Education expert urges creative and innovative thinking in local schools

  • Written by Madeline Coats


101 WEB previewDr. Wagner shares his expertise in innovation and creative thinking. Madeline Coats|Woodinville Weekly

BOTHELL —Dr. Tony Wagner, a globally recognized expert in education, asked a pivotal question to students, parents and teachers in the Northshore School District: What can humans do that machines cannot? 

As the world embarks on the era of artificial intelligence, he said students should be prepared to think creatively.

“There is a fundamental contradiction between the traditional culture of schooling, which is truly a century old, and the culture of learning that develops a capacity for creative problem solving,” Wagner said.

The school district hosted Wagner for a community conversation about innovative thinking Tuesday, Feb. 11, at the Northshore Performing Arts Center. 

Families, students, staff and community members showed up to discuss innovative practices in schools ahead of the new Innovation Lab High School, which is scheduled to open in the fall of this year. Superintendent Michelle Reid said Wagner has worked with students, staff and community members to develop a variety of models and frameworks in preparation for the new school. 

During the presentation, Wagner highlighted two different types of innovation. He said one type concentrates on “bringing new possibilities to light” and the other relates to creative problem-solving. 

“We’re born curious, creative, imaginative—that is the human nature,” Wagner said. “But then something happens…school.” 

He said curiosity and creativity are pushed aside and replaced with countless assignments to fulfill. One parent added that the current school system is like an assembly line. 

Wagner said passion begins with curiosity, which then creates grit and motivation to “achieve great things.” Creative problem solvers have gone on to become artists, social entrepreneurs and engineers. 

“Everybody has problems that need solving,” Wagner said. “Problems around the world aren’t always looking for a tech solution, they are looking for creative problem solvers.”

He emphasized local and global issues, such as homelessness and access to education, that can be improved or solved with innovative thinking. At schools like Innovation Lab, Wagner said students learn to work on team-based projects, articulate their creations, and speak publicly. 

“The skills you need to succeed in a highly competitive academic environment cannot be compared to the skills you need to succeed in the innovation era,” he said.

According to the long-time educator, traditional schooling can cause kids to be terrified of failure due to mistakes on tests and errors on homework assignments. He said this learning style enables anxiety in children, teens and young adults. 

Wagner said 50% of the college population seeks some form of phycological assistance or medication due to anxiety or depression. Fear of failure does not prepare students for the innovation world, he added.

“The innovation world demands that you take risks and make mistakes,” Wagner said. “The innovation world is all about trial and error.”

He said the study of creative problem solving requires students to be receptive to wisdom and conventional thinking, while not being afraid to take risks and question certain aspects. 

This model allows teachers to take on the role of a mentor. Wagner said instructors will focus on coaching students to a higher standard, ultimately teaching them to fail early and fail often."

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