Innovation can’t be tested or graded — but it can be built up

innovative-classroomInnovation is a trait that I desperately want to instill in my students, and many teachers I talk to seem to share that goal. In the current climate of high stakes testing, state standards, and prescribed learning outcomes, it can be incredibly difficult to foster an atmosphere of innovation and creativity that inspires students. But rest assured, it is possible.

Here, I outline eight basic principles for the “Innovative Classroom,” around which I designed a middle school course called Physical Computing. Some of the projects and tools are specific to that course, but I think the fundamental ideas could be applied to almost any course at any level.

  1. Give students a problem that is both interesting and authentic. There is no such thing as a problem that is going to be interesting to every kid. This means that a project has to be flexible enough for students to tailor it to their own interests. It also means that teachers need to take the time to learn about their students’ interests. Authenticity comes from using real tools to tackle problems that don’t have their answers printed at the back of the book. Ideal projects dictate some general parameters and tools, but leave the specific problem definition up to the student. Some examples of interesting, authentic projects with built-in flexibility include:-Design a musical instrument that you can play without using your mouth or hands.
    -Choose a challenging terrain and design a vehicle that can conquer it.
    -Create a sculpture that incorporates both light and motion.

    Next page: How to motivate creative thinking