Innovation Academy: an introduction

Overview

Innovation Academy promotes purpose-driven learning through student led projects that utilize information technology, engineering and design skill sets.  In addition to teaching computational thinking and design skills,  we model the process of innovation using Agile methodologies.  Online tools are used for collaboration and mentors drawn from the local community or industry.  Students of an Innovation Academy will apply their newly developed skills to create transformational solutions for their larger community values.  Through this process they will become empowered as inspired learners and creators.

The current iteration of Innovation Academy focuses on projects which utilize mobile technology and software.  Future iterations will expand to include other types of engineering solutions.

Background

We have focused on innovations which utilize digital technologies, because they currently and will continue to dominate our economic and social lives. We utilize well tested curricula for teaching computational and design focused thinking.  Once the students have a good basis in these skills, we show them how to apply their new knowledge and skills as innovators towards a community cause or transformation.  Innovation also has a methodology and we focus on teaching the following three elements of approach:

 

  • Preparation:
    • focus on the skills needed
    • identify an educational platform to learn those skills
    • assess the learning progression
  • Purpose:
    • identifying the problem,
    • defining the solution
  • Process:
    • frame out the solution
    • choose the appropriate resources and tools,
    • use Agile methods  to create a solution
  • Paradigm:
    • open source,
    • collaborative teamwork
    • skill sets matched with project tasks

Best Practices

We have been Inspired by techniques used by the software industry, especially the Agile model for project development which follows a few simple rules

  • Self-organized teams:
    • members choosing roles based on individuals’ experience, skills and interests.
    • individuals must also be flexible in their roles as necessary for implementing their solution
  • Sprints
    • Projects progress as series of, a time-restricted (1-2 week) tasks.
    • Tasks are documented and assigned to individual team members
    • Continuous (daily, weekly, etc.) check ins by each member to the team
  • Project Documentation
    • Requirements Doc
    • Sprint Task Doc
  • Mentors: drawn from the local community  to guide students through the process of innovation.  
    • Skill Mentors: guide students as they acquire the computational thinking and design skills they will apply as innovators.
    • Project Mentors:  guide students in brainstorming and then developing their innovation prototype
    • Development Mentors: bring technical expertise to help student build working solutions
    • Business Mentors: help students transform their solution into a business opportunity

Curriculum

Our current curriculum is focused on the middle and high school age group

Google CS-First

Uses Scratch the block-based programming browser-based platform

App Inventor

Uses MIT App Inventor, the block-based programming platform for android devices.

Thoughts and observations by the program manager