Get Class, Add Tech…Innovation?

Developing innovative teaching is not a “get class and just add iPad” fix. In fact innovative teaching doesn’t require iPads, computers or devices of any kind. These things are just tools that enable the production of the same “stuff” just in different ways.  It’s the approach that makes learning innovative.

I was recently at a school that has a great reputation for providing students with “21st century” learning. They have amazing spaces, facilities, technology and materials. I was able to see two classes in action. One group of students were constructing iPod cases which were to hold speakers which they soldered themselves.

Sounds like a great design challenge doesn’t it?

The second group of students were racing cars they had built. They were constructed from the same materials and as they raced in pairs, the slower car was eliminated.

Sounds like fun yeah?

Both tasks provided opportunities for students to engage in relevant content that they could connect with. Both tasks provided opportunities to engage with peers and/or work independently.

One task had students follow an explicit sequence of instructions. Every end product looked identical except for the colour or decoration on the outside.

The other task had students challenged by a design problem. They had to consider how to make the BEST product with the materials provided and test the end product to see if their design was successful.  Each end product looked different even if the colour matched others.

Only one of these tasks was different than a traditional build from the 20th century tech class.

I remember woodwork in high school. We built paper towel holders and coffee cup trees. Each one looked the same, some were sanded finer or stained darker, but generally the end products were hardly different.  I know that some schools still complete very similar tasks and thus we would consider them static in their progress.  I argue that the first task I mentioned above might as well be a paper towel holder. The only difference is that kids would prefer to make it over the paper towel holder!

Whatever the product, the change in the innovation is giving students the opportunity to approach it in authentic ways. Given a design brief with limitations, not a sequence of instructions which results in identical products at the end.

The same can be said in all class rooms. If we are just providing options to do the same task in different ways, for example instead of writing your narrative, type it on the iPad/computer or record it in audio, this is differentiating the learning yes, but it is not transforming the experience for the student. It is not challenging them to think about their learning in different ways. It is merely making the learning look pretty. Don’t get me wrong – I LIKE PRETTY!!!

Developing an innovative learning experience is not limiting our students to topics or ways of expressing themselves, it is about inspiring our students to think beyond the examples we provide.  It is about establishing a culture of exploration, adaption, modifying what we know and making it better!

This is what I endeavour to do each and every day. How about you?

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