Posted on 04/18/2017 at 01:15 PM by Liz Determan

How do we help students become innovators?  How do we tap into the creativity of students from the time they start school to the time they exit, equipping them with the ability to learn and grow, develop both academically, socially and to be college and career-ready? 

To make this a reality, Wagner talks about cultivating five critical characteristics in our students. 
1. PLAY – Wagner says a child's innovative framework is strengthened when teachers bring a sense of play to the curriculum; taking offbeat approaches and making whimsical connections to the course material.  One of the most important patterns he has observed in successful teachers is they make learning fun.  When a student feels that every aspect of their learning is "deadly serious”, they become afraid to take chances and think creatively – opting instead to think in less risky ways. 

2. Curiosity -  Five years ago, kindergarten teacher Melissa Butler and Carnegie Mellon University resident artist Jeremy Boyle began working together to find out whether it was possible for young children to innovate. They created the Children’s Innovation Project.  It’s important to shift the focus when praising children if we want to foster more innovation; allowing children time for play with various technology-related materials, and engage in a variety of individual and team projects.  Observational drawings develop awareness and attention to detail, so these exercises create greater understanding and a desire to learn more. “Whenever we can help children find connections between multiple things, they become more curious about how they all work together. 

3.  Passion – In conducting interviews with hundreds of innovative people for his book, Wagner also found innovative people were shown how to connect their passion to success.  The best teachers and parents always supported what the students’ passions and natural curiosities were, and made an effort to connect what needed to be learned to satisfy that curiosity.  They let children choose the subject matter they wished to study or design their own investigations to learn more.  This connected success leads to a larger purpose – children’s individual motivations and interests. 

4.  Fearlessness – Among the key outcomes of the Children's Innovation Project so far have been increased fearlessness, especially when it came to taking risks and trying new ways of doing things.  Children also became better at creative problem solving.  It is important to shift the focus when praising children if we want to foster more innovation.  Successful teachers make learning fun. 

5. Purpose – Wagner says having a greater sense of purpose was important to innovators.  The teachers who had the greatest impact talked about the importance of doing something to make a difference, rather than to just get a good grade.  Having a greater sense of purpose makes finding solutions more urgent.  This gives innovators greater incentive to take risks and look for new methods of solving challenging issues.

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