The Opening Act

This past week I’ve asked the students in inNOVAtion Lab to reflect on their journey so far (1st Marking Period).   And because this is a course wherein we, the students and I, are writing the story together, I, too, have to write about this first marking period.  In doing so, I’m bound to come clean.  There are some hidden secrets, some ideas I never tried, some thoughts I had that I kept to myself, and some small revelations–some little earthquakes that I’m just now feeling.  And because the first value on our list of class values is “honesty,” I have to state them, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Hang on….


Photo on 8-23-19 at 12.15 PM
Our first value…”Honesty.”

NOVA Lab is premised upon the belief that all students should, at some point in their high school careers, have the chance to engage in self-determined learning.  They should be able to define projects that are purposeful (that is, which are “driven by an intention to accomplish something that is at once significant to the self and meaningful to a larger community.”  See the work of Prof. Bill Damon), and pursue those projects to impactful ends.

And while the premise is solid, the background/preparatory work has been somewhat slow but prosperous, we’ve nonetheless hit upon some fundamental opportunities for growth that have the students engaged and ready to spring on their projects.

Our first opportunity was our trip to the B.Phl Innovation festival.  The opportunity for students to see how design thinking and creative, innovative mindsets have immense value for corporations large and small was eye-opening.  But even more important was the way the students were treated.  As the only students in attendance at our venue (the Independence Blue Cross Center), we could have been tolerated or shuttled aside.  Instead, we were included in all the events of the day, and worked as equals with the adults in attendance.  Nothing is more validating than being treated as an equal, as someone whose ideas are important.  IMG_1466

Through these past 9 weeks we’ve also had the opportunity to use visit with a group of teachers from across the United States–The Modern Learners–to listen to a local designer talk to us about the importance of branding and telling our story in compelling ways, and to listen to a 20-year-old Jerremy Miller talk about how finding a purpose in serving others helped him go from a lost, suicidal young adult to a powerful self-driven, serial entrepreneur.

Along the way we’ve also started our own journey to discover a purpose through our work with Project Wayfinder (@projectwayfinder).  I’ll be writing more about Wayfinder in my next post.


We’ve ended the marking period as I had wanted to: We’ve begun our self-determined, purpose-driven projects.  Some students are developing a music festival for local talent, some are working on a voter registration drive for older high-school students, and some are pursuing the development of a youtube channel extolling the benefits of dropping getting outdoors more.  I’m excited to see what these students will produce given the vast amount of time they will have.  Following the model of Don Wettrick’s Innovation and Open-Source Learning classes in Noblesville, IN, we’ll be cycling through all the students’ projects every two weeks, checking on progress and holding each other accountable for the work and goals they set in the previous cycle.  Stay tuned for the great things that are sure to ensue from this work.


In the upcoming weeks we’ll be visiting Fluxspace in Norristown, PA to engage in a design thinking workshop and explore what spaces designed for the fluid, creative work necessitated by our projects feel like, and just how the intentional design of space can help everyone be more productive and creative.  We’ll also be visited by the father of a student who will help us learn better project and time management skills.  Also on our plate–more Wayfinder experiences, a virtual visit with a former English major (a man after my own heart), Ken Gordon (@quickmuse) who works for a major Boston design firm (continuum), a work session on sustainability with the Nierenberg Chair of Design at Carnegie-Mellon University, Dr. Peter Scupelli, and much more.

I entered this year wondering if I even knew enough to reboot this class in a year-long version.   There’s still much I have to learn, but the excitement that enters this room twice every day…this is what teachers live for.  I’m privileged to be part of the ideas and energy these students have.

Published by Garreth Heidt

Designerly Minded High School Humanities and Liberal Studies Teacher Faculty Mentor FIRST Robotics Team #7414--PV Retrobotics. Constantly learning, trying to be more a maker and less a consumer of culture. I believe in the infinite value of a liberal education and the power of design thinking to help make the world a better place.

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