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7 Ways to Spark Collaboration & Innovation In The Classroom

Here’s a big question: how can educators create learning experiences that foster collaboration, and problem solving, but also nurture imagination and curiosity during the school day?

It’s simple: try something new. An innovative teacher is a mentor, and allows his or her students to share their voices and become future innovators. Innovators make learning relevant, and they commit to sharing digital learning content and powerful ideas for improving teaching and learning.

Last month, I was on my way to Mountain View, California to embark on an experience that is difficult to put into words. Well, I think I might have two words “Mind Blown” (*drops mic*). I had the opportunity to join 34 other educators, from all over the world, who possessed the same passions, dedication, and mindset that I do about technology and innovation, making meaningful connections along the way. This group of educators were selected as Google Certified Innovators, (formerly the Google Certified Educator program). We are the first cohort to experience the new certified innovator program, so it was quite an honor. Although the academy was held in Mountain View at Google Headquarters, and Google is a tech company, this academy was very little about tech, in fact it was more about mindset.  The academy was more about, ”How do we spark innovation, change our way of thinking, learning, building relationships, and school culture.
A little about the program:
As Certified innovators we are developing an innovation project for a problem in education that we want to solve. In exchange, we receive 12 months of ongoing support for our innovation project, a mentor, opportunities for growth and collaboration, and access to a global community of other innovators. Ultimately, the opportunity to Transform, Advocate, and Grow. "The goal of the Innovation Academy is to build community and trust, create connections with Coaches and Advisors, get inspired by Googley culture, and prepare to complete their Innovation Project within 12 months."

Check online, and you’ll see various options for “innovative teaching” fly across the Twittersphere. Some teachers engage in creative learning spaces with makerspaces, some create “classrooms without walls” via social media), and some explore virtual and augmented reality. But at the end of the day, one thing’s for sure: Teachers need just as much engagement, collaboration, and choice as students in order to facilitate innovative experiences in the classroom.

So, how can you bring innovation into your classroom? Here are a few innovative practices that might help get you started—complete with a number of resources to support your innovation experiments.

1. Coding

Technology theorists predict that the need for computer science literacy will be essential for careers of the future. But a 2015 Gallup poll of students states that only 52% “say computer science is taught as part of other classes at their school,” and the stats worsen for low-income environments.

The “Hour of Code” is during Computer Science week in December, but it doesn’t have to stop with just an hour. Code.orgresources are available 365 days a year, and many schools are focusing on ways to go beyond just the hour of code through simple programs like Google CS First, and coding programs geared towards girls like Made with Code.

2. Virtual Reality

Virtual reality emerges the user in a world that they can interact with. The low-cost Google Cardboard viewer, which works with virtual reality apps like Discovery VR, gives students a 360-degree view of the world and gives “virtual field trips” a whole new definition.

And over at Nearpod, the company recently launched Nearpod VR. Through a grant, Nearpod is giving select schools full sets of VR Cardboard, access to 25 content-based lessons, and professional development with one-on one support.

3. Augmented Reality

Different from virtually reality, augmented reality involves a trigger image or QR code. With apps like Aurasma and Daqri, triggers activate the apps to show something, like a video or another image. This emerging technology creates mind-blowing learning experiences that captivates students and gets them excited about learning.

For the classroom, teachers are using augmented reality apps paired with QR codes to create interactive scavenger hunts, where students solve puzzles, that tap hidden codes, through music, movies, and images.

4. STEM and Design Thinking

You might’ve heard of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), and you might’ve heard of “design thinking.” But couple those together to create a creative process that mirrors design engineering in the real world, helping to empower students to make meaningful connections and solve complex problems in the classroom through an interdisciplinary approach.

Here are some examples. More and more educators are attempting to fix the decline in graduates of STEM-related fields by developing successful STEM classroom learning environments beginning as early as Kindergarten. Just take the Biome Charter School (located in St. Louis, Missouri), offers “customized, project based and student-centered learning opportunities with an emphasis on growth mindset and STEAM.” From STEM Expos and Design Thinking competitions, to transforming the traditional Science fair nights to Family STEM Nights, schools are deep in the throws of creative experimentation.

And what about project-based experiments? Check out Breakout EDU. Similar to escape rooms, these educational games engage students in critical thinking, teamwork, and complex problem solving in a scavenger hunt format. These games can be adapted to any grade level, and any content area—whether STEM or otherwise.

5. Student Blogging and Forums

Students need a space to share their voice, and we can accomplish this through blogging, school broadcast teams, and student forums. Or, give students a voice through events like an “Edcamp for students”—this informal platform allows students to explore topics of their interest and become facilitators of their own learning through discussion and collaboration.

6. Creative Learning Spaces Like Makerspaces

I recently came across a picture on social media that showed a classroom in 1916 on one side, and a classroom in 2016 on the other side. Besides the fact that the 1916 photo was in black-and-white, there was no difference. Should today’s classrooms look like they did 100 years ago students sitting in rows, while the teacher stands in the front of the room? My opinion is no.

Makerspaces are great ways to create innovative learning spaces, and they empower students to be problem solvers. Makerspaces can fit any budget, theme, or age level. Students can work at the highest levels on Bloom's Taxonomy to demonstrate understanding of curriculum standards when they “make,” and to create, evaluate and analyze solutions to problems. You don’t have to teach kids how to be makers.

7. Social Media in the Classroom

Google+, Twitter, Instagram, Voxer, Snapchat—chances are you’ve heard of at least two of these platforms. But there are so many more opportunities for students to connect and create socially:Mystery Skyping, Google Hangouts and Connected Classrooms, Edmodo and social media tools like Pinterest provide spaces to build many lifelong skills—even from an early age.

Innovators commit to sharing digital learning content and powerful ideas for improving teaching and learning, and innovative educators have amazing stories of how they've transformed learning—so how are you sparking innovation in your classroom?


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