Defining Innovation

Recently in education there has been a lot of talk about innovation.  The question is, how do we really define that word?  What is innovation in education?  Do we get there by handing our kids a digital device and then stepping back?  Do we get there by taking our old worksheets or workbooks and fill in the blank packets and making them digital?

This electric car dates back to the 1890s at a time when electric vehicles outsold combustion engines at a rate of 10 to 1.
This electric car dates back to the 1890s at a time when electric vehicles outsold combustion engines at a rate of 10 to 1.

When I think of innovation, I don’t just think of something as new – I think of something that is both new and better.  Electric cars have existed since the 1830s (look it up!), but not until recently with companies like Tesla (or Toyota with the Prius) have electric cars begun to be innovative because not only are they something new, but some would argue that they are better than other options on the market.


Avoid the $1000 Pencil
Avoid the $1000 Pencil


If we hand our students an iPad and then take our old lessons and make them digital, then that iPad is nothing more than a $399 (or maybe more depending on the model of iPad) pencil.  Are we being innovative by spending that much on something that we were already doing?  Probably not!  In the past, I have talked about the SAMR model.  Substitution and Augmentation are the basic levels of tech integration – to get to the Modification and Redefinition is a high bar to climb.  Look back at a previous post for what it takes to get there.

So to be innovative, we have to shift our mindsets.  Just adding tech does not make you innovative.  Being intentional in our choices about how we use technology is what gets us to the innovative activities that will lead to greater student engagement and growth.  And here’s what’s amazing about that – what’s innovative in one classroom or for one teacher may not be innovative for another.  Innovation is different for all of us because we all are at different places on the spectrum of innovation.

As you think about how you want to grow and innovate as a teacher, take it one activity at a time.  Think about what you could do to make this one thing new and better.  As you innovate one thing, you may get the bug to innovate in another area.  With each step you take you move further along that spectrum.

It’s easy to get stuck in a creative rut and say we don’t have time, but if we don’t try new things, we aren’t modeling for our students what it means to learn and grow.  Sometimes we all have to be a little uncomfortable with where we are or where we’re going.  Think about how often you expect your students to try new things, to be a little uncomfortable, and to be willing to fail.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves what that feels like by pushing ourselves to go a little further.

What is one activity that you think you can play with this summer to make it new and better for your students in the fall?  How will you make sure that you keep pushing yourself to be innovative?  Add your thoughts in the comments below.

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