We often hear about how innovation is essential in teaching, business, and our everyday lives, but how often have we thought about why? Why is innovation important? I believe the answer is quite simple: Innovation is important because it has the power to change our perspective and alter the course we were on.
Let me share a little story on how innovation, or outside-the-box thinking, can change someone’s perspective.
“I hate physics”
We had a student come into Fusion from another school having completed her first semester of physics there. She started taking second-semester Physics with us, and due to a series of unrelated events, I ended up taking over her class around session 10.
When I met with her that first session, I asked her the same question I ask all my students, “What do you think about physics?” Her answer was, “When I came to Fusion, I hated it, and I still don’t like it very much now.” I took this as a personal challenge to try and change this students mind about physics and to at least make her remaining 15 classes better than a trip to the dentist.
Creativity with Circuits
Soon after that first class together, we started our unit on Electricity and Magnetism. In this unit, I teach all the usual stuff about Ohm’s and Coulomb’s laws, voltage resistance, current, power, and simple circuits. I also teach the difference between series and parallel circuits by having my students do a lab with our snap-on circuits.
As she was doing this, she made a brief comment along the line of “this is kind of fun.” Luckily enough, I heard that quiet side comment, and we still had 10-15 minutes left in the class. Normally, this would be the time where I’d wrap things up and assign homework, but not this time. Instead, I asked her if she wanted to build another circuit that I thought was interesting. She was all for it.
Five minutes later, we were launching a small flying saucer down the halls of our campus. She then turned and asked me, “What happens when we add another battery pack?” My response: “Let’s find out!”
Back to the lab we went. Now, not only was she following directions for a simple build, but she modified the circuit on her own to add in more power. Two minutes later, we launched a flying saucer MUCH further down the hall, and we are even able to play a game of catch with her launching the saucer towards me. She had a huge smile on her face, IN PHYSICS CLASS!!!!
Innovation and Perspective Change
This is where my innovation comes in. At the end of class, I asked her if she wanted to do a more complicated build during the next class. She responded: “Yes, that was a lot of fun!”. Nothing big, I just recognized that she connected with the material and offered her another chance to investigate and play with a subject she enjoyed.
Our next session was the next day, and back to the lab we went to build a more complicated circuit. We went through the list of options, and a particular project catches her eye: building an FM radio with volume control. She started immediately into the build, without any help from me. Soon we were cruising the FM waves listening to a Jazz station we picked up and then found TOP 40 hits disc jockey. She asked to make another circuit, and we found a build that allowed us to make a five-second recording and play it back.
I made an off-hand comment along the lines of “and now you know what an electrical engineer does.” Just a simple half-joking statement that I’m notorious for around campus. What floored me though, and still gives me goosebumps when I think about it (even as I am writing this now), was her response: “Maybe I should become an electrical engineer then because this is a lot of fun.”
The girl who just a week or two earlier said she hated physics just said she thought a career in a physics-heavy field would be interesting. Talk about being able to change a person’s perspective and alter their course!
We often think that innovation is some grand change or a brand new idea that will rock the field we are in, but oftentimes it is simply a willingness to change how we do one interaction: one session, or one question with a human that can change that person’s perspective on life.
Now, will that student become an electrical engineer? Who knows, maybe she will, maybe she won’t. All that matters is, she doesn’t hate physics anymore.