As a faculty we’ve been exploring the idea of abandoning goal statements in favor of rephrasing them as thoughtful questions. This emphasizes the process rather than the product, invites the learning community into the conversation, and opens up the question-asker to a variety of possible answers that might otherwise have remained unexplored.
I had the opportunity to visit NuVu Studio: The Innovation School last week in Cambridge, MA. NuVu is doing a number of remarkable things in partnership with Beaver Country Day School, which sends approximately 30 high school students each trimester to the NuVu campus to spend 8 weeks deeply engaged in the innovation & design thinking process.
Each session has a theme. The theme for this past winter session was “health”. Students engaged in 2-week-long projects that explored different problematic prompts. I had the opportunity to speak with Laurel and hear her share about an incredibly innovative product designed to promote health by servicing a need that people face when they are on the brink of death. Laurel and her group engaged in the complete design thinking process (as depicted in the above graphic) multiple times over to ultimately produce a functional and portable IV kit that attaches to a nalgene bottle and is able to filter, sterilize, and heat a water solution for combating hypothermia in backcountry or high altitude circumstances when emergency responders may be a long way off. I invite you to learn, through text and images, more about her group’s project by viewing their online portfolio.
While the product itself was captivating to me given my love of the outdoors and penchant for mountaineering, what was even more riveting was unique and transferable skill set these high school students had gained in a few short weeks (and those heavily interrupted by winter weather at that!). The NuVu students learned and practiced the skills of:
Asking thought provoking questions of each other and relevant experts.
Collaboratively approaching a problem, learning to leverage the strengths of each group member for the success of the team and the project.
Navigating obstacles, whether they be challenges in design, technology, group dynamics, or thought…persevering through the iterative process of design thinking to the resultant end of a workable prototype.
Increasing facility with a wide variety of different tools and skills that traditionally take full high school or college courses to master. Students did not enter the doors of NuVu with the ability to use 3D printers and its associated software, wield laser cutters, examine swaths of computer code for errors, complete wiring and electrical circuits, discuss medical diagnoses, and more. However they left with confidence and competence to use their resources to get the answers they need to continue moving the design thinking process forward.
Confidently advocating for their perspective and approach.
Communicating their thinking verbally, via a variety of multimedia tools, and in articulate text to convey process, possibilities, and product.
When given the time, the freedom, and the tools to focus on a single problem the ideas generated by these young minds were unbelievably impressive. These students used high-level skills in all curriculum areas (mathematics, programming, writing, reading, science, history, communications, etc.) throughout their work. It begs the question, how can we make this incredibly valuable, transformative, and applicable-to-the-future experience more broadly available in independent schools? What creativity is lost by requiring completion of a set course of study before students are presented with real-world dilemmas? What lives could be saved or bettered if children, who are often deep wells of empathy, were given meaningfully structured opportunities in their education to truly unleash the power of their intellect and creativity? What lessons does the NuVu Studio have for us that we can apply to ensure that our children are prepared for THEIR future…and not our past?
I recently attended the annual NAIS conference in Boston. I worked with two other strong, confident, and thoughtful women leaders from school’s in California to present a 3-hour workshop on leadership and the work of the a division head. Take a look at what one of the attendees had to say as she responded to our workshop highlights:
“While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.
What does purposeful play look like? When you step into an exemplary pre-K classroom, you see a room organized by a caring, responsive teacher who understands child development. Activity centers are stocked with materials that invite exploration, fire the imagination, require initiative and prompt collaboration. The room hums.”
– Shael Polakow-Suranksy & Nancy Nager
Better learning doesn’t just happen as a result of environments where children are free to play. Better learning happens WHILE they play.
“We need to prepare students for their future, not our past.” – Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink’s oft-repeated words serve as a constant reminder of our work as educators and parents. This video states:
“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
It is our role to provide children with skill sets that go beyond information – skill sets that are transferable and can be relied on for whatever challenges, problems, and careers lie ahead in their future. As parents and educators partner in this quest – here are a couple useful resources. The first is a small booklet titled 101.3 Ways to Build Creativity. Within you’ll find numerous creativity, construction-based, collaboration-requiring activities that may prove useful in your work with students. Some samples:
Place a yardstick across six people’s index fingers parallel to the floor. Try and lower the stick to the floor, you will be surprised how difficult it is!
Create a tabletop game for two people using a pin pong ball, paper clips, and tape. Define the rules and scoring and how to wine the game.
Make a device that can place a penny in a cup without allowing any team member to be within 30 inches of the cup. You may use popsicle sticks, paper cups, string, tape, straws, spaghetti, and marshmallows in your solution. See how many pennies can be put in the cup in two minutes.
“Students need to feel empowered to go out into the world and solve its problems. In essence, we want to figure out how to produce future innovators.”
The article highlights some key qualities that characterize innovation. Qualities of innovation are nurtured not just through STEAM activities, but throughout the large and small moments of children’s days and in many of the things you do with your students/children. Innovation is a habit of mind, not a discrete set of facts that can be memorized. It is a muscle, and as such must be worked and practiced to be strengthened and honed for the work that lies in both the near and long term. The article references Google Vice President Susan Wojciciki’s eight pillars of innovation, the conditions which need to be present for innovation to flourish and thrive: Have a mission that matters:“If we want our students to not only have big ideas but also to learn how to run with those ideas, we need to start talking about things that matter.” Think big, but start small:“By seeking volunteers and not issuing a top-down mandate, we assembled a team who were not only interested in integrating creative problem solving into their lesson plans, but who also wanted to re-envision our campus culture.” Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection:“If we want our students to become innovators, we have to inspire them to continuously improve upon their work. That’s hard to do when so many young people are programmed to work for the highest grade possible, achieve it, and move on to the next assignment.” Look for ideas everywhere:“If we really believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, we’ve got to be open to listening to even the smallest voices.” Share everything:“Our goal is for the way we teach innovation to affect our entire community.” Spark with imagination, fuel with data:“We want our students to learn to listen to their hearts and their heads in equal measure.” Be an open platform:“Rather than protect our intellectual property, let’s layer our ideas on top of each other and see if we can produce a generation of innovators who make breakthroughs that matter.”
First graders at TPS are collaborating together to build a three-dimensional community in their classroom…and deepening their own classroom community in the process. Check out their brief story here on NAIS Inspiration Lab: http://inspirationlab.org/story/5324