NOVA Lab Day 3–The students take over

The following posts were written by students in Mr. Heidt’s 3rd and 9th period Nova Lab courses.  Take a look at what we’ve been doing.

Period 3:

Today’s innovative learning was based around a book called A Whole New Mind written by Daniel Pink. The book talks about how our brains have a left side and a right side, each specializing in certain tasks. We read a small excerpt from the book and wrote in the text if we had any questions or comments about the writing. In a very short summary, our left side is analytical and methodical based, while our right side is more creative and artistic. Our world is shifting from one that craves left-sided workers to one soon dominated by right-minded innovators. After reading, we did a 5-minute “first thoughts” freewriting (nod to Bard College’s “Institute for Writing and Thinking) where we wrote about our initial thoughts, questions, rebuttals, etc about the read. 

The start of any business is hatched from an idea; from a plan. Just like a business starts, our innovative class has to start from a mindset. Having a clear and strong mindset is arguably the most important part of becoming an entrepreneur, as without a mindset it’s nearly impossible to stay focused. Reading this passage and writing about it helped to get us in the mindset for thinking like innovators. 

While it’s a great start to read and write about having a strong mindset, it does absolutely nothing for us unless we get up and act on it. In order to make a change, we have to go and make it happen. Accumulating knowledge and information in crucial to success, but now the task is to go out and make something happen. In the upcoming weeks, our class will be focused around redesigning our innovation space. We must use the knowledge from the book, and combine it with the mindset to make a difference so that we can learn, grow and create a positive change in our school.
–Garrett R.

Period 9

On Wednesday afternoon, the Modern Learners, Mr. Heidt and his design colleagues, and NOVA Lab students met over video call to discuss the class, its content, and its place within the wider education system. The Modern Learners directed most of the questions, a list which included:

  1. Why did students choose the class?
  2. How will students collaborate?
  3. How will students document their process?
  4. How does the class affect your mindest about school?
  5. What changes to the class made it attractive?
  6. Did any students have project ideas yet?
  7. How will the projects connect to one another and the wider world?
  8. What was the conversation with your parents about the class?

Numerous students gave answers as they wished, with the hope of informing Modern Learners  about the class and how it might fit into their broader mission to keep schools relevant.

The answers given by the students may provide some insight as to how to keep school relevant using design curriculum and/or classes. For example, in answering how this changes our mindset about school, one student answered that the learning shifted from being solely intellectual to pragmatic. Adults don’t sit in lectures all day; they take what they’ve learned and apply it to real situations, and NOVA lab has been billed as a class which bridges that gap that other classes can’t seem to fill. With this hint of design as an effective means of keeping school relevant, the next question that arises is how to pitch these classes to institutions and people unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the topic. What came through loud and clear here is that authentic interest by the teacher can inspire students to evangelize to their friends, creating grassroots movements that put the class on the schedule.

What to do next varies based on which group you fall into. For the students, the next steps will be to keep track of their progress throughout the year to see how their experiences or ideas change. If the class was supposed to get out into the real world and we can’t, then something needs to change (and quickly). They need to make sure the class lives up to the expectations they’ve set. For the Modern Learners and friends, the next step is to monitor and advise the class externally. If the aforementioned problems do arise, they need to offer their assistance to right the class’ track and ensure the experiment at least reaches its intended conclusion. Once we have more class to analyze, they can then look more closely at our answers to the questions and see whether this is an effective way to keep schools relevant.
–Matt T.

NOVA Lab–Second Day Reflection

One of the things we’ve discovered is that there are many ways to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.  Today was a great example.

After we touched back on the contributions we made yesterday about the story of why we took this class, Mr. Heidt introduced us to the poem below.

Mary Oliver--The Summer Day

While it might seem a poem is a strange intro to the entrepreneurial/innovator’s mindset, Mr. Heidt made it fit by connecting it with our class tagline:  “A space for innovation aspiration, respiration, creation.  He led us through a series of 4 freewritings about the poem wherein each one connected to either innovation, aspiration, respiration, or creation.  The questions themselves were as follows:

  • What inspires you in this poem? 
  • How does it ask you to aspire? (Does it create aspirations in you?)
  • Does it create space to breathe? (yes, no…why/how?) 
  • What will you create of yourself?

After we wrote for two minutes on each question, we had to approach our group “posters” and choose one line from out freewriting that we felt rang true for us.  Then, as groups, we wrote them on the backs of your posters.

These insightful nuggest of thought were chosen (1/student) as a way of gaining insight to the human mind or co other iterations thereof.

NOVA Lab–First Day…First Iteration

Today, August 26th , marked the kick off of what we in this class are designing as a a year of deeper learning and immense good through human-centered design and social entrepreneurship.  Our new, year-long class, inNOVAtion Lab, actually a reboot of a semester-long class that ran in 2016–17 called Design Lab, is modeled on the work of Don Wettrick and his “Innovation and Open-Source Learning” class at Noblesville HS, Indiana.

We started our day by listening to our teacher, Mr Heidt, talk about the inception of the class and how it came to be.  But he also spent a good deal of time talking about story as a concept for structuring what we’ll be doing in this class.  He also talked a bit about community and how important it would be to create a strong classroom community, especially since the class will be, eventually, run largely by us.  A tight-knit community will be necessary if we’re going to offer honest critiques and feedback of each other’s work.

But for most of the class, we thought about, shared, and presented our responses to the question, “Why did you take this class.”  Below is a gallery of our responses.  After working through some simple affinity mapping, it became clear that most of the groups’ ideas centered on “Personal fulfilment,” “the people and concept of the class,” and “the environment” which clearly challenged the way things are/have been in most of our classes.

We set our sights on learning about and developing an entrepreneurial/innovator’s mindset for the days to come and left class “think[ing] things we [maybe] never thunk before.”


Testimonial #2


Another letter, though from the same author as testimonial #1, about the impact of the type of learning students experience(d) in Design Lab/NOVA Lab.

Dear Mr. Heidt,
I hope you’re doing well! And that you remember me! I had an opportunity a couple weeks ago that reminded me of your class…so much so to the point that I texted Z__, and I haven’t talked to him in almost a year.
To backtrack a little bit, I am about to go into my third year at Syracuse (I just came across the email I sent you in my first year at school and it’s terrifying how fast time flies). And I am currently in Michigan doing an REU (it’s a National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate research program) which is at the University of Michigan. While I was here, I got to visit Greenfield Village which has the Henry Ford Museum (I’m staying at UM-Dearborn because my research is in Detroit on low-altitude wind turbines but I’ll get into that later) and we saw a FULLY OPERATIONAL DYMAXION HOUSE. To be completely honest I wasn’t even sure if it was Buckminster Fuller’s design because they didn’t really talk about him until the actual tour but I kept thinking about it, and when they started talking about Buckminster Fuller I got so weirdly excited, strange looks from people and all. It was crazy how everything tied back years later. And also how Bucky’s design was so functional (especially environmentally speaking) yet so impersonal. It’s nuts to me what people value, not that we can help it. But the story of the house just made human decision-making seem so arbitrary to me.
I’m sorry for the awkward transition but I need to move on before I go off on a tangent. Another thing that reminded me of your class here was the research I’m doing. It’s kind of awful. The actual research is super cool, I’m studying chemical engineering but I’m working in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering here. We’re trying to compile data of the power outputs of a low-altitude wind turbine designed by a Detroit local and see whether the power that they produce would be a feasible solution to helping communities with low energy access have more of a leg up, especially with how important internet access is in this time. The benefits are that you don’t need a giant wind farm to get energy from these (hence “low-altitude”) so they can be installed anywhere, they’re green, and they’re all made from upcycled materials. It’s super cool. But there’s a bunch of problems with the current collection systems. And everything I have suggested has been vetted 1000 times before implementation. It’s so frustrating, but it definitely made me think of Design Lab. Especially because we have the same factor going against us the most. Time. I only have ten weeks here, and I understand why they want us to have the best iteration of our ideas but it feels like I’m not getting anything done.
Institutions also suck. I know they’re funding and paying me but having to go through 7 different people/organizations to get the go-ahead to buy a fifty dollar part is really tedious. It was getting super frustrating a couple weeks ago when I came across a picture from Design Lab. It was of the chalkboard & believe it or not I had written it. But it was of “successes” and “opportunities” that we had. It definitely put me in a more positive mood and look at my setbacks from a different point of view. And this week we finally got some usable data and I finally got MATLAB to work with me & we actually have a power curve. So we’re making progress! Even if I’m only here for 3 more weeks!
I wanted to thank you for making Design Lab & Gifted Honors English the only classes that an engineering student was able to apply to life after high school. I really didn’t realize how much of what we learned wasn’t necessarily about just writing/grammar (although some of it was) but more about challenges we were going to deal with in the lab and in school and in life and how to channel those frustrations and roadblocks into something positive and productive.

Ideas for Projects

I’ll post ideas here whenever I find them.  Everything is open for inquiry, iteration, and implementation.

Keep in mind:

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals


NASA is looking for ways to clean up space junk.

The U.S. government tracks tens of thousands of pieces of space junk, including derelict satellites and large pieces of orbital debris. But smaller pieces can be lethal to astronauts and inflict major damage to satellites, too. (NASA)

Philly Parking Day

Designing for social impact…and fun.





Can We Stop Food Waste?

Why are things the way they are?  How can we make them better?’

I found this article on one of my news feeds.  Opportunities are everywhere.

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?

Now is the time.  Here is the place.  We are the one.

Global Strike for Climate Change

Greta Thunberg burst on to the world stage when she stood up for the world.  A lone girl, a big world.


She wondered why things are the way they are.

She’s still wondering.

But she’s trying to make it better.  (Congress?  Not so much.)

So can you.

Plastic Recycling…Not!


Turns out plastic isn’t really getting recycled.  So now what?

A Teenager, Some Fish and a Business


Check out this video about a young man in Indiana who got interested in aquaponics and think about how easy and how difficult it can be to start your own business/pursue your own ideas.  Persistence, learning from failure, and passion pay off.

You may have to register for LinkedIn, but I suggest you do so just because it’s a great place to network with people and be treated like a professional.
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