Many things in our lives don’t come naturally to us. Reading. Writing. Arithmetic. These are skills we use in our daily routines but aren’t innate abilities we have as humans.
Even formulated speech borders on this concept. Humans have an area of the brain that helps us to speak and communicate; however, studies have shown that children without consistent communication during their formative years struggle to ever learn how to speak.
If we want to communicate in today’s world, we have to be taught how.
Most people accept this as fact; yet at the same time most of us believe that the ability to be creative and innovative are traits we’re born with.
The theory is that the people who invented some of the most important products and concepts in human history were born with the skills and imagination needed to achieve their feats.
But is that necessarily so?
Mozart. da Vinci. Jobs. These great minds didn’t take a special “innovation” class when they were younger. Instead, they saw the world differently and acted on their ideas.
But that doesn’t mean we all can’t be taught to be inventive. While not all of us will paint like Rembrandt, we can all improve our artistic skills with some guidance.
The same can be said for innovation.
As with most skills, it’s best to introduce “innovation” as early as possible, which is why it’s so important for school systems to learn how to reward and nurture budding inventors.
Here are a few ways young students can be “taught” innovation.
Most teachers have incorporated projects into their curriculum, but project-based learning (PBL) is a bit different. Project-based learning involves developing a focused question that all students are striving to answer. The key here, however, is that there is no one correct answer. Students are encouraged to use their imagination and the resources at their disposal to solve the question or overcome the challenge, and explain why their approach works.
Even in a rigid subject like math, where there are absolutes, using project-based learning helps students realize that their perspective can play a role in formulating a unique solution.
Focus on concepts far more than facts
Facts are, of course, important in learning. But facts are rigid and do not nurture the inquisitive mind. Concepts, on the other hand, allow each student to instill their own perspective to see how their world view fits into that concept.
For example, rather than teaching students that 2+2 = 4, help them to come up with a reason of why this is so.
Many classrooms today use rubrics as an assessment tool. These rubrics allow educators to fairly “grade” student work and performance based on pre-determined criteria. For example, in grading an essay, a rubric might include “Spelling” as one assessment factor. Students would get 5/5 if they have zero spelling errors, 4/5 if they have 1 or 2 spelling errors and so on.
In order to nurture innovation, teachers need to add discovery as one of their assessment items. This column would recognize breakthroughs during instruction and learning.
For example, if during a science experiment a student realizes that by changing the order of elements mixed together a different reaction would occur, the teacher can acknowledge and reward that discovery in his or her assessment.
This action will then reinforce to the student (and other students) that it is ok to think beyond the scope of a task or project. It’s ok to investigate the what-ifs.
Add reflection to each lesson
This can be a challenge, because teachers are asked to cover an incredible amount of material over the course of the year. The result is the need to move on from one lesson to the next as quickly as possible.
However, reflection helps anchor learning and ensures that students have achieved total understanding of how what they learned applies outside the classroom.
While it’s true that some people just seem more inclined to becoming innovative, that still doesn’t mean they can’t be taught how to improve their skills and apply their natural talents toward real-world opportunities.
And that doesn’t mean that we all can’t be “taught innovation.” If we approached our learning with the tips outlined above, we’d have more and more people questioning the status quo and coming up with new and exciting ways to overcome problems and make our lives better.
With more innovative minds at work, there’s no telling what challenges we as humans can overcome in the future.