Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Innovation is Important in Schools - Start with Design Thinking

In the midst of increasing demands for more innovative people, studies tell us that children's creativity is on the decline. The student in kindergarten this fall will graduate in the third decade of the 21st century. The world they will step into will have challenges and opportunities beyond what we can imagine. These problems and possibilities will demand that students learn to think and solve problems in new ways. Innovation begins and ends with people; its incremental and disruptive at the same time. Incremental innovation is about significantly improving existing products, processes or services. Disruptive innovation is about creating a product or service that disrupts existing markets and technologies. How is this relevant for schools? It is more relevant today than ever. We need to give our kids opportunities to make things that will change the world through not only traditional means but through emerging technologies and methods.

Image Credit - IDEO
In schools today - as administrators and educators we need to be innovative and allow opportunities for students to be creative. We need not only improve our "existing product" but create a new model for education that disrupts the traditional classroom in appropriate ways. One model that allows this shift to
happen is through a process known as "Design Thinking."  In a Harvard Business Review article, Tim Brown discussed five characteristics of design thinkers.

  1. Empathy
  2. Integrative Thinking
  3. Optimism
  4. Experimentalism
  5. Collaborators
Tony Wagner says that "the DNA of innovators might be considered a set of skills that are essential elements in design thinking."  The characteristics of design thinkers represent a set of skills and habits of the mind that can be nurtured, taught and mentored. "It's not primarily what you are born with that makes you an innovator - but what you have learned to do that is more essential (Wagner, 2012)."  To inspire our students to be creative thinkers and innovators teachers must be inspired themselves. Most traditional topics can be redefined and recast but teachers need a method to make this "disruption"  in education become reality. Human-centered design methods like design thinking allow innovation to thrive in schools. 
Collaboration, problem finding and problem solving, taking risks and purposeful play - these are all words to describe an innovative school culture. So, is your school or classroom innovative? If not - what are the road blocks and boundaries?

We often hear that the excuse for not being innovative is because there is not enough time or some other resource is missing. While time is a huge factor for many schools - I challenge teachers to find  the time to learn about techniques like Design Thinking that can remake our schools and classrooms so that students have the skills they need to succeed in a new world. The Design Thinking For Educators tool kit is a great place to get started. Download the PDF here: This article from Edutopia is also great:

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