Discovery & Play
An ever-increasing number of recently published research studies suggests that innovation is comprised of a set of skills that can be nurtured and developed. Both Ken Robinson in his book Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education and Tony Wagner in Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World suggests that innovation rather than being innate can be taught and nurtured. Consistent with this belief, Innovation Learning has sought to create before and after school environments that foster skills such as curiosity, communication, collaboration, a bias toward action and associative and integrative thinking that have been shown to be highly correlative with the innovative mindset. Play represents a vital vehicle for fostering such skills within the context of intrinsically motivating experiences that children are naturally drawn to.
Our curriculum has been developed by educators who also happen to be parents. As such, we have sought to harness the power of play to teach Computational thinking (CT), higher order thinking (HOT), and executive functioning (EF) skills. At their core, these skills are quite similar because they help us reason, think critically, and problem solve. They develop at different rates for children depending on context and exposure to play and learning experiences that support their development. Play experiences like problem-solving, collaborating and designing during their playing and making are powerful experiences that all children need to be successful in life, to innovate, and to learn how to think through complex problems, such as coding. By its very nature, play involves empathy, offers numerous opportunities for integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism, adaptability, curiosity and imagination as well as collaboration, all of which are traits associated with an innovative mindset, entrepreneurship and 21st century skills.
We have incorporated several important play-based components to our
program that support 21st century skills. These include:
Discovery PeriodDiscovery Period is based on the research of Dr. Peter Gray and Dr. David Elkind, who have shown that play is critical to the development of vital skills essential to fostering traits inherent in innovators. We offer daily, vigorous outdoor play, team- building and discovery activities essential to engaging students’ minds and body, to practice and develop skills that help them succeed both in school and beyond. The Discovery Period is a time when children are physically active while focusing on the characteristics rooted in innovation: collaboration, curiosity, communication, and creative problem solving. The Discovery Period consists of four weekly components: Teambuilding, Innovating Sport, Fun Fitness, and TINKER Time.
Innovating SportsThis activity helps students use a creative process to adapt and create new versions of their favorite games. Just like the innovators who added dribbling, a shot clock, and a three-point line to basketball, students learn innovative thinking through gaming and sports concepts. Students are provided with several pieces of sports-related equipment, typically associated with their favorite games, and are asked to work with their peers to develop “new or better” versions of these games. After students have developed their games, they work to perfect them, continuously modifying until they have developed rules based upon the problems and issues they have encountered while playing. Once they have finalized a game that they believe their peers will enjoy, each team present it to the entire class and they all play.
TeambuildingAs with our Innovation Station Curriculum, our teambuilding exercises consist of a challenge or activity. Students spend approximately 20-25 minutes on the challenge activity and then spend 5-10 minutes debriefing. As part of our teambuilding units, students select from three possible challenges, an exercise that is consistent with our overall approach to learning as an active, engaging process that students should “own.” Students perform the work of actively solving the challenges in a way that resonates with them and with their group. As with games and simulations, it is not a prescribed process but rather a fluid and authentic one. Students collaborate with their group to develop solutions and to present their ideas to their peers.
TINKER TimeThis hour-per-week activity mirrors the educational concept of “20-Time,” an idea that first caught fire when Google asked its employees to spend 20 percent of their time at Google to work on a pet project – one that their job description didn’t cover. Because of the 20% Project at Google, we now have innovative products like Gmail, AdSense, Google News, and (our favorite) the Google Teacher Academy. This activity encourages students to work on and explore a topic of their choice, with a focus on impacting their school or local community.
Fun FitnessAll morning programs include a fun fitness period that incorporates the SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) curriculum. SPARK was developed by researchers at the San Diego State University to promote life-long healthy habits in children. The curriculum represents an invaluable resource for providing numerous opportunities to engage in physical fitness, while developing important 21st Century Skills, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking.
The result of our holistic approach to learning is that Innovation Learning students actively participate in a play-based approach to learning that is naturally motivating and serves as a valuable vehicle for teaching and learning. Furthermore, this approach forces them to practice skills that are associated with our new age economy and which will prove valuable not only years from now but also in the current classroom environment where as in the outside world an increasingly high premium is being placed on conceptual knowledge and original thinking.