Innovation

We Are Lifelong Learners

 

On January 24th, 2018, we held our 1st Maker Summit. The purpose of the event was to immerse our teachers in Maker-Centered-Learning experiences, which required them to manipulate technologies, tools, and even methodologies, such as Virtual Reality apps and glasses, Osmo kits, Stop Motion and Green Screening video tools, as well as Design Thinking.

Here are some of the things we hoped to achieve with these immersion experiences. We wanted our fellow teachers:

  • to have the student experience by diving in the challenges right from the start. We wanted to give them space to tinker, to play with the tools being used in each experience;
  • to reflect on the hands-on, immersive experience and the difficulties, challenges, successes, and insecurities that surfaced. We wanted them to connect to those feelings that arose while they engaged in each of the experiences together with their peers;
  • to identify possible opportunities for the use of those technologies, tools and methodologies in our language classroom, in the different courses and levels we teach.

Our Reflections on Your Feedback A week after the Summit, the team of facilitators, made up of teachers, innovation mentors, course coordinators, and members of the Makerspace staff, sat together to look into and discuss the feedback provided by you, Summit participants. We would like to share two valuable findings that came from our reflection and discussion of the feedback you gave us about your experiences throughout the Summit.

FINDING #01: On RESILIENCE

We facilitators understood – from both our own impressions and your feedback – the critical importance of being prepared and able to deal with technical issues that hindered the original plan for some of the experiences. We need to plan for the shortcomings, and we need to know what to do, how to adapt the activity we had in mind in case a technical issue occurs. In a few words, we always need a plan B. But most importantly, in our view, we need to learn to ask for help, and NOT to be put down by these difficulties to simply decide that we will never try doing that again ever. Instead, we need to build and model the resilience that we desire our students to develop in the face of adversity and failure. It is our belief that our students greatly benefit from observing how we teachers, grown-up professionals, handle difficulty and failure, and we need to show them that we can be resourceful and that it is OK to fail, as long as you learn from it and grow as a result of the experience.

FINDING #02: On AUTONOMY

Some teachers left comments saying they missed more detailed, step-by-step type of instructions for engaging in the experiences. In fact, there were some complaints about “lack of instructions.” Knowing that we facilitators had deliberately planned to keep step-by-step instructions to a minimum, hoping to enable teachers to have a taste of discovery-driven learning, these comments and complaints got us thinking about how we are all accustomed to learning environments where the teacher is the source of all knowledge and the one responsible for leading the learning, for scaffolding it via step-by-step instructions to be followed by the students. The experimentation and tinkering dispositions, which are dispositions that lie on the core of the Maker mindset, seem to make us teachers a bit nervous and insecure, and understandably so. We teachers have been taught that we need to be in control of everything that is happening in our classrooms at all times. A noisy classroom is commonly considered a messy classroom, making the teacher vulnerable to all kinds of judgement of his/her “classroom management skills.” In other words, we need to come to terms with the fact that learner autonomy may look and sound messy in the classroom at times, and we need to develop new skills to harness this creative energy for learning.

A Few Other Findings

We facilitators also gained the following insights thanks to our collective reflection and discussion about your feedback and our own feelings regarding our experiences putting together and facilitating the experiences:

  • We need more preparation time together before the event takes place;
  • We want to make the pedagogical gains leveraged by the use of the technologies and tools clearer to teachers;
  • We want to keep on building on our strengths and learning from our failures, without being paralyzed by them.

#Vision2020

We consider the Thomas Maker Summit the inauguration of Vision 2020. In many ways, this event embodied the core values of the program:

 

Networked Innovation Pathway

 

I am writing this to share my process with the world. I am truly interested in the network effects that spur growth and creativity. So if you like the theme of change and innovation in education, I would love to connect with you. I am also writing in order to “process my process.” Writing for an authentic audience is very challenging and very productive. It pushes you to articulate your ideas as best as you can. Before I go on, let me give you some background information on who I am and the work I do.

I’m a Brazilian 42-year-old mom and educator who lives in Brasília, the capital city of our country. I have been in English Language Teaching for 22 years. After ten years working as a full-time teacher, I worked as an academic administrator in my school, Casa Thomas Jefferson, as course supervisor, a middle-management position of leadership. I have my English language and teaching credentials, but my academic background is in Anthropology. It was not until about a year ago that I reached a solid awareness that my social sciences background has had a tremendous influence on the way I view leadership. More about that in another post. =]

I have just resumed my work after a year-long medical leave. I am blessed. Having been through the health challenges that I have over these past 18 months has changed me completely. Somehow I managed to make the most of my time away from my very demanding job as an academic admin, and in the meantime I became Google Certified Trainer and more recently Google Certified Innovator in the BRZ17 cohort.

As I said, I am blessed. My innovation project is to design an innovation ecosystem to enable teachers to develop the skills and awareness needed to design meaningful 21st-century learning. (Here are links to my vision deck and my vision video.) I have recently had the go-ahead from the high leadership of my school to develop this transformation program with our teachers. The program is called Vision 2020, and I am also calling it a networked innovation pathway.   I am literally standing in the shoulders of giants in this innovation pathway. Their ideas and their experiences as educators and as innovators are inspiring me and helping me shape this program to suit the needs of my particular context. I am going to mention three people I consider my mentors. I follow them on Twitter and I read their blogs. I have to start with George Couros (@gcouros), because reading his book “The Innovator’s Mindset” was (has been, it keeps giving, it’s amazing) a turning point in my innovator trajectory. So I consider him my go-to mentor for inspiration and for connection. He is a major connecting node in my personal learning network. With this tweet, George introduced me to my second mentor, Mandy Froehlich (@forehlichm) and BAM!

Mandy’s series of posts on her Hierarchy of Needs for Innovation and Divergent Thinking provided me with a no-nonsense framework for developing this transformation program. I am planning the stages and actions of the program based on the ideas she proposes. 2018 will be the Climate/Culture and Effective Leadership development/consolidation stage of our program. In 2019, we will focus on Mindset and Professional Development, and in 2020 we hope to achieve our vision of Innovation and Divergent Thinking in our school. Although I’ve just described a timeline here, the real deal will not be that clean-cut, of course. It will be rather cyclical and messy, but Mandy’s framework gives Vision 2020 direction. Mandy Froehlich is my go-to mentor for direction and structure. She has made sense of what this path to innovation entails, and her hierarchy of needs is a valuable compass.

Time came for me to meet my third mentor, Katie Martin (@KatieMartinEdu). And (again) it was via George Couros on Twitter:

Now THAT post! Oh my. Treasure trove doesn’t begin to describe it. Katie Martin has this clarity of ideas, she just says it as it is. It’s powerful. 5 Reasons Professional Development is NOT Transforming Learning explains what NOT to do if you want to orchestrate productive professional development opportunities. Katie Martin is my go-to mentor for keeping me grounded and preventing me from spinning out of control with all the inspiration I get. She has been the sensible voice of experience and clarity in my head. I went on to watch Katie Martin’s TEDx on her website and was blown away by the simplicity and clarity of her words:

“If we understand that every system is perfectly designed to create the results it gets, then think about these two questions: are you creating systems for teachers to comply and implement your ideas and your programs? Or are you creating systems to bring people together, to learn and create better opportunities for the kids in their classrooms?” Katie Martin

Yes, Katie, I hope to be able to co-design Vision 2020 so that it grows to become a system in which WE create new and better opportunities for our kids in our classrooms. Thank you for this. And there are many more posts by her that have constantly brought me back to the reality of change in education. I had been meaning to write about my creative process throughout Vision 2020 for the sake of openness and learning together with the global educators community, and I decided it could no longer wait nudged by this tweet:

Katie Martin tweeting Mandy Froehlich. Yep. It does feel like George Couros quoting Steven Johnson on this blog post: 

“Chance favours the connected mind.” Steven Johnson

That quote actually sums it all up, I guess, the very spirit of what I’m trying to say in this post. I’ll be sure to stay connected with these three amazing mentors and the many, many more I have the privilege of following on Twitter. I’ll be writing about Vision 2020 here, and I welcome everyone to take part in this networked innovation pathway with us.

Compliance and the Adjacent Possible #IMBC

In the intro to the Innovator’s Mindset, George Couros writes:

“The structure and type of learning that happens in many schools does not fulfill the needs of the twenty-first-century marketplace. When students graduate, many of them are good at one thing: school. They have mastered rubrics, they know how to ace tests, and they have figured out how to wor with specific parameters. But the world is not a series of rubrics! To succeed, they will need to know how to think for themselves and adapt to constantly changing situations. And although we say we want kids to think for themselves, what we teach them is compliance.”

I think this statement clearly shows the great divide that has opened up between the learning experiences that happen in school (formal educational setting) and the learning experiences that we can engage in if we are self-directed and motivated. Information and knowledge are available on our networks, and the internet has blown up the “learning box.” There is no box, after all. Go find a video tutorial on YouTube, enroll in a MOOC for free, post a question on your Twitter feed and get answers from people who are experts in many fields of knowledge, go to a Maker Space and take a carpentry workshop, you name it. Learn how to navigate the networks of knowledge and people, and in the process you lapidate your lifelong learning skills.

Informal learning prompts the kind of behaviors and actions that help shape lifelong learner mindsets. It pushes you to acquire skills that you will need to solve problems, to pose new questions, to investigate and be able to collaborate to finding or building solutions to complex problems. Schooling or traditional, formal learning experiences prompts compliance. It needs to standardize, control and measure. I don’t mean to say that formal learning experiences are fundamentally bad in all its aspects. There is a lot of value in direct instruction or in a good lecture from a competent teacher or expert. But that’s not all there is to it, to learning. There are a million other ways we can “measure” learning that do not involve a room full of people sitting in rows and silently taking a test which will amount to a numerical score.

How might we approximate the traditional, formal learning experiences to the informal learning experiences? How might we strike a balance there? What does that blend look like in the classrom? What does it do to the traditional school roles that presuppose authority, power and hierarchy?

George cites Steven Johnson on the concept of the “adjacent possible.” I find it very powerful because it means that the collective journey to exploring possible answers to the questions above within one’s community is where the transformation lies – it IS the transformation. Steven Johnson states (as cited by George Couros):

“The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a rom with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven’t visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn’t have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you’ll have built a palace.”

There is no recipe for innovation in education. What there should be is a predisposition to listening rather than telling, to working together rather than alone. To being vulnerable and saying “hey, I don’t know where this road will take us but I’m open to finding that out together, as a community, and with a focus on our learners.”

For our book club folks, George Couros poses this question for the introduction read:

Why do you believe that schools need to change, and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?