Henry Ford Museum

Learn innovation from the heart of American innovation: The Henry Ford

Why should you apply for the Henry Ford Teacher Innovator Award? You might think the title and accolades would be nice, and of course you’d be right. Even better, a beautiful award crafted in the glass blowing shop in Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village sure beats the suitable-for-framing document usually given to teachers. But the real reason you should apply is for the week-long, all-expenses-paid, innovation immersion experience given to the 10 first place winners. Three months later and I’m still reflecting back on all that I learned from that week, planning for our some-day trip to return to The Henry Ford for more inspiration.

Maker Faire Detroit 2015 at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich. Sunday, July 26, 2015. Gary Malerba/Special To The Henry Ford

First Place Teacher Innovator Awards from The Henry Ford (photo credit: Gary Malerba/Special To The Henry Ford)

I’ve always known that Henry Ford had a significant role in America’s identity as an innovative, risk-taking, hands-on, problem-solving country, but I had no idea how much of his philosophy extended to education. A week at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan opened my eyes to not only Ford’s legacy, but also to the power of teaching our students to be innovators themselves.

After arriving in Michigan (all flight, transportation, hotel and meal details arranged and paid for by The Henry Ford), our week started with the Maker Faire Detroit, a “three-ring circus of innovation. Robotics, electronics, rockets, food, music, fashion, science — if somebody makes it, we’ll find a place for it at Maker Faire Detroit.” It is a living example of the power and creativity of innovation, and an inspiration to those of us wanting to find ways to bring innovation to our students.

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The Maker Shed at Maker Faire, Detroit, Henry Ford Museum.

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A maker in action (Maker Faire Detroit, Henry Ford Museum).

When I heard we would be touring the Henry Ford Museum, I pictured an institution honoring the work of Henry Ford in the automobile and factory industry. What I didn’t expect was to discover that Henry Ford himself created the museum because he wanted to honor the innovation and ingenuity of Americans. He was so fascinated with this work that he collected examples of American innovation every chance he could. And he saw innovation in more ways than his assembly line might suggest: while that was an innovation of process and product, Ford also honored innovation of ideas. His museum is there not for his own glory; rather, it is a walk through generations of genius in America, including the innovative thinking that challenged the social status quo of sexism, racism, and classism. Included in the museum is the American progression of automobiles, furniture, appliances, etc., as well as artifacts of innovative thinking, such as the founding of our country, women’s suffrage, and the Civil Rights Movement, including the very bus that Rosa Parks occupied.

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Engineering is art (Henry Ford Museum).

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Rosa Parks’ bus (Henry Ford Museum).

If you have spent any time touring California colleges, you have probably heard of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s philosophy of “learn by doing.” I didn’t know that clear back in 1929, Henry Ford established a “learn by doing” school on the site of his museum. The children studied in the actual museum, exploring and using the contents as part of their education. There is still a school in the museum today, where students learn through “real-world experiences that focus on innovation and creativity.”

Our week of innovation immersion at The Henry Ford was spent with curators, archivists, and historians, passionate experts in their fields, who led us on tours of Ford’s legacy of innovation, including:

  • The Henry Ford Museum: nine acres of space dedicated to documenting the “genius of ordinary people.”
  • The Benson Ford Research Center archives: an astounding collection of American ingenuity and enterprise, such as Thomas Edison’s patent models, folk art and paintings, the personal and business papers of Henry Ford, domestic textiles such as quilts and coverlets, and couture fashion and accessories.
  • Greenfield Village: 80 acres dedicated to recreating an American village from the 19th century. It includes 83 authentic, historic structures, from Noah Webster’s home, where he wrote the first American dictionary, to Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, to the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law (even Sonoma County is represented there, as Ford brought Luther Burbank’s office and garden spade to the Village). In Greenfield Village, you can “ride in a genuine Model T or ‘pull’ glass with world-class artisans; you can watch 1867 baseball or ride a train with a 19th-century steam engine. Greenfield Village is a celebration of the people whose unbridled optimism came to define modern-day America.”
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Henry Ford and Thomas Edison often visited Luther Burbank at his experimental gardens in Santa Rosa, CA. In 1928, Burbank’s tiny office building was moved to Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

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America’s 19th-century farms, operating now just as they did then (Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford).

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The Wright Brothers Cycle Shop (and aeronautical laboratory) in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

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Thomas Edison’s laboratory in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.

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Skilled artisans practice authentic period crafts and trades with techniques and equipment that are, in some cases, centuries old (Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford).

  • The Ford Rouge Factory: we saw the Ford assembly line in action, learned about the factory’s history, and heard how the current ownership endeavors to further innovate the factory workplace. No pressure, Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry!
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The history of Ford automobiles (The Ford Rouge Factory).

  • The Henry Ford Estate: although closed to the public for restoration, we were treated to a tour by the curator who is in charge of identifying every rug, painting, wall color, window trim, book, and bedding that would have been in the original estate. True to Ford’s belief that hands-on is the best way to learn, the restoration plan allows visitors to choose a book from a shelf, pull up a chair, and enjoy reading in Ford’s library.
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The Henry Ford Estate.

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Library in the Henry Ford Estate.

As if the expert-led tours weren’t enough, our week also included workshops to help us teach our students to be innovators. Instead of asking students to memorize and recite back, curriculum from The Henry Ford helps teachers inspire their students to be the same kind of innovative, risk-taking, hands-on, problem-solving people that made America so great.

On Innovation curriculum from The Henry Ford.

On Innovation curriculum from The Henry Ford.

I can’t recommend this experience highly enough! I encourage all you innovative teachers out there to apply for next summer’s Innovation Immersion experience.

See a quick promotion here: https://vimeo.com/user24471526/review/140475331/8f8054da91 

Get application information here: http://www.thehenryford.org/teacherInnovator/

Let me know if you have any questions! This application is well worth your time.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.” Henry Ford

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When teachers gather together

giantsI’ve learned that when attending an education conference, it’s a success if I come away with two, maybe three great new ideas to try in my classroom. The conference experience is so overwhelming, both inspirational and exhausting, that it’s easy to get lost in the flood of creativity, innovation and enthusiasm from all those amazing presenters.

I’m not sure how that sage advice applies to a weeklong innovation immersion experience at the heart of America’s own history of innovation: The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan. I am one of ten educators enjoying a week of tours, workshops and innovation challenges, and I’m afraid I’ll be so overwhelmed that I won’t remember any of it when it’s over.

But after just 24 hours with the other nine teachers, I can tell you this: put the ten of us in a room together for a week, and the innovation and creativity will fly so fast and furious that we’ll all be renewed and inspired no matter what was outside that room. These are some amazing educators! Like Saba Ghole and her innovative NuVu Studio School in Cambridge, MA. Or Texas teachers Lyle Crossley and Joe Morris, whose high school students have designed, built and raced solar cars in competitions across the country. Or Mark Suter, who has turned his students’ budding interests in technology into an entrepreneurial club that creates film promotions for local businesses in Ohio, generating donations that are reinvested back into their work.

Just give me a couple hours with Hawaii educator Wrayna Fairchild, so I can hear all about her fellowship in New Zealand and her work aboard a research ship. Or an afternoon with Donna Gradel, whose environmental science students from Oklahoma designed, built and delivered aquaponics units — sustainable food production systems used to raise fish and cultivate plants — to a remote district in Kenya.

Elementary school teachers Jamie Ewing (Seattle, WA) and Melissa Collins (Memphis, TN) have earned so many awards and recognitions that I feel like I’ve been dropped into the who’s who of Olympic educators. While early elementary teachers are told to focus on raising their students’ reading and math scores, Melissa’s students wear lab coats, answer to the title “junior scientists,” and engage in experiments that turn them into critical thinkers and problem solvers. Jamie has turned the traditional science fair on its ear, moving his students’ projects to a digital science fair space where they can share and view projects from other students around the country.

We even have a preschool teacher among us, and she is leading the pack in pushing back against the academic pressures that have trickled all the way down to our precious toddlers. Linda Reimond’s students thrive in an environment that encourages art, play and exploration, and we know those students move into the K-12 system well prepared for an authentic, productive education.

Yes, the immersion in history and innovation at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is going to be an incredibly powerful experience, both professionally and personally, but the nine extraordinary teachers I’m hanging out with will surely give ol’ Henry a run for his innovative money.