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What? Innovate? You Want Me to Decide?

February 6, 2012

From Idea Champions 2012

Not that long ago when talking in our 21C Global Studies class about Daniel Pink concepts, we came across the notion of FedEx Day and some students thought it would be a very cool way to
design their own projects, based on their own interests.  In fact, we began the school year, with students’ initial blog posts answering Pink’s “What’s My Sentence” activity.  They were interested in what Daniel Pink had to say about motivation.

So, the time has come and we’ve decided to partake in a classroom FedEx Day of our own.  Students were given no real parameters other than:

  • Think of a topic that is interesting to you
  • Research it and learn more about it
  • Pitch it to the rest of the class for feedback, ideas, etc.
  • Learn more about your topic.  Is there a problem for which you could offer solutions?
  • Create something that shows what you have learned and/or proposing.

Sounds awesome, right?  Inquiry-based, student-driven learning at it’s best.  Well, we aren’t finished yet, but it is an uphill battle.  I am experiencing a lot of push back.  While I anticipated some, I didn’t quite expect it to be this much.  The thing is, our students here are not used to learning like this.  It’s not their fault…  the drill-and-kill system has become what it is.

But, how do I keep going?  How do I keep pushing them more towards this type of learning when a few of them are so discouraged over what they are beginning to view as an outrageous assignment.  This is the email I just sent to my students:

Dear students,

I’ve been receiving emails that NO ONE has any clue what they are doing regarding this project, however I know that is not true.  I spent a considerable amount of time talking with people one-on-one and I heard some pretty amazing project ideas including:

  • Implementing a senior advisory program that would eliminate some seniors having 8+ odd study halls and actually let them be out in classes as assistants to teachers in areas of interest to them, in lieu of a senior project
  • The effects of nuclear fallout and why the US needs to keep focus on Iran, including building a model or diorama of a city and creating some chemical reaction (safely, in a lab, of course), of what nuclear radiation looks like for people.
  • Getting the school to empower students instead of manage and punish students – dress code, etc.
  • Creating a tutoring website for our school where students could create short video clips about a teacher’s lesson to help other/younger students.  Something like this is very real and could be archived to be used long after you’re gone from here…  it’s leaving a legacy of yours behind for others.
  • Funding for college and higher education
  • How to create a website for a small-town business to attract more business from outside of the area
  • Looking at whether or not schools that are 100% digital are really better than schools that are not.  One student wants to reach out via a twitter chat to find and talk to students in another school who work in a completely digital environment
  • One student is looking at and studying the possible, expanded uses for geothermal energy
  • One student is looking to compare how war looks through the eyes of an American teenager versus a teen on the other side of the world to help raise understanding.
  • One student is creating a “How-To” guide for teenagers to transition from high school to the real world or college
  • One student talked about creating a video that would be a public service announcement  to dissuade teens from bullying others – online and in school.
These are only some ideas, off the top of my head, from YOUR own classmates.  I provided this post before as examples of what sixth-graders did with their FedEx day.  Sixth-graders!  Surely you all can come up with something that interests you and is important to you.  Learn about something and show me what you’ve learned.  Propose new ways to make something function better.  I talked, too, about another class where the teacher had students read The Hunger Games and come up with two alternate types of arenas.  Do you love to read?  Have a favorite book?  Maybe use that book and create an alternate ending or plot.  Create an iMovie that is a movie trailer for your new “story.”  The possibilities are endless, but I can’t decide for you what is interesting to you.

From Christian Lenses

If you are frustrated and uncomfortable, that is OK.  It is in these spaces that research studies show we learn the most.  Complaining and repeatedly offering up an “I don’t know” will not get you any closer to completing this assignment.  Stop looking for the things that make this difficult to do.  Be part of the solution.  I just heard a great quote somewhere in which someone gave a motivational speech and said, “If you are not a programmer, then you are part of the program.”  I want you to find ways to be a programmer as the latter leaves you subject to be taken advantage of.  I’ve seen the work each and every one of you are capable of…  In fact I recently shared some of your accomplishments on my own professional blog.

You CAN do this.  No more complaining.  No more negativity.  If you let go of your fear of failure or not ‘getting it right’ you’ll be amazed at what can happen.   I know this is a different type of learning.  And, it is messy.  There is no absolute checklist.  Just give it a chance is all I ask.
If, in a year or three, you have a job and your boss comes to you and says, “Our business might have to close because our sales/service is down.  What ideas do you have to help keep our business afloat?”  … will you know how to think for yourself and solve problems?  That is my question to leave with you for the day.
Good luck, stop stressing!
Tomorrow and Wednesday, students will pitch their ideas to our class and their peers – not for approval, but to garner ideas about how accomplish what it is they’re setting out to do.
6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 7, 2012 9:46 PM

    FedEx Day? My middle schoolers loved FedEx Days!

  2. February 8, 2012 7:05 AM

    Never heard of fed-ex day until now!

    • February 12, 2012 8:41 PM

      Thanks for commenting! One book that has dramatically changed my teaching practice in a most transformative way is Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivated Us. I’d highly recommend it to anyone in education. In this book, he talks about FedEx day. Hope you are planning to try it out. 🙂

  3. Gus Grissom permalink
    February 9, 2012 12:33 PM

    Thanks for this blog. I found it eerily familiar. Earlier this semester I tried something similar with WWII and gave the students so much rope to play with that they only got themselves tied in knots. It was frustrating and I had to step back. But I’m trying to take the baby steps again to getting to that student-driven learning style.

    • February 12, 2012 8:39 PM

      Hi Gus! Thanks for commenting and sharing your experience. Likewise, I’ve tried in the past and experienced similar. No doubt, this is tough. But, the things truly worth doing are always so. I think in the past, I’ve always stepped back and given up too easily. I’m determined to stick with it and not surprisingly, the students are beginning to pull through. Each day is more rewarding than the one before… I’ll share some more interesting outcomes soon.

      Good luck! This is hard work but work well worth doing.

  4. December 18, 2012 1:43 PM

    FedEx day is great! How did the assignment work out for your class?

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