Cursor and Curiouser

After reading Daniel Pink‘s book, Drive, I kept thinking about the part in his book where he talks about “Fed Ex” days that some companies are adopting.  The idea behind it is to give employees time to work on their own creative ideas or initiatives that could potentially improve the company’s bottom line.  The only rule is that the employees must deliver something.  Pink also suggests that this practice would help motivate students.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/boedker/ Flickr, Creative Commons

At the beginning of the school year I had asked my classes to think of things they were curious about and would like to research.  Initially, I had asked them to think of how they might present their project in a way that could loosely be linked to LA.  My intent was for them to get curious and motivated and try to meet curriculum.  Being the tried and true students they are, what I got back was ideas like ‘write an essay about how basketball was invented.’  Yikes!  How badly had I indoctrinated my poor students?

So, I decided to give it another try.  I appealed to their curiosity and left out the LA part.  We called it Cursor and Curiouser.  This time the response was much better, although they were still a little reserved about a project with so few strings attached.  To date, we have had four or five classes dedicated to working on our projects.  We are beginning to see some real results!  Their projects range from duct tape dresses to cross-stitching to building video games.  I have students creating all kinds of art: digital, anime, pencil, and pastel.  One of my students has built a remote-controlled car using only items he can find at home. His controls are paper clips, his axles are straws, his base is cardboard, and he is using an old power cord to drive it.  And it works…sort of!

The indoctrinated student part of them does pop up fairly regularly.  With narrowed, suspicious eyes, they ask questions like “How many levels do I have to put in my video game?” or “Is this for marks?”  Their faces look surprised when I respond that this is their project; they determine how many levels or if we should mark it.  I do ask them three questions once in a while: What is your project?  What have you discovered?  What’s next? (They have to speak to the whole class, so this meets curriculum:)

I’m also trying to model what this looks like.  I’m working on my own project, a mixed media art piece.  When it’s question day, I start first.  The piece is not turning out the way I had hoped, and I share this with my students.  Admitting my frustrations frees them to do the same, and that helps them to think of better solutions.

When the project winds down next month, I’m still a little uncertain how to ‘end’ it.  Do I assess it?  If so, how do I assess it?  Will my students be ticked that they spent this much time on the project if it doesn’t count for marks?  This will probably end up being something for them to decide.  What I do hope is that their curiosity and creativity has motivated and engaged them in their own art.

What are your thoughts?  Should the students’ projects be marked?  How beneficial, if at all, is a project like this for students?

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About Sherry Langland

I have been teaching English for 15 years and am passionate about teaching students to read critically, think critically, and live purposefully. I am also the lead teacher for our junior high department and am thankful to be part of such a dedicated group of teachers who are committed to collaborating around the most important part of our job: student learning. My biggest blessing is being the mother of 2 young men who are in their 20s and discovering their purpose.
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4 Responses to Cursor and Curiouser

  1. Hi Sherry – Dan Pink’s book Drive was about the need to tap into intrinsic motivation. One of the central themes is that external sources of motivation, such as grades and money, can actually be de-motivating over time. For this reason, I say that the work should not be graded.

    That is not to say that it shouldn’t be assessed.

    In creating this opportunity for students, you’ve also done the FedEx thing – not just the kids. I think that you and your community of learners should reflect and self-assess what you’ve learned through this process, and share it together (including you…sharing what you have learned with your class). You may even want to encourage peer assessment…and while you’re at it, could you get the students to assess your work? Are you all ready to stretch that far?

    I will say this – you never cease to amaze and impress me!

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    • Thank you for your comments, Angie! You given me some good ideas. We will definitely be self-assessing now and providing feedback for one another. Am I ready to let them assess my work? Absolutely! I’m thinking they will take to opportunity to poke some fun at me first, and then they will be honest in their feedback. A couple of them have already given me some great ideas on how to improve my’art.’

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  2. Sherry Reimer says:

    This is an awesome idea! I absolutely love it! It seems that most people slowly shut down over the course of their lives. This might help to reverse that horrible trend, even if the initial ideas don’t produce the desired results.

    Like

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