As I promised my fellow Innovation Engineering Black Belt trainees last week, this is the first in a series of weekly blogs I’m writing to document my progress in “The Experiment”. The Experiment was created last week at Eureka Ranch, as Doug Hall and I quickly created a common vision for the newly established Engineering Club I’m… mentoring?… at my high school alma mater. We’re taking a group of 7th to 12th graders through a Green Belt wave, creating the youngest Green Belts ever. Wow!
Hughesville High School, in central Pennsylvania, is the setting. The superintendent, Mike Pawlik, and a chemistry teacher, John Tamblin, are our management coach and project leader. I’m the process coach (!), using the Engineering Club as my Black Belt project. A local father and daughter team of inventors/entrepreneurs, Steph Phillips-Taggart and Rod Phillips, and another science teacher from the school make up our team of adult learners.
There’s a whole history behind why I’m doing this – involves a PA grant – that I may blog about later. Suffice it to say this has been a few months in creation phase. Although we’re still a little hazy on exactly where this will all go, we KNOW our kids and schools need to be more innovative, so we’re starting. And we’re getting smarter and smarter every week. Hopefully creating a path for others to follow, or us to improve on next semester!
Monday February 24, 2014 was the first official meeting of the Engineering Club, named because Innovation Engineering Club might have been a little intimidating or off-putting. On my 9-hour weekend drive back from Cincinnati, I planned a rough agenda and reviewed ideas with the team to see if they made sense. Finalized it Monday, printed out a few handouts and repeated my mantra – Just get started! It won’t be perfect! It’s OK to fail! Did a little phone video just before the session- view it here.
The agenda (3-4:30): Week 1 – Basic introduction to some foundational IE concepts
- 3-3:10 Introductions, Why Innovation Engineering?, and some basic expectations (I don’t know, I fail a lot, I ask for help), working in groups
- 3:10 – 3:17 Group – Paper Airplane experiment – no research
- 3:17 – 3:15 Paper Airplane part 2 – research online, pick the best one, be ready to tell why.
- 3:15 – 3:20 Group summary of results, review Scientific method, Plan, Do, Study, Act concepts
- 3:20 – 3:35 Mind Map – the BEST bedroom ever! Review concept, use 4 prompts: (related) Things in Bedrooms, Problems with Bedrooms, (nonrelated) Electronics, the Olympics
- 3:35 – 3:45 Group – Mind Dump – the BEST bedroom ever ideas from Mind Map
- 3:45 – 3:55 Share with your group idea #1 – get feedback. Share idea #2 if time. Pick one or two the group likes.
- 3:55 – 4:05 Share with the rest of the club
- 4:05 – 4:15 Stimulus mining – Basic concept review, handout summarizing Market, Tech, and Future. This is prep work for next week’s meeting – decide who in group will do what type of mining on the group idea.
- 4:15 to 4:30 What did you learn?
What I learned about the process:
1. An agenda this detailed, fast paced, and tightly scripted was REALLY helpful! I should have had some other topics or exercises to throw in there, as I was actually ahead of schedule. The kids were not in any way intimidated by the pace – they loved it. I’ll probably kick it up another notch for next week, tighter time frames for each activity.
2. The groups – There were 14 kids there, and some other adults- a local father and daughter team of inventors/entrepreneurs, Steph and Rod, and another science teacher from the school. The kids gravitated to 3 groups – one 7th and 8th graders, one 10th and 11th graders, and one mixed. This mixed one didn’t gel as well – the other two groups were spectacularly creative and energetic. see videos of 7th-8th grade group and 10th-12th grade group here… Next week, we’re going to mix the groups up, get them used to working with people out of their comfort zone. But keeping them comfortable this first time was probably a good idea.
3. Speed and focus are essential – keep emphasizing fast, fast, and throw in some gems of wisdom or validate what people are doing as the teachable moments arise.
Top 5 Things I learned about me:
5. Create space to fail. I told everyone right up front that this is an experiment, that I’m learning, and that we’re learning how to apply this stuff to kids. We need their help. They loved it, and it gave me the space to make mistakes.
4. It’s fun to say YES instead of No. In the paper airplane experiment, one kid, Chris, balled up a piece of paper and threw it. It went far. My initial reaction started to be “hey, that’s not fair” but I quickly went with my gut instinct of “well, that’s creative.” And it worked – it outflew the airplane. So, I asked him to tell us why, and he did, using center of gravity, surface area… cool stuff. The best was the moment I asked the group – did that feel a little like Chris cheated? No one said yes, but you could see Chris tensing for the reprimand. I’m guessing he pushes, bends, breaks the rules often, and is used to being reined in. Instead, I gave him props for thinking outside the box. Right away, he relaxed a bit. Great moment for him, me, and the group.
3. “What did you learn?” was so amazing. Almost word for word what our Blackbelt class learned after 1 full day – and the kids only had 1 1/2 hours! They loved the mindmap, completely impressed by how the diversity of the group changed and improved the idea, liked how quickly they got creative and pushed ideas higher. One student said he realized he wasn’t an idea person, just not that creative, liked to get the work done. I immediately empathized and told him I often felt the same way, but that’s where I’ve learned to find strength and inspiration in my group. And he’ll find out he can be good at kicking it higher – and will learn to be more creative. Another good connection.
2. What are we doing next week? Normally, I would have panicked at not having a good answer for that. Not this time! My “autopsy” conversations with some of the kids, other adults, and sleeping on it have already revealed some answers – and I trusted that all of that or something else would happen to give me inspiration. So I could say “I don’t know, I’ll figure it out”, laugh, and know that it was true. Awesome feeling.
#1 Lesson – Set a date and get started. Pick a group, any group, and just go. No time like the present, the longer you wait the more you’ll forget.
More next week!