Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Teaching Innovation: A Reflection

September 2, 2014 Innovation Impact, Think THF

Premier event photography by KMS Photography


A few years ago, when The Henry Ford embarked on its "teaching innovation" initiative, we did not anticipate that it would rapidly evolve into so many different forms and lead us to so many new opportunities and unique partnerships. Innovation 101, our core curriculum for inspiring innovation, has proven to be a highly adaptive and dynamic teaching tool that continues to be applied in a wide variety of settings, engaging multiple audiences to think and act like innovators. In some instances, we are the direct drivers; in others, we are the catalysts nurturing innovative thinking among stakeholders. Here are some of the ways we are teaching innovation, learning in the process and innovating new applications. We consider our efforts a humble start and look forward to more exciting possibilities unfolding in the future.

Scaling up national impact in education through the Innovation Learning Accelerator (ILA): The Henry Ford’s Innovation Learning Accelerator, which is aimed at empowering 5,000 teachers to teach innovation to 125,000 students using Innovation 101 over the next five years, was launched in July 2014. We offered multiple six-hour training sessions over the summer where more than 65 teachers, including science teachers from Detroit Public Schools as well as the entire Henry Ford Academy Dearborn faculty, enthusiastically thought, paired and shared about innovation. Reflective dialogues and fun small- and large-group activities forged an introspective process among the teachers as they mulled proactive ways of changing their traditional teaching methodologies and establishing more engaging learning environments. The teachers left empowered to make a difference and equipped with a starter kit of inspirational posters, curricula and supplies. ILA’s goal is to develop a national "community of practice" among teacher-innovators. In the upcoming weeks and months, several other school districts and teachers across the region, state and nation will join The Henry Ford’s ILA initiative with the goal of developing the next generation of innovators.

Exploring new territories with digital health innovations: The Henry Ford has embarked on a collaborative project with the Davidson Center for Entrepreneurs in Digital Health, a Davidson Foundation-funded project of the Henry Ford Health System and the Henry Ford Innovation Institute (HFII). We have been contracted by HFII to help define and develop a game-changing STEM curriculum on digital health for middle and high school students and teachers. The ideation is being done by an advisory committee consisting of teacher representatives, THF and HFII staff as well as our partners from the College of Creative Studies. Digital health is emerging as a fertile field for cutting-edge innovations where medicine, technology, design and engineering come together. THF will facilitate the two-and-a-half-year project and lead development of this curriculum, offering teacher training and student workshops using our Innovation 101 and the new curriculum. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to foray into a new field that will allow us to learn about new aspects of innovation and develop innovative teaching tools.

Activating informal learning adventures with summer innovation camps: We have concluded the second year of offering innovation-specific Discovery Camps. This year, three camps served more than 50 campers in grades 6 and 9. Using the essence of the Innovation 101curriculum, case studies of innovators featured in Greenfield Village, special guest speakers, our own past camper and hands-on activities, we provided a unique and fun way for youth to learn about innovation. This year, the campers had special learning experiences seeing the capabilities of CAD software in 3-D modeling applications, as well as the art of prototyping with a 3-D printer.

Inspiring future engineers with innovative thinking: Engineering programs across the nation are seeing a dire need to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in their students. This summer, we welcomed students from several engineering schools, including Lawrence Technological University and the universities of New Haven, Gonzaga, Dayton, Southern Illinois, Evansville and Santa Clara. The schools are part of the KEEN network, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship activities. The students (most first-time visitors to THF) explored the museum, village and Ford Rouge Factory Tour with special "through the lens of innovation" itineraries. They also attended an adapted version of the Innovation 101 workshop. This is the third year that THF has offered the Creativity, Ingenuity and Innovation Camp in collaboration with Lawrence Tech.

Diving deeply into the life and times of legendary innovators: The Henry Ford held an award ceremony in June for winners of the 2014 Building Stories creative writing contest. The contest each year focuses on a legendary innovator and offers students in grades 3-12 a unique opportunity to research primary source materials as they develop their creative original story. This year’s theme was the Wright brothers. We received 373 entries from Michigan, Ohio, Vermont, Indiana and California. The grand prize winner’s story, written by Kaylee Collins from Beer Middle School in Warren, Michigan, was called “Just a Thought.” It took an interesting perspective as it told the story of the Wright brothers’ first flight in the voice of an "idea." Thanks to the Delta Air Lines sponsorship, we were able to fly in from California one of the other winners, homeschooled student James Grimm and his mother. The seven winners from elementary, middle and high school categories read their original stories aloud to the audience from the porch of the Wright Home, a perfect backdrop of authentic inspiration.

Dialoging with national stakeholders at the Invention and Innovation Summit: What’s happening with invention and innovation education around the country? The Lemelson Foundation initiated a national landscape study and summit to discuss the existing resources on invention and innovation education. This by-invitation gathering brought together key thought-leaders, funders like the National Science Foundation and university researchers and practitioners to assess existing programs and identify areas that need to be addressed. The proceedings featured Innovation 101as one of the three exemplary innovation education resources in the nation. We hope to continue our dialogue and forge new partnerships with some of the summit attendees.

Facilitating innovative thinking among Teacher Fellows: The 2014 Teacher Fellows program, now in its fifth year, represents our effort to bring out the innovator in teachers. Fellows spend over 90 hours with us, learning, collaborating, ideating and launching innovative education prototypes. This year’s cohort developed some game-changing prototypes, including: a new curriculum on social innovation and community service; fun game concepts and itineraries for younger audiences using African-American innovator stories from The Henry Ford’s collections; a new Web-based resource focusing on some of the iconic STEM resources in the museum; and an integration of the Racing and Physics DigiKit into an innovative learning management system. The 2014 fellows will graduate this fall.

Industrial Revolution, Then and Now: The Henry Ford concluded two 2014 teacher workshops this summer focused on the topic of America’s Industrial Revolution. With grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in collaboration with reputed scholars and our own curators and historians, we showed 80 teachers from 24 states (selected from a competitive pool of 191 applicants) how the country progressed from the 18th century to present times through various technological innovations. The summer scholars are now expected to generate new lesson plans focusing on innovations that changed the way we live, work, communicate and travel.

The path forward: The evolution of these new programs and their demonstrated success have clearly shown us the growing need and interest that exists on the topic of teaching and learning about innovation. The Henry Ford, with its relevant assets, will always remain uniquely positioned to inspire current and future generations, and we are deeply committed to this educational cause. The upcoming refresh of the Ford Rouge Factory Tour visitor experience and the concept development for the new Digital Life and Racing in America experience in the museum are providing wonderful opportunities to explicitly tell the stories of innovators and innovations past and present to inspire daily visitors. Tinker, Hack, Invent Saturdays in the museum also continue to engage and enlighten young minds in the simple pleasures of making and tinkering.

This fall, The Henry Ford’s two newest initiatives, the Innovation Nation TV show, which will air Saturday mornings starting Sept. 27 on the CBS Dream Team, and the national Teacher Innovator Awards, which celebrate the work, resourcefulness and ingenuity of our nation’s teachers, will offer fresh content and engaging platforms on innovation to lifelong learners across the globe. In the coming year, we will also be developing the next generation of educational products, programs and services in the form of augmented modules and digital learning resources — so stay tuned for Innovation 102, some new innovation training workshops for organizational growth and more.

Paula Gangopadhyay is former Chief Learning Officer at The Henry Ford.

educational resources, teachers and teaching, by Paula Gangopadhyay, education, innovation learning

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