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This series could go on indefinitely but I thought I should wrap up this segment on reconceptualizing education with an idea. Reconceptualizing isn’t just about innovating. It’s about how and why we innovate. So, instead of featuring an education innovator from the national stage, today I want to acknowledge the innovation of teachers a little closer to home. Last night I attended what we refer to at my school as School Out of Doors or SOOD for short. For my team, it was a chance to take 70 7th grade students into the wilderness with tents and sleeping bags and create something memorable for the class of 2016. But we live in the only state about which Will Rogers famously said, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait five minutes.” With sudden thunderstorms, threats of baseball-sized hail and an eerie tornado warning, we spent our School Out of Doors INdoors. While sirens were blaring outside, we gathered the kids into a cinderblock hallway near the gym and sat them on the floor with all their belongings. The amazing part to me is due to the calm and positive response of the teachers, all the students behaved as though this was an expected part of the weekend. They played cards, sat and talked with friends, read books and seemed genuinely happy to be in a hot, dark, smelly, cramped hallway with 70 of their closest friends. When it became clear there would be no night hike, cooking over a flame, or outdoor games, the 7th grade teachers sprang into action. Okay, maybe we didn’t spring, but we all had a trick or two up our sleeves. The Dean set up a projector and sound system to show a movie on the gym wall to rival any drive in. Parents brought in pizzas, the 7th grade teachers helped the students create an indoor campsite complete with tents and flashlight games. In the morning, they supervised the breakdown of the campsite treating it as they would any clean up they would have to manage in the woods. This morning we took our students to the school’s courtyard where they made pancakes on camping stoves and ate off tin plates. There were buckets of suds outside the library where the kids washed their dishes and after eating they broke down the cook sites. It may not sound wildly innovative but in light of the circumstances the teachers were creative, innovative, encouraging and modeling a critical skill; flexibility.
As teachers and parents we often get caught up in the outcomes game. If the outcomes don’t match our expectations, there is disappointment and frustration. We too often pass this culture of inconvenience to our kids. What would it take to change the mindset that has us become irritable when things don’t go as planned? If we could make that important adjustment and teach our kids that a change in plans doesn’t have to be negative, we would create a generation of curious and motivated innovators. I’m all for making plans and following through, but if change is necessary or a better idea reveals itself, shouldn’t we be vigilant and prepared to shift gears?
Smart Dust, now used as a tool in destroying tumors, was a graduate student’s ruined homework. At USC, Jamie Link accidentally blew up a silicon chip. Because she was vigilant, she discovered properties in the detritus that made her famous in medical circles providing a previously unknown cure. The Popsicle, invented by Frank Epperson, was a result of a mess left outside when Epperson was 11 years old. He left a drink with a stir stick on his front porch. The cold night left him with a frozen treat on a stick the next morning. He patented the dessert two decades later much to the relief of kids everywhere with sore throats. In 1928, Alexander Fleming‘s experiment with bacteria was ruined, or so he thought, when mold showed up in the Petri dish. His vigilance allowed him to see where bacteria were avoiding the mold. This led him to a discovery that has saved millions of lives. Penicillin was the first antibiotic and his flexibility and open mind allowed him to create something exponentially better than what he had initially intended.
The most important lesson we can learn about innovation is this: If we are vigilant, a change in plans can produce greater results than any outcome we could have imagined. There are myriad stories of greater-than-expected outcomes in science, math, art, literature and every other academic discipline. This mindset is what we can teach our kids in an age where knowledge is secondary to creativity. As one of our greatest thinkers once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”