Fall 2018

Leading-Edge Administrators Using Technology to Promote Innovation

The term ‘innovation’ is very prevalent in the media, among entrepreneurs, in the realm of social and educational organizations and especially in relation to technology. Interestingly, innovation is integral to growth, success and well-being across all sectors of society and can be addressed in every subject of educational curriculum. The development of innovative thinking, attitudes and actions is central to learning in a range of educational settings. There is a current imperative to encourage a culture of innovation nationally and internationally and to integrate innovative thinking, processes and actions in educational systems, learning goals, curriculum resources and pedagogical approaches (OECD, 2016)

Canadian students are naturally inquisitive and collaborative, seeking to be agents of positive change.  Curriculum expectations and teaching guidelines, across Canada and across grade levels, include varied references to Canadian innovations and to the achievement of learning skills related to innovation.  Global competencies such as critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration are inherently integrated into innovation learning experiences.

The Rideau Hall Foundation (RHF) has initiated a recent national initiative to celebrate and cultivate innovation among Canadian youth, through the provision of educational guides for teachers from Kindergarten to Grade 12. The set of guides are titled Education for Innovation (E4I) and include resources for: Early Learning-Kindergarten; Grades 1-8 and; Grades 7-12. The education resources were developed in partnership with Nipissing University Schulich School of Education faculty and teacher candidates. They are free to download at https://canadianinnovationspace.ca/resources/.

 Education for Innovation (E4I) resources are intended to encourage students to explore Canada’s history as a nation of innovators and to become aware of the iterative and cyclical nature of innovation. Ultimately, the goal is to inspire our future generation with educational experiences that challenge them to celebrate the rewarding process of innovation. The Education for Innovation resources provide educators with a set of learning experiences which follow an Innovation Cycle and culminate in the completion of Innovation Projects. The Innovation Cycle is focused on making an intended Impact and challenges Innovation Teams to Inquire, Ideate, Incubate and Implement new innovations.

The impetus for developing the Education for Innovation resources was the release of two books co-authored by the former Governor General, the Right Honourable David Johnston and Tom Jenkins. The publications are Innovation Nation: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier, and Happier (2017) written for emergent readers; and Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier, and Happier (2017) written for older/adult readers.  The Education for Innovation resources are based on the content of the books Innovation Nation and Ingenious and provide a foundation for integrating innovation in any curriculum subject in elementary and secondary schools.

This article describes the successful efforts of John Sweeney Catholic School in Kitchener, Ontario (Waterloo Catholic District School Board) that participated in a pilot project to review and implement the first edition of the Education for Innovation resources. The principal and vice-principal of John Sweeney Catholic School, Paul Smith and Andrea Dafoe, respectively, were pivotal in enthusiastically promoting innovation through the use of technology in a variety of formats and platforms. The school staff embraced the concept of permeating the theme of innovation across the school from Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8. They were instrumental in collaborating with Nipissing University faculty and the Rideau Hall Foundation to pilot the draft Education for Innovation resources.

The school administrators followed a series of steps to pilot the resources and used various forms of technology in the process.  At the beginning of the school year, the administrators asked teachers if they would like to join an Innovation Team. The response was overwhelmingly positive and there was at least one teacher representative for each grade of the school who volunteered to serve on the Innovation Team. Nipissing University faculty then met with the Innovation Team members in a combination of release time and before/after school meetings to provide an overview of the E4I resources and the concept of innovation. The teachers received draft copies of the Education for Innovation resources and watched training videos. In addition, each teacher received a copy of the bookInnovation Nation (Johnston & Jenkins, 2017) and the book called If I Build a Carby Chris Van Dusen. These resources and books were very helpful for teachers to stimulate connections between innovation and classroom curriculum. Principal, Paul Smith, capitalized on the school’s D2L learning management system to create a site to post materials such as videos and encourage discussion among teachers. The Innovation Team members and school administrators also had the privilege of presenting their school’s innovation in an audience with His Excellency the Governor General in 2017.  A series of school photos were inserted into an effective PowerPoint presentation depicting the school’s activities.  Throughout these exciting opportunities, the use of the school Twitter account was pertinent to create enthusiasm and positive energy about this initiative.

Over the 2017-18 year, each monthly assembly featured one classroom/division presenting their Innovation Projects to the school community. The presentations made by students included social innovations such as new school clubs (Peace Connect) and technological innovations such as safe sports equipment. The presentations were developed and shared using such programs as Prezi, Wix, Scratch, Powtoon, Google Slides and other readily available software programs.

The Education for Innovation pilot project was accelerated among staff members through the utilization of Google Classroom features. Again, the principal, Paul Smith, created and shared several Google Docs file documents on the school drive for teachers to allow for input and discussion. Nipissing University faculty members were invited to the related Google Docs documents and were able to interact with teachers. The use of Google Docs was critical for the planning of activities related to Innovation Week in May 2018. John Sweeney Catholic School staff decided to focus the theme of Education Week on innovation-related classroom projects. Thus, the teachers inserted their ideas for classroom-specific activities into the Google Doc file related to Innovation Week and the administrators were able to quickly discern the topics and presentations of each classroom. Innovation Week was a huge success at the school as each classroom showcased the cross-curricular and integrated Innovation Projects developed by Student Innovation Teams. Parents and community members were invited to view the student-led Innovation Projects. The projects ranged from innovative furniture pieces made of recycled materials, to solutions for homelessness, to an Innovation Alphabet developed by the Kindergarten class! A grade 7 class used Google Hangouts to communicate with a Grade 11 class of nearby St. Mary Secondary School. The students of these partner schools shared their Innovation Projects and discussed the challenges of being innovators. One of the most exciting activities was that the school library was transformed into an Innovation Space with books featuring innovation, special custom chairs depicting the covers of the innovation books, materials for creating innovations and technology for inquiring and investigating. The Innovation Space became the hub of the school!

In addition, the Rideau Hall Foundation supported the production of two documentary videos featuring administrators, teachers, students and parents of John Sweeney Catholic School as found on CanadianInnovationSpace.ca. In the videos, testimonials are provided that attest to the relevance and authenticity of students engaging in real-life projects intended to make a positive impact on our world. The exciting journey of John Sweeney Catholic School is evidence that innovation is not only related to technology. Instead, the school community, led by administrators and the staff Innovation Team, was ignited by the use of technology to promote innovation across grades, sectors, disciplines and curriculum subjects! Innovation is now a commonly used term among students and an exciting reality at John Sweeney Catholic School in Kitchener, Ontario.

OECD (2016), Innovating Education and Educating for Innovation: The Power of Digital Technologies and Skills, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264265097-en

Dr. Maria Cantalini-Williams, Professor (former), Nipissing University, Brantford, Ontario
Dr. Glenda Black, Associate Professor, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario Dr. Daniel Jarvis, Professor, Nipissing University, North Bay, Ontario
Jenny Guibert, Instructor (former), Nipissing University, Brantford, Ontario

The authors are all former school board consultants/administrators and have taught extensively in the public schools and faculties of education. They are members of the Education for Innovation (E4I) writing team supported by the Rideau Hall Foundation.

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