4 Ways to Nurture Innovation in the Classroom

nurturing innovation
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With the plethora of new and diverse edtech tools available for teaching and learning, it is an exciting time to nurture innovation in our classrooms. Innovation is connected to the creation of novel ideas that have meaningful societal impacts, and involves essential skills that all students should master, such as the 4Cs of critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. 

As we prepare students for careers that do not yet exist, curating innovative learning environments will provide the space for them to develop their creative capacities. Many ways that we as teachers can approach fostering innovation are available within teaching and learning spaces. Here are four practical and actionable ideas to get you started.

1. Nurturing Innovation in the Classroom: Cultivate Entrepreneurial Mindsets 

Our mindsets impact the ways in which we think and act. And while successful entrepreneurs have different business and goals, they usually have similar mindsets in terms of thinking outside the box, trying new and different ways of approaching problem-solving, and being relentless in working toward making their dreams realities. 

We want our students to think in this way too, and to do, it is important to cultivate that entrepreneurial mindset as we nurture their creative spirits and encourage them to innovate while learning. This means designing learning activities that ask them to solve problems, question existing approaches, and create different ways of doing things.

2. Focus on Digital Fluency 

Technology has made innovation possible in ways that were once not even imaginable. We are already using generative AI use in the classroom with many more developments each day. 

Many of our classroom learning activities focus on helping students develop their digital literacy skills, which is great for growing their understanding of what digital tools are and how to use these. However, in classrooms that nurture innovation, we must move from digital literacy to a focus on digital fluency, which is necessary in building students’ capacity to use digital tools to create what does not yet exist. 

Students who are digitally fluent produce new, original, and exciting creations that are at the heart of innovation.

3. Leverage Design-Thinking Stages  

Many stages in the design process allow for the space and time to reflect on problems, think of ideas and test any, and come up with a final product. By leveraging similar design-thinking stages in our classrooms, we can nurture innovation in a systematic way, while using tried-and-true principles. 

Start at the problem setting stage where you ask students to reflect and think about their environment, what they would want to create, and who that creation will serve. For example, Siri and Alexa were developed to provide humans with information based on questions they have, eliminating the need for manual research of the weather, traffic conditions, recipes, etc. 

After students come up with a problem, they can engage in the ideation phase, in which they brainstorm and think through ideas for solving it. What would follow is prototyping and testing, and through all these design-thinking stages, innovation can evolve naturally. 

4. Motivate through Mistakes 

With so much focus on grades, assessments, and standardized tests, students are often stressed about perfection. This can stifle creative thinking as students may focus on doing only what needs to be done to secure an “A” grade. 

To provide an environment for students to truly innovate, they need to be encouraged to take risks and try something new, even if that means they make mistakes along the way. 

You can model this approach, showing when you make a mistake and using it as motivation. Students can then think about doing something in a different way, taking away or adding a component, or using alternative digital tools and materials in a design. This is what learning is all about, and what better way to approach it than using previous experiences and outcomes as a base for improvement?   

I hope you will be able to try one or all four of these ideas to nurture innovation in your classroom. Not only will cultivating entrepreneurial mindsets, focusing on digital fluency, leveraging design-thinking stages, and motivating through mistakes help build students’ interest and engagement inquiry, they will also have a stronger stake in the lesson, which will result in meeting learning outcomes.

Dr. Stephanie Smith Budhai is an associate clinical professor in the department of Teaching, Learning, and Curriculum at Drexel University, in Pennsylvania. She holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies and K-12 teaching certifications in Technology Education, Instructional Technology and Business, Computers, Information Technology, Special Education and Elementary Education. She is also the 2021 Emerging Leader for the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) and the 2017 ISTE Awardee for Excellence in Teacher Education. Dr. Smith Budhai is a Nearpod, and VoiceThread Certified Educator.  Dr. Smith Budhai has more than a decade of online teaching experience, and has published myriad books, articles, and invited editorials surrounding the use of technology and online learning in education. Her publications include: 

- Leveraging Digital Tools to Assess Student Learning 

- Increasing Engagement in Online Learning: Quick Reference Guide

- Culturally Responsive Teaching Online and In-Person: An Action Planner for Dynamic Equitable Learning Environments 

- Teaching the 4Cs with Technology

- Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies

- Nurturing Young Innovators: Cultivating Creativity in the Classroom, Home and Community