Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Time to Innovate...Our Innovation Day

What is Innovation Day? Innovation Day was born in the business world and originally called a FedEx Day (because it’s delivered in 24 hours or less). Anyone who has read Daniel Pink’s book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, is familiar with this concept which increases productivity and motivation among their employees while fostering creative thinking and problem solving. The employees are given employees the time to explore new and creative ideas during the regular work day. These ideas made their way into the innovative classrooms of Josh Stumpenhorst and Pernille Ripp (and into my Google Reader).

An activity that gives students the ability to drive their own learning and fosters creative thinking and problem solving is an opportunity that I really want to provide to my students. They would be given one day to learn about any subject that interested that we didn't study in school. I knew this concept was new to everyone involved…administrators, parents, and students. Because we are a nontraditional classroom, I knew my students would be the easiest to prepare for this activity, but as we know, often other adults are the last ones to try a new idea. I went to our new administrator and explained the Innovation Day concept with the proposed learning outcomes. I asked if we could have one day out of strict schedule to try this out. Thankfully, she agreed. Thanks to Pernille, I adapted her pre-planning sheet to send home to the parents. I also sent an email explaining the concepts and my learning objective to the parents. Every parent supported our day and returned the pre-planning sheets signed.

Now it was time to prepare the students. As with so many activities in the classroom, I knew that the success of this day really depended on how well the students had prepared before the actual day. About two weeks before our Innovation Day, we began reading Mistakes that Worked by Charlotte Foltz Jones. This fascinating book includes a host of daily items that we enjoy daily that were created by accident. They are organized into short stories which worked well with our schedule. This book fostered some amazing, deep discussion about creativity, pursuing your passion, and thinking outside of the box. 

That discussion spurred my learners into looking into other innovators that impacted their lives every day. They began drawing comparisons between these different people and the qualities that they had in common. My students wanted to publish their findings, so we turned to's Fakebook maker. They had a blast create these Fakebook pages of the innovators they had been researching.

Then it was time for them to select a topic that they wanted to spend one day becoming the expert on and creating the project to share with their peers. We spent some time conferring. There were a lot of probing, guiding questions here as many of them we stumped when it came time for them to choose any subject that interested them. They seemed overwhelmed with all of the possibilities. After some conversation, everyone narrowed down their topic, filled in their planning sheet, and had their parents sign it.

One thing that I hadn't anticipated was that they were so excited, that many of them started their projects at home. Some of them spent hours researching and working because they wanted to learn more. When the day arrived, the excitement was palpable. Our classroom was a flurry of diligent students focused on their tasks and all of their supplies spread into every nook and cranny of our room.
Here are some of the projects:
  1. Testing combinations of all natural fruit juices to create a healthy way to season food
  2. The invention of a 31-day medication dispenser (no medication was used)
  3. The history of handbags with an Animoto movie
  4. An original play complete with props, costumes, and sets
  5. Eight pieces of art with different medium inspired by Claude Monet
  6. A model of a hydroelectric plant
  7. A diorama of a spider's habitat
  8. A battle scene from a World War 1
  9. Prezi of Jackie Robinson
  10. Flipchart of the life of Elvis Presley
  11. Three scarves made out of recycled materials with a digital how to slideshow 
  12. A balanced meal plan
  13. Handmade fleece pillow and blanket
  14. Voki and ProProfs Quiz on Jesse Owens
  15. A mural of a clownfish with an accompanying lesson on a clownfish
  16. A map of all of the battles of World War 2
  17. An original fable published on StoryJumper
  18. A book of brain teasers published on StoryJumper
  19. A model house built to scale
  20. A 3D model (with removable sides) of an Egyptian pyramid
  21. A bird house build to fit the specific size of a red cardinal
As you can see, creativity and critical thinking flourished this day. There simply aren't enough superlatives to describe the excitement and level of engagement that my students had. As one student said, "This is a day where the teachers and students switch roles. The students become the teachers and the teachers learn about what interests the students and how they learn best."

You can find all of our Innovation Day projects, photos, testimonials (text and video), reviews of Mistakes that Worked, and their fakebook pages on our Innovation Day wiki. We hope you enjoy looking at them as much as we enjoyed creating them. The question on all of my students' lips was "Can we do this again?" Without a doubt!

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