Tag Archives for " innovation "

Trapped? Just MacGyver your way out!

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights

I’m way late to the MacGyver party, but something technology integration specialist Kevin Honeycutt said compelled me to arrive.

MacGyver – for those of you who, like me, didn’t watch much TV from 1985 to 1992 – was a secret agent in an action-adventure TV series who “invented” his way out of tight spots with whatever objects were at hand.

His science-not-violence approach took root in popular culture. Now you sometimes hear MacGyver’s name used as a verb (“The thingy broke but I MacGyvered it.”). MacGyver also regularly surfaces in rap lyrics. My favorite is Don Trip’s “Vent.” (I’m the soul provider. Tryna make something out of nothing like MacGyver.”)

Kevin is one of the world’s most popular and entertaining speakers on the subject of teaching with technology, but his message forges deeper than the bells and whistles of shiny new gadgets.

“In education, we’ve got to be MacGyver thinkers to steer clear of the icebergs that could take us down,” Kevin told me. “Every kid counts, especially in a poor economy. We’ve got to engineer our own survival.”

His MacGyver tendencies began at an early age

Kevin was yearning for a place to call home after college. He was raised in a poor, transient family and his childhood was peppered with times he used his wits to overcome a hardship. He attended 20 different schools en route to becoming the first person in his family to earn a high school diploma. Imagine how he felt graduating from college!

Kevin Honeycutt

Kevin Honeycutt

Kevin vividly remembers the sweltering summer day he arrived in Inman, Kansas to interview for his first teaching job because the town looked deserted.

Inman, Kansas

Inman, Kansas

A job offer was readily extended, the excessive heat subsided, and neighborly Inman (1,377 residents strong) ventured back outdoors to offer proof positive to the new art teacher that he’d landed in a fine community.

But being small (450 students in grades K-12) imposed resource limitations that Kevin says he had to MacGyver his way around. (Not that you’ve ever had resource limits!)

“As the only art teacher in the district, I was responsible for providing the only fine arts education our students might ever have,” Kevin said.  “Talk about pressure.”

Technology was the vehicle that allowed Kevin to inexpensively bring more resources to his students.

It wasn’t easy. Kevin was teaching a class in black and white photography, but – since almost nobody in the real world develops in a dark room anymore – he took the initiative to teach himself to use PhotoShop. He says he was challenged to upgrade his technology skills to prepare kids for their future.

Stumbling into cool revelations

Did you know that it’s possible to take virtual field trips of many of the world’s great art museums?

Kevin also developed a video podcast series of 10-minute drawing lessons called “Art Snacks” that kids can use between formal art classes to develop their skills – or just have fun.

In the 13 years he taught before becoming a specialist at ESSDACK (Educational Services and Staff Development Association of Central Kansas), he also had students researching, writing and filming public service announcements on state history, filming their interviews with World War II veterans, and making commercials for small businesses.

The fondest memory Kevin has of his early days as a trying to survive art teacher was working with students to create a movie riffing off a legend that their high school is haunted by a female student who died after the 1932 prom.

The movie was shot on a wafer-thin budget on equipment that was crude, even back then, but Kevin doesn’t set himself up for failure by aiming for Steven Spielberg quality.

“You don’t need to be great at everything,” Kevin said. “You just need to start.”


The backstory behind “The Ghost of Inman High School” is that the drama program was a whisper away from being eliminated in budget cuts because of low participation. When there are only a couple of hundred students in your junior/senior high school, sometimes there’s not enough talent remaining after sports teams are filled to pull off a theatrical production.

Doing a movie, rather than a musical, allowed Kevin to multiply the contributions of a small cast and crew. Students got the experience of acting, costuming, performing music and creating sound and visual effects.

Kevin also tapped community resources for the production as a way to sure up support for his drama program. Community members donated antique automobiles and other props for the movie. An aged alum of Radio City Music Hall’s precision dance troupe, the Rockettes, came to school to teach students to waltz.

The Historic Fox Theater, Hutchinson, Kansas

Fox Theater in Hutchinson, Kansas

“Hutchinson Goes Hollywood” was the newspaper headline when Kevin reserved The Historic Fox Theater in nearby Hutchinson for the red-carpet premiere of “The Ghost of Inman High School.” The theater seats 1,221 and Inman filled it – stunning when you realize that means practically everyone in town attended.

Resolving your sticky situation

Imagine the MacGyver theme playing as you ponder what resources are available in your community to increase access to learning experiences for kids. 

What devices could your school district use to improvise a better education? What would you recommend?

Kevin now wrestles with these issues as a member of the Inman Board of Education, attending many meetings via Skype because he travels the world coaching teachers, giving about 270 presentations a year.

Inman moved to a one-to-one program with iPads a couple of years ago. “They just make everything easier,” Kevin said.

Kevin Honeycutt's technology tools.

Kevin Honeycutt’s technology tools.

The Inman board is considering ebooks as a more affordable alternative to textbooks. There’s also talk of opening a “virtual” school to boost Inman’s meager enrollment with online students who live outside the district.

“These are tough times to be a leader if you refuse to sacrifice quality,” Kevin said.

Leaders like him give all of us confidence that we will be clever enough to MacGyver our way out.


Now that you’ve read this, share what you think on the Message Board.

Photos compliments of Kevin Honeycutt.

And this is just Part 1. Just like in a late night infomercial, there’s more! Return next week to read Kevin Honeycutt’s straight-up advice for schools on using social media.







Cheating. Encourage it or punish it?

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights

Was I “cheating” when I went to Steelcase’s website to read essays penned by great thinkers to coincide with the office furniture manufacturer’s 100th anniversary? After all,  drawing from these fertile minds prior to writing this article about the future of education would help me immensely, right?

And “The Rise of the Small” was the essay that hooked me. It’s by Don Norman, a former VP at Apple, trustee of IIT Institute of Design (the world’s largest graduate design program), and earned a hip-deep list of other credentials.

Don Norman

Don Norman

“I dream of the power of individuals, whether alone or in small groups,” Don began, “to unleash their creative spirits, their imaginations, and their talents to develop a wide range of innovation.”

I always like it when someone begins with the word “dream.” And Don’s got a big one.

Don says the rise of portable, efficient and relatively inexpensive tools like tablet computers and smartphones have the power to revolutionize industries like teaching, writing, entertaining, and creating art and music. Sharing information and ideas is becoming so cheap and easy that practically anybody anywhere can benefit.

A surprising perspective

I reached Don by phone at his office in Palo Alto, a city nestled in California’s “Silicon Valley,” where he’s busy updating one of his most popular books, “The Design of Everyday Things.” The Design of Everyday Things

I expected to hear him describe the Silicon Valley as an education innovation hot spot, like it is for high-tech companies like Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Intuit, Google, Facebook, and others.

Not so, Don said with a deep sigh.

“We’re stuck in a really bad problem here, like everywhere else,” Don said. “Our education system is flawed. It starts at the college level and works down through K-12. It’s all so intertwined that it’s really difficult to fix one thing without messing up something else.”

The core mission of education, Don says, is to motivate people to discover, develop and demonstrate their talents.

The core problem is that the system of education we have is erected on the belief that things people most need to know can be listed, codified and tested.

“The truth,” Don said, “is that tests really only tell us how good students are at taking tests.”

In a nutshell, the structure of schooling can inhibit the highest forms of learning.

What’s needed, Don said, is an education overhaul that breaks instruction out of the test preparation box and encourages students to cooperate and collaborate to achieve new insights.

Cooperation’s in, competition’s out (Don’s dream system)

Students collaborating. A system grounded in cooperation recasts teachers from “sage of the stage” to guides. It pitches the Bell Curve out the window and evaluates  students against absolute standards.

“If every student gets an A, hurrah!” Don wrote in his essay “In Defense of Cheating.” “It means every student has learned.”

He says K-12 would be wise to marshal resources and top teaching talent nationwide to develop engaging instruction modules based on, ahem, video games. That’s because students frequently learn best in the context of a quest or game. Don’t laugh, Don cautions. The U.S. military is probably the nation’s largest training organization and it’s been teaching via video games for years!

Why change is so darn hard

Revamping instruction and assessment sounds simple enough, but it would mean taking on a huge fight.

A school system in progressive Santa Cruz once dropped letter grades in favor of teacher-written narratives of how well a student had learned, Don recalled. College admissions departments went into a tizzy. Teacher insights were more revealing, but cumbersome because they couldn’t be codified.

“Colleges aren’t set up to deal with narratives and, probably, neither are employers,” Don said. “Considering that students usually go to college or go to work, that’s a formidable obstacle. Both higher education and business have deeply rooted practices.”

Don says he witnessed the pushback himself many years ago in Palo Alto, when a new hands-on K-12 math curriculum was proposed. There were colleagues who opposed adopting the curriculum while also acknowledging it was a better way to teach math.

The reason: They wanted their kids to be accepted into prestigious Stanford University. The traditional curriculum was trained on producing higher scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a major component in college admissions decisions.


Photo illustration by Chalebala/Shutterstock

All for “Cheating” raise your hand!

An easier place to start badly needed school reforms, Don suggests, might be to rethink schools’ outdated prejudice against “cheating.”

(I gulped when he said this. Cheating in school feels so wrong, like swearing in church.)

“Cheating that involves deceit is, of course, wrong,” Don said. “But, in my view, the emphasis on working in isolation is over-emphasized.”

In the real world, what’s valued is knowing how to tap information that leads to the best solution, giving credit for it, and synthesizing it well, Don said.

The sin of plagiarizing isn’t “copying,” Don said, it’s not giving credit to the person who had the idea.

If schools change their stance on copying, there would, ironically, be less cheating, Don contends. The way it is now, students can’t give credit (even to another student) for a great idea because they’re told “do your own work.”

Grading students on how thoroughly they researched something and then presented the findings – rather than finding a specific answer – could open the window for a style of education that truly motivates, Don said.

I never expected a great thinker would get me to reexamine cheating. Thank-you, Steelcase, for giving me the idea to give Don Norman a call!

Don Norman’s interview with Want Magazine.

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Every business is show business . . . a Disney & Pixar expert tells why

By Kym Reinstadler, SCN Feature Writer | Expert Insights

Pixar Animation Studios’ ode to childhood did it to me again, though my mind was made up that it wouldn’t happen this time.

I was determined not to tear up as I curled up with my three-year-old grandson to watch “Toy Story 3.” I felt “safe” not having a box of tissue nearby since I’d seen the movie twice before and knew what was coming. Yet, as the credits rolled, it was a tear-streaked cheek that Gabriel kissed.

Toy Story 3. Andy gives away his toys.

I’m not overly sentimental, yet I always cry when watching Pixar’s  “Up” as well. Pixar strums my heartstrings.

Pixar’s computer-animated films are a visual delight, but I discovered that’s not what makes them great. Their power is in having a good story and being able to tell it well.  That’s their lightning in a bottle!

Bill Capodagli

Bill Capodagli

In an effort to understand how Pixar does it, and share some secrets with school communicators, I met with Bill Capodagli, co-author of the 2010 book “Innovate the Pixar Way.”

If anyone could reveal the Pixar formula for telling an enduring story in a way that appeals to people of all ages, I figured Capodagli was the guy. Know what? I  was right.

“Every business is show business,” Capodagli said with an engaging grin. “And it all begins with a story and beloved characters.”

The international business consultant also pointed out things Pixar does to foster teamwork, creativity, and innovation within the company.

Capodagli said his research for the book revealed two unique characteristics of Pixar’s corporate culture:

• Everyone is considered first and foremost a storyteller.

• Everyone is encouraged to innovate.

“Collective creativity within a corporate culture never happens by accident,” Capodagli said. “It begins with creative leadership that is trustworthy and, in turn, trusts others to accomplish big dreams.”

Capodagli’s interest in Pixar is rooted in his Baby Boomer fascination with Walt Disney, inventor of feature film animation. Capodagli and co-author Lynn Jackson also wrote the best-selling business book “The Disney Way.”

Pixar, which has been part of Disney since 2006, invented the new generation of animated films using the same guiding principles Walt Disney practiced, but with new technologies that Disney himself would have embraced, Capodagli said.

Those guiding principles are:

  • Dream like a child.
  • Believe in your playmates.
  • Dare to jump in the water and make waves.
  • Unleash your childlike potential.

According to Capodagli, a key for school communicators is to maintain a child-centric point of view, even if their primary audience will be parents or other adults.

 “Pixar movies have mass appeal, but the story always unfolds from a child’s point of view. Why? Because that’s where the energy and magic come from,” he said.

Capodagli points out that while data is important at Pixar, it’s not the driving force. Pixar chooses to not be managed by the numbers. That would be unimaginative.

I told him a story about my experience as a daily newspaper reporter covering a capital campaign in the very school district where he lives. The district asked voters to approve the sale of bonds to build a second high school, and provided copious bar graphs and pie charts outlining dwindling classroom capacity and in contrast to the area’s robust housing starts.

The school bond proposal went down in flames on election day, something that had never before happened in the district. (And here, I ask if any disaster movies come to mind…)

It was a shock to the school community and the superintendent took the loss to heart.  I told Capodagli how school district leaders and parents were able to regroup behind a more personal, student-centric story for a second bond election campaign.

The school district folks embraced their new strategy – communicating now how new schools inspired pride, creativity and achievement. They spread the message neighbor to neighbor and touched on shared hopes and dreams, not color-coordinated pie charts and financial spreadsheets.

The school superintendent spoke to audiences about the future and how schools impact a community’s growth and vitality.

She never told people to get out there and vote yes — but they did in overwhelming numbers on Election Day #2 – the Sequel.

Capodagli liked that story.

That’s probably how Pixar would’ve approached the task the first time around.

Has there been a time when your ability to tell a story well made a big difference in how something turned out? Tell us on the message board.

Added Resource for you!  Pixar Infographic