The Innovation Diploma “Disney” (as they named themselves) Cohort accepted their first challenge presented to them by the Center for Disease Control’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) in partnership with MVIFI. Mary Cantwell, Director of Mount Vernon’s Center for Design Thinking, presented this challenge to the students in a brilliant 5-minute teaser only days before. What I loved about this experience, which began with Mary’s teaser, was that the students were a bit uneasy about their role (read more about one student’s perspective here). Bo Adams and I purposefully kept our answers to their questions brief, and offered up little clarification. Problem solving is messy and sometimes we don’t even know what the problem is that we’re trying to solve. Students are used to being given a nice, neat problem and they’re asked to take their best shot at solving it, which is great practice, but it isn’t what problem solving truly looks like. Friday’s experience at the CDC did exactly what I had hoped it would do– it sparked excitement about solving real problems, disrupted typical student and adult roles, created a partnership between a government organization and an educational institution, and redefined for many the typical definition of school. Our students are genuinely interested in helping the CDC solve real health issues and there was no assignment and no grade attached. All the issues tapped into topics that would generally fall into a science class (ADHD, medications, birth defects, pregnancy etc.), data collection falls into a typical math class, and the pages worth of writing that our students voluntarily completed throughout the day would normally be something they would produce in an English class. In order to understand the problems they were working with and the adults that struggled with these problems, students had to dig into history, and they had to understand some of the inner workings of government organizations, something that might be discussed in a history class. But for these four hours, there were no classes; no bell rang to signal the end of one subject and the beginning of another; no teacher led the class and assigned the students their roles. And let me tell you, it was invigorating. What if that were a typical day at school? For the Innovation Diploma cohort that IS school, and we can’t wait to do it again.