Our guest post today is by Marlena Gross-Taylor, who has served as a teacher, K-12  administrator, and is currently an educational consultant based in Nashville, TN.

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.” ~Edgar Cayce

Have you ever been to the movies by yourself?

Until this summer, I had never been to the theater solo, nor ever had a desire to do so.  I took a little road trip to Rocky Top to present at a conference, leaving the family back home.  My initial plans were to relax by the pool, shop a bit and participate in the conference group activities; however at the end of day one I found myself in a small theater excited to see the movie no one else in my family wanted to view – Tomorrowland.  And my world refocused.

“What if there’s a place, a secret place where nothing is impossible? A miraculous place where you could actually change the world.  You wanna go?”

To me, this wonderful, secret place isn’t such a secret.  Isn’t this the purpose of school?  It’s certainly not to take tests; however, since NCLB, high stakes testing has created extensive test preparation in schools significantly impacting instructional time and focus.  As I walked out of the theater, I immediately thought to myself that the shift of education must return whole-heartedly to authentic learning for students and meaningful professional development for teachers and leaders supporting innovation and creativity.

The workforce our students will be entering will consist of jobs that haven’t been created yet.  Businesses are actively seeking candidates whose skill sets are grounded in creativity and problem solving.  Colleges have begun to offer courses in creativity in response to this shift in the job market.  So what can we do in the K-12 realm to prepare our students for the 21st century?  Here are a few strategies to bring innovation back into the classroom.

Project Based Learning (PBL)

Thousands of teachers and school leaders have discovered the benefits of incorporating PBLs in their schools as a more effective way to engage students and deepen the learning experiences of students.  According to the Buck Institute for Education, PBL builds student success for college, career, and life in the 21st century by teaching students to incorporate multiple subject areas in order to solve problems, connecting them to their schools and community in a meaningful way. 

Maker’s Space

Probably the simplest way to reintroduce creativity is underscored in the Maker’s Space movement.  I vividly remember playing with Legos and electronic kits with my brothers for hours working diligently to re-create the images and ideas in my head.  Maker’s Space has revitalized the importance of having students create using various materials and their ingenuity much like my favorite TV character MacGyver

Google Classrooms

Our students are comprised of Gen Zers, which is characterized primarily by never knowing life without technology.  The evolution of technology integration in schools has been a slow one, but today’s students seamlessly integrate technology in every facet of their lives.  Incorporating Google Classrooms and other platforms allows students to simultaneously engage in rigorous discussion, work collaboratively on projects, and instantly access information for deeper understanding. 

As educators we must recommit ourselves to advocating for what is best for students and create learning environments that foster a love for learning and ingenuity.  School is the perfect forum to develop future game-changers and instill the mind-set of perseverance understanding mistakes are just an opportunity for continuous growth.  School must remain a viable experience for students in a modern world.

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