Blog: Bright Ideas

GIA in the year-round classroom - Developing the Innovator’s Mindset

By Greg Zillmer, Bay Area Educator and Galileo Camp Director


Be Visionary * Be Courageous * Be Collaborative * Be Determined * Be Reflective


What do we want our students to gain from their time in our classrooms?

In our Galileo classrooms during the summer, we create an environment that stimulates creativity and makes learning fun. Galileo campers end their week at camp one step closer to making their mark in the world. As summer comes to a close and our campers return to school, many of our Galileo staff members do the same. It is then that I have the opportunity to bring that Galileo magic to a group of students for an entire school year. More than learning the academic standards or preparing for year-end tests, I am creating an environment that will allow my students to develop their Galileo Innovator’s Mindset.

A brief introduction: I have been with Galileo for the past thirteen summers, as Camp Director of our Sunnyvale Camp G location. When I’m not swinging my magical rubber chicken, I am teaching innovation year-round in my Design Thinking and Computer Science classes at Central Middle School in San Carlos, CA. While sometimes requiring a juggling act, I love the symbiosis that exists between my two worlds.

The influence of the Galileo Innovation Mindset is first seen when my students are introduced to our “Class Code” the very first day of school. I ask my students to “take risks, collaborate, and keep trying.” In other words, be courageous, be collaborative, and be determined... three of our five Galileo Innovator Mindsets. More than phrases on a wall, these are words both my students and I agree to live by in our classroom.

  • Take Risks. Nobody ever wants to look foolish or “stupid,” least of all middle-schoolers. We mustn’t, however, let that fear hold us back. Our classroom is a place where we must all feel safe to make mistakes. Every student has to contribute and no student may ever use the “e word”... easy. We all understand that taking risks and making mistakes may not be easy, but it is crucial if we hope to grow.
  • Collaborate. Much of what we do involves working in pairs or small groups. For some projects, we will break the assignment into segments for the students to complete together one step at a time. For others, I may present the entire assignment, then assign roles for each member of the team to contribute to their finished product. Each of these different approaches helps develop the mindset that together we may either succeed or fail, but that in any case, it will be together.
  • Keep Trying. Taking risks isn’t easy. Neither is working together with a group of peers. The important thing is not that we succeed in everything we do the first time we try it. It is that we do not give up when we fail, instead using that failure to learn and do better the next time.

In everything we do, it is never too difficult to identify at least one of the mindsets that are being developed. They permeate every aspect of our classroom. Teaching and learning in this way is rarely easy, but we must be courageous and determined. We must believe that we all possess what it takes to make change. To be actors. To be creators.


Greg Zillmer has been a Camp Director with Galileo for 13 summers. Fourteen years ago, his love of working with children became a career during his first summer as a Lead Outdoor Instructor a Camp Galileo. After earning his master's degree from the University of San Francisco, he spent eight years teaching in Los Altos and Cupertino. Last year, Greg made the move to Central Middle School in San Carlos, and now teaches Innovation year-round in his Design Thinking and Computer Science classes. Greg also has Galileo to thank for introducing him to his wife, a fellow Camp G Camp Director, and their daughter, Emmy.