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Do (Great) Schools Have Lessons For Marketing?

Posted by Bill Lee on July 20, 2010 at 09:04 AM

Great article in Newsweek The Creativity Crisis which (after deploring the way most kids are taught these days in American schools) provides a compelling example of how learning should occur. It comes from Ohio's National Inventors Hall of Fame School,a middle school in Akron.

Looking for something better than the daily, dispiriting grind of cramming information into students heads day in and day out,  teachers tried something different with fifth graders. They game them a pracitcal problem to solve: figure out how to reduce noise in the school library, which overlooks a public space. Even with windows closed, the library was still too noisy. 

The students had four weeks to develop proposals to solve the problem. Here's what happened. Note that the project was cleverly designed to lead the students to learn significant parts of the school's fifth grade curriculum--but what a difference in motivation! 

And here's a question to ponder. Could there be a lesson here for marketing departments--so eager to get their message into customer's heads? Would it be possible to engage customers in a much more compelling and energizing way--by getting them to think about clarifying and starting to solve a problem that's important to them? You then introduce  your solutions and intellectual property only at the point when needed, to get to the next step? 

Perhaps you'd get a reaction from customers similar to the energy generated in these fifth graders as they worked to reduce the noise in their library...

"Working in small teams, the fifth graders first engaged in what creativity theorist Donald Treffinger describes as fact-finding. How does sound travel through materials? What materials reduce noise the most? Then, problem-finding—anticipating all potential pitfalls so their designs are more likely to work. Next, idea-finding: generate as many ideas as possible. Drapes, plants, or large kites hung from the ceiling would all baffle sound. Or, instead of reducing the sound, maybe mask it by playing the sound of a gentle waterfall? A proposal for double-paned glass evolved into an idea to fill the space between panes with water. Next, solution-finding: which ideas were the most effective, cheapest, and aesthetically pleasing? Fiberglass absorbed sound the best but wouldn’t be safe. Would an aquarium with fish be easier than water-filled panes?

"Then teams developed a plan of action. They built scale models and chose fabric samples. They realized they’d need to persuade a janitor to care for the plants and fish during vacation. Teams persuaded others to support them—sometimes so well, teams decided to combine projects. Finally, they presented designs to teachers, parents, and Jim West, inventor of the electric microphone.

"Along the way, kids demonstrated the very definition of creativity: alternating between divergent and convergent thinking, they arrived at original and useful ideas. And they’d unwittingly mastered Ohio’s required fifth-grade curriculum—from understanding sound waves to per-unit cost calculations to the art of persuasive writing. “You never see our kids saying, ‘I’ll never use this so I don’t need to learn it,’ ” says school administrator Maryann Wolowiec. “Instead, kids ask, ‘Do we have to leave school now?’ ” Two weeks ago, when the school received its results on the state’s achievement test, principal Traci Buckner was moved to tears. The raw scores indicate that, in its first year, the school has already become one of the top three schools in Akron, despite having open enrollment by lottery and 42 percent of its students living in poverty."

Reference Community Comments

Wow, great story! This just demonstrates in a powerful way all of the things that could be going on in the classroom. Students need to know why they are making the investment in their learning.

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