On March 15 & 16, Innovate18 was held at Nike’s Tiger Woods Center. This event brought together over 300 educators, students and industry professionals to share their experiences introducing new innovative learning practices in their schools. The event was organized by the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators (COSA), the Business Education Compact (BEC) and Innovate Oregon and is the first of what will be annual gatherings that will help build the fabric of a new ecosystem to support the transformation of learning in Oregon.

COSA, BEC, and Innovate Oregon agreed that it was time to raise the bar for Oregon’s education practices to ensure that our students are ready for success in our 21st Century digital economy. As Thompson Morrison, explains: “It was time for us to do something audacious, to use the same Agile techniques that technology companies use to both plan and execute the event – plus, move the event out of a hotel conference room and onto the Nike campus, so that participants would be in an environment that inspires innovation.”

To inspire innovation and engage all of the participants, COSA, BEC, and Innovate Oregon decided to launch the event with a 5 hour make-a-thon, beginning with a crash-course in circuit design and programming using the Sparkfun platform. “While we knew that introducing new learning methods that use Agile and design-Thinking, and terms like hacking, those concepts are not meaningful unless you’ve applied them,” Thompson explains further.  “So we decided to lead with the make-a-thon.”

Dozens of teams of students, industry professionals, and educators learned how to program Sparkfun’s Microbit processor to sense movement and temperature, turn LEDs on and off, and spin servos. Then each team chose one of 3 “products” to design and prototype using the Sparkfun electronic components and found materials such as cardboard, drink cans, paper cups, tape, etc. During the make-a-thon,  the Wi-fi network went down requiring a conference-wide hack:  create a network of mobile phone hot spots to keep the make-a-thon running.  This interruption, requiring a real-time hack to keep things moving forward, is an example of what happens in businesses everyday, and how teams have to cope, using the agile mindset so important to 21st Century processes.

One of the product categories a “smart toy.”  Sparkfun instructor Derek Runberg added a new dimension to the electronic toy challenge: the automated toy had to have a component or element that expressed emotion. One team created a unicorn which had a “thought-bubble” coming up from it head. In the middle of the thought-bubble was a blinking image of a heart, flashing at the rate of a heart beat. The unicorn was a hit!

A team of students from Beaverton  recorded and produced this 3 minute video in real-time to capture the event.

COSA – Innovate 2018 (Created by ACMA Film) from TeacherSource Videos on Vimeo.

The make-a-thon ended with the video’s premiere. It was a powerful moment as the participants watched the video and celebrated their successes. The students who participated in the event were rock-stars and amazed the adults on their teams. It was powerful to see how the adults appreciated their brilliance as co-creators, hackers, problem-solvers, and presenters.

The first day closed with a series of short talks around innovation. The following day educators and students visited 15 different breakouts showcasing innovative learning practices that are being introduced into classrooms around the state – stories and explanation told by teams of students and teachers. As one participant put it: “Seeing these examples of change in education – and recognizing the richness of exploration and innovation that all these different schools are doing – makes me confident that our schools can graduate the kind of talent we need.”