Innovation is defined as a new idea, device or method; the introduction of something new. Chris Lehman of Philadelphia, PA certainly ran with the idea of innovation when working to develop the vision and mission of the Science Leadership Academy. SLA, for short, is an inquiry-driven, project-based 1:1 school in Philadelphia that has been upheld as a pioneer in education reform. Lehman, founder and acting principal of the school, welcomes teachers, district leaders, and technology specialists to the school each year in the annual EduCon Conference. This year, the conference was centered upon one essential theme: should our schools, and ultimately the world, be more open and transparent? Through a series of workshops and breakout sessions, participants had the unique opportunity to explore this question, analyzing how open and transparent we can be in the world of education.
Imagine walking into a school where the openness and transparency of the classrooms, of the teachers, and of the students emanates through the hallways. Students welcome visitors with a friendly face and questions; teachers facilitate classes as guides rather than directors, and classrooms are made up of pockets of students working in cooperative groupings to complete a project for the end of the semester. During the entire EduCon experience, innovation was not just something to think about, but something one could see. Students were creating websites debating issues of human rights, while others were building robots, while others explored the cultural differences in diet, weighing standards of health against various eating habits and traditions.
Freedom and choice in learning was evident. Innovation was obvious. Student control and choice in learning was apparent. But how, one may ask, can we foster similar environments in our own schools, in our traditional classrooms? While this type of school may seem far-fetched, innovation and student-centered learning experiences are at the core of the CCSS, helping to prepare today’s learner for a world where choice is an option, and where learning is self-directed.
Perhaps the graphic above, pictured at the Science Leadership Academy, illustrates how we can foster an innovative environment that gives students the opportunity to think and explore in their learning.
Some simple steps on the journey to innovation: listen to students, encourage them to ask why, facilitate opportunities for collaboration, and provide students with the chance to ask questions without being questioned for their inquiry. Going back to the idea of innovation: innovation is the introduction of something new. Many schools are introducing new devices and new tools, and in helping those students to use the tools for inquiry, project development, and exploration of topics beyond the four walls of the classroom, innovation is possible.
For more information about Science Leadership Academy and their quest for innovative teaching and learning, please visit the following link: http://www.scienceleadership.org/