Creating Innovators, Chapter 5

Reading this book makes me appreciate being at a IB Primary Years Programme school. We still do have to prepare students for testing but our units are modeled for interdisciplinary studying. In this chapter, Judy Gilbert said, “A more interdisciplinary approach to learning will better prepare people for the kind of problems they’ll be confronting Students also need more experience with collaborative problem-solving.” This reminds me of the Mystery Skype I have started doing with my students. Mystery Skype is where two classes use Yes/No questions to guess where the other class is located. This is definitely an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving. Students use many tools and ways to communicate with each other on how to quickly find the answer.

Rick Miller from Olin described the three stages in the evolution of learning: 1 memorization-based, multiple choice approach, 2 project-based learning (problem already defined), and 3 design-based learning where students define the problem.  Sometimes it seems that the design-based learning is used more in PreSchool. Give them play-do and see what they can do. Give them finger paints and let them play. Our fifth graders create an “I Wonder” Project in the first semester. This is very similar to the Passion Projects. It would be nice to incorporate this into all grade level curriculum. Teachers must be the “guide on the side”. One of my rules is that I should not be doing more work than my students. They should have to struggle to figure things out and not just be given the answers.

In Chapter 5, Tony Wagner also discusses “Specialization versus Multidisciplinary Learning”. He first states that there is always a need for some specialization, but for innovation to happen we need multidisciplinary learning.

  • Risk Avoidance vs Trial and Error – to get an A figure out what the teacher wants is how risk avoidance works but IDEO’s motto is “fail early and often” . The quote “we learn from our mistakes” is so true. A student who doesn’t make mistakes doesn’t always learn or retain the information. It isn’t failure it is iteration. This reminds me of a study where an Art Class had a control group that was able to turn in one perfect vase and a testing group that was able to turn in as many vases as they could. Guess who learned more? The testing group did, because they started over multiple times and learned from their mistakes. I also have a neighbor who is an engineer and at his work when new people come in and think they can solve a problem, the leaders do not stop them even though they have tried to solve the problem in the past. The leaders allow the newbies to learn from their mistakes and try to solve the problems. You do never know if a new set of eyes will see something different.
  • Consuming vs. Creating – I am bringing this one up a lot because at my own children’s school they are one-to-one ipads. Some of the teachers are only using it for consuming, but others are using it for creating. The ipad is an amazing tool that must be used for creating or producing. I am having these conversations at work with my principal, co-workers and our PTO. What can our students or teachers use ipads to create?  Almost anything and everything! Photos and Videos are the two biggest ones I see that can be used immediately with little training.
  • Extrinsic versus Intrinsic Motivation, “Play , Passion & Purpose”- Wagner questions, “one has to wonder how many students would show up for their classes if no grade was involved.” My daughter always loved school, she loved going, she loved learning. When grades became more important she stopped being interested. What happened? Why? I am not sure but I believe if she was able to follow her passion, school would have still be fun. I also see daily that students want to have purpose. They want to help. They want to feel needed and when we give them that power, they feel empowered for other things.
  • STEM versus Liberal Arts Education- Steve Jobs has said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough- it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our heart sing, and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.” Steve Jobs also quoted Edwin Land of Polariod  on”the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences.” That then became Steve Jobs goal. In the book “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink, he argues “The most creative among us see relationships the rest of us never notice”. That can not be done without the studies of humanities.

Schools that do well have the following things in common:

  1. strong emphasis on collaboration (versus individual achievement);
  2. multidisciplinary learning (versus specialization);
  3. an emphasis on creating things and student empowerment (versus passively consuming knowledge);
  4. encouragement of intellectual risk-taking and trail and error (versus risk avoidance); and
  5. strong emphasis on intrinsic motivation (versus extrinsic motivation)
  6. with the absence of grades and faculty’s focus on encouraging students to pursue their passions.

The specifics about Olin’s College, at Stanford, High Tech High Graduate School of Education, and Finland’s educational system are amazing. I really want to hear more about elementary schools who are innovative. At the Teacher Librarian Day in Denver this year, there was a preschool teacher who had innovative approaches.


A collegue from my Flat Classroom Projects wrote a great blog post about the book. If you read it, feel free to post a comment.

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