George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Trends

6 Awesome Innovations in 2014

January 7, 2014
Image credit: iStockphoto

Is it just me, or does it seem like things are going a little coocoo? I know we humans are no strangers to brutality and savage conflict, or scary meteorological anomolies or rampant political corruption. Yet it does seem like we're spinning a little too uncontrollably towards Crazytown.

But despite all of this -- or perhaps because of it -- I'm really excited about the innovations listed below. Each gives us an opportunity to think differently about ourselves, our communities, and our institutions.

1. Crowdfunding in Education

If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone lament "I would do ____ in my class if I only had the money," I would be rich enough to fund every one of these requests. In one of the most exciting innovations in technology, we now have an infrastructure to address this perennial woe. Crowdfunding is a new model of fundraising that uses the internet to enable organizations to meet their fundraising goals via many "micro payments" across many people. We believe so strongly in this approach that we produced a Five-Minute Film Festival on Crowdfunding, as well as a new classroom guide: "Raise Money for Your School Using Crowdfunding." Please download and share it with your friends and colleagues.

2. New Ways of Earning Additional Income

While we're on the fundraising tip, who doesn't love a little extra pocket cash? Former Washington state teacher Rachel Lynette of Snohomish County has been selling her curriculum and lesson ideas on a site called TeachersPayTeachers since the site launched in 1996 – it’s a lesson plan marketplace, created by teachers for teachers.

In an interview with the Washington Everett Herald, Lynette shared that she earned around $3,300 in October 2013 via the site. She blogs about the experience, and shares some tips here..

3. The All-Important Role of Self-Efficacy

We have seen a lot of studies over the years that indicate that what a student believes about him- or herself has a huge impact on that student’s achievement across all areas of life. The research of Carol Dweck on mindset, Angela Duckworth’s work on on grit, and Claude Steele's work on stereotype threat all point to the idea that our beliefs about ourselves – whether it’s “I am good at music” or “I’m terrible at math” are powerfully -- nay, scarily -- self-fulfilling.

(Look for a blog series on Edutopia in the coming weeks on agency and self-efficacy for some useful strategies for school and at home.)

4. Heroics!

Superheroes have always been big with students, but regular old heroism is getting a boost these days as well.

Last November I attended the Hero Round Table, a conference where educators, psychologists, and business people discussed how we might train students to be heroes. Much of the conversation centered on bullying and giving kids tools to be "upstanders" rather than bystanders.

There was also a focus on the psychological underpinnings of heroism. Phil Zimbardo, Stanford Psychology professor who is famous for conducting the disturbing Stanford Prison Experiment which showed that normal, well-adjusted students could become sadistic and cruel under the right circumstances. These days, he's focusing his prodigious energy on the Heroic Imagination Project, a research-based organization that's showing that normal, well-adjusted students can become heroes, too, under the right circumstances.

This one is interesting because heroes take social and emotional learning one step further. Heroes act on behalf of their fellow humans -- they take risks for the greater good, often putting their own well-being on the line. And bonus: What kid doesn't love heroes?!?

5. The 5th C: Coming of Age?

Recently I heard about the Kali'i Project, a challenging after-school program in Maui for native Hawaiian middle and high-school boys that teaches them about their heritage. Students learn to throw and catch spears, participate in ancient ceremonies and undergo a coming-of-age ritual that marks the transition from child to adulthood.

I was struck by the power that these kids experienced by reconnecting to their roots, being challenged, and grooming themselves for adulthood. Moreover, I was struck by how incredibly engaged they were. “It’s like extra homework on top of school,” says one of the students, Lopaka Nai, 15. “But I actually like studying this stuff.”

As I watch our elected officials act like children, and our culture's obsession with youth, I wonder: How might we (as first-world citizens) confer meaningful rites of passage to our students to help them embrace maturity? How might we (as educators) engage parents to co-create meaningful coming-of-age experiences for our children? We have a few rites of passage for coming of age into adulthood: the Christian Confirmation and Jewish bar and bat mitzvahs, and Quinceañeras for Latina girls on their 15th birthday. But other than these, the big ones today are . . . what? First beer? Sweet 16 parties? A limo on prom night?

Many of us come from motley ethnic backgrounds, but that doesn't mean we must live without these experiences. Between educators, parents, and psychologists, we can draw on the practices of the past, and design new ones that are resonant and relevant today. Indeed, organizations like the Stepping Stones Project is working to provide this very thing.

We talk a lot about the 4Cs: communication, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration, but I think we should add another: Coming of age.

6. AirBnB and Lyft

This is more of a thought experiment: AirBnB and Lyft are controversial services that have managed to take highly regulated industries, namely hotel and taxi, eliminate the middle man, and put providers and consumers directly in touch. There have been lawsuits, but ultimately the sites have prevailed, so far.

Is there something in this model for educators? It doesn’t seem like a huge leap for an app that connects job-seeking teachers with teacher-seeking administrators or home-schooling parents. Could this work? If someone were building this app now, what should they know? Food for thought, anyway.

So those some of my favorites. What innovations are sparking your imagination this year?

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