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Educated By Design Blog

How Can You Innovate Beyond The Buzz? 4 Ways You Can Make It Happen In Your Class.

Michael Cohen



I believe that school should be about helping students become passionate, thoughtful, and intentional individuals who are capable and driven seekers of knowledge. In short, they want to learn something new everyday and love it. I cannot remember the last time I went a day without learning something new. We live in a new generation where the entire scope of human knowledge fits in your pocket and it's awesome. That's why students today are so disengaged with memorizing facts for a test that could all be Googled in under 5 minutes. Someone once said, I believe it was Alice Keeler, that “if your test questions are Googleable, then they're no longer relevant”. I didn’t coin this phrase but it's awesome mantra to help drive change in education.

So now what do we do? What were we trying to do? What's the essence of these exercises? If the goals were to strengthen critical thinking and applied knowledge then just design a new approach. THAT’S where technology comes into play. THAT’S where the “magic” occurs.

Without today’s technology, such a dream is nearly impossible and we’re stuck memorizing the periodic table and the preamble. “We the people in order to form a more perfect union…”. Still got it. This is why developing a mindset that focuses not on technology itself, but effective integration that is intentional and purposefully driven is so critical. There are many mindsets, approaches, and frameworks out there, but for me, I am constantly looking for the core or root of any challenge or experience. 

Now there are frameworks out there such as SAMR, TPACK, and RAT. They're serve a purpose and not to discredit them, but I still find these models and approaches leave room for ambiguity and can be hijacked to serve a purpose they were not designed for.

When looking for the right mindset, I looked outside of the classroom at entrepreneurs, creative professionals, and startups. You rarely see these fields relying on worksheets and pop quizzes although there is a place for such assessment, those are rarely if ever going to make learning memorable and appreciated. I hope that anyone reading this will agree that while learning can always be “fun and exciting” it should be appreciated because its purpose and value is understood. As I said before, I feel that a mindset must reach the C.O.R.E. of any situation and that is why I focus on:


  • Collaboration  
  • Open-Mindedness
  • Risk-Taking
  • Exploration

For me, this is the most important skill one will ever need in life. How to contribute to a collaborative experience. To clarify, collaboration isn't “working together nicely”. That is cooperation and while it's a subset of collaboration, it will not lead to the the powerful outcomes that are fostered by collaboration. Mobile technology was not innovated through cooperation, it materialized through high level collaboration, through a complex social process.


Collaboration is when you look at the unique skills of everyone involved,. and see how together those skills could enhance the quality of the project or experience in ways that were impossible otherwise. In today’s world, there is not a single industry that is run on individualized work. Medical, Architecture, Scientific Research , and more all require that multiple individuals work together to achieve something that would simply not be possible for an individual to achieve on their own. While some learning is best done on an individual basis, it is worth exploring that idea that all learning could be collaborative and still meet the same or even greater academic standards expected of learners.


Collaboration In Theory:

Collaboration is about successful work where each individual experiences growth. Consider the benefits of true collaboration for students. What can they gain as thinkers and doers?


Collaboration In Practice:

Use a collaboratively driven platform like Google Docs or Slides. How can they build a product of learning that challenges them to contribute themselves and support each other?


As a leader, boss, or manager, one of the greatest fears is to look incapable in front of others. In education this fear has been amplified by varying circumstances to the extreme. So let's assume for a second that your classroom of 20 kids are ok with you not being the all knowing expert sage as long as you can assume for a second that they are not ignorant and helpless beings whose only chance as academic success lies in your expertly crafted lectures. In the middle there is a happy place called open-mindedness and in this place students and teachers can gather and try to figure out how and what to learn with guidelines and support.

Open-mindedness isn’t a free for all, or a description of a lack of preparedness. It does however promote opportunities for students to have their voice heard, be part of decision making in the classroom, and know that their input (and output) is valued by their teacher and peers. That way, when technology gets involved, students are going to figure out a better way to learn and present that learning, and you are going to want to not just embrace these types of outcome, but promote them. 

Open-Mindedness In Theory:

Open-Mindedness can be scary. For students to appreciate their need to grow and develop as learners, they need to know that even as adults growth is still relevant and that even adults seek out help.


Open-Mindedness In Practice:

Within specific parameters challenge students in groups to set their own project standards. Discuss as a whole class the strengths and weaknesses of their plans. In addition to students taking more ownership over standards they set, allow for students to present compelling evidence why their own personal standards or project idea will get them to reach the desired academic outcome. 


Risk does not mean you didn't think, prepare, or have a backup plan. It means you are willing to fail, start over, or scrap your work with the understanding that something awesome and meaningful could occur. While I can’t be certain Failure will still be trending by the time you're reading this, I can say that I don’t like the word failure as much as risk although the end result is very similar. The problem with the word fail is that it can imply that it won't work out and that can be scary when we're talking about our learners. You can’t just pull an Edison example and compare his thousand plus failed attempts at creating the lightbulb to students not being successful in the classroom. Still, what you can understand from Edison is what he was trying to do.



“That is because Edison wasn’t trying to invent the lightbulb, he was trying to invent the ability for the world to see in the dark.”



Risk is calculated and while "F.A.I.L.U.R.E." works as "First Attempt In Learning", it must include "Unless Reflection Exists".


When students and teachers understand that risk can prepare them from something great then if failure occurs it's ok. Risk could mean that they might get it right the first or second time since we don’t always have the time and space in our classrooms that can support the 80th try. If you are not ready to embrace risk in the classroom then you better steer clear of anything more technologically advanced than the pencil and paper. Technology infused learning  is full of risk, risk of device failure, program failure, internet failure, and file save failure to name of few. That's before we even get to risk due to learning innovation. The happy place we want to end up with risk is that students used technology to create a meaningful learning experience that was previously unimaginable.

Risk-Taking in Theory:

Risk in the classroom is rather straightforward. If students do not successfully learn the material in a way they can communicate their understanding then the unit was not successful. Anything that alters the tried and true path, including technology’s role is a risk. The question you must ask yourself is “Will my students be impacted by altering the process of learning in a more significant way?” Or harder to gauge is “Will spending longer in this unit due to altering the learning risk falling behind, or will it allow students to be more successful in later units?”

Risk-Taking In Practice:

When designing units, consider foundation units to be areas where risk is well...risky but success would propel your students to greater mastery. This is the difference between that long short road, in the short long road.   


How comfortable are you with the unfamiliar? How intriguing is the unknown? Now solve for Y and call it a day. There is something to be said for an experience that is linear with clearly defined outcomes. It's safe and secure and you know what you're going to get. Still imagine if every explorer or navigator stayed near the coast, stayed on the trail, and stuck to the map. It's safe to say this would be a very different but certainly mediocre world. Our classrooms of course need a certain “carefully planned out” element; students do need guidance after all. More than that, we need to promote exploration not just for our students but for ourselves. Exploration has two very different connotations, and it is up to you how to provide the opportunity for your students. One way to explore is to put yourself in an unfamiliar environment, while another is to know what you are looking for but not sure where it is or how to get achieve it. Both are healthy, engaging, and exciting ways to enliven your classrooms. When introducing technology into your classroom environment there are high levels of unknown, especially in the beginning. If you don't know where you are or what you are looking for it can be scary and frustrating. Remember that every great discovery started with exploration, open-mindedness, risk-taking, and collaboration. That is why exploration must be ingrained in your classroom culture so you don’t miss the forest for the trees.  

Exploration in Theory:

Learning should not be a prepackaged puzzle because life isn’t. Allow for flexibility in how students discover and learn. This isn’t meant to promote laziness or lessening the load. It means to challenges students to be compelled to learn topics that are not clear cut with an A,B, or C answer. 

Exploration in Practice:

The best way to do this is to challenge students to relate content to their life and modern times through mediums and modes that are personal and unique. This will challenge them to look at what is between point A and today. This will give them the space to appreciate and understand how classroom curriculum and learning is relevant to their life, a pretty important requirement for engagement. 


So what are you next steps? How can you take these C.O.R.E. set of skills and ensure that your classroom is a place that not only promotes today's standard of academic excellence but of tomorrows skills to thrive in the next industrial revolution? 

Please share your thoughts below.