Creativity Education Reform Innovation Learning Pedagogy Student Choice Teaching

Increase Innovation in Teaching and Learning by Taking “The Low Road”

Standing in a museum you stare transfixed at a unicorn completely submerged in formaldehyde.


Shaking your head, you walk outside only to narrowly avoid being clipped by a driver-less car operated by Google. In a world filled with creativity and content, innovation becomes a necessity rather than an option. There are countless books and websites dedicated to the idea of innovation, some of them quite good. On top of that we see innovation every day on the internet- it’s unusual for me not to see something cool or different as I peruse the web.

Arcade Fire

If you are leading a class and want to blow people away, just get a hold of one of the participants home addresses and sneak it into this site and then have everyone watch the video that is created. If you pick the right person- it’s MAGIC. Click on the picture to learn more about The Wilderness Downtown by Arcade Fire

It can all get a little overwhelming. Now we are asking schools to innovate. We are asking teachers and students to innovate even though they might not have any formal training in the world of creativity, design, and innovation. Along with this world comes apps, technology, software, training; innovation can get pretty expensive and if you make a mistake you might end up regretting the investment of both time and money. So where can teachers and students turn? Where can they find a place to experiment a place to call their own? While we ask kids and friends to take “the high road” I’m going to ask that you experiment just a little and try the place where

“Nobody Cares What You Do In There: THE LOW ROAD”

While I have many heroes:

Personal Heroes 2

I have one hero in particular who inspires me to innovate, to look at the big picture, to bring people together, and to challenge the status quo (even when that status quo is actually the rebellion)


This is Stewart Brand. If you want to know more about him you can visit Stewart Brand’s webpage or the Stewart Brand Wikipedia, but I’ll just give you a crash course on someone that INSPIRES the heck out of me:

  • Founded, edited and published The Whole Earth Catalogue in 1968 which is basically a mashup of Lifehacker, Pinterest, Wired Magazine, and blogging just forty years earlier. I have the 1994 version and it’s awesome, highly recommend buying it. It will give you ideas.

  • 1984, Founded The WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), a computer teleconference system for the San Francisco Bay Area. This was basically the FIRST big, popular online community. The WELL is now owned by Salon.

  • 1984, Initiated and co-organized (with Kevin Kelly and Ryan Phelan) “The Hackers Conference,” which became a TV special by Fabrice Florin, broadcast nationally. Since 1986 it is an annual event.

  • 1994, Author, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built,  Used as a textbook for some architecture and preservation classes.  Many seem to treat it as a book about systems and software design (an example of that).  One reader wrote a summary of the whole book, here.

  • 1966, Conceived and sold buttons which read, “Why Haven’t We Seen A Photograph of the Whole Earth Yet?” Legend has it that this accelerated NASA’s making good color photos of Earth from distant space during the Apollo program and that the ecology movement took shape in 1970 partially as a result of those photos. (Did I mention that I, David Theriault, was born in 1966 on December 14th? Guess who else was born on December 14th? That’s right STEWART BRAND… so dang cool)

In Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built he dedicates an entire chapter to what he calls “Low Road Buildings.” These are places where innovation is allowed room to grow, blossom, explode and reseed all over again. Please watch these two clips from the documentary he created with the BBC (music done by THE Brian Eno) each clip is only a minute long.

Video One: An introduction to the idea of “Low Road Buildings”

Start watching at 1:04 you can stop watching at the 2:33 mark- for some reason the time stamp isn’t working correctly

Video Two: is about the most innovative building at M.I.T. Students and scientists who work in building 20 say that the key is “the ability to personalize your space and shape it to various purposes” and that “[they] feel the space is ours. They designed it, they run it. The building is full of small microenvironments, each of which is different and each a creative space.”

Starts at the 13:17 mark- Building 20 at M.I.T. low prestige space that no one cares what you do with it: runs until the 14:20 mark (I really like the section after this about the pink shopping center in England)

First, you are going to have to find a neglected space. A place where “Nobody Cares What You Do in There.” My son was bored in the car today so I gave him Stewart Brands “The Low Road” essay to read in our car. When he was done I asked him how he could apply it to his life (he’s twelve). After some thinking he said- “it’s like Minecraft. I can do anything I want in my Minecraft creative world.”


This is a screenshot my son took of one of his recent Minecraft adventures

The second important idea beyind “Low Road” innovation is that you need to OWN your space. It’s difficult to do your own thing when someone else is in charge of your creativity space. Take Kenny Shopsin the owner of the New York restaurant Shopsin’s. Who’s Kenny Shopsin you say? He’s someone you should know about. I finally went to the other day to buy a copy of Kenny Shopsin’s book for Andrew Stillman, because Andrew is rad and would LOVE Kenny’s book. It’s all about personalized systems that work in chaotic environments. Now when my wife bought me the book two years ago it was $24.95.


Now the price of the book ranges from $130 to $370 bucks. Why? Cause Kenny Shopsin is IN CHARGE OF HIS CREATIVITY SPACE and it works. Show up at his restaurant with more than four people- he won’t seat you. Copy the order of the person sitting next to you and he might throw you out. He does things his way because he owns the space.

This idea resonates with other people- creative people, people who enjoy and want to read and own a piece of Kenny’s unique brand of innovation by owning his hard-to-find book.

So where can we find that space in an educational setting. Where can teachers and students find that space? It’s not on Google (don’t worry I love Google), on Facebook, on Instagram, or anywhere where there is a company managing and mediating your space. The “Low Road” in education is having your own personal website. Not a class website that is associated with a school or activity that can exert subtle and not subtle pressure on you and your content. Not as a part of a larger community that has certain expectations and sense of decorum. No, it needs to be your own space, with your own identity or name as the url. Like

science-room-website owned by teacher Joan Le

BeenSchooled owned by teacher Joan Le (hey TWO innovative “Low Roads” by Joan Le)

Kelly Kermode owned by teacher Kelly Kermode

Shawn White owned by Shawn White (the teacher, not the skater/snowboarder- although this Shawn White does SHRED)

You’ll notice that each URL is “owned” by the teacher. They can move the content and the identity of the site from place to place. That’s another important concept of “Low Road Innovation” When you create content it needs to be something that you can move from space to space. If you upload a video it needs to be easy to download it and move it to somewhere else. Your identity, your creativity space, your content need to be owned by you and not influenced by others.

When I first thought of having my own URLs it seemed nothing short of vanity and self-promotional, now I get it. Now I understand it’s about being able to shape things as you see fit. It’s about being able to do what you want, without undue influence.

As of now the Internet is free. (I hope it stays that way) Buying your own domain is as expensive as a Starbucks run and yet when you drop that money on the counter and walk away with your own innovation space a whole world of possibilities wait outside that door. I have two big projects lined up, just waiting to emerge from my dreams. They will both be sites with their own identity where I can play, dismantle, add, fix, explore to my hearts content. It will be a place where I and my students can LEARN: an innovation space: A “Low Road” to call our own.

Why should a student or new teacher work to create amazing content, if it’s going to be hid behind a firewall, or owned by a school/district, or attached to a certain website,  or a part of an app and then one day it will disappear when the winds blow easterly? We need to encourage, teach, explain to our students and our peers how “The Low Road” is another powerful tool in the quest for innovation.


  1. Another thing about the Low Road is that it’s often broke.
    I started TheScienceRoom while working at a school with so little money, we teachers had to supplement the paper supply. You go paperless (ish), you don’t need paper. Problem solved.
    Can’t wait for the unfurling of your two mystery projects!

  2. Some cool thoughts here – look forward to reading / watching more about the Low Road later – this has galvanized me as I am thinking about setting up my own website and was wondering how strictly to tie this to school – I think you’re right: be an individual! Represent yourself first… PS I have a sofa in my classroom!

  3. We just had an example of this in class today. A student wanted to do an on-campus art show. Getting approval from the Art teacher and facilities was going to slow down their project. I asked them if they could do the project off-campus. They said they didn’t have the money to rent a space. I said “why does it need to be in a rentable space? Why can’t it be at the beach, at a park, in an alley, in an unused space, in a public space?” #lowroad #innovation

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