Impact Projects - Prototyping an innovation project

HPSS has prioritised project learning from day one. Inspired by the likes of The Met School, High Tech High and Albany Senior High School we decided very early on that projects would be an important part of our curriculum design and to that end Learning Projects became one third of the HPSS curriculum story.
Connected Learning Design.jpg
HPSS Curriculum

Learning Projects evolved over the last five years (first led by Sarah Wakeford and more recently overseen by Liz, Jayne, Rebecca and Cairan) to become a differentiated range of offerings including Big Projects (more teacher led projects aimed at Years 9-10), Impact Projects (more student led projects based on the ASHS model) and Pathways Projects (aimed at Years 12-13 with a focus on pathways beyond schools such as gateway, work experience and tertiary studies). Whilst the focus may change there is a common learning design model and framework that underpins them all, with students going through a kick off phase, planning, action, review and finally showtime. 

Projects at HPSS

This year was my first year as a Project Guide and I have to admit, it has proven to be a real highlight, proving the hunch I have long held that project learning is one of the very best ways for students to develop key competencies or what we might refer to as 21C skills. It also provides the mechanism for deliver what can feel like an arbitrary edu buzzword - STEAM learning. For me STEAM is less about students experiencing Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (because less face it that is really just the NZC). STEAM is really only powerful when it is genuinely integrated learning framed around solving very real problems or addressing very real issues. There was of course the fact that I had spent much of 2017 dream up a school design (with the planning of the ill-fated City Senior School) that was built around the concept of green innovation projects, or what might be more commonly referred to as social innovation projects. 

So when I had the opportunity to offer an Impact Project I knew I wanted to see how I approach it as if developing an Innovation Curriculum. I began by thinking about what Innovation might look if it were to become a stand alone subject. You can see my initial musings here. I decided that I would be best offering a project that was less about subject expertise (our students choose who they want to work with after experience workshop tasters with each project guide) and more about focusing on supporting students who came with their own ideas and were more in need of a project/innovation coach. 

Here is the project overview: 

The Hatchery - an independent innovation project
Do you have a project idea that doesn’t fit the other project categories??
Are you ready for leading and managing your own independent project?
Do you want to know how to design and create a truly innovative product, service or movement?
Want to learn how to use design thinking processes and agile methodology to make your idea a reality?

Your project may focus on Community, Enterprise and/or Sustainability and may be about people, places or things.

Assessment opportunities will be negotiated based on your project focus. 

In this project you will receive mentoring and support from myself and startup companies from GridAKL in Wynyard Quarter. Students will meet with the residents of GridAKL with an opportunity to get feedback, create partnerships and seek mentoring. There will be an opportunity for students become members of GridAKL’s Tech Cafe which will enable to attend workshops and events. 

There will be an application process where you will need to pitch your project idea to Claire and and potential project mentors.

Futures Thinking and Foresight
We began the process with an introduction to future's thinking and the concept of foresight with students exploring the possible futures of work, money, medicine, transport and fashion. Like with anything, students do't know what they don't know, so it is important to broaden their horizons and challenge their assumptions before refocusing on their interests and projects. 

Innovation Project framework
The main aim of the project was to provide the students with frameworks, tools and protocols which would enable them to transfer their learning to contexts beyond school. In a sense I saw this as a training ground for them becoming entrepreneurs working in somewhere like the GridAKL Startup Hub or Generator. 

After chatting to a range of startup folk I decided there were some key frameworks that would serve them well. The HPSS project process was to be framed by a combination of design thinking and lean startup, with a focus on ensuring the students spent plenty of time within the "problem space" before rushing to the "solution space". Board of Innovation provide a handy summary of this combination.

Source: Board of Innovation
The pitch
The process was kicked off with each student being taught how to develop a pitch deck for their initial ideas. Each student then delivered their ideas to a panel of start up and innovation folk (we had Thoughtwired's Dmitry and James as well as brand strategist Joe Ling and innovation coach Klaus Bravenboer). Their job was to really challenge the student's thinking and to encourage them to hold their initial ideas lightly. After this student's went back to the drawing board to completely rethink or redevelop their initial project concepts.

Innovation strategies and protocols
After that we worked through the following phases and processes:

Planning  - Students researched and assessed a wide range of planning tools. Students then developed gantt charts to map their overarching timelines and used calendars and/or kanban to plan week to week.

Empathy Mapping - students had to interview and discuss ideas with a range of potential stake holders.

Prototyping - Students then moved on to prototyping and fleshing out their ideas via sketches, storyboards or lean canvas templates

Partnerships - The students and I called on a whole raft of connections to partner each project with a project partner or mentor. Mentors include Previously Unavailable who have taken in Ria as an intern (her project is focused on her becoming an Innovation Coach). Mia is working with Changing Minds' Tamara Waugh to help develop her online platform supporting teen mental health. Whilst this has been time consuming, establishing these connections is what seems to elevate the projects beyond "school projects" into something way more authentic. It also teaches students to be accountable - a super important skill to develop!

And alas this is about where I got to with them (as I just finished up at end of Term Two to head to my new role at Albany Senior). So whilst I have planned the rest of the year, I won't be there to see them move into lean startup phase and on to preparation for showtime at the beginning of Term Four.

The Innovation Road Trip
However before I left I did manage to take them on an awesome Innovation Road Trip. The intention of this was to show them aspects of the innovation pipeline or ecosystem we are now seeing evolve in Auckland Central. I firmly believe student need to see these spaces in order to see themselves in them. 

We began the day at University of Auckland's new Unleash Space which positions itself as an interdisciplinary Innovation Hub available to all Auckland Uni students. The space is part makerspace and part student start up co-working space. If you want to see an awesomely set up makerspace, then you need to visit! Also it was great to see students just a little older than ours being supported through their own Innovation Projects. 

We then visited Generator on Madden St and the Mason Bros to see what I refer to as the "enterprise" end of the co-working, entrepreneurship and innovation pipeline. Hugely inspiring to see where innovation projects and entrepreneurship could take them.

We then rounded out the day with a tour and series of talks at GridAKL's Startup Hub which represents a potentially more entry (and expansion) level of that innovation pipeline or ecosystem. A number of GridAKL residents shared their stories and insights and it was awesome to here what they had learned in projects being echoed, i.e. hold ideas lightly, really explore the issue and needs of the customer, user or client and learn to be agile and adaptive in your planning. 

So there you go. 

It is most definitely was a prototype and is most definitely is still a work in progress. I do however already see some real success and believe there is real power in developing genuine learner agency by arming students with frameworks, tools and protocols and then giving them plenty of time to try and fail and try again. I am going to miss my Hatchery students dearly but I know I will keep in touch with many and I also know I will have many opportunities to get amongst projects in my new role as Principal at Albany Senior High School, who in many ways I see as the home of Impact Projects in NZ. Freakin' pinching myself! 


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