Today’s blog is an interview with Michael Donhost, an innovation and design lead teacher at my international school in Singapore. I am constantly inspired by what Michael does with his students and have asked him to answer the following questions and share some examples of his students work! Enjoy this sneak peek into design and innovation classes at my school!
- What is innovation?
I largely avoid defining innovation directly, opting instead to focus on the edges, on what innovation can be and what innovation (in my opinion) should not be. For me, innovation is more about an approach to teaching and learning and less about a curriculum. Innovation is a pure, playful, and creative experience in making and/or design. Innovation is not linear, it’s not an abstraction. Innovation requires agency.
- Give us some examples of projects that your students are doing.
I utilize design challenges to frame student projects. In the younger grades, I have the students choose from one of three identities to take on for the challenge. For example, in grade six, students are given a challenge that involves utilizing a Makey Makey and Scratch. Their first choice is to take on the challenge as an Artist, an Author, or a Musician. Students then self-select into groups of three based on their chosen identity.
As the students get older, their challenges have a pre-determined identity, but students choose a specific role associated with the identity. For example, in grade nine the students are all game designers, but they form cross-functional teams by taking on an individual role of either Producer, Artist, or Programmer. The older students also have a choice in game format (analog, mobile, computer) and a wider range of tools to choose from for each challenge.
Here are the challenge posters from the two examples:
- What are some pieces of learning that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud when I pause during class and see students in action, making. My favorite times are when it’s loud, students are all over the room, on the floor, standing in debate, leaning over their work, getting messy. So it’s less about the products for me, it’s more about the energy during the process.
- Using tools like Makey Makey and Arduino you are able to get students thinking outside of the norm, how do you manage expectations and behaviors in this space?
I’m comfortable with the chaos. I position myself as a mentor and I attempt to help guide student learning without direct instruction. Instead of content, I teach the students professional processes in real time to help support their groups. For example, we utilize a variety of protocols for team decision making and a daily scrum meeting structure to keep projects on track. When introducing tools, I share a few safety related expectations and largely get out of the way. When something looks unsafe, I bring it to everyone’s attention, and attempt to use it as an opportunity to learn. Because the students are largely in charge of their learning, behavior is really super positive.
- Without a huge budget, how can the everyday teacher integrate innovation into their classroom
As I said earlier, to me, innovation is an approach to teaching and learning and less about a curriculum. To go a step further, innovation isn’t about the stuff, it’s more about the ability to create problem spaces that allow students to feel a sense of agency as learners.
*The caveat is that I find it easier to create problem spaces with tools that evoke a sense of wonder in learners. When a learner experiences the Makey Makey for the first time, they light up, regardless of their age. At that moment, they have a need to know that can act to fuel a deeply creative experience. Here are a few other tools that I’ve witnessed evoke wonder in learners: LittleBits, Spheros, Arduinos/Wearables, Minecraft, and Makerbot 3D Printers. There should be something here that aligns with most budgets.
- Tell us how innovation fits in the curriculum… What does innovation look like in the school setting?
We are situated in a large international school in Singapore and Innovation was originally a quarter-long course for students in grades six through ten. Instead of continuing with the stand alone course, we worked over the last year to embed innovation within our secondary IB Design classes. The elementary teachers on campus have utilized innovation to frame their IB Units of Inquiry.
- What are your favorite activities to do with students
I really enjoy exploring the interaction between the physical and digital world with students. Rube Goldberg machines are always fun, but they’re even more awesome when students create machines that move in and out of computers with the use of LEGO motors, sensors, and Scratch. We’ve attempted Rube Goldberg machines that involved 16 sections, half physical and half digital.
A huge thank you to Michael for his time with this interview. It is an honor to work with him and I would encourage you to reach out to him with questions, and of course respond with the amazing things you are doing in your classroom as well. Contact Michael via Twitter here.