Ten Vintage Ideas to Spark Innovation in Your Classroom

I love how everything that people mocked as being “outdated” is now coming back.

“Don’t lecture. It’s horrible,” people said.

Now it’s, “Hey, we have a TEDx Event at our school.”

People mocked non-techie projects and now it’s “we really need hands-on Maker Spaces. Maybe we should have some cardboard and duct tape.” We went from saying, “note-taking is useless when you can just Google information” to saying, “check out these sketch-notes.”

Perhaps it’s part of a larger cultural phenomenon. People are embracing craft beverages and food, doing DIY projects, listening to music on vinyl, and learning things like blacksmithing and knitting (both being hobbies only for the toughest of the tough). For about a decade now, we’ve been waking up to vintage and realizing that old isn’t archaic.

Maybe it’s time we abandon the idea that certain education practices are outdated and realize that the best learning is timeless and sometimes some of the best ideas are buried under the industrial carpet of factory schools.

Some of the most innovative ideas are not based upon boldly looking forward but on quietly looking back; to turn away from the collective gaze at all things novel and to look backwards at what we’ve lost.

Sometimes relevance doesn’t mean a deep dive into augmented reality or artificial intelligence. Sometimes it’s a deep dive into a novel or a meandering philosophical discussion on what it means to be human. It’s often in the analog that we find a difference perspective. T.S. Eliot put it this way, “A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”

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This isn’t meant to be nostalgic. There are certainly horrible things in the past that we don’t want to repeat. However, in the ed tech drive toward collective novelty, we often miss out on the classic and the vintage. We buy into expensive tech wholesale (like interactive whiteboards) without thinking about the context or the purpose. Remember when laser discs were going to revolutionize education?

vintage

So, here’s a list of vintage and analog ideas:

  1. Sketch-Noting: I love having students doodle out ideas. Sometimes it’s a mind-map. Other times, it’s a diagram or an annotated picture. It’s cool to see them change lettering size and thickness, add colors with colored pencils, develop their own iconography and create a syntax through lines and swirls. The tools are simple but the thinking is complex.
  2. Interactive Notebooks: Like sketch-noting, interactive notebooks use simplicity to drive complexity. Students can sketch out ideas, diagrams, and observations. They can tape in clippings and pictures that can fold and unfold in bizarre ways. Over time, students can create an internal organizational structure that both reflects and facilitates how their thinking. This works best when students have choice rather than following strict directions from the teacher.
  3. Prototyping with Duct Tape and Cardboard: I love the fact that so many schools have embraced things like cardboard challenges. It’s the opposite of setting up a model on a computer and then printing it to a 3-D printer. But this physical manipulation actually allows students to engineer things in a way that focuses on problem-solving.
  4. Apprenticeships: This is an older idea that I’d love to see more of in schools. There’s something powerful about getting a chance to see how the world works while slowly learning a craft. It doesn’t have to be a permanent lifelong decision. However, the process of observing, trying, and getting feedback in a real context is something that doesn’t happen enough in schools.
  5. Gardens: One of the things I used to love about Tim Lauer’s Instagram feed was the sheer number of pictures that take place at the Lewis Elementary School garden. (I still love Tim’s Instagram feed, but he’s no longer the principal at Lewis.) It’s a reminder that in a techno-digital age, there is value in feeling the dirt between our hands and watching life grow from virtually nothing.
  6. Recess: The idea is simple. Play matters. For all the talk of adding movement and creativity to classrooms, one of the best fixes a school can offer is unstructured period of time to just play. Watch the worlds that kids develop. Watch them craft new games. Watch them design new worlds. It’s pretty amazing.
  7. Socratic Seminars: This has become a bit of a buzzword in language arts circles and often they’ve added a set of structures that make it surprisingly un-Socratic. But the idea here is to have a conversation. Ask questions. Talk back and forth. One of the things I love about the actual Socratic Dialogues is that they often begin with an intentional examination of language. We need more of that. I recently wrote about how philosophy has become a critical skill for the future of learning. In an era of artificial intelligence, wisdom is at a premium.
  8. Games and Simulations: When I taught social studies, we created a mock factory to learn about industrialization. We did a modified version of Risk to see the way the alliance system, nationalism, and imperialism would lead to World War I. We learned about total war through a paper ball fight. We analyzed communism, capitalism, and socialism by hacking Monopoly. However, whenever I attempted an online simulation, the student discourse suffered and students had a harder time remembering the concepts. There was something about the physical movement and the tactile experiences that led to a deeper understanding of the content.
  9. Experiments: Yes, it’s possible to watch an experiment on video. Someday we’ll have virtual reality glasses that will allow students to experience the experiments firsthand. But that pales in comparison to a science experiment performed in the moment aided only by natural curiosity and whatever stuff you have around to make the experiment possible. In fact, there’s some great research showing that students will learn more from the experiments if they draw their observations rather than taking pictures.
  10. Manipulatives: When I taught students about slavery, we analyzed primary sources. We looked at videos. We had discussions about power and privilege and race and injustice. However, when they needed to learn about the power of the cotton gin in transforming the institution of slavery, it felt foreign to students. I wish we had been able to look at a working model of a cotton gin. However, I was able to give each student a physical piece of cotton with the seeds inside of it. This hands-on manipulative helped students launch tons of discussions on this topic. It became a reference point for them throughout the unit. The same was true of the stock notes they had from the 1920’s or the old photo album and post cards they were able to access from the 1800’s. And yet, with the push toward multimedia content delivery in one-to-one classrooms, I worry that students aren’t always given the opportunity to learn about concepts by actually using physical artifacts.
I am not opposed to using computers. After all, my last blog series was all about the future of education. However, I am convinced that the future of learning is also vintage. Some of the best voices, ideas, and tools are the ones we overlooked in our search for the latest and greatest.

The First in a Series

Last month, I explored the future of learning. This month, we’re going vintage. We will explore what it looks like to be innovative with less technology. We’ll explore analog tools. We’ll delve into ideas that we have neglected as a culture. I’m not entirely sure how it will go, but it could be fun!

Listen as a Podcast

This post is also available on my Creative Classroom podcast. This time it’s a little different. I recorded the podcast as a stream of conscious reflection and then wrote the post later. If you’re someone who enjoys listening to podcasts on the way to work, this might be a great way to “read” my blog. (Note: if you enjoy the podcast, please feel free to leave a review on iTunes). You can also listen to it below:

John Spencer

My goal is simple. I want to make something each day. Sometimes I make things. Sometimes I make a difference. On a good day, I get to do both.

More about John

5 responses

  1. […] Ten Vintage Ideas to Spark Innovation in Your Classroom – John Spencer. I love how everything that people mocked as being “outdated” is now coming back. “Don’t lecture. It’s horrible,” people said. Now it’s, “Hey, we have a TEDx Event at our school.” […]

  2. […] Some of the most innovative ideas are not based upon boldly looking forward but on quietly looking back; to turn away from the collective gaze at all things novel and to look backwards at what we’ve lost. Sometimes relevance doesn’t mean a deep dive into augmented reality or artificial intelligence. Sometimes it’s a deep dive into a novel or a meandering philosophical discussion on what it means to be human. It’s often in the analog that we find a difference perspective. T.S. Eliot put it this way, “A good poet will usually borrow from authors remote in time, or alien in language, or diverse in interest.”  […]

  3. I plan to have students observe and then draw a three-dimensional object that they are viewing…include dark and light areas in object and surrounding site. Then, I would like students to take a photo of the same three dimensional object and draw it again looking at the photo….including light and dark areas.
    I would like students to compare and contrast results of both observational 3-D drawing and flat 2-D drawing.

  4. John! LOVE this post!!!

  5. […] Learning with 'e's: Why Twitter is so powerful. HomeAustralian Curriculum Lessons – Lesson Plans, Classroom Activities and Games for Teachers Teaching in Australia. Ice Breaker Lesson #2 – Question WebAustralian Curriculum Lessons. Ten Vintage Ideas to Spark Innovation in Your Classroom – John Spencer. […]

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