In his bright, buzzing Innovation Lab, Chris Aviles is creating the next generation of entrepreneurs. But entrepreneurs with heart. Younger kids make art and jewelry from recycled computer parts to sell online. Seventh graders vend their dried herbs on the lab’s website and sell produce at a student-run farmers’ market. It’s all about engaging kids to come up with innovative solutions to problems. “Kids will never work harder—and the learning will never be more authentic—than when they ship their ideas into the real world,” says Aviles.
School: K–8 Technology, Innovation, and 21st Century Skills coordinator, Fair Haven School District, New Jersey
Career Path: While teaching high school, Aviles “became passionate” about integrating technology into his classroom when he saw how engaged kids were. He started a blog, Teched Up Teacher, to document student learning, and in 2015 he was hired to start Fair Haven Innovates for K–8 students.
Teaching Philosophy: “I teach my kids how to be comfortable being uncomfortable, to be resilient, and how to reframe failure as iteration.”
Quote: “I constantly try to stretch my students by challenging them to solve other people’s wicked, real-world problems.”
FH Gizmos: “In our Innovation Lab, we spun off a business my students named FH Gizmos. Our motto: ‘At FH Gizmos, your problem is our project!’ The first problem we got to solve as a business was for the communications company Slack. Slack challenged my kids to create a desktop toy that employees could use to help them focus while they were working. After four months of hard work, we filled a $1,000 manufacturing contract for Slack by delivering 50 fidget spinners. The student entrepreneurs of FH Gizmos are hoping to parlay their success with Slack into more manufacturing contracts with more ed tech companies!”
3 Innovation Tools
Real World Scholars “is a wealth of expertise, resources, and support for anyone interested in bringing entrepreneurship to his or her school.”
The d.school at Stanford “is the gold standard in teaching design thinking. They have a ton of great resources to help you learn how to teach design thinking to students, with a focus on leading with empathy.”
Twitter “is my favorite place to connect with like-minded educators, exchange ideas, and share resources. I couldn’t imagine not being a connected educator.”
What has surprised you as a teacher?
“My students’ hustle, grind, thoughtfulness, and imagination. Just when I think they might throw in the towel, they rally and blow me away.”