Minnehaha Academy Blog

Preparing Students for Success Part 2: The Innovation Lab

Posted by Amy Barnard on Oct 23, 2018


How the Innovation Lab develops persistence, collaboration, and the ability to critically examine one's own work.

Recap: What's the Why?

If you've read our previous post in this series, The Jobs That Don't Exist, you already know that more than half of the jobs our students will step into don't even exist today.

How do we prepare our students for an environment we can hardly imagine? What skills will translate into roles and technology that we have no way to anticipate?

Research shows that so-called "soft" skills like persistence, flexible thinking, and collaboration already are and will continue to be foundational to student's future ability to achieve success—both personally and occupationally.

Let's look at one of the many ways Minnehaha Academy is working to help students develop these skills: The Innovation Lab

Developing An Innovator's Mindset

On any given day you might walk into the Innovation Lab and find Lower School students facing high-tech coding challenges or hands-on design projects like building a functioning, weight-bearing bridge with just a handful of materials.

Innovation Lab Specialists Angela Anderson and Jim Nelson have two primary goals for these students: to help them develop the perseverance to keep working until they achieve a breakthrough and to build foundations for the creative thinking that leads to social entrepreneurship and innovation. 2018 - Fall - Ms. Anderson in Innovation Lab SMALLER-1

"It is so fun to watch how students come together and collaborate to create...If you were to step into lab during our coding unit you would see student leaders who love to code walking around and helping their friends problem-solve through a challenging coding project." - Ms. Anderson

Principal Karen Balmer says that she hopes to see students look around at their world and see problems they can fix, from food insecurity to water access to health issues.

“These design challenges force students into this mentality of creating [and] collaborating, of failing, trying again, and [a] critical analysis of their own work,” says Principal Karen Balmer.

This means that when students turn in their work, instead of a grade they may receive feedback regarding areas they could improve, encouraging them to “keep at it” until they see greater success.

This call for persistence, coupled with the need for collaboration, more closely mirrors the types of challenges these students will face in life outside of school.

“In real life, you don’t just hand something in and walk away from it," Balmer says.

Grit: More Important than IQ

You might have heard of Angela Duckworth's landmark study that demonstrated how the character trait perseverance—also called grit—predicts with greater accuracy the likelihood of success than IQ scores.  

This is no small issue to consider. Historically the academic world has been built towards the concepts of learning more, faster, and then passing the test to prove you learned it. In real life, however, simply being an efficient consumer of knowledge does not mean you will create the next big innovation in regulating heart arrhythmias or work yourself into a position where you will influence public policy.

And so the Innovation Lab encourages students to create, and then go back and make adjustments, and then create some more.

Case Study: The Persistent Skier

During the Winter Olympics students faced a new type of design challenge: they needed to create a downhill skier that could successfully navigate a ski slope created in the lab. Using tinfoil, popsicle sticks, and some tape given to them by Ms. Anderson, one particular team of students spent extra time bending and manipulating the tinfoil, working to create a downhill skier that was not only balanced but also aerodynamic.

The students kept working and re-working their skier, making it faster each time. Each time they made an adjustment they had to stand back think critically about how that adjustment helped or hindered their project, and then decide which steps to take from there.

Ultimately, the group received the accolades of both their teacher and peers when at last their miniature Olympian zipped down the ski slope.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

We are finding that this type of mindset shift expands beyond the Innovation Lab and bleeds into the work students are doing in other classes, from math to music.

By pushing the limits of their abilities, students discover that they can achieve so much more than they expected. They also developed a deeper understanding of how to collaborate as a group to achieve success, instead of just allowing one "superstar" student to make everything happen.

While not the only skills needed for success, we see how the persistence, critical thinking, and collaborative skills developed in the Innovation Lab have the potential to prepare students for a new and changing world.

 Check in next week for our third installment in this series!


Topics: STEM, Lower School

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