In this two-part series, Dulce Rivera Osorio explores what’s changing in schools by scanning news articles that report on “micro-innovations” that teachers, schools and educational organizations are making to improve their educational structures and practices. In Part 1, Thomas Hatch introduces micro-innovations and then Rivera shares a number of examples of micro-innovations being made in instruction or school/district operations that have been described in media articles from the US. Part 2 will describe the micro-innovations at the state level; those being made by companies and nonprofits; and some examples from outside the US. To read more on the numerous proposals to change schools and “reimagine education” post-COVID, read IEN’s previous post: Is anything changing in US schools post-pandemic? Possibilities for rethinking time, place and supports for well-being.
Schools are changing, but those changes are often more subtle and more context-specific than many ambitious reform efforts hope. These smaller changes can be considered micro-innovations: adaptations and inventions new to the contexts in which they are developed. Micro-innovations include those aimed to help specific groups of students learn key concepts for particular disciplines (like a card game and app from Singapore that helps high school students learn key terms for introductory chemistry); an “activity-based pedagogy” from Second Chance that helps out-of-school students in Ethiopia and Liberia catch up to their peers in elementary schools; and the development of a system of vans to provide safe transportation to support the all-female staff central to the success of the schools created by the Citizen’s Foundation in Pakistan. Rather than hoping for some “disruptive innovation” or general approach to educational reform that will magically sweep across schools and education systems, a focus on micro-innovations highlights specific, concrete improvements that can be made right now to develop an infrastructure for more equitable and more powerful learning (for more examples, see “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”.
“Rather than hoping for some “disruptive innovation” or general approach to educational reform that will magically sweep across schools and education systems, a focus on micro-innovations highlights specific, concrete improvements that can be made right now to develop an infrastructure for more equitable and more powerful learning”
What counts as a micro-innovation? Micro-innovations include concrete and visible changes in the structures, practices, and resources of schools and other educational organizations that have the potential to increase the efficiency, effectiveness and equity of educational opportunities in particular contexts. As they are designed to respond to the constraints and opportunities in specific situations and settings, they should not be expected to be replicated across all contexts. However, they may be adapted in some related contexts, and they can help educators envision what might work in their own settings to address critical problems they may be facing.
– Thomas Hatch
Educational micro-innovations in the news
Along with the cascade of news about “learning loss” and the challenges of education today, over the past year, news and research in the US have also described a variety of examples of micro-innovations that have been developed at the classroom, school and district levels in the US. At the classroom level, articles have highlighted how teachers set a positive tone for the day by developing innovative ways of greeting students at their classroom doors (Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy) and how teachers craft questions to help students develop their vocabulary, particularly of scientific terms and concepts (How to Support Vocabulary Building in Science Classes). Research has also pointed to specific ways teachers can design and organize their classrooms including ways that even “symbolic features” of classrooms such as wall décor can influence student learning and sense of belonging in the classroom, “with far-reaching consequences for students’ educational choices and achievement” (Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement).
Schools are also showing their inventiveness in tackling the challenges that their students and families are facing. In Massachusetts, staff members in one school created ways to support the transition from hospital to classroom for students struggling with mental health (School mental health program eases transition from hospital to classroom). In California, staff members at a school took on a critical need for housing in their community by creating a homeless shelter to support some of their students and their families (A school created a homeless shelter in the gym and it paid off in the classroom). According to Maribel Chávez, a first grade teacher at the school, quoted in the Hechinger Report, “If the child is not stable, that’s a barrier to their education, so that’s why we felt like as an educational institution, we had a mandate.”
Educators are also implementing a variety of micro-innovations at the district level to tackle challenges encompassing issues like bussing, translation between teachers and non-English speaking parents, and mental health. For example, districts in Boston, Indiana, and Maine are finding ways to use electric buses and scanning technologies to save costs, support the environment and increase safety (Boston to replace school buses with electric ones by 2030; Vans, Transit Passes & Changes to State Law: How Bus Driver Shortages & Soaring Costs Spurred Innovations in Getting Indianapolis Students to Class, Central Maine school districts turning to emerging bus scanning technology to address safety, driver shortages).
The Oakland school district invested about $40,000 to use the TalkingPoints translation app to communicate with parents who do not speak English (Translating a quarter of a million text messages for families). As a district English language coordinator described it, “Teachers love it and the families absolutely love it. They tell me it’s made a huge difference. Before, they felt hopeless at times because they couldn’t communicate with teachers or administration.”
Translating a quarter of a million text messages for families, The Hechinger Report
Four districts in Iowa are also testing a new tele health platform, Classroom Clinic, developed by a psychiatric nurse practitioner, with a focus on providing services to rural areas of the state (Iowa nurse creates virtual mental health service with focus on rural schools).
Micro-innovations at the classroom level
Positive Greetings at the Door: Evaluation of a Low-Cost, High-Yield Proactive Classroom Management Strategy, Sage Journals
How to Support Vocabulary Building in Science Classes, Edutopia
Designing Classrooms to Maximize Student Achievement, Sage Journals
SXSW EDU Launch Winner Our Worlds Bringing Native American Culture to Life Through Mobile-Based Immersive Reality, The 74
Micro-innovations at the School Level
A school created a homeless shelter in the gym and it paid off in the classroom, The Hechinger Report
School mental health program eases transition from hospital to classroom, New England Public Media
Trying to give students in low-wage majors some extra skills they can cash in on, The Hechinger Report
What COVID-Era Learning Looks Like in 144 Innovative Schools Around the Country, The 74
How One School Is Using House Calls to Keep Kids Learning During the Pandemic, The 74
For these six schools, pandemic-era innovation demanded “know thyself, CRPE
Rural Schools Have Battled Bad Internet, Low Attendance and Academic Decline Through the Pandemic. Now the Push Is On to Return Students to Classrooms — Safely, The 74
Micro-innovations at the District Level
Translating a quarter of a million text messages for families, The Hechinger Report
Boston to replace school buses with electric ones by 2030, AP News
Central Maine school districts turning to emerging bus scanning technology to address safety, driver shortages, Portland Press Herald
Vans, Transit Passes & Changes to State Law: How Bus Driver Shortages & Soaring Costs Spurred Innovations in Getting Indianapolis Students to Class, The 74
Study of 6 ‘Grow Your Own’ Teacher Prep Programs Shows How They Can Improve the Diversity of the Workforce, The 74
Using tech and circuit riding to beat the pandemic, New Mexico in Depth
How a Diverse School District Is Using a Strategy Usually Reserved for ‘Gifted’ Students to Help Everyone Overcome COVID Learning Loss, The 74
California schools press ‘play’ on esports leagues during pandemic, EdSource
3 summer program strategies to address learning loss, support emotional health, K-12 Dive
Iowa nurse creates virtual mental health service with focus on rural schools, Iowa City Press-Citizen
‘More than a warm body’: Schools try long-term solutions to substitute teacher shortage, The Hechinger Report
– Dulce Rivera Osorio