What Does it Mean to Innovate?

Lesson Plan


Give the term “innovation” grounding in a concrete object by leading your students through a guided discussion of innovation based on Tony Jojola’s innovative twist on traditional Pueblo pottery.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Social Studies


Students will be able to:

  • define the meaning of the term innovate/innovation;
  • identify how Tony Jojola’s piece is innovative;
  • generate their own innovative ideas about objects in their surroundings; and
  • reflect on the value of innovation in society.


  1. Warm-up: Display the image of Untitled (Kilt Series 06) and invite students to look carefully and share what they observe. Ask: What do you notice? What colors do you see? What material do you think the artist used to make this? How would you describe this piece? What do you think is most interesting about this piece?
  2. Share with students that this piece was created by an artist named Tony Jojola who grew up in the Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico and watched his father and grandfather work as silversmiths and his grandmother work as a potter. While the piece is in the shape of a traditional Isleta jar (see image in the About the Art section), it is not made of clay; rather it’s made of glass accented with red speckled beads and silver dust. How is his art different from the more traditional jar? How is it the same?
  3. Introduce the idea of innovation. Explain that innovation happens when one blends a new idea with an already existing idea. An innovation creates something new that didn’t exist before. Ask: When you think about this piece of artwork, what is old about it? What is new about it? How did the artist combine old and new to make something innovative? Tony Jajola says “I continue to rely on my culture for inspiration, but I want to be known as a contemporary artist, an innovator;” do you think he has succeeded?
  4. In this work of art, the artist took an existing form of art (the traditional jar shape from his culture), but used a new medium (glass) to create it. Lead the class in a fun game of imagining ways to be innovative with materials. Ask students what other materials could be used to make objects found in the classroom. After each idea, reflect on whether the idea would be an improvement on the existing object or not. For example, what if the tables and chairs in the classroom were made of cardboard which is less expensive than wood and metal? What if our clothes were made of plastic? What if our knives and forks were made of glass?
  5. Wrap up the discussion by bringing students back to Untitled (Kilt Series 06) and reflect on innovation. Ask: When you look at this jar, what about it is innovative? How do you feel about the artist’s choice to use glass? Was his innovation successful or do you wish he had used clay to make the jar? Why? What are some ways you could innovate using this jar as your starting point? (Possible responses could include: use a new medium or a different shape, develop a new way to use the jar, etc.) Why do you think innovation is important? Innovation is an important 21st century skill for students to understand and practice; help students reconnect to this guided discussion throughout the year!


  • Large piece of chart paper and markers or (interactive) whiteboard on which to record students’ ideas as a class
  • Markers, colored pencils and crayons
  • About the Art section on Untitled (Kilt Series 06) by Tony Jojola (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • One color copy of the artwork for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, ideas and themes
      • Become familiar with United States family and cultural traditions in the past and present
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Untitled (Kilt Series 06)

Untitled (Kilt Series 06)


Tony Jojola

Who Made It?

Tony Jojola (Ho-ho-la) is one of the most innovative glass artists in the United States. He was born in Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico in 1958 and grew up surrounded by artists. His grandfather and father were silversmiths and his grandmother was a potter. Jojola first learned glassblowing techniques at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and then studied with internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck Glass School. After achieving career success, Jojola founded the Taos Glass Arts and Education program, which teaches young people how to express themselves in glass.

As more Pueblo artists learn to work in glass, the question of what is “traditional” comes up. Jojola looks at it this way: “Lots of people think silver is a traditional Native American medium, but it wasn’t in the beginning.”

What Inspired It?

Jojola’s family and cultural background have significantly influenced his work. He learned pottery making from his grandmother and continues to shape traditional forms, using glass instead of clay. “I feel that glass relates to clay very strongly,” he says. “To me, glass is like clay you can’t touch.” Jojola also honors his family by using his grandfather’s silver jewelry stamps on some of his glass vessels.

Jojola's time at the Pilchuck Glass School and exposure to artists like Vincent van Gogh also play a pivotal role in the work he creates. “I continue to rely on my culture for inspiration, but I want to be known as a contemporary artist, an innovator,” Jojola says.



The shape of Untitled (Kilt Series 06) is reminiscent of the form of traditional Isleta Pueblo jars, such as the one shown in this image here.


Jojola is known for his use of bright, distinctive colors, like this lime green with accents of red and black. “I love color, I love Van Gogh, but those paintings are not what inspired me. The colors I love are the ones we have in the world of New Mexico,” he says.

Red and Black Lines
Red and Black Lines

Working from drawings, Jojola applies colored threads of glass with a hot torch while an assistant holds the piece steady. Jojola employs several skilled assistants because the glassblowing process requires him to move quickly and leaves little room for error.

Sparkly Surface
Sparkly Surface

Jojola rolls or dips the glass in silver dust to create a sparkly surface.

The Red Beads
The Red Beads

Jojola used Hubbell beads, originally sold at the Hubbell Trading Post in the late 1880s and 1890s, to embellish this vessel. The owner and founder of the trading post most likely bought the beads from Czech beadmakers and resold them to American Indian artists. We can assume that Jojola bought or collected these beads to use in his art.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.