What If Students Were Encouraged To Be Innovation Junkies?

What If Students Were Encouraged To Be Innovation Junkies?

Have you ever thought about what we expect of students, and what they expect of themselves? If so, imagine if the expectation for students was to be innovators, instead of simply learners and knowledge sponges. What if we encouraged students to change the ratio, flip the equation, disrupt the system? What if the basis of our education system was built on the concept of enacting innovation?

Opening this year’s Business Innovation Factory Summit (also known as BIF2015), BIF founder Saul Kaplan declared the event the gathering of the innovation junkies, saying that in the past “the stories have been incredible, as have the 500 plus innovation junkies who are here.” Now there’s an intriguing phrase. Innovation junkies.

Over the two days I spent at BIF2015, I embraced the innovation junky title. Storytellers — as BIF calls its presenters — spoke about topics that ranged from brain surgery, expressive art, social identity, and education to blockchains, opera, game development, and prison. The premise of the summit is that “a good story can change the world,” that by listening and telling good stories, we soak in the inspiration and impetus to go out there and make a difference.

Students As Innovation Junkies

At Noble Impact, like at BIF, we believe in storytelling and impact. During the first weeks of class across all Noble courses, scholars are challenged to share their personal stories with their classmates — to define who they are, what they’ve been through and accomplished, what they care about and why, where they’re heading, and how they’re going to get there. Much like BIF storytellers, they’re asked to leave a piece of themselves on the stage, to be their authentic selves.

Big Piph and Bradley Poindexter Noble Impact Apprenticeship
Hip-hop artist Big Piph speaks with Noble Impact scholar Bradley Poindexter about the apprenticeship they’re collaborating on through Noble Impact.
Noble courses, too, push students to work on projects within and outside the classroom that are aligned with their interests and aspirations. Scholars are asked to seek out opportunities to provide value in their communities, while also learning important skills that will push them towards their goals. Scholars grow throughout the course to consistently ask how they can help solve the problems they see around them.

Noble Scholar and spoken word poet Bradley Poindexter, a senior at eStem High School, for example, is apprenticing with hip-hop artist and philanthropist Big Piph, focused on show production. The two are working on Big Piph’s next show, and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that Poindexter may either have some stage time or be producing a show of his own. Either way, it’s exciting to see Poindexter working on a project in line with his passion for poetry, spoken word, and music, alongside an incredible mentor. This is what education should look like everywhere.

Going back to the thought of “innovation junkies,” it occurs to me that that’s what we’re doing at Noble Impact: Getting students hooked on innovative thinking. And on collaboration.

BIF Food For Thought

Tampon Run Mobile Game Screenshots

Teen coder Sophie Houser introduced her mobile game, Tampon Run, at BIF, showcasing the introduction that aims to break the taboo of talking about menstruation.

If any BIF talk embodied this idea of encouraging today’s students to think disruptively, it was that of Sophie Houser, a student herself, and one of two teenage coders behind the eight-bit, side-scrolling web and mobile game Tampon Run, which was created to combat the taboo of talking about menstruation. Houser and fellow developer Andrea Gonzalez met at Girls Who Code, an organization that aims to help close the gender gap in tech by teaching girls how to code.

Houser and Gonzalez are certainly innovators. Just take a look at their introduction to the game (which gamers see before getting started):

“Most women menstruate for a large portion of their lives. It is, by all means, normal. Yet most people, women and men alike, feel uncomfortable talking about anything having to do with menstruation. The taboo that surrounds it teaches women that a normal and natural bodily function is embarrassing and crude.

“Tampon Run is a way of discussing the taboo in an accessible way. Instead of holding a gun, the runner holds tampons, and instead of shooting enemies, the runner throws tampons at them.

“Although the concept of the video game may be strange, it’s stranger that our society has accepted and normalized guns and violence through video games, yet we still find tampons and menstruation unspeakable. Hopefully one day menstruation will be as normal, in not more so, than guns and violence have become in our society; Normal enough to place in a video game without a second thought.”

Articulate and analytical, these first few screens that gamers see (screenshots above) address a very real problem: That women are shamed and ostracized for having a period, a natural body function. In fact, during her BIF talk, Houser spoke to a number of stats about women around the world and how the stigma behind menstruation holds them back from attending school or interacting with others during their period. She shared stories of students in her own school being traumatized from white-jean-leaks and that first-period-menstruation-product-purchase.

Houser recalls that she even felt embarrassed suggesting a tampon game for the duo’s Girls Who Code project. The program’s all-girls environment, though, provided a bit of support for her to finally speak up. When the two approached their instructor, the idea needed to be vetted through the “higher ups” just to make sure it was an acceptable topic. Though it was deemed controversial early on, the organization encouraged the girls to continue forward.

At this point in Houser’s story, I let out a big sigh — I was so happy the students were encouraged to create, rather than reprimanded for their concept. Speaking of encouraging versus reprimanding, another story was abuzz at BIF: The recent incident where 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed built a clock to impress his teacher and was instead arrested, because the teacher confused it for a bomb. Inventiveness deserves encouragement, not arrest. I was pleased when leaders, such as Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, stood up to invite the young inventor to the White House and Facebook headquarters. I am proud, too, that my alma mater, MIT, which Mohamed identifies as his top school of choice, invited him for a visit, as well.

Religious, ethnic, gender, and other types of profiling should not be commonplace in society. What message are we sending to young girl in this nation? To young Muslims in America?

The Next Generation Of Innovation Junkies

The message we’re sending to our youth should be that everybody is capable of contributing to their society, of learning something incredible, of being inventive, of innovating.

BIF storytelling Jaime Casap, who serves as chief education evangelist at Google, shared during his talk that he believes all people are problem-solvers. When people challenge him on that notion, he points to his one-year-old as an example, saying that she problem-solves all day. Giving a prime example, he added that she recently solved the problem of: “How can I get the contents of this Sharpie onto that wall?”

Random Collisions with Unusual Suspects at BIF
BIF2015 attendees take part in the tradition of having “random collisions with unusual suspects,” or #RCUS, during break times.
As adults, we’re given the freedom to travel to distant lands to attend conferences about innovation and changing the world — Providence, Rhode Island and BIF, you were great this week! But as children, we’re relegated to sitting in a classroom and listening to an adult tell us what we need to know.

What if we challenged students to be the adults we all aspire to be? To take on titles like “innovation junky” and make a hobby out of seeking out information about and stories of how people are improving the world? To insert themselves into new situations with new people and then attempt to make sense of it all?

I’m just thinking out loud here, but I have a feeling that if students knew how much fun we’re having as professionals, as “innovation junkies,” they’d wanna get to the innovation much sooner than we’re currently enabling! Just a thought to chew on… What do you think?

Thank you BIF2015 for the adventure!

Header image and last image courtesy of Stephanie Alvarez Ewens of BIF

What Happens When Educators Convene To Reimagine Entrepreneurial Studies

What Happens When Educators Convene To Reimagine Entrepreneurial Studies

Chad Williamson Erica Swallow at Babson
Noble Impacters Chad Williamson and Erica Swallow attended the Hawken Educators Workshop at Babson College this week.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about teachers, it’s that the most passionate educators are some of the most entrepreneurial people I’ve ever met. Whether they’re trying to acquire school supplies for their classrooms or seeking out community partners for student projects, good teachers are willing to go to bat for the betterment of their students.

That sentiment was evident this weekend at the Hawken School Educators Workshop for Entrepreneurial Studies, which was attended by 29 educators and administrators (including Noble Impact co-founder Chad Williamson and myself, Noble’s latest recruit as VP of Product) from 20 schools across America. The educators I met were fired up to teach their students life skills — such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills — that will serve them not just for the short-term, but also throughout their lives as engaged students, workers, and citizens.

Sticky Notes Exercises
The workshop featured many opportunities to get piled knee-high in sticky notes.

I saw educators like engineering teacher Tom Dubick of Charlotte Latin School in Charlotte, North Carolina advocating for rapid prototyping technologies in the classroom, so that students can learn by doing, iterating, and launching. And there was Talia Sukol, a middle school teacher from Cleveland with a background in fine arts looking to build an entrepreneurship program for middle schoolers, to kickstart creativity at a younger age. I was blown away by teachers like Jesse Downs of Providence Day School — also in Charlotte, North Carolina (maybe there’s something in the water?!) — who facilitated a “Paperclip Project” with his students in which they traded up a paperclip to more valuable items in order to create long-lasting good in their communities. The projects and stories these educators were working on were impressive, inspiring, and downright impactful.

Teaching Versus Learning Doris Korda
Hawken School Director of Entrepreneurial Studies Doris Korda discusses the importance of self-directed student discovery.

The workshop featured opportunities to build, discuss, and question and was organized by Doris Korda and Tim Desmond — director and assistant director of entrepreneurial studies, respectively, at Hawken School, a primary and secondary school in Cleveland, Ohio that’s been making headlines (here’s a piece in the Wall Street Journal) for its inventive methods and content.

Wallet Exercise
Educators were challenged to develop empathic thinking with the “Wallet Exercise.”

The workshop kicked off with a lecture by Korda, followed by the “Wallet Project,” an exercise developed at the Stanford d.school that employs design thinking to design the “perfect wallet” for a given user. They were also challenged to tell the story of a company using the Business Model Canvas, invented by strategist, writer, and speaker Alex Osterwalder. Not to mention, attendees are asked to take Steve Blank’s Lean LaunchPad online course prior to day one of the workshop, which is billed as 24 hours of engagement on average.

The educators I met are dedicated to launching and sustaining programs that make a difference in their students’ academics, to say the least. They, too, are collaborative individuals, looking to soak in best practices and work with people from all walks. In fact, there was no greater collaboration over the weekend than between the educators and students, a handful of which traveled from Hawken School to facilitate various exercises with the attendees.

Business Model Canvas by Jeanine Esposito
Innovation Builders President and CEO Jeanine Esposito presents a Business Model Canvas project.

My favorite event was the “Fever Pitch,” in which attendees were tasked with pitching wild startup ideas, such as an invisible couch, a silent vacuum cleaner, and scented sunscreen. Presented and run by students, the event showcased just how skilled the students were at communicating and leading, and it also gave educators the chance to practice the lessons they may soon be teaching.

The gathering — held at leading entrepreneurial university Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts — was one of two Hawken School workshops to occur this summer; the other is to take place next week in California.

If the second is anything like the first, massive opportunities for collaboration and continued engagement will arise. All I can say is I’m excited about what our team and those of our colleagues do from here!

Are you a teacher of entrepreneurial studies? If so, what’s your best advice for educators launching entrepreneurship programs at their schools? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Noble Impact Joins Education Pioneers To Redefine The Future Of Education

Noble Impact Joins Education Pioneers To Redefine The Future Of Education

We are very excited to announce that this week marks the kickoff of our partnership with education non-profit Education Pioneers, which aims to unleash the potential of leaders and managers within the education sector so they can transform education for students and communities. We are ecstatic that our newest teammate, VP of Product Erica Swallow, was chosen as one of 540 Fellows selected from 6,500 top graduate students and emerging leaders for the 2014-2015 Education Pioneers leadership development program.

Education Pioneers (EP) focuses on placing high impact leaders, such as Erica, in partner school districts, charter school organizations, education agencies, non-profits, and other types of organizations to make a positive impact on the education system. The organization has the audacious goal of placing 10,000 diverse, effective leaders within the education section by 2023 — since its founding in 2003, it has already built a powerful national network of more than 2,500 leaders and 200 education organizations in more than 20 cities across the country.

Education Pioneers TN Cohort
The Tennessee Education Pioneers Fellows gathered for its inaugural workshop on June 18-19 in Nashville. Our fellow and VP of Product, Erica Swallow, is pictured in the front row, seated third from the right.

Some of EP’s locations include our neighbors Austin, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans, and more distant cousins New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco also make the list.

This summer, Erica’s 10-week fellowship is focused on relaunching Noble Impact’s website and blog — so stay tuned for our facelift! Alongside her work at Noble, she’ll take part in professional development and learning opportunities with the Tennessee cohort, a lively and diverse group of leaders placed in organizations — such as the Tennessee Department of Education, the Memphis Is Music Initiative, Rocketship Education, Achievement School District, and Teacher Town, among others — in Memphis and Nashville.

In order to make the most of her cohort experience, Erica will travel to three key workshops in Memphis and Nashville over the summer, and she aims to kick it up a notch by organizing an “Education Pioneers Unplugged” event in Little Rock — home of Noble Impact and much innovation in the education sector — where fellows from Tennessee will be invited to learn about the Little Rock community and its educational efforts and history.

Education Pioneers Bridges and Barriers Exercise
The Tennessee Education Pioneers Fellows explored the opportunity gap persistent in America, illustrated, among other ways during the workshop, by the “Bridges & Barriers” that affected their own K-12 experiences.

The initial Tennessee cohort workshop took place during June 18-19 at the Urban League of Middle Tennessee in Nashville and included foundational discussions on the history of education and in-depth sessions on the opportunity gap in America.

Through keynote lectures with Valor Collegiate Academies founder and CEO Todd Dickson and Chief District Support Officer for the Tennessee Department of Education Ken Green; solutions-driven discussions of race relations in education, district mergers, and school structure options, among other topics; an alumni fellows panel; multiple collaborative brainstorming sessions; and unstructured time, Erica says she and her cohort left the workshop with much stronger ideas and opinions on how to positively impact the education sector.

Education Pioneers Keynote Todd Dickson
During the Education Pioneers keynote with Valor Collegiate Academies founder and CEO Todd Dickson, fellows engaged in a passionate and collaborative discussion about the urgency of education work.

“I’m overwhelmed and impressed by the breadth of experience within my cohort. We come from law, education, social work, business, and a range of sectors that enable us to provide new and innovative lenses to challenges and opportunities in education,” Erica explains. “My colleagues and I are serving in high-need, high-impact positions where our skills are traditionally rare in education. For me, it’s an opportunity to get back to my home state and change education for the better, for Arkansas’s students. After seeing the work Noble is doing and how it’s having an immediate impact on students, I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.”

Erica has spent the past decade in New York and Boston studying at New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as working as a technology journalism and digital marketer with organizations such as The New York Times, Mashable, Saatchi & Saatchi, and TechStars. Having grown up in Paragould, Arkansas, though, she is ecstatic to be back in Arkansas working in education, which she credits with changing her life. A first-generation college student, Erica believes that education is the key to greater opportunity, and she is adamant that every child deserves an engaging and challenging education.

Stay tuned as Erica’s Education Pioneers Fellowship comes to fruition, and let us know if you have questions about it in the comments below!