Bringing Innovation to School – 2

Chapter 1 – Coming to Terms With Innovation

I have blogged previously about modern learning routines that enhance student engagement as well as the most significant classroom innovation. I believe that there are core competencies that our students need to master in order to become successful and was reminded of this from Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators: The making of young people who will change the world (you can read a good overview of his thinking here). In it he argues that schools today educate to fill children with knowledge. Instead, they should be focusing on developing students’ innovation skills and motivation to succeed.

Today knowledge is ubiquitous, constantly changing, growing exponentially… Today knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity… There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know. – Tony Wagner

There is an urgency to innovate that we must recognize in our teaching and learning. Can innovative thinking be learned? How do we teach these core competencies? How do we bring an innovating mindset to the schools? We need schools to address this.

I have been enjoying Suzie Boss’ book on how this can be achieved.

The way we design learning experiences must reflect the growing importance of innovation and creativity as necessary professional skills for all students to possess.

Boss notes that being able to work in new ways on new problems is seen as a key career skill. Schooling shouldn’t make students wait until they are adults before they can truly work on new problems. Innovation should lead to positive change and students should be provided with the opportunity to make a difference in the world.

In the long run, engaging student passions may be our best strategy for bringing  innovation to school.

Teaching innovation should search for, and honor, student voice and student ideas. It should help students understand that their ideas are important and can contribute to greater good. This will help make learning real.

By leveraging their passions during the school day, we can give students more opportunities to connect what they are studying with the real-world issues they care about. That’s how students will define innovation on their own terms, as something that will enable them to shape their future. – Suzie Boss

What a vibrant way to learn! This would definitely engage students in their learning as they follow their own motivation MAP.



Boss, S. (2012) Bringing innovation to schools: Empowering students to thrive in a changing world. Solution Tree.

Wagner, T. (2015) Creating innovators: The making of young people who will change the world. Scribner.


Learning Target?


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I asked the question here why more teachers don’t share their learning targets with their students.

It would seem to me that we can encourage student responsibility for their learning by sharing what we want them to learn in our classes. We can further extend this learning for students if we share with them how they will know when they have learned it deeply.

Students can hit any target they know about and that stands still for them – Rick Stiggins

To be clear, a learning target is not an instructional objective. Each serves a different purpose.

An instructional objective is meant to guide instruction during a lesson or across a series of lessons. It is derived from provincial/state content standards and represents a key step that teachers will take to help students learn the component knowledge and skills that make up the standard. As such, instructional objectives are not designed for the student, but are written from the teacher’s perspective. The student will be able to …

On the other hand…

A learning target guides learning, providing focus for what the students will come to know deeply during the lesson. It is written from the students’ perspective and offers a student-friendly description in language that they understand of what they should come to learn or do during the lesson. As such, learning targets become a tool that helps students take charge of their own learning.

A well-developed learning target unpacks a “lesson-sized” amount of learning. It represents a portion, or “chunk”, of a particular content standard that the students can master during the lesson. A learning target serves as a “look-for” that guides students to knowing what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate the new learning.

If students know what to look for and can aim their sights (direct their energy) on a learning target, they can take ownership for their learning. By doing this, teachers grant their students the opportunity for mastery through autonomy and provide a sense of purpose. This represents essentials components of the motivation map that can drive student engagement and empowerment for their learning.


Why don’t more teachers share their learning targets with students?

This is a question that I have been asking myself lately.

I have had the opportunity to visit many classrooms over the past few months. Perhaps one thing that has surprised me the most is that far too many teachers are not sharing their learning targets with their students.

How can we encourage student responsibility for their learning if we are not sharing what we want them to accomplish in our classes?

5 Ways to put students in the driver’s seat suggests that sharing our learning targets with our students is one simple way to promote student-centered learning in the classroom. This will help clarify what we want students to learn and what this learning could look like. I am certain that, at a minimum, this will also help foster some student motivation for learning. It could add necessary purposefulness for being together in the classroom.



Helping Students Motivate Themselves

I have a great interest in understanding student motivation for learning. What motivates students to learn? How can I help students motivate themselves? What are some implications for classroom instruction?

I came across this article – Strategies for helping students motivate themselves – and was struck how 3 out of the 4 qualities mentioned match Daniel Pink’s work on The Puzzle of Motivation (a TED Talk worth watching; or if you prefer, here is a link to an RSA Animate version on the same talk).

Essentially the insight that I had confirmed again is that tokens and rewards work well as motivators for simple tasks. However, they don’t work the way we think they should when it involves the conceptual and creative thinking that takes place in cognitively challenging tasks.

In their place, a teacher has a greater chance in motivating and engaging students in their learning by thinking about the “Motivation MAP” – an acronym I use to focus on the three essential qualities of motivation and engagement.

Motivation MAP = Mastery, Autonomy, Purposefulness

M = Mastery

Are students working to demonstrate their developing competency and mastery in learning? Are students reflecting on how to improve their learning? Does teacher feedback focus on student effort for their learning rather than an innate ability? (Check out this website to learn more growth mindsets; or if you prefer, here is a link to a video about fostering a growth mindset.) Encouraging student mastery in learning feeds their desire to get better in what they do and, as a result, is a powerful motivator.

A = Autonomy

What choices are offered to students that allow them to be active participants in their own learning? Does this extend beyond simply letting student choose who they will work with on a project or in what format they can complete an assignment, whether poster, essay or presentation? Are there opportunities for “cognitive choice” so that students can determine how they will learn something new? Are they asked to self-assess and reflect on their learning? Offering this type of choice in our lessons helps foster student autonomy and their desire to be more self-directed. This also leads to better engagement.

P = Purposefulness

Of what value are the learning activities in the classroom? Do the students sense that they are simply completing “busy work” or do they find the learning activities meaningful and relevant?  Is there purposefulness in what we do together? When students sense a value in their learning, they will be more motivated and engaged to proceed further, if not deeper, into their learning.

Thinking about the “Motivation MAP” is a simple reminder to helping students motivate themselves: mastery, autonomy, and purposefulness.

Added value in helping kids learn how to code

As I consider general K-12 curricula across schools and districts, I have been advocating for the inclusion of a class in financial literacy for all students. For example, you can read about my thinking here, or here, and click here for links to some classroom resources. I believe it represents essential, daily skills that students will need later in life. Students should know, understand and apply the math behind balancing a checkbook or confirming the accuracy of a credit card statement. They should have a grasp of essential ideas behind supply and demand as it applies to the cost of goods and services, and be able to use this information when comparison shopping. They should have a grasp of the concept of principal and interest when they are ready to make a significant purchase, such as their first car.

I was reminded the other day of another key skill/class that should be included in the general K-12 curriculum: learning how to code. My experience has taught me that kids want to learn how to code. They want to know how to develop games, websites, or fun apps and then challenge their friends play them.

I discovered this when I had the opportunity to teach a technology class to a group of grade 7 and 8 students last year. In addition to the required content that we needed to cover in the class, I wanted to get a sense of the topics and skills that they desired to learn so as to tailor the course as much as possible to their self-identified interests. One topic that became overwhelmingly clear was the students’ desire to learn how to code and even develop some simple games.

Now, I have a minimal background in computer science and programming languages, but I knew that this would be a topic that would engage the students in the class and equip them with some initial skills that they could develop further. I wanted to empower them to create new games or unique programs. For these reasons alone, I was up to the challenge to learn how to teach some basic coding to my class!

Fortunately, I had learned about the Hour of Code movement earlier in the year and tried the teacher tutorial myself.

It was so simple.

I was guided each step of the way through the self-directed tutorial. If I made a mistake (and I did), then I could retry the stage and learn from my error.

I knew that my students would be able to learn from the experience, too. There were plenty of teacher notes to help me plan my lessons. These notes were developed to assist those teachers who don’t have a background in coding. This was definitely helpful so that I could be more confident in guiding the students. I also came across the school district notes to bring coding to an entire school system!

What surprised me the most was how deeply engaged the students were when I introduced the hour of code to them. They were excited to actually code and see the result of their thinking! Upon completion of the beginner tutorial, they started to explore the more intermediate options.

Even President Obama became the first President to write a line of code during the Hour of Code!

It is now a year later and I am teaching some of the same students in a different class this semester. The surprise that pleased me the most was noticing the extent that they have developed in their programming – on their own, outside of class! These students showed me the games they have developed over the year. As group, they are out to challenge each other with games that are more complex and difficult. When there is a free moment between classes, I often find them taking out their laptops to extend their thinking and practice their coding even more.

So why am I thinking about coding today?

This article on requiring computer science in schools and this article on adding coding to the elementary curriculum got me thinking again on the value of engaging students by exposing them to basic computer science. We don’t need to relegate coding as a senior elective in high school, but, rather, take advantage of student interest to learn and understanding better the tablets and phones that they are carrying around with them on a daily basis.

There is a growing research base documenting the benefits of teaching coding to children of all ages. This includes:

  • Developing logical thinking skills
  • Developing problem solving skills
  • Fostering persistence on a task
  • Communicating and collaborating for task accomplishment

These are important outcomes that will help students learn how to learn.

As such, I have modified my thinking a bit – I now believe that all students need to be taught some financial literacy as well as coding during their stay in our schools.

There are some great resources to help us get started, including those found at Here is a thought-provoking series of blog posts on coding in the classroom from Edutopia. For example, consider this article on coding for kindergarteners. What if we helped students develop their coding abilities from a very early age, like we work to help them become proficient readers and skilled mathematicians? How might this help us better prepare students for THEIR future?

Besides – it is just plain fun to help the Angry Bird catch the pig. (You’ll have to try it here to see what I mean!)

Learning from a question week: Wrap-up

This week has come to an end, and I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the “Learning from a question week” that I had in class. With approximately 60% of the students gone on a school trip, I wanted to engage the students in an activity that challenged them to learn something new, yet also allow them to follow their interests. I specifically wanted to encourage the students to follow a question in search for an answer.

All in all, I was happily surprised with the level of confidence the students displayed to carry out their research. They were excited to learn more about a topic that interested them and they initiated their research very quickly. Perhaps they were equally eager to open their own blog sites as part of their other coursework. There was a sense of excitement when the students were able to take some time to read and comment on each other’s questions for yesterday’s final class together.

I feel that the week was a success! It included a number of opportunities to talk about digital citizenship and digital footprints. I hadn’t necessarily planned to include those, but when the right opportunity presented itself, it was a good learning moment and it helped make what we were doing more sense, too. I was once again reminded on the value of offering choice to students. They had choice in the question, choice in the research, choice in developing their blog sites. I know that this led to greater motivation for learning. In fact, there were numerous signs of engagement all week, too. Finally, I felt that the “Learning from a question week” was a success in that it helped the students develop some their 21st century fluencies, which are so critical for classroom and future success, including the opportunity to develop their information fluency, media fluency, as well as practice some good global digital citizenship.

Here is a sample of the variety of questions that drove individual student learning this week:

Learning from a question week: Day 5 – Learning, reading & commenting

The students were excited to return to the lab today, and they were eager to read what everyone learned this week. Before doing that, we first walked through how to comment effectively on a blog and talked a bit more about extending a conversation through the commenting process. This included a few comments and discussion on leaving a positive digital footprint, especially on a school blog site.

Once in the lab, it was so quiet as students went from site to site commenting and sharing their thinking. I was happy to hear some conversations take place, too, on the topics they were reading. The time went by so quickly for the students – another sign of engagement in the learning.