Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World – by Tony Wagner

From Stories of STEM Innovators

  • Tony draws on the stories of innovators to conclude that parents need to encourage children to pursue their passion without worrying about where it might lead in terms of a career. This will develop a child’s intrinsic motivation. Also allow adolescents to make significant decisions about their schooling. They should then encourage children to think about how they are going to give back. Tony finds that innovative people tend to have access to at least some courses where projects are central and such projects often include collaboration by diverse individuals. The other key ingredient seems to be mentors, who are often found during some sort of internship work outside of school. Teachers can be mentors as well, but Tony finds that adults who make a difference are usually outliers or innovators themselves. Patience is key as is a love of learning rather than a concern about grades.

From Stories of Social Innovators

  • STEM innovators want to make things. Social innovators what to make change. What these two groups have in common, however, is more important than differences. From the stories in this chapter we get that parents should let kids explore and not schedule every minute of their time. We need more interdisciplinary studies and credit for student designed projects or entrepreneurial work. Social innovation tends to be more difficult as people see youthful idealism as naive, and there are very few liberal arts classes that allow for student projects. Much social innovation deals with volunteer work, but the student innovators go beyond just helping out somewhere. Such innovators do not exclusively come from middle and upper classes. They also find that service driven by their passions can be fun and not boring. Young innovators with different learning and thinking styles (maybe ADD) may not do well in schools and they often derive the greatest benefit from only one or two teachers.

Innovating Learning

  • This lengthy chapter tells stories about colleges and high schools that have ventured into a more creative/innovative curriculum and pedagogy. In all cases there is a lot more collaboration, multidisciplinary learning, thoughtful risk-taking, trial and error, creating rather than just consuming knowledge, and intrinsic motivation that features play, passion, and purpose. Assessment is more likely to feature oral presentations and e-portfolios. Something like the scout merit-badge system is also in use where badges are earned by showing evidence of mastery of specific proficiencies.
  • Here is some other advice gleaned from this chapter. Avoid cookbook hands-on activities and building the ability to question. What you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know. Failure can be powerful as it can allow students to overcome a challenge. Step back and let them do it. Don’t give them all the answers, let them discover. Teach failure analysis and prevention rather than that failure must be avoided.

Innovating Learning Continued

  • Beware of AP courses. They tend to drive content down the kids’ throats. They memorize a vast amount of knowledge that they don’t get to apply. The pressure can take the love out of learning.
  • Assign videos (like those from the Kahn Academy) as homework so that class time can be used for projects, tutorials, and applying knowledge. Why have students listen to you lecture when they can watch a better one on their computers whenever they want?
  • Race to the Top is a race to mediocrity. We need to judge teachers by what their students do, which relies on human judgement, and not standardized tests. Who would want to teach in a system that measures your worth by what students regurgitate, which reduces the curriculum to test prep? This is also why participation in science fairs is declining. The National Academy of Engineering bases membership on what a professor’s PhD students do and not on their own research. This gives teaching transferability that is usually reserved for research. Teachers and teacher leaders should base competency not on what they know, but how they facilitate learning experiences that they co-create with students.
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