Who is innovating?
Don Wettrick (Google+, Twitter, YouTube) is a high school teacher on a mission and has spawned the Innovations class. He is getting kids to hack their education and he’s getting some high profile thinkers to act as mentors. I spoke with Don about his hacker class and this is my distillation of our high energy, fast paced, intense conversation about hacking and hands on learning with teens.
What is the Innovations Class?
Don is reaching out for opportunities and helping his learners find and develop their entrepreneurial spirit. The Innovation course is by application only and spans 9 months of the school year. His current class has 9 enrolled students and 3 auditors. He admits that scheduling has been a challenge and some students have selected to audit the course without academic credit as a work around for joining the class when it really didn’t fit their schedule. I call that hack one! Below is a video created by students demonstrating one project from the class:
The secret ingredients are mentorship and sponsorship.
Hack two is that Don has realized what many are missing in the conversations about hack education: the need for mentors and sponsorship. I do not mean sponsorship in the NASCAR sense, I mean in the learning sense. We both realize that the social aspects of learning are still paramount to success and he is executing this point. Don is helping his students find mentors and sponsors to deepen understanding, broaden their reach and participate in what David Weinberger calls networked knowledge. Don Wettrick is not a name dropper, so it took a little bit for him to spill the beans on the big wigs he’s brought to his school. Have you heard of Ryan Porter? (No, I hadn’t either, but if you are a screenager, your answer would likely be different). But, I know you have heard about Daniel Pink, right? The YouTube interview can be viewed here. He admits that some mentors provide a “one-and-done” experience, which is fair, Mr. Pink has other things to do. Don points out that the real value is having kids reach out and build rapport with their own mentors instead of having teachers fanboy and fangirl out on their own thought-leader-superheroes.
Who wins? Who loses?
How are students responding to the elective Innovation class? Okay, quick pause: predict what student profile would do the best in this classroom. Who might demonstrate the greatest success in the Innovation class? Picture the student in your mind including their grade point average, work ethic, organizational skills and so on. I will provide Don’s observations in 3 seconds:
Answer: Students who are comfortable with freedom, openness and uncertainty did best. Don observes that students chasing high grades are the lowest achieving in his class. They apparently struggle in the absence of a syllabus and assignments. I wonder if this is because these students are good at school and bad at learning? He also notes that students who are not motivated and who appear apathetic get overwhelmed very quickly. Having freedom to exercise your own creative spirit is a scary thing and requires some scaffolding. I wonder if the profile of the successful student will change over time as more students develop problem solving, networking, collaboration and HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around and geeking out) skills.
Hands on Learning: What does this look like in the classroom?
There is a structure to his class to support his learners. The innovation cycle begins on Mondays as Don drops the inspirational bait or bomb to get the thinking moving. He tracks trends online via Forbes, You Tube, Twitter, and Stumble Upon. The students latch on to ideas and the class moves forward from there. The Next step is to research and find mentors. Students share their research on the topic followed by a day to themselves to let the ideas congeal. Friday is the day of reflection and blogging and wraps up a week of innovation.
Who else is an educational hacker?
Since speaking with Don Wettrick I have also found others that are offering hacks within their schools. David Preston is hacking the curriculum at his high school too. Howard Rheingold interviews Dr. Preston below and DML has written this blog post.
So what? Now what?
So, somewhere between kindergarten and a post doc, learners are asking their own questions.
Now, how do we hack mainstream and required high school courses? How do we hack elementary school? Passion projects, genius hour, problem based learning, gaming, gamification, hack the classroom? Should we hack the classroom? Why would we want to do such a thing?
Why? Because there should be more than two sweet spots (K and PhD) in education where a learner’s wonderings are taken seriously.