How can schools teach students to be more innovative? Offer hands-on classes and don’t penalize failure

Tony Wagner:

Most of our high schools and colleges are not preparing students to become innovators. To succeed in the 21st-century economy, students must learn to analyze and solve problems, collaborate, persevere, take calculated risks and learn from failure. To find out how to encourage these skills, I interviewed scores of innovators and their parents, teachers and employers. What I learned is that young Americans learn how to innovate most often despite their schooling–not because of it.
Though few young people will become brilliant innovators like Steve Jobs, most can be taught the skills needed to become more innovative in whatever they do. A handful of high schools, colleges and graduate schools are teaching young people these skills–places like High Tech High in San Diego, the New Tech high schools (a network of 86 schools in 16 states), Olin College in Massachusetts, the Institute of Design ( at Stanford and the MIT Media Lab. The culture of learning in these programs is radically at odds with the culture of schooling in most classrooms.

One thought on “How can schools teach students to be more innovative? Offer hands-on classes and don’t penalize failure”

  1. Taking risks and learning from failure along with creativity and problem solving are also the results of participating in the arts–be it drawing, pottery, music, poetry or dance. It seems if this country wants to encourage innovation, it is not the time to cut out arts classes.
    I believe the often-repeated anecdote about Steve Jobsis that his interest in how the mouse worked and fit in a person’s hand was a result of participating in a dance class at Reed and discovering the importance of body movements.
    Business leaders and scientific figures frequently give the arts the short end of the stick, yet how many times have we read that mathamaticians relate to and enjoy music? It seems to follow logically that engineers can learn from working with pottery, and scientists can glean nuggets of information about human emotions from reading and writing poetry.

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