Visiting Harvard Expert Calls For Change In Traditional Educational Systems

Delivering his speech in an unconventional manner in the central aisle of the chapel, Dr. Tony Wagner, Expert in Residence at Harvard’s new Innovation lab, drew closer to the crowd while outlining how Andover could revolutionize its educational systems by promoting innovation.

From his experience as an educator, Wagner has found that the teachers that left a lasting impression on students were the outliers of traditional school culture. Wagner said that good teaching in school will require change in the traditional educational constructs and rethink what it means to make a change in the learning process.

According to Wagner, the competition to acquire knowledge has been replaced by the last-minute Google search. “Students no longer demonstrate the patience and time dedication necessary to finding answers,” he said.

Wagner said that innovation demands risk and failure, but he noted that students are not willing to fail in order to grow from their mistakes.

“The fear of failure completely countered the equation as penalty, and instead discouraged experimentation,” said Wagner.

Wagner said he believes that if more group projects were to be incorporated into the curriculum, it would increase the possibility of innovation amongst students in classes.

This move has already been executed in the workforce environment; many jobs are now towards moving team-based projects, as they have proven to yield results that could often not be met through isolated work, said Wagner.

In addition, Wagner emphasized the importance of collaboration and the essentiality of growth in education. “Teach collaboration instead of competing so often, as students do in any boarding school,” he said.

Acknowledging the essential role time for reflection and innovation allows for growth, Wagner presented the concept known as “Google Time,” which is currently being implemented at Google’s Mountain View campus. The system allots 20 percent of Google employees’ time towards a project of their own choice.

According to Wagner, the advisors that oversee the progress help avoid the project from turning into free time. Wagner said that this approach could be successfully implemented at Andover, since, as Wagner said, the main inhibitor of innovation is the lack of time cut out for its creation.

Furthermore, Wagner introduced High Tech High, a public school in San Diego, CA, where project-based learning is the main focus of the curriculum. According to Wagner, the school’s methodology revolves around group projects that allow students to collaborate in group projects where they work solely with other students in order to better understand the topic.

Wagner showed an example of student groups recreating their own working renditions of the Mayan architecture and comparing their results to those of Mayan history. The results showed that students had similar constructions to those used in ancient Mayan civilization. Wagner said that this form of innovation allowed the students to learn in a completely new way of thinking.

Wagner has recently written two books on education, “Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World” and “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need — and What We Can Do About It.”