Bringing innovation to school – 5

Chapter 4 – Seeding Innovation

A central message throughout Suzie Boss’ book, Bringing innovation to schools, is to encourage school leaders to figure out how to provide students with the training ground they need to build essential 21st century skills, practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies. Rather than wait for good ideas and innovations to happen, as if by magic, what can leaders do to “seed” innovation?:

  • What policies and practices would multiply innovative efforts to happen at the grassroots level (i.e. within the school or, better, in the classroom)?
  • What new innovations could blossom from these efforts?
  • What if research and development into new innovations were cultivated from within the school house?
  • How can we invite teachers and students to participate in this process?
  • How can schools help sponsor innovative projects proposed by teachers and students through the allocation of seed money for the initiatives?

One recommendation is for school leaders to encourage action research throughout the school building, especially in the classroom. This research would help address the need to develop the “training ground” mentioned above. The key lies in appropriately framing the probing questions that will drive the action research agenda. For example, Boss suggests we can start by posing questions such as:

  • How can we teach children to problem solve using principle of engineering?
  • How can we leverage high-interest activities, such as gaming, to connect with students who are at risk of being disengaged from school?
  • How can we use class sets of digital devices to expand learning opportunities for all  students?
  • How can we reimagine the school library as a media center and collaborative work space?
  • How can we design school spaces and furnishings to foster student collaboration, research, and other activities necessary for project-based learning?

She reminds us that in order to promote ownership of any innovation agenda, teachers have to be involved in the process. They need to know that they are active participants, and valued for their effort, time and insight.

I appreciated the call to reimagine the role of school administrator as part of the innovation process:

If the teacher is the entrepreneur, then the school leaders should take the role of  venture capitalist to provide support and resources. The teacher needs to do the homework, to be able to say why an idea is worth investing in. Then it is up to [the administrator] to find resources. – C. Ratliff, Albemarle County Public Schools

This is different from the administrator telling the teacher what to do, and then maybe offering some funds to help. It doesn’t negate the need for the administrator to review the proposal for measurability and impact to see if an idea will make a difference, just as a venture capitalist would review a proposal for consideration. It does, however, prioritize the teacher’s role and impact in the pro-innovation process. It sends a message that we want their ideas and want to see them succeed.

To seed (fund) such innovations, we should plan for:

  • Support – Is there a plan to support the action research needed to foster innovation and improvement in classroom teaching?
  • Allies – Who else can assist in the innovation process? Are there other people resources to draw upon? What about retired folk in your community? What skills can they share?
  • Selection – Given limited resources, is the selection process for financial resources clear? Are the judging criteria shared in advance? Is the process streamlined and time efficient so that teachers can focus their efforts in the classroom rather than on the application process?
  • Impact – How will impact be measured? Be sure to consider quantitative as well as qualitative measures of impact.
  • Results – What process will be in place to ensure you learn from failures and from successes? How will good ideas be shared and replicated?

Boss includes the advice to start small and manage the risk. “Learning what not to do again is as important as taking good ideas to scale.”

Clearly, if school leaders want to, they can challenge the comfort level of their teaching colleagues in order to transform a school culture to one of innovation as part of learning.


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


Bringing Innovation to School – 4

Chapter 3 – Growing a new global skill set

I am reading Suzie Boss’ book Bringing innovation to the school and have been blogging my observations and notes (my first entry can be found here). The chapter on growing a new global skill set in students helps demonstrate the subtitle of the book, Empowering students to thrive in a changing world.

The following are seven key practices that teachers can put into action in the classroom. These will help build a new global skill set that can foster innovation through better thinking and problem solving:

  1. Welcome authentic questions – Good projects start with compelling questions; questions that spark student curiosity, offer relevance and apply content standards to authentic learning experiences. Authentic questions ensure that students have a “need to know”.
  2. Encourage effective teamwork – We need to make teamwork essential for success, knowing that the impact of a team is greater than the sum of the individual members. Ideas come from individuals; success from teamwork.
  3. Build empathy to see issues from multiple viewpoints – Students who are developing their ability to understand and share the feelings of others are more able to step outside of their own perspective to see issues from multiple points of view. Boss is correct that “innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.” We need to help students understand the needs and viewpoints of others in order to help them consider multiple options and ideas.
  4. Uncover passion – Passion motivates us to continue despite facing steep odds and failures. We need to help students discover their passions as a way to encourage innovative thinking. The Motivation MAP can help in this, especially when we think about student voice and choice (the ‘A’ and ‘P’ in the MAP).
  5. Amplify worthy ideas – Again – innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Students need to be able to do more than come up with their own ideas. They need to critically assess other ideas and determine which ones to support – and then go about supporting them by sharing and promoting other’s good thinking.
  6. Know when to say no – If new ideas are not working out, a key component in innovating (and, by extension, the ‘M’ in the MAP) is learning what doesn’t work without fear of failure. It is okay for students to look for potential problems and know when to say no, whether through experience, observation or planning. Remember – Finding out what doesn’t work lets us eliminate options that we first thought were plausible.
  7. Encourage breakthroughs – Celebrate higher levels of innovation and creativity that go beyond the formal curriculum – a “show me” category of something new, unique or impact.

Given these key practices, teachers can help students learn how to:

  • brainstorm, borrow, adapt or improve on existing ideas (in support of  #1 above)
  • frame problems (#1)
  • research in order to better understand ideas (#1)
  • listen to each other (#2)
  • help and support each other (#2)
  • reflect on group interactions and progress (#2)
  • pause and be more observant of what is happening around them (#3)
  • ask questions that challenge preconceptions (#3)
  • draw inferences based on their observations (#3)
  • connect with others from outside their peer groups (#3)
  • interview others to uncover diverse perspectives (#3)
  • present clearly and passionately on topics that interest them (#4)
  • critically evaluate and support others’ ideas (#5)
  • be an advocate for others and their viewpoints (#5)
  • test ideas without fear of failure (#6)
  • process failure as a stepping stone to better innovative thinking (#6)
  • know a breakthrough when they see and/or experience it (#7)
  • celebrate success (#7)

Wouldn’t this be an exciting vibrant learning environment?


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

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash



Bringing Innovation to School – 3

Chapter 2 – Seeing Educators as Innovators

The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves. – Suzie Boss

I appreciate the practical advice and recommendation towards fostering innovation in the classroom. It is clear that the culture of the school needs to set the stage for innovation to flourish.  When I visit a school, I often try to find evidence if there is a vision for innovation.  Is there a strong foundation for 21st century learning? Does the school share a common language to move forward innovative practices? How is innovation part of the curriculum? Does classroom teaching emphasize the necessary 21st century fluencies? Is creative problem-solving encouraged? What about collaboration and critical thinking? Do teachers provide opportunities for students to apply the core academic concepts in real-world contexts?

Clearly, teachers are integral to fostering innovation in the classroom.

Do teachers see themselves as innovators?

As teachers consider how to bring about innovation in the classroom, they could begin by self-assessing their own strengths and weaknesses as an innovator:

  • To what extent am I a role model as an innovator?
  • How do I encourage innovation among my colleagues?
  • How do I work to increase my ability to think creatively and inspire innovation?

Boss suggests that teachers consider their own “innovation profile”. As teachers share certain characteristics common to recognized innovators, they show students how innovators think and act.

Consider this set of six questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I action oriented? – Do I look for, recognize and take advantage of opportunities to make a difference? Am I actively developing new projects?
  2. Do I know how to network? – Am I eager to share what I am learning as part of my own professional learning? Do I share student ideas and their new insights that intrigue me further? Do I share what is difficult in my teaching and leading so that I can improve? Am I looking to others within my professional community for their insights into action? Do I look for brainstorming partners who will challenge me to develop further?
  3. Am I willing to take risks? – Am I willing to try something new in my teaching and leading? Do I volunteer to pilot new instructional approaches? Am I willing to access resources in creative ways? Do I advocate on student behalf? Do I challenge those rules and policies that limit my students’ ability to learn?
  4. Can I look ahead? –  Do I imagine where a new idea can lead to? Can I anticipate how others may come on board with a new practice? Am I working to link a new innovation to learning outcomes?
  5. Do I overcome obstacles? – Do I get frustrated when I encounter “yeah, but …” or “we’ve always done it this way” thinking? Am I adept at finding the work-around, when necessary? Do I find it easy to overcome any barriers so that students can accomplish their learning?
  6. Do I help good ideas grow? –  Do I share what is working well so that others can learn from my experience? Do I build “buzz” for someone else’s new ideas? Do I collaborate easily with others to extend our thinking and action?

As I consider my strengths on these six qualities, I can then begin to think about how to foster these same qualities in my students or in those with whom I work.


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

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

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.

Bringing Innovation to School – 1

I have been working my way through a very good book on bringing innovation to school by Suzie Boss and wanted to share some initial notes and observations here.

A central idea in the book is that there is a gap between saying we must encourage innovation and teaching students how to actually generate and execute original ideas.

A number of questions must be considered as we think about this gap:

  • What new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking are needed?
  • How can these be taught?
  • How do we provide opportunities to practice these new skills with appropriate support?
  • How can we scaffold the learning experience so that students learn to persist even through setbacks?
  • How can we help students discover their passions through this process?

Success in addressing this gap depends on knowing how to frame problems, generate ideas, test solutions, and learn through the experience. This is part of the design experience and requires a balance of individual effort and productive teamwork; of passion and persistence; of providing opportunities for students to engage questions and issues they care about.

What do we need to offer to our students? – If we can address this gap and bring innovation to school, we provide the necessary “training ground” students need to practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies, such as media literacy.

Essential is the commitment that innovation is both powerful and teachable; that focusing on innovation across the curriculum provides a means for teachers to help build essential 21st century skills in their students; and that teaching thought over content is a meaningful endeavour.

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

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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!)


My day at the Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy

I was fortunate to attend the one-day Microsoft Innovative Educator Teacher Academy in Bellevue yesterday. This was a good event to learn about some new tools as well as improve my skill set on some of the tools I am already using at school.

I was glad that our hosts and presenters were all experienced classroom teachers who were proficient in the different tools. They could relate to how we may use the various tools differently in the classroom than in a business environment. In particular, I appreciated how they could share actual implementation stories from their schools and classrooms, as this helped give me new ideas to consider in my own teaching. This part was inspiring. My lunch conversation on using Yammer within the building or district was insightful since I was finally able to talk with an experienced teacher who could explain it in action and demonstrate its usefulness as a resource for teaching and learning.

Even as an Office 365 school, I did not know that Microsoft offered a number of additional free resources for the classroom. I was happy to learn about the Microsoft Educator Network and its wide range of resources, tutorials, lesson plans and professional learning community. This is a site that I have bookmarked and will discover more. It is also a good complement to the resources from the Microsoft in Education site that I was already aware of and had accessed from time to time.

I was keen to learn more about using OneNote in the classroom. The group task in creating a reading assignment using OneNote sparked a number of ideas for my own classroom, especially since we are connected with Office 365 accounts. This could help me as I strive to teach and learn in a paperless environment. In fact, I am already thinking about sharing out resources and lesson notes through OneNote, and will work on setting that up in time for my new second semester class.

I was intrigued with the new Office Mix and will have to explore this more. It appears to be a great tool for making our presentations more interactive. This may help me improve the way I make presentations, but I can see how useful it will be for my students as they work on developing their creative and media fluencies. They will love using it!

Finally, I was very happy that I was able to attend the MIE Teacher Academy with a number of my colleagues. We are now able to share our common experience with the rest of the building faculty and look for ways to access these tools in support of student learning across grade levels.