For over a decade, we’ve partnered with educators from across the country to pilot our curriculum resources, professional development opportunities, and experiential learning programs centered around the concept of innovation. Through these close collaborations with expert practitioners and students, we’ve observed a universal ability to innovate—but we’ve also observed some challenges.
Research being conducted by Raj Chetty from Harvard’s Opportunity Insights project has highlighted these challenges and found that, “There are great differences in innovation rates based on income, race, and gender. Those differences don’t seem to be due to innate ability to innovate.” How can we even begin to combat this innovation opportunity gap?
One simple way is to expose learners to innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs—early and often. Therefore, The Henry Ford has adopted an Innovation Learning strategy, an interdisciplinary approach designed to accelerate an innovative mindset in all learners. The approach is powered by the perspective of our collections, which feature 26 million primary and secondary source artifacts that act as coaches and mentors by providing insight into 300 years of American innovation, ingenuity, and resourcefulness.
A scientist who helped poor rural Southern African American farmers nurture depleted soil with nutritious crops that could also be sold for profit – George Washington Carver.
A soft-spoken African American seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man, an event that many believe sparked the Civil Rights movement – Rosa Parks.
A husband and wife duo considered by many as two of the world’s most prolific problem solvers and among the most important American designers of the 20th century – Charles and Ray Eames.
The writer of the first dictionary of the American English language – Noah Webster.
The iconic, quintessential inventor with 1,093 patents to his name – Thomas Edison.
An American industrialist with an entrepreneurial spirit who failed twice to establish an automobile company only to succeed on the third try – Henry Ford.
We connect these stories to core disciplines like STEM, Social Studies, Art & Design, English Language Arts, and combine them with emerging disciplines like Invention and Entrepreneurship.
To make these interdisciplinary connections, we’ve developed a unique Innovation Learning Framework called Model i. Model i is a common language to talk across all disciplines. It is made up of two frames: (1) Habits of an Innovator and (2) Actions of Innovation, which can be used together to describe the innovation journeys within our collection, and activate learners of today through their own innovation journeys.
This results in all learners seeing themselves as innovators, ready to tackle current or future challenges to help shape a better future.
Here’s some of the feedback from our pilot educators:
“The result of implementing and promoting Model i’s Habits and Actions has been amazing. Students have learned how to research topics, how to challenge a system, how to design then re-design, and most importantly how to fail in a safe environment to take a risk.” –Hollie Gumm, 2020 The Henry Ford Teacher Innovator Award Winner
“The power of The Henry Ford’s Innovation Learning approach is that it transcends age, gender, socio-economic status, and academic level. I was able to present their curriculum to a group of fourth grade students comprised of many numbers. 100% free and reduced lunch, 75% English Language Leaners, 25% Special Education, and 10% homeless. With this being said, every single one of the students understood and connected with the content. They loved seeing real-world examples of how innovation has progressed over time. I think more often than not, these students had considered the idea of invention as something that is only done by ‘geniuses.' After working through the curriculum every one of my students began to see themselves as innovators, creators, and inspired individuals.” –Rachel Lamb, 2020 Colorado State Teacher of the Year Finalist
If you’re looking to connect with a community of innovative educators like Hollie and Rachel, filled with Innovation Learning resources, then you’re in luck. Launching in 2021, The Henry Ford’s inHub is a community built by educators for educators to empower learners to activate their innovative mindset to help build a better future. Visit inHub.thehenryford.org to learn more!
Phil Grumm is Senior Manager, Learning Services and On-site Programs, at The Henry Ford.