Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cultivating Innovation on a K-4 Campus (Guest Post by Jessica Powell) Photo
Instructional Technologist and Staff Development Professional.

On March 22, 2013 something amazing is going to happen: 600 elementary students are going to take over their school and their teachers aren't going to do ANYTHING about it.  You read that right. That day, Innovation Day, the students at Samuel Houston Elementary are going to "drive the bus" and their teachers are just going to make sure they keep it between the lines.  If you're not familiar with Innovation Day (also known as FedEx Day or Genius Day), you're missing out on one of the newer trends hitting education right now.  The concept that we've killed creativity in our young students has never gotten more coverage than it's receiving today, thanks to state and national debates about standardized testing.

The basic idea is this: ask students what they WANT to learn and then........LET THEM.  Provide them the means to discover all they can discover and ask them to teach us what they learn.  It's a simple, yet powerful model for learning.  At Samuel Houston Elementary, teachers have been prepping themselves for the upcoming Friday.  We have met as grade level teams to discuss, plan, and collaborate about the logistics of our experiment. Here's what we've come up with:

  • All grade levels CAN participate, even Kindergartners.
  • Allowing students to move around the campus freely is vital to their success that day.
  • Each student will prepare a plan and their teachers will conference with them about their proposal.
  • Dividing the students by interest will be easier to coordinate.
  • Teachers will guide students in the planning stages by asking questions but will refrain from leading or giving constructive feedback.
Before we conferenced with teachers, we had some worries. We (the principal, director of staff development, and the campus instructional thought teachers would struggle with the idea of allowing their students to take the reigns for an entire day.  I personally thought I would hear teachers say, "Oh I don't think little Jimmy can do that on his own" or "Well, I don't think THESE kids can do that".  Happily, I can say I was way off the mark.  The teachers on our campus were excited about the prospect of allowing students to design their learning for the day.  They had some great ideas about what to do if a student finishes their project early in the day or if there is a "melt-down" or a need for the little ones to stay with their beloved homeroom teachers. One teacher even gave us what has turned into a campus-wide model (and the inspiration for this blog post) for nudging the students along in their planning phase.  She shared with us during conference how she talked about Innovation Day with her own daughter. Questions comprised the majority of her portion of the conversation:
What are you interested in learning about? 
How much do you know about that?
How do you think you could learn more? 
What can you make to show others about what you know? 
Can you take that a step further? 
How else can you show others what you learn?
Teacher, by nature, are helpful people. Especially elementary teachers.  Stepping back and letting students learn through discovery is going to be tough for them, but I am so encouraged by the attitude and enthusiasm our staff has shown in response to our Innovation Day.  I cannot wait to see what plans our kiddos propose, which topics are being covered, and the final products of the day.  Creativity might be stifled by seemingly endless attempts at standardizing kids, but I don't think it's dead just yet. I think we have the opportunity to exercise our minds with projects like Innovation Day. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out. Prepare to be impressed!

Btw: if you click on the link above re: FedEx Day, read through the comments section and think about what you could call Innovation Day on YOUR campus! There are some great suggestions there :)

For more information about Innovation Day, visit some of these great sties: 

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