to teach ideas and deep understanding, not test items.
Make skills as important as knowledge – Innovation and 21st century skills are closely related. Choose several 21st century skills, such as collaboration or critical thinking, to focus on throughout the year. Incorporate them into lessons. Use detailed rubrics to assess and grade the skills.
Form teams, not groups – Innovation now emerges from teams and networks—and we can teach students to work collectively and become better collective thinkers. Group work is common, but team work is rare. Some tips: Use specific methods to form teams; assess teamwork and work ethic and expect students to reflect critically on both ongoing work and final products. For peer collaboration rubrics, see these free PBL Tools.
Reward discovery – Innovation is mightily discouraged by our system of assessment, which rewards the mastery of known information. Step up the reward system by using rubrics with a blank column to acknowledge and reward innovation and creativity.
Make reflection part of the lesson – Because of the coverage imperative, the tendency is to move on quickly from the last chapter and begin the next chapter. But reflection is necessary to anchor learning and stimulate deeper thinking and understanding. There is no innovation without rumination.