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  • Dr Jane Shore

Thinking Inside the Box to Remake School

Published on Sunday, July 17th

We don’t need to reinvent everything to make it work.


Dr. Seuss wrote the book Green Eggs and Ham on a bet that he could not write an entertaining children’s book using only 50 different words. Green Eggs and Ham has sold more than 200 million copies.

When Sara Blakely launched Spanx she couldn’t afford to use the standard marketing approach. Instead, she used word of mouth. This approach was so successful that when they could afford to advertise, they chose not to.

It’s a myth that we need flexibility and control and budget and time to be creative. Too few limits actually hinder us, we can become paralyzed, or at least blocked, by the infinite opportunities and choices we face. Constraints create tension, and tension forces focus, and focus directs choice, prioritization, compromise…and innovation.

The Big Idea

We need to innovate in and for schools inside of the box. In reimagining school, we should not reinvent everything, as George Couros argues here.
  • What can we build on?
  • What do we need to rebuild?
  • What can we scratch and entirely start over?

“I think innovation in schools is important but what about…(insert curriculum, time, money, lack of funding, standardized tests, and lack of training)?”

I hear YOU.

And these are the reasons that innovation is necessary in education.

As it turns out, outside the box, no limits, blue sky creative freedom are not what we need. When faced with scarcity, research shows that people must give themselves the freedom to use resources in less conventional ways. Constraints fuel innovation.

How can we translate the idea of constraints to reimagining school and learning?

Making Big Ideas Usable

The following method was shared by Creativity Strategist Natalie Nixon, PhD.

The SCAMPER method helps us exercise better ways to frame a problem, because each letter is a prompt to frame exercises in constraint, which lead to innovation.  Natalie shares this, and we’ve added a few edu-specific prompts.


“What if we use this, instead of that?”

For example, when people started questioning if they could substitute fossil fuels with a renewable energy source, we got electric cars.

  • What is a different material we could add?
  • What if we tried this in a different language?
  • What would happen if we used this at a different point in the process?
  • How might things turn out if we changed the location than where we typically do this?

(Editor’s note for schools: How might we find ways to substitute unit tests with projects that demonstrate learning? How might substitute the classroom with the courtroom, and hold class at City Hall?)


“What if we add this to that?”

For example, smart phones are basically the result of combining a telephone with a personal home computer.

  • How could we recombine elements of this product or service?
  • What if we integrated different skill sets into this process?
  • What is another feature our customers (editor’s note: which could be students, families, communities) are looking for?
  • What if we asked both experts and novices to work on this together?
  • What would happen if we brought in a different team or another department?

(Editor’s note for schools: What might be enhanced through multi-age learners working together? How can we create courses that cross disciplines?)


“What if we do this instead of or as well as that?”

Coca-Cola adapted in response to growing demand from health conscious consumers, by developing Dasani Water and Glacèau Vitamin Water.

Adaptation is situational. Think about how you could throw out the rule book and adjust the status quo.

  • Could we develop an e-commerce site to complement our brick and mortar store?
  • How could we pivot our messaging to respond to current events or trends?
  • Identify your biggest roadblocks or hurdles, and think how you could sidestep or overcome them.
  • Experiment with different methods, different platforms, or different times of day.

(Editor’s note for schools: How could we incorporate gaming instead of testing? How can we learn from hybrid school to make methods, platforms and timing more flexible?)

  • Dr Jane Shore

    Director of Research & Community Partnerships, Revolution School.

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