Seeds of innovation have been planted in the field of education in the Pikes Peak region, and what's growing now is just the beginning, according to the cultivators.
"I tell our students, you're not only competing with students in your classroom but with kids globally. We want to give our kids an equal playing field," Harrison School District 2 Superintendent Andre Spencer said Tuesday.
That's why starting in the fall, all middle school students in D-2 will learn basic physics concepts through a process of exploration. Spencer said the idea has worked so well at Carmel Middle School that the district wants everyone to have a head start in advanced science.
"When we talk about college and career readiness and innovation and exploration, we can't just say those words without providing kids with those opportunities," he said.
"We need to prepare our kids to be critical thinkers, not critical test-takers."
Spencer was one of about 20 speakers during an event titled "Innovation in K-12," one of 15 presentations happening in town through Thursday. Discussions are being held in a variety of locations on a variety of topics, all focusing on the area's entrepreneurial strengths, existing and new programs, and how innovation can be advanced to benefit the economy.
The series is being presented by a consortium of 21 local businesses and organizations known as Innovate Colorado Springs.
Opportunities for students to experience innovation have sprung up everywhere.
The Space Foundation, which hosted Tuesday's event at its world headquarters in Colorado Springs, has on-site and mobile space-related displays, which 7,000 area students will experience this school year, according to Iain Probert, vice president of education and discovery.
Leadership Pikes Peak will teach 38 teens from 18 high schools about civic engagement and giving back to the community this summer using hands-on projects, said executive director Susan Saska.
STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics education - is making leaps through several initiatives, including EleSTEMary, a program that helps elementary school teachers incorporate those subjects in fun ways, and the Center for STEM Education at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, which works with local companies to host camps on how STEM principles are used in everyday life.
For example, said director Dave Khaliqi, a group of students last year figured out how to keep a community garden properly watered by using a robotic temperature and humidity probe.
"Innovation is what happens when you try something you don't know how to do, guided by whim, inspiration and imagination," he said.
A STEM-oriented class at Mitchell High School called biomedical sciences is so popular that it's expanding to accommodate more students next year, said Dan Hoff, career and technical education facilitator for Colorado Springs School District 11.
"Kids still love to be challenged," he said. "The class is rigorous, hands-on and they can get college credit."
More programs to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among students are in the works.
A new charter school, Launch, may open in 2015 for students who are "the tinkers, dreamers and innovators," said Patrick Cush, an organizer.
A new 21st-century library, part of the Pikes Peak Library District, is being built in Briargate and will open June 21. It will have many high-tech features, interactive spaces, a video and audio recording studio and a business and entrepreneurship center.
The challenge now, said Joe Raso, CEO of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance, one of the groups involved in Innovate Colorado Springs, is how to cross-pollinate the beyond-the-box thinking with business and industry.
"How can we drive K-12 education to serve and support our kids to be the most innovative and entrepreneurial adults? How are we communicating that to our business community?" he said.
"It's not about any one group but about all working together to help support and grow our economy."
The series of presentations on innovation and entrepreneurship will culminate with a luncheon, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday at The Pinery at the Hill, 775 W. Bijou St.
A community discussion will focus on setting goals that will lead to action, Raso said.
To attend the lunch and see other events scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, go to www.innovatecos.com/events.