How to Help Primary Students Become Innovators

March 25, 2018


Innovation. It is a buzzword in education, in the business world and in the UAE. But there is also some confusion over what it really means. To me, Innovation is quite simply defined as creative problem-solving. For the last ten years, helping students to become innovators has been my passion and driving force. Innovation is a skill that can, and absolutely needs to be taught to students. Schools need to start teaching this skill not just is high school, but in the primary years. We can't just keep doing thins the same way and expect things to change and evolve, If we want our students to make the change, we need to change the way we teach to foster innovation.

My ideas and beliefs on innovation have been strongly influenced by leaders in the field. Tony Wagner and AJ Juliani being the top two. Tony Wagner is the author of: "Most likely to Succeed and Creating Innovators". AJ Juliani is the creator of : Genius Hour and a leader in the filed of innovation in education. Some of their ideas are different, but they share common themes. We need to start by letting students "Play". Expose students to different materials, tools. and technologies and just let them play. Let students find what they like to do, and what they are passionate about, Adults who are innovators know what their interests and talents are, and know how to use them to create, and accomplish things. Creating the opportunity for students to play and experiment to find their passion and interests is the pace to start.

After students have found their passion and interests, give your students at least an hour a week to spend working on a project of their choice. If its something they are interested in, they will want to do it. Students will do the necessary research, they will evaluate, compile data, they will make the calculation, they will learn the new skills needed, they will do the write - up. Students will do whatever is necessary if it's something they are passionate about and something they want to work on. So devoting the time in your schedule to giving students the opportunity to work on a project of their choice, helps the students to develop their passions and see a purpose for their learning.

The final way to help students to innovate is to teach them to use design thinking, Design thinking is using the design process to create. There are different versions of this, but they all contain three main parts: plan, make, share. Depending on the age of your students, and amount of time they have to work, they may go through that cycle various times. To get students familiar with using the design process, begin by giving them design challenges.

One of my favorite design challenges was to have a third-grade class create something to make a chore they don't like doing easier. Groups tarted bu coming up with a plan for what they wanted to build. After the plan was complete, students started building. After they had a good start, students showed their designs to another group and got some feedback. Taking the feedback into consideration, students went back to the drawing board and adapted their original plan. Students then had one more design sprint to finish their project. After projects were completed, students came together to share. Sharing is a critical part of the design process because it helps to give purpose and an audience for a project. One group built a small dishwashing machine. One group created a video with instructions on how to quickly make a bed in the morning. One group coded robots to help guide them on their route to school. Students were given a challenge and used the design process and their interests to create a solution.

Once students have had some practice with more structured design challenges, you can model how to find problems in your community to solve. Start by walking around the school together and identifying some problems. Innovators are not only problem solvers, but they are problem finders. Practice finding problems together, and then use design thinking to develop solutions to those problems. When working with a grade two class to come up with a problem they wanted to solve, they identified the problem of things constantly going missing and getting lost from their classroom. A simple, yet age-appropriate problem for second graders. When students are able to identify problems in their own community and use design thinking to develop solutions, innovation becomes a common practice in the school.

Innovation is a skill all schools need to be teaching their students, to prepare students for jobs and technologies that haven't been invented yet. Schools can start by allowing students to play and explore to find what they are interested in, and what they are passionate about. Once students have found their passion, they need to be given time in the school day to use their talents to work on a project of their choice. This gives them an opportunity to see a purpose for their learning. The final piece to helping students become innovators is to teach them to use design thinking. When design thinking becomes habitual way of thinking, students are seeing their community around them as a place where they can use their talents and passions to solve problems. Creative problem- solving, is what innovation is all about.

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