As I mentioned in my post last week, the education system maintains a structure that is not conducive for innovative thinking and creation. Namely, structured time blocks of separate subject matter delivery does not allow for constructivist learning as well as integrative and design thinking. Even though we cannot blow up and rebuild the existing educational structures in the immediate, we still can use simple hacks to promote innovation in our classrooms.
Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question, defines innovation as defining a problem and borrowing ideas/inspiration from what’s already been done in order to create new combinations of thoughts and ideas to address that problem. Innovative thinking is not concerned with having uniquely new ideas but is instead about combining existing knowledge from seemingly unrelated ideas/topics to produce a solution. One of the best ways to elicit innovative thinking begins with asking meaningful questions and promoting the development of questions.
Here are two simple but effective ways to encourage students to think-outside-the-educational-structure:
1. Can your questions be answered by a Google search?
Every time you ask a question in your class, ask yourself if the question can be answered through a Google search. If it can, it may not be as valuable a question as another with a less pre-packaged answer available. I know this is a tall order. Sometimes it is required of us to ask basic content questions in order to diagnose student comprehension of a topic; however, these should be the exception. Asking our students broader and deeper questions (that Google cannot answer) will encourage them to think creatively, make connections, and analyze information. This may also prompt them to ask deeper questions independently to discern the extent of their understanding. Questions that cannot be answered by a search engine will train the next generation of students to think as innovators when the answers to questions will not be at their fingertips (pun intended!). While not advocating a move away from Google, students and teachers alike can better use Google by viewing technology as a catalyst for ideation rather than as a crutch for gaps in content knowledge.
2. Build class time for question-storming.
Brainstorming solutions is great, but how do students know what they don’t know? For students to realize their knowledge gaps and unleash their curiosity, we must encourage sessions in class (at the beginning, during, and end of a unit or topic of study) where students can simply generate new questions. Question storming is an opportunity for students to write down any and all questions that come to their minds about the topic of study. To further develop students’ ability to ask questions, teachers can ask them to “open” closed questions and “close” open questions. For example, a student might ask the closed question “were the Wright brothers the first to fly,” which lends itself to the open question “who were the first to fly, and what constitutes flight?” With practice, students will begin to ask questions that others have not and connect seemingly disparate ideas for the first time. For example “if we can have self driving cars, should there be age limits for passengers?” Innovators characteristically ask great questions and eventually find a way to solve or answer their own question.
As educators, we contend with limited time and resources in the classroom; however, with a few simple hacks, we can modify the educational structure to encourage innovative thinking everyday. We are teaching our students to integrate technology without relying on it and to connect information in new ways. Through these practices, we are raising our students to be innovative in ways that will enable them to surpass the limitations (physical and intellectual) of previous generations.