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Is There Time to Teach Innovation in Math Class?

January 20, 2016

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I suppose the precursor question should be “Should we teach students how to be innovators?”  In a recent edition of “Today”, one of Singapore’s most widely read newspapers, there was an article titled “Schools Too Bogged Down For Push Towards Innovativeness”.  The article was pro-innovation but pointed out the biggest obstacles schools are faced with when trying to make room for teaching innovation in the classroom.  We’ll get back to the article in a minute, but first we should answer the first question which is “Should we teach students how to be innovators?”  Well, whether or not you are a fan/supporter of Common Core, those set of standards propose to prepare students “to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation.”1 The world Common Core is describing needs innovators to solve existing real world problems.  Some of those existing real problems such as our global energy problems need immediate attention so much so that Bill Gates is funneling 2 billion dollars to fund new ideas that will develop a global carbon-free source of energy and he believes that the only way to accomplish this “is to drive innovation at an unnaturally high pace.”2   So not only should we help students become innovators, but they will in some cases have to use that skill with a sense of urgency once they join the workforce.

The White House published a 76 page document called “A STRATEGY FOR AMERICAN INNOVATION: Securing Our Economic Growth and Prosperity” where President Obama calls innovation “the foundation of American economic growth and national competitiveness”3 while in a Wired magazine, there was an article about innovation that suggested that “we need Americans to think and act as innovators”4.  I took all that to mean that innovation is in the best interest of the nation our students live in.

I think one can make a strong case in favor of teaching innovation in the classroom because of a student’s personal career needs, national needs and global needs.  I also think weaving innovation into a math class makes a nice fit which brings us back to the “Today” article.  The Acting Education Minister in Singapore, Ng Chee Meng, has stated that “Students must be innovators for Singapore to succeed”.5  In Singapore they are wrestling with how to best implement programs that promote innovation that support schools, parents and students.  They are working on how to embed innovation into their national curriculum, and most of all how to do it without adding more burden to an already packed curriculum full of demands such as high-stakes testing.

Marshall Cavendish Education proposes that through Singapore math and pedagogy an educator can teach students how to be innovators by allowing students to be creative in their approach to problem solving.  The title of this blog article is “Is There Time to Teach Innovation in Math Class?”  Perhaps the trick here is not to find time or make time to teach innovation but to make better use of the time already allotted for math.  In fact, I have met many teachers in many states who leverage their students’ natural instincts for creativity and imagination to solve math problems.  I have heard countless stories of teachers using Math In Focus where students derive their own strategies based on their own ideas.  Yesterday I was working with a group of third and fourth grade teachers and one of them shared that in her class students attach student names to the strategies developed by students so now they have the

“Joshua strategy” and the “Darci strategy”, etc.  Students like these not only are thinking like innovators but they are also acting like innovators.

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning has provided us with an excellent framework and  one of its main areas of focus is Learning and Innovation skills which they describe as “increasingly being recognized as those that separate students who are prepared for a more and more complex life and work environments in the 21st century, and those who are not.”6  In their framework, creativity and innovation are described under two categories:

Think Creatively 

  • Use a wide range of idea creation techniques (such as brainstorming)
  • Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)
  • Elaborate, refine, analyze and evaluate their own ideas in order to improve and maximize creative efforts

Work Creatively with Others

  • Develop, implement and communicate new ideas to others effectively
  • Be open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives; incorporate group input and feedback into the work
  • Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas
  • View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes Implement Innovations

What kind of creative thoughts, ideas, methods and strategies have you witnessed from students in math class?  We’d like for you to share a story or experience that will encourage other teachers to continue looking for ways to help students develop their innovation skills during math class.  Be sure to leave a comment our LinkedIn Singapore Math® Community.  What’s your opinion?  Is there time to teach innovation in math class?

by Hoover Herrera
Singapore Math® expert
hherrera@marshallcavendish.com

 

References: 1. http://www.corestandards.org/what-parents-should-know/ 2. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/11/we-need-an-energy-miracle/407881/ 3. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/InnovationStrategy.pdf 4. http://www.wired.com/insights/2013/11/innovation-the-most-important-and-overused-word-in-america/ 5. http://www.todayonline.com/voices/schools-too-bogged-down-push-towards-innovativeness 6. http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework 7. http://www.p21.org/about-us/p21-framework/262