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Classroom-Based Innovation: A Book Review of "Pure Genius"

“If a student asks, ‘Why are we learning this stuff?’ and the only answer the teacher come up with is, ‘Because it’s on the test,’ it’s time to innovate.” – Don Wettrick

At some level, we all recognize the need to change what students experience in K-12 and in higher ed. In K-12 there is a clear need to increase engagement and authenticity to move beyond testing and basic skills to focus on deeper learning. The same idea is expressed in higher education teaching and learning with an increased focus on active learning and inquiry strategies. While we might agree that this is important, actually taking the leap to innovate in our classrooms can be daunting.

Thankfully, we have a guide book to help. Don Wettrick recently published Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level. Don is a high school teacher and Innovation Specialist at Noblesville High School in Indiana who has become a bit of a rock star in education circles for his passion create meaningful learning experiences for his students. This is especially apparent in the Innovation Class he created.

Pure Genius is a really accessible, practical and substantive book for teachers at all levels to consider small hacks or major projects with their students. Don begins the book with a discussion on why he sees fostering a culture of innovation as important. He discusses the rapidly evolving world with ever-changing problems and challenges our students are likely to encounter. He focuses on first and foremost on authenticity and relevance in learning.

Don lays out a clear blueprint for teachers to consider as they hack their classroom. He offers six building blocks of innovative learning and offers a great range of real-world examples to inspire ideas to consider for your own teaching context.

One thread that runs throughout the book is the importance of having empathy for your students. It’s clear that what motivates Don is inspiring, empowering, and “launching” his students. Chapter 9 – Student Voices – provides just a few example of the amazing work of his students that can serve as models and inspiration for all of us to follow his lead.

The last section of the book is possibly the best work I’ve read on the potential of social media for teachers. He makes an excellent argument for the benefits that both teachers and students can derive from a mindful and professional approach to leveraging social media for learning and communication. He concludes this section with a punch list of tools, resources, and strategies to get you started with social media in the classroom.

If you’re interested in innovation in the classroom, Pure Geniusprovides a great rationale, stories, inspiration, and practical tools to encourage innovation in the classroom. If you prefer, he also offers a really well done “Crash Course in Innovation” available online. Follow Don on  @donwettrick.

Also, next month we have the pleasure of debuting our first ever Virtual Summit on deeper learning from March 20th to 24th and we are excited to have Don speak.  If you’re interested in hearing more from Don or if you would like to know more about Virtual Summit, visit our Summit Registration.  It’s free and you do not want to miss out!