Inspired by the Daniel Pink video below, and wanting in part to see how my high school honors seniors would react to such a project, I embarked on a high school version of “FedEx Days”. The assignment? Simple: learn about something that interests you and pertains to government and share your learning with the class. The only requirements on the assignment is that presentations must be between 2-4 minutes and include some type of visual/artistic represenation/presentation. As an added incentive, students created “superalitives” for their class that they would vote on (e.g. most interesting, most creative, etc.)
Here are the 5 things I learned:
5) All students want freedom in the classroom – but many don’t know what to do with it once they have it.
What I found interesting about the project is that as I was talking about it the students were excited to get some freedom about the topic, and excited not to have to do anything from a textbook, etc. but when I said “Ok…now go create….” nearly every single one froze out of fear and or confusion about what to do next. It was as if they wanted me to take them by the hand and lead them through another project. Anytime a student said “I don’t know what to cover….” I responded with “What are you passionate about or interested in? Tell us about it…” To students who are used to jumping through hoops and pleasing teachers, all of a sudden creating something seemed incredibly hard and or confusing. Their audience was their peers, there was no grade given, only the honor of having one of the superlatives bestowed upon you was at stake. Many students were definitely out of their comfort zone – and I thought that was a good thing. I often wonder if this confusion comes from years of schooling where they are expected to jump through hoops and just please teachers.
4) When given the freedom – some students develop outstanding presentations and teach their peers great things.
I had no idea there was a huge conspiracy theory centered around the Denver International Airport, (link is not my students work) nor did I know how concerned many of my students actually were about student loan debt. We had a student from Australia give us a crash course in Australian government – the kids were totally engaged to what she was saying. Some students took it upon themselves to learn how to create a Prezi for their presentations. (Our Education System Prezi/Illegal Downloading Prezi) Some definitely rose to the occasion and those who were in those classes definitely benefited from their presentations.
3) “Being Creative” means many different things to many different students
I had students write lyrics to the song “Imagine” by the Beatles about life without government and then come perform that song in front of her class (she declined to be recorded, but I really wish I could show it to you all). Students painted – outraged over SOPA/PIPA, student loans, and taxes. Students showed pictures and created Glogsters about their topic. This was interesting to see because how often do we just restrict our students demonstration of their knowledge to teacher friendly assessments and not assessments that engage our students?
2) Students still sometimes need expectations/standards
While I have raved about some of the great things that were produced – not all that was produced was stellar. I struggled with this one during the week of presentations and came back to the fact that I never really defined “excellence” for them when it came to presentations – I just said “go create”. Reflecting upon the week, I think I will give them some examples of “excellence” when it comes to making presentations and pushing themselves to do their best. Its a topic we give lip service too sometimes in school, but what does it mean? There is an expectation of excellence at Google when they do their 20% time, and the thought is if they don’t produce they lose their job – which for all intents and purposes is an incentive. If they didn’t produce for the class, or produced a crap presentation other than the negative judgement of their peers, there is no consequences for producing sub-par work.
1) This was a blast – and we are doing it again next year
Once they realized they were truly free the kids had a blast with this for the most part. They were like puppies with the cage left open – as they ventured out and saw they were free many of them took advantage of that and ran around (metaphorically) to some awesome places. We are definitely doing this again next year with the “excellence” component/expectation added into it. (It will be interesting to see next year when I tell them “I expect excellence” but do not grade anything what will happen).
My hope is that this idea spreads to other teachers in the school so students have more “puppy” experiences in other classes with some freedom to just create.