Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Downside to Innovation

It seems like the term "Innovation" is tossed around everywhere in education. As much as many educators may roll their eyes at the word, the indent is usually good. With some many advancements in technology and the rate of change that now defines our world, we would be foolish not think that education should play a part in this "Innovation Revolution". The possibilities of what we can do now in education is much greater than when I started 20 years ago. For those who have tried to innovate within their classroom, their school, their curriculum, etc., there are positive success stories mixed in with some not so successful ones. Innovation is never perfect and is often quite messy. This is part of the downside to innovation.

Over the past three years, I had the opportunity to be a part of this "Innovation Revolution" as a district STEM Coordinator. From mobile STEM labs, to makerspaces, to tiny houses, I had a front row seat for the good and the bad that comes along with innovation.

From these experiences, I saw a downside to innovation that I never really gave much thought to beforehand. The biggest downside to innovation is the realization that success can be limited by the readiness of others. Frankly, this is the most frustrating part of the whole thing. 

Last year, we took a giant leap to offer a class called Geometry in Construction. The ideas behind this class were not really that innovative. You create an interdisciplinary course by combining a traditional geometry course with a construction course. However, this class screamed innovation for us since we really did not have a pure interdisciplinary course at our high schools like this. It screamed innovation because we had previously not offered a construction class. We have more traditional wood and metal shop courses but nothing like this. And perhaps the most innovative thing we did was choosing to build a tiny house. All of us were new to this and thank goodness for our awesome teachers who made this class work...and work well. The took on the challenge of innovation and knocked it out of the park.

Recently, our tiny homes were picked up from our schools and transported to their new location. Seeing them loaded and driven away added some closure to the course but also caused me to reflect on where we had been and what we were doing next. You see, our partnership was only for one year and we would need to find a new project...and this is where the downside to innovation really hit me hard.

Parts of my community was not fully ready for what we were doing. Surprising to me, we could not find a partner to do another house build. We reached out to your typical organizations, did a media campaign, reached out to different community entities but we came up empty for a big project. I am thankful to some of our smaller community partners that we are using this year. They saw our value and we super thankful for them. However, when you built a 340 sq ft house last year at two schools, there is really no going back from that. To this day, I am surprised that we could not find a partner who would let us build for them. We were breaking the mold of who could provide housing solutions in St. Louis. Our freshman and sophomores are ready to learn, showcase their skills, and give back to community. 

So in the spirit of innovation, we are going to tackle a project on our own that we have never done before...we are building a mobile tiny home! And again, we will go through the roller coaster of innovation...learning, failing, learning, failing...and in the end, we will produce a home that will be used to benefit our community (still working out those details). 

The downside of innovation had me discouraged for quite some time. Now, I have cast that aside and a new hope guides me. I have no clue what lies ahead for us. It could be complete success, complete failure, or something in between. Either way, we will push forward to innovate again. Hopefully, we will show our community what we can do and how valuable we can be to an organization. And maybe then, others in our community will be ready to embrace our innovative idea and let us be a solution to our regional affordable housing program. 

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