Innovations in Schools: The Chance Our Students Deserve
Image source: Frank Vessia
In a world where trends in culture are going through fast-paced changes, what is happening with schools? Instead of being the leaders driving the world forward, why are schools lagging behind it?
High school education should instruct students on how to tackle problems in society, both of today and tomorrow. It should equip them with the knowledge and skills that they can apply to overcome those obstacles. Unfortunately, the current practices in education divest our youth of the opportunity to properly prepare for and deal with the challenges that the world lays before them.
The most glaring problem in today’s high school education across America is the use of outdated tools, methods, and techniques in classes, which is not in line with the progressive outlook propagated in our country.
How should schools respond to that discrepancy? With innovation.
Before we go deeper into specific examples of innovations in schools, let us first address some elements that schools need to consider before deciding on what changes to introduce.
Key Factors to Consider Before Implementing Innovations in Schools
Implementing novel approaches and technologies sounds impressive and exciting, but it is anything but an easy task. Innovation in schools requires a lot of consideration and careful planning before setting things in motion. The essential elements to take into account when making a school innovation strategy are:
- Social context. For a constructive change to take place in education, both internal and external stakeholders have to be aligned in their vision of what constitutes progress and what refinement their school needs so they can make it happen.
- Students. Any change in education directly concerns the students and their future. That is why their voice has to count — the innovation must be in line with their expectations, aspirations, personalities, and aptitudes.
- Educators. To carry out the necessary operations of innovation, teachers have to possess the prerequisite skills, shared visions and values, and unabated determination.
- Funding. Equity in education requires equity in the distribution of funds across states, districts, and schools so that every student’s educational needs are met and that each teacher is adequately equipped to carry out the work.
These factors are important to consider so that schools can make an informed decision about what innovations to introduce. Schools can become significantly more successful both through technological and non-technological improvements, but the choice relies mainly on what their students need most to flourish.
Tech-Driven Innovations in Schools
Image source: Billetto Editorial
The digital era has introduced technology to the domain of education, threatening to sever its ties with traditional approaches and techniques. Many schools have welcomed its application both in classes and on the premises. Some technologies that are revolutionizing the education system are:
- Mobile devices and tech gadgets
- Digital libraries
- Biometric software
- Education apps and platforms
- Assistive technology
- Social networking sites
If all of our high schools introduced new technologies and trained teachers to use them in classes, the new generations of high school graduates would undoubtedly be better prepared to take on the professional roles of the future.
Mobile Devices and Tech Gadgets
Given the versatile nature of mobile devices and tech gadgets, the use of these tools is becoming standardized in high school education. As students of today were born into the world of technology, it is only natural to use that environment as a medium for instilling knowledge.
Tablets, laptops, and smartphones, for example, allow high school students to take notes, explore the topics pertinent to the subject of studies, extend the scope of materials used, and even take online tests.
Additional tools, such as 3D printers, VR headpieces, and interactive whiteboards, can enrich the overall learning experience further. Immersive learning is an innovative approach that helps students retain vital concepts through visual, auditory, and kinesthetic stimuli enabled by gamification. An utterly virtual learning environment is free from distractions, which abound in the real-world setting.
The library has moved into the digital space, where scores of e-learning materials can be stored online, all the while minding the economics of time, space, and money. Digital libraries are becoming easier and more popular to use because more students, especially those living far from cultural and educational hubs, have access to them.
E-libraries are valuable assets for high schools, as they give students access to a plethora of materials, such as:
- Video materials
- Student projects
- Contributions by alumni
Students can make use of these resources easily, without the bother of waiting for the material they need to become available again, as is the case with the traditional library.
Over the last decade, the application of biometrics has expanded to the arena of school. Biometric software is the means of identifying individuals based on their biological characteristics — for example, a retinal scan — and can be used in schools in a variety of ways. Its use in education is twofold — it enables tracking students’ academic progress and ensures each student’s safety on the school grounds.
Measuring academic achievement relies on many factors, including tracking class attendance, monitoring student’s engagement, and assessing their performance. Biometric data ensures efficiency and enables teachers to adjust their approach to individual students and keep track of their progress.
Biometric software is a useful form of authentication as it doesn’t require a password that students can forget or share with peers, and it can also never be lost or forgotten at home, as other forms of identification can. Biometrics can monitor eye movements and body language, which helps determine when students are engaged in their lessons or when they exhibit problematic behavior.
The safety of the students is of primary concern to staff, parents, and students themselves. A biometric system guarantees exclusive access to school premises to students and personnel alone, keeping unauthorized parties out. It can also keep track of students’ location, eradicating any potential issues with their whereabouts and well-being.
Education Apps and Platforms
Various education-oriented companies offer pools of apps compatible with Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android that can be used in high schools for multiple disciplines and countless activities. Some of them are cloud-based platforms that enable teachers to:
- Select learning materials
- Create and assign tasks
- Assess the students’ performance
- Communicate with each pupil individually
Others offer students an opportunity to additionally hone their skills, such as language proficiency, debate and discussion skills, critical and logical thinking, and many more.
Not only are such apps informative and instructional but entertaining, too — they pitch ideas from a range of educational quizzes, videos, games, digital portfolios, or newsletters. The introduction of this type of software would foster the students’ interest and their ability to actively participate in their high school education.
Assistive technology offers a solution for the everyday challenges that students with disabilities and other difficulties face. It has also opened the door to inclusion and equity in high schools.
Students with learning disabilities — including, but not limited to, dyscalculia, dyslexia, autism, or physical impairments — can now rely on assistive devices and modifications to make their learning experience as effective as everyone else’s. Some of those assistive tools are:
- Talking calculators
- Phonetic spelling software
- Text-to-speech software
- Electronic worksheets
- Videotaped examples
- Sound-field systems
Solutions like these are making it possible for schools to level the playing field for all students, leaving not one behind on the path to progress.
Social Networking Sites
Social apps, such as WhatsApp, Messenger, and Snapchat, are an indispensable part of our everyday lives. They appeal to younger generations especially. High schools can make use of social apps to cater to their students’ educational needs, both in a formal and informal fashion.
The formal application is directly involved with students’ progress. Social apps can serve the purpose of:
- Interacting with teachers and classmates
- Forming student groups centered around specific tasks or topics
- Searching for material relevant to a particular subject or project
Social networking apps and sites can be used as informal means of communication — in that case, their link to education is a bit looser. Some of the things they can make happen in an educational setting are:
- Building a network of people with similar academic interests who can exchange experiences, problems, insights, or tips with each other
- Forming friendships with students from other schools, districts, and states
It is vital to keep in mind that social media should be used in moderation in schools to ensure that it does not become a distraction. It is best avoided inside the classroom and reserved for class follow-up activities, research, and leisure.
Tech-Free Innovative Ideas for Schools
Though innovating through technological means is tempting, it is often unattainable if underfunded or improperly introduced.
That is by no means a cause for despair. When we ponder over the future of education, we envision more than implementing fancy high-tech contrivances in the classroom. Innovation revolves around:
- School and community support
For a proper high school innovation, we need to mobilize all the assets from its surroundings and combine them to serve new purposes. This can be achieved with:
- Flexible schedules
- Flexible learning space
- Involvement in the community
- Student-operated school services
A flexible school schedule allows for the time for instruction to be matched to the students’ personalities and learning needs. Since the traditional timetable can be too rigid for some students, it makes sense for some schools to adopt flexible schedules.
To spark curiosity and engagement in students, some schools can choose to be unhindered by timeframes. Such schools want their students to have a sense of autonomy to go about learning at their own pace, which is aligned with their circadian rhythm.
An example of this is allowing students to attend classes at their own schedule as long as they meet the requirements decided upon by policymakers for completing a course and earning the necessary credit. Such changes to class attendance often also have a strong impact on the school calendar, which is yet another area in which schools are adopting novel approaches.
Flexible Learning Space
Image source: Edutopia
In a similar fashion, the environment in which learning takes place should be conducive to it. Modern teaching approaches and techniques, as well as the change in students’ learning styles, allow for education to break out of the confinements of the traditional classroom.
The writing board on the wall and rows of desks positioned across from it is not a stimulating learning space for most students. That is why they resort to doing other things instead of participating in classroom activities.
One way to combat this issue is the reconfiguration of classrooms according to the students’ needs and preferences. Teachers can divide the students into teams and assign them a project to optimize the classroom to facilitate their progress better.
There are a few steps for students to consider. The first one is detecting the problems and challenges that the current classroom configuration poses (problem-seeking). Then, they need to come up with potential design solutions (problem-solving) that will benefit their learning, taking into account what tools they have to use in the process. Students can do these by harnessing the skills and knowledge they have acquired from a scope of other disciplines and subjects.
What students appreciate is putting their knowledge, skills, and abilities into practice. They need a chance to exercise those in a variety of trades, not only in a class-orchestrated setting.
For this to happen, schools have to network with other schools within the district and with the whole community. Doing this is possible with the support of school administration, local government officials, and other key stakeholders. With a joint effort, they can create a school culture that supports students as they develop themselves within the broader context of the community through local apprenticeships.
To further build upon the experience, students can write a school newsletter or a blog — or make a vlog — about it and share key tips, insights, and challenges with peers. Their perspective can also contribute to local businesses and school districts and help them tweak practices in their respective fields. Teton Science Schools have already started applying this model and seen an increase in student involvement within the class and community.
Student-Operated School Services
If integrating school into the larger context of the community is a feat, why not reverse the model? Bring the real world to the school. Have local experts share the secrets to their trades with students and watch as the magic happens.
If there is a vacant space on the school premises, turn it into fully operational facilities — such as kiosks, repair-shops, or small manufacturing sites. Procure the initial investment and let students have a go at them. As they grow more adept at running a business, they can start making a profit and funnel the returns into school funds or back into the business.
This model exemplifies how schools can become self-sustainable and depend less on sponsorship. The place-based education allows students to acquire knowledge not by learning about but by learning through a trade. It is an early exercise at adulthood as they are challenged with devising financial and marketing strategies, troubleshooting issues, assuming responsibility, and shifting products as the market demands.
Bumps on the Road Towards School Innovations
Changing the status quo within the education system is not something that happens overnight. Certain criteria have to be met, and for that to happen, we need to know what barriers we face.
Before we embark on a life-changing path to progress, let us consider some of the obstacles we may bump into and the impact they have on introducing innovations in schools.
|Lack of Access
As necessary as they are, policies can sometimes impede school innovation because they have a universal top-down approach that does not take into consideration the subtle differences between schools, their students, and their teachers. Such an approach can result in:
- Uniformization of education
- Little autonomy
To ensure that everyone is “on the same page,” the state governments, local businesses, and organizations linked to the education sector introduce policies to uniform curricula, projects, conferences, teacher training, and more. They are oblivious to the fact that each student needs a personalized approach to reach their full potential.
Policy does mean regulation, but it is also a constraint. Too many policies result in districts, teachers, and other stakeholders losing precious time in bureaucratic battles as to what they can or cannot do, and the extent to which their liberties go.
And what do students have to say? They need to be treated like adults to be trained for adult roles. They often have expectations that are not aligned with official regulations. They need to partake in designing education programs instead of just being passive recipients.
A mindset open to change is more likely to generate positive results in a world in constant flux. People may, at times, be wary of systemic changes that need to happen in education, which may result in the potential resistance and distrust by some parents and other stakeholders.
Being used to one model of education, parents might find it intimidating and confounding to accept alternative approaches to teaching that are devised to help students thrive. Parents may perceive those alternatives as potentially risky because they do not know what implications the changes will have for the learners. Fostering a change mindset in parents will empower them to embrace novelty without hesitation.
Systemic transformation of schooling is impossible if the schools fail to recognize the importance of communicating their ideas to the broader community. Schools and stakeholders need to share the growth mindset and nurture the culture of transparency when implementing innovations. The community is more likely to support and collaborate with school leaders if they are kept in the know about the changes taking place in the local educational institutions. School stakeholders may be unwilling to brace any new ideas if they see their trust betrayed in any way.
Lack of Access
Access to resources determines the extent to which school innovation is carried out. Without the proper support in terms of funding, manpower, and infrastructure, schools’ attempts to revolutionize their approaches may be close to futile.
The chronic disinvestment in education affects many school operations, covering salaries, projects, students’ resources, and student’s academic achievement. It ultimately affects the entire economy, given that education forms the foundation of a healthy, prosperous, and future-oriented society.
School infrastructure is one of the key elements of the learning environment. It has to be carefully planned and set up to enable student’s advancement through education. Many schools are struggling with providing a stimulating environment equipped with subject-specific tools, internet access, and even a functioning transportation system.
Teacher turnover is another serious issue in education. It can partially be linked to underqualified staff but also to teachers who lack the necessary tools to diversify the lesson program. Teacher turnover hinders progressive education, which is to the detriment of the entire social system.
Examples of Successful Innovation Implementation
Idea. Creativity. Imagination. Support.
What is one word that encompasses them all? Innovation.
The table below offers a brief overview of several high schools that have successfully incorporated novel and stellar ideas into education.
Innovation does not have to be confined to wishful thinking. True, it can sometimes feel like going out of one’s way to implement it, but it is worth it when you see young people reap the rewards of success you set them out to achieve.
Many schools are taking the risk of doing something different — something novel — even though not all requirements have been met. But they are doing it. They are making a change!
Do you have any visionary ideas to share? Any wisdom to impart?
Be creative and innovative. Spread the wings of your imagination. Write your own story, and we will publish it on our blog.