Monday, February 2, 2015

Kung Fu Panda, Indiana, and Innovation

Our blogger today is Don Wettrick, Innovation Coordinator and oversees the media center at Noblesville High School. Don is the author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level, our spring eLearning book club selection. Please visit the eLearning book club blog to get information about purchasing the book and get involved in the conversation.

I admit, I enjoy “children’s” animated movies more than modern “grown up” films.  One reason is that I just want to be happy - watching violence or scandalous love escapades leaves me feeling uneasy. However watching movies like Pixar’s “The Incredibles,” or  any of the “Toy Story” movies leaves me with a sense of perspective and happiness.  However “Kung Fu Panda” stands out when it comes to my two professional passions- teaching and innovation.

First let me start by saying that I love rooting for the underdog in sports, film, or just that student who succeeds despite the odds. Having been born in Indiana I often feel like the underdog, having to “sell” people outside the state that Hoosiers are innovative. Three years ago Indianapolis hosted the Super Bowl and it was a sense of pride for many Hoosiers. While many national media outlets reported how nice and accommodating the city of Indianapolis was, the locals knew that was just “Hoosier Hospitality.” It was satisfying for the residents of Indiana to hear reports that our “Super” city was great, but why were they so surprised?

This is the same feeling I get when I travel to present on innovation, and most importantly, innovation in education. When I present some of the innovative approaches to education the audience seems very receptive… until I say “Indiana.” Looks of surprise and skepticism fill the room. Indiana seems out of place when it comes to innovation and technology to some folks. They expect to hear from an expert from California or New York. However I want to make the case for Indiana, and see the parallel lessons in the movie "Kung Fu Panda."

Po, the lead character in movie, also seems out of place. He doesn’t fit the “description” of a Kung Fu master. He didn’t look like one, act like one, or move like one. However Master Oogway (a Yoda like archetype) believed in him and presented the metaphor of a garden to Master Shifu (think Obi Wan Kenobi) . While master Shifu was skeptical, (after all how could a fat panda become a nimble Kung Fu master?) he accepted the challenge, and prepared Po’s surroundings for success.

Sound familiar? Indiana cannot be “innovative” because of our geography, or because we don’t have the reputation, or the “big names.” Or do we? Just like Master Oogway I believe that innovative students can come out of fertile environments, and that given the right attention and resources, will defy the expectations of a student “only from Indiana.”

One of the reasons I wrote my book “Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level,” was to demonstrate what can happen when we give our students those resources and a forum to discover his/her passions.  The “Genius Hour,” or “20% Time” movement is taking shape, and I love it. However I am also nervous that the movement might go the way of the "buzz word." Right now everything is “innovative,” and I fear that teachers and students might find it clichĂ©.  But, if done correctly, the Genius Hour approach can harness the true power of student creativity put into action.  Done poorly the movement can be a glorified study hall, or a “dreamers cafĂ©” where nothing gets done.

My book is more of a guide to innovation and collaboration rather than a map to teaching Genius Hour. I make the case that being innovative should be more than just a weekly thirty minute chunk of time. Using student examples from my class, as well as elementary and middle school classrooms, I chose to put a spotlight on innovative practices through authentic student voice. Anyone in education can claim great things in his/her classroom, but seeing the student work is vital.  I’m such a fan of student voice,  I dedicated its own chapter to it, in that you’ll hear from five students from Indiana, Florida, and Texas on their innovative journey.

I am so honored to have my book selected for the Indiana E-Learning book study. Having fellow connected Hoosiers read this is a dream come true. I want more people to know NATIONALLY what we take for granted: Indiana is among the leaders in education reform and innovation.  I am hoping this book study will spark some discussions so that we can learn even more.

However, there is a cautionary tale I also take from “Kung Fu Panda”: There is nothing on the Dragon Scrolls.  While I “wrote a book on innovation,” I understand that innovation is always in flux. Thus a blueprint, or a map to innovation is much like the Dragon Scrolls for Po: YOU bring the meaning to the class and projects. 

I am often asked if I would share my lessons plans, or present worksheets for teachers that want to start a Genius Hour, but that is not the point of innovation. Each class, each student is different in his/her path to learning. Yes there are some “basics” to the fundamentals of imagination/creativity/innovation/ entrepreneurship, but what might work for my high school students might not work for your elementary students.  Going back to the movie, Po learns that there is nothing written in the Dragon Scrolls (note: the Dragon Scrolls were sacred texts rumored to have life’s secrets).  When he opened the scrolls, he saw no words of wisdom, no map to layout his path. Po only saw his reflection in the scrolls. Life’s secrets, he found, can only be discovered through your experience, not someone else’s. Borrowing ideas and perspectives, and a willingness to try (and fail) new concepts is at the hart of innovation. Thus, I will be eager in participating in these book discussions, and looking for great insights from you! I am always learning new aspects to teaching, especially in a class like mine. 

Lastly, if you would like to see what we do in our Innovation class, please subscribe to our YouTube channel, where we have weekly updates. I am humbled beyond words that you might read what has been an educational thrill ride for me. Please know that I'm also here to help as well. I am always willing to make time for any educator that wants to collaborate. I can easily be reached via email at: Thank you for your interest in innovation/ Genius Hour/ 20% Time- and for putting up with so many pop culture references.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Don for sharing your passion and thoughts on innovation and empowering students ! We are thrilled that Indiana educators will be inspired by your book during our Spring Book Club!