Expanding Operations in Suzie Boss’ Idea Factory Classrooms (By Two)

Earlier today, Jackie Gerstein tweeted a link to this article from Suzie Boss over on KQED’s MindShift.

Students building a cafe at Brightworks School in San Francisco; illustrating Boss’ points in her article at KQED’s MindShift

1. Suzie Boss has a fantastic name.

2. She lays out the foundations for classrooms trafficking in ideas, innovations, and accomplishments.

Please, take the time to read her brief, pithy rationales for each of the following.


— Suzie Boss, from  from Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World, published in July by Solution Tree.

I want to point out a couple of observations about this list and add a notion or two of my own.

Observation A: Verbage.  These are actions.  Boss class upon educators to DO something in these classrooms, and more importantly, empower students to DO something.  Much of the 20th century was passive reception.  Let’s get the 21st Century started right.

Observation B: Project-based or no, mass customized or no, common cored or no, what Boss describes are good places to be.  Good places to live.  Good places to work with other individuals.  Turn those actions into values and haven’t we all but described an ideal place to learn and grow, to work and play?  I don’t mean to sound utopian here, but what more could one ask for in a classroom than that?

Okay.  I could ask for one or two other things.  They are small though.  Important.  Small.

Wicked Decent Learning’s Amendments to Suzie Boss’ Otherwise Fantastic and Inspiring Set of Principles for Creating Idea Factories in Our Classroom

Amendment #1: MAKE SOMETHING

As I mentioned above, we spent an inordinate amount of time in traditional classrooms, acting as passive receivers of knowledge and understanding.  And this carried over into the rest of our lives, our worlds — we have largely become passive consumers of media and culture.   The tide can shift however.  We have technology, access and time on our side now for our students to become creators, makers, originators — not just of ideas but material “stuff.”  Successful classrooms are those where students emerge with products as well as thoughts.


Nothing ventured and nothing gained.  Students — heck, most adults — all right, myself, primarily myself — struggle..s.. (bad grammar moment there) with resiliency.  We want success, we want it now, and if it anything stands in the way of it — well, we aren’t necessarily going to give it everything we have.  We might get knocked down and stay down.  Classrooms should be the safest harbors for failure and the most supportive sources of recovery.  Into the future, students need to know the risks they face in grappling with innovation and be shown it is okay to take the time to crash, burn, and rebuild.

I’ll be sharing all of these with my 10 IPBL/MCL/We Really Need a Better Name for this Pilot at the end of next week.  I think we are about to start building something pretty special.

For more about the project-based learning, mass customized learning pilot my students developed and will pilot this coming year, visit here.

For more about Suzie Boss’ work, visit here.


About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

4 thoughts on “Expanding Operations in Suzie Boss’ Idea Factory Classrooms (By Two)

  1. Hi Dan,
    Thanks for the post. I like your two amendments. In fact, you’ll find both addressed at length in my new book (Bringing Innovation to School), from which MindShift post was excerpted.
    Sounds like you’re doing interesting, important work in Maine. Look forward to updates as your pilot unfolds.

    • Hi Suzie,

      Thanks for the well wishes. We resume classes next week and should have a web presence devoted to the project up shortly thereafter.

      Intending to procure a copy of your book as soon as possible. I really enjoyed the preview available at Solution Tree and I’ve a feeling it could certainly help those of us involved in our project, as well as the bigger changes going on in our district. (We’ve just begun our work with Bea McGarvey on Mass Customized Learning.)

  2. The amendment addressing the need to allow a safe space for failure is one I hold dear. We often talk about building confidence in our students, self esteem and comfort with the subject matter being taught. We want them to be versatile life long learners. We all fall when learning to ride our bikes, imagine if our parents had said, “well, you should have prepared more, now we’ll have to take your bike away.”

    At least at the secondary level this seems to be the attitude many colleagues of mine have had. With the stakes so high and failure so admonished, it’s no wonder why we have trouble engaging some reluctant learners. Permission to falter, fail and screw up should be universal, so long as you reflective of it.

    • My parents did say that, Jeff. Which is why, to this day, I ride only a unicycle and a big wheel.

      I wonder if this climate of “afraid to fail” has been perpetuated not only by an era of reliance upon high-stakes testing, but also this sort of . . . I don’t know . . . exceptionalism? You are special. You are unique. There is no one else like you in the whole world. The championing of the individual above all else to the point where any time we put the needs of the group first, we are accused of socialism, communism, and surrealism.

      I think it’s important for students to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed, their capacity to fail, and the interdependence of each member of a society.

      My buddy Jim loves rocking the “None of us is as smart as all of us,” and he’s right on. How can we better let our students know they can fail and there will be others to help them get back on their feet, while at the same time the group can fail and they may still have an individual accomplishment of which to be proud?

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