NOVA Lab Day 5: In the Dark Finding the Light

By the end of today’s classes, both sections should be in relatively the same place.  Period 3 had read the selections from Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind for Thursday, and Period 9 read them for today.  Both classes also worked at putting up (on padlets) their metaphors of how they saw the issue of a split community in the class.

In reading over the students’ responses, and in thinking, again, of where many of them are.  Many are still moving around in a dimly lit place.  This is my purpose.  To move students from darkness to light.  It’s hardly a new idea, but it is one that many educators avoid…because it can be messy.  Not all students take to this, but the method is researched.  In fact, it’s based almost entirely on Kolb’s cycle of Experiential (reflective) Learning/Practice.  As Queens University explains it:

Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.

Who I am as a teacher is encapsulated in a singular statement of philosophy I was lucky enough to craft in 1997, barely 4 years into my career:  “When we trust our students, empower them to take charge of their learning, and offer the necessary guidance, they will astound us.”  Knowing how much guidance and when to offer it is key to the art of teaching, and I don’t always offer it at the right time for everyone.  I don’t connect with all students.  It’s something I’m working on…still… after 27 years.  As my friend Monte Syrie (  on twitter at @montesyrie) likes to say:  Do Reflect Do Better.  It’s become a mantra for me, too.

(Students’ views of the day below)

Period 3: 

What happened?

  • After the class commenced and all the students were settled into their typical circulatory seating arrangement, Mr. Heidt began to discuss the issues surrounding the two different demographics of students in the class: those who are familiar with Sir Garreth and those who are not. Although this barrier isn’t detrimental to the class itself, it is still a matter worth addressing. We were then divided into our assigned groups to come up with an analogy for this situation. Shortly after, each group shared their analogy, which brought us back to our own groups to discuss how we can improve these analogies and, more importantly, what we can do to improve the class itself.

So what?

  • The idea of comparing students who have had Mr. Heidt with those who haven’t has always been a popular trend throughout the school. But I never envisioned this concept being something that we actually took the time to discuss. Nevertheless, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the school year. By breaking this minor barrier, each of us will be able to strengthen our empathy (which is a significant aspect of the design process (which is what this class is all about (which is why I took this class (which is important because I want to look for new and creative ways to contribute to the unity of the class)))).

Next What?

  • The goal of this colloquium (I feel obligated to use big words in this environment) is to find common ground and a sense of unity between all students in the classroom in spite of their various histories and familiarities. While I do see this as very possible to achieve, and I do understand that this is the first time this class is up and running, I would not necessarily consider this to be the most important matter to discuss. It’s difficult to try and improve a class you haven’t taken, and it seems as though we’re spending a lot of time on problems that we haven’t even faced yet (or know that we will face). That being said, looking forward throughout the year, if we put our minds toward every issue the same way we’re putting our minds toward this one, then perhaps Mr. Heidt was being accurate when he said that we could become unstoppable.

by Jason S.

Period 9:

Why hello there folks. This next blog post was written by the one and only Gabi, who if you couldn’t tell by now, blogs in a very informal and unconventional way. SoSimu Liu Reaction GIF by Kim's Convenience grab a snack, a cozy blanket, and enjoy, because we’re about to embark on the blog post answering the following questions about Nova Lab today. What happened today? What does it mean? And What does that mean for us in the future? 

What happened today: We did a lot of things today, and only a very small amount of those things were shenanigans, because come on, it wouldn’t be us without some shenanigans. First and foremost, we discussed our reflections on the “Whole New Mind” excerpt that Mr. Heidt had us read over the weekend. (brain neuroscience GIF by University of CaliforniaWhich for me, was both confusing and enlightening, which I feel could also be the name of this class.) From our discussions, we came to several revelations. For one, we claimed that the world today has a bias against L brain thinkers, as in recent years, R brained thinkers have become more relevant in today’s society. However, to this, I must point out that there should be a balance, because if we have too much creativity without any control or logic, then chaos would soon follow suit. Then we moved on to talking about our personal mantras, to which mine was simple, but also stolen from a musical.jeff goldblum 70s GIF That musical would have course be, Dear Evan Hansen, therefore leading the mantra I chose to inevitably be “today’s going to be a good day, because You’re You, and that’s enough”

What does it mean: This means that (hopefully) we will keep in mindis how left and right brain thinkers are separated and how we can wall crumbling GIF by South Park see that in our everyday life, and hopefully be more aware of those separations, and (maybe, just maybe) begin to tear them down. In terms of the mantras we selected, we chose them in an attempt to have a purpose for each day, a certain goal to strive for, if you will. The hope with that is our mantas will help to lead us for each day, and the day after, and the day after, and the day after, etc. 

For the future: The goal for this is for us to be more attentive about the way we are thinking, in terms of thinking with both our left and right brains, our middle brain if you will. Our mantras will hopefully push us forward in our day to day lives. kenan thompson snl GIF by Saturday Night LiveAlright, enough of my thoughts about the day, back to your regularly scheduled program of Sir Garreth Heidt

By Gabi W.


*Featured Image at the top from: Queens University, Kingston.

Early Divisions & Design for Community

On Wednesday, August 28, just the third day of school, I offered to connect one section of my inNOVAtion Lab courses with an online community called “Modern Learners.”  (More information about them is found here.)  I’ve been a member of the community since its inception, and if you are an educator, you ought to check out the work the community engages in around changing school.

I’d opened the class to this opportunity because I framed the beginning of this new class as a story.  These students, 55 in total, over two sections, are pioneers/explorers, setting out to write the story of a different way to learn in our school.  The Modern Learners had set their August theme as “Story” and I saw an immediate connection.  So away we went.

Part of NOVA Lab watching our chat with Modern Learners

While we had some technical difficulties, the chat lasted the better part of 40 minutes, and I was astounded at the initiative the students took to engage with the teachers, former teachers, administrators, etc on the other end.

But I was also troubled because something became clear to me…something that I’d realized on our second day but upon which I did not act.  The story of my realization and how I’ve offered this to the class as a problem through which we might not only make a tighter community but also learn a great deal about design thinking as a mindset that I want to make native to the class…that story is found below.

( I’ll post link to the hour-long video of the session if I can.)

“Dear Modern Learners:

My students and I wanted to thank you for engaging with us in the chat on Wednesday.  I sat down last night to watch the rest of it.  As much as I appreciate your recognition that my own presence in the class was a huge draw, that’s a double-edged sword, so I’d like to provide some background on it.  I wrote the following to Linda yesterday and thought I’d share it with you all.

“I had a feeling there would be talk about the fact that so many of the students had (already) such a strong relationship with me. The thing is that almost 1/3 of the students in that class, and all of the students who spoke, with the exception of Nadjia, had had me before in my gifted English classes. So there is already a year of understanding.

I thought about that all the way home yesterday because while it is nice to be admired, I’d rather not be seen as a sort of cult-leader (and students did create a “Cult of sir Garreth” several years ago, and I also have my own student-created Pokemon card).  Even admiration drives a wedge in the community between those who had me and know me, and those who don’t. I had to address that immediately.

So I used the design thinking mindset and tried to build empathy for those who had never had me and I thought about what it must feel like to be in the class but outside at the same time. I reached out to Doris (my design educator friend who was on the chat and with whom I’ve worked on design challenges through design thinking for almost a decade) and quickly created a lesson that we started today (Thursday), in both sections of Nova Lab, to “clear the air” and lead students into an actual design project (their first) to address the prompt, “How might we create a tighter community in Nova Lab?” I learned quite a bit listening to the students working together today. They were in groups where some students knew me and others didn’t. They had to develop empathy for each other’s stances and then create analogies or metaphors for their understanding of the problem. That “redefinition through metaphor” is important because it forces them to create statements that condense long explanations into a single image. In doing so they are further defining their own thoughts, defining the problem further (so important…designers spend a ton of time trying to make sure they are asking the right question) and learning how to use language to get others to “see what [they] mean.”

We have more work to do on this problem.  Students still have to ideate, prototype, test, and reiterate their solutions…but it’s clear to me that they are absolutely involved in this challenge.  1) because it applies directly to them.  2) because in choosing this class many of them expressed the desire to be part of something different and new. (this from their discussion on Monday in response to “Why did you take this class?”)  Because of number 2, many of them are already vested in helping to create a “legacy” through this class.

But the crucial  part here, and what separates design thinking from traditional means of problem-solving, and what links it to the particular mindset I carry from my work as a writer, is the necessity of “lingering at the point of wonder.” That is, Designers realize that contemplating the problem, really empathizing with users…this is key to making sure you’re solving the right problem.

Importantly, I had to counsel students to avoid coming up with solutions.  You wouldn’t be surprised to learn that when I issued the challenge, the first thing most of the students did is to start thinking of a solution.  (Always looking for the right answer.  Isn’t that what school is about…what being a “really intelligent” person is about?)  So I had to pull them back, to linger at the points of empathy and problem definition so that they could look for many possible solutions, not just “the right one.”

Getting them to slow down and discuss the challenge and learn about each other…amazing discussions ensued!  Including the fact that several groups decided I was wrong…there aren’t just two groups in the class, there are actually three or more.

Anyway, I’ll keep you updated as to how the class works through this challenge.  I’ll be blogging about it on my own blog, and students, each day, one from each class, will post on

Nova Lab Day 4–The Challenge and Promise of Community

(For most of the rest of the year, students in NOVA Lab will be blogging their reflections on the day’s events.  Here is the next chapter in our story)

Period 3–

Today in class, we gathered in small groups and discussed our first thoughts on A Whole New Mind. We talked about how the reading was important not only for the class but for all students our age. The conceptual age that Pink, the author, talks about is the future us students will live in, so it is important to understand what is coming.

After this, we began to investigate a problem in the classroom. There is a clear divide between those students who have had Mr. Heidt and those who haven’t. The students who haven’t had Mr. Heidt before seem to be less comfortable in the class because they are not as familiar with how Mr. Heidt teaches. In our groups, we started the design process to find solutions to the problem. We are currently in the “Define” part of the process, where we are getting a better understanding of the problem. In the next class, and in the coming week, we will be coming up with potential solutions to the problem and exploring the design process. It is important that we resolve this issue, as it will strengthen the community we are building and allow the students to collaborate more effectively in the future.
Brandon S.

Period 9–

The class began with everyone gathered in the usual circle of desks. Mr. Heidt began by reflecting on his recent concerns with Nova Lab.  He discussed the clear divide between the students he had taught in previous years versus those he had not. The latter group, not having the same experience, caused an unequal foundation.  To solve this issue, he introduced the class as a whole to design thinking. This tool will then be used to flesh out and test ideas throughout the course.

After being introduced to design thinking, Mr. Heidt separated the large classroom into several small groups. Our objective was to utilize design thinking for coming up with solutions for the classroom dynamic. The separate groups used the first two aspects of design thinking, empathy and define, to analyze the gaps caused by a lack of prerequisite coursework with Mr. Heidt. The rest of the design thinking process will be expanded upon in future classes.
Andrew V.

Books, Articles, and Other Resources for Student Entrepreneurs and Innovators


Start it Up–The Complete Teen Business Guide to Turning Your Passions Into Pay.
by  Kenrya Rankin Naasel


How to Be a Better Presenter: IDEO Univ. Webinar with Prof. Storyteller and User Interface Designer (includes link to webinar)

Videos and On-line Presence

Project and Time Management

Project Idea–Food Waste

I found this article today on one of my news feeds.  Opportunities are everywhere.  Read about it!

Now is the time, here is the place, we are the one.

If we look at this seriously, research and define a problem scaled, perhaps, to the realities of what a group of students can do…?  Who knows?  Why are things the way they are?  How can we make them better?

Also, check out the work Open.ideo has done so far on this topic.