What Does it Mean to be “Innovative” in the Classroom?

June 1, 2015

What does it mean to be “innovative” in the classroom?  Does that mean a teacher must have their students build a flying machine that will advance society into the year 3000?  Maybe not. However, there is a small nugget of innovation within that scenario which all teachers could implement.   We can change the way that students think about the world.  We can shift the frame of reference in which students see the world.   We can lead children to find their personal way of changing the world.
Working at a New Tech School in Northeast Arkansas has been one of the most memorable, challenging, and influential times of my life.  To work in a place that places an emphasis on trust, pushes students to think outside of the box, and consistently begins with the end in mind helped me to become the teacher that I am now.   Yet, there is one thing that my school has provided me that I have an unending gratitude for: they have allowed me to explore innovation.  From that, my students achieved something that not all students have the opportunity to achieve.
At Cross County High School, I teach the Mobile App Development pathway.  The Mobile App Development, or MAD, pathway is a rigorous, three-year curriculum that teaches students how to create Mobile Apps using GameSalad and through coding on Xcode.  Students in my class have made countless apps including games, educational apps, and informational apps.  This past February, I had my Intro to MAD class tackle a project in which they would create an Educational App for children in the Elementary School.  This project involved students interviewing young students, working within teams of two “coworkers”, e-mailing teachers, and researching child learning styles.  Students focused on two core subjects, Math and English, and created apps such as “Math Hunter,” “Math Strikes” and “Gummy Spell.”  One student, when being interviewed about the project, stated “I thought this was just going to be another project.  But it turned out being something that I actually feel I made a difference in.”
As a teacher, especially around the end of the year, it is common to sit down after returning home from a long day of school and wonder “what is it that I’m doing?”  Existential questions pop up, causing the job of teaching to become a bit hazy.   My advice for if you ever feel that:  become innovative.  Your students will only do what you set the limits for.  If you pull the reigns of your projects, activities, or lessons too tight, then your students (and you) are missing out on the true “experience.”  Model for your students what you want them to be doing.  Think outside the box!