Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It Only Takes a Spark to Ignite a Flame.

I know we usually talk about our students and how their 20% Time Projects are going for them, the struggles we have encountered or successes we have celebrated. However, today I want to talk about the motivation, both personal and professional motivation associated with the undertaking of this project and the unforeseen positives that have come from the 20% Project.

This year has been personally and professionally motivating and encouraging. I started off this year feeling discouraged, wanting to change my classroom parameters, but I didn't know how or what to do.  I stumbled upon this idea of 20% Time, Genius Hour, FedEx Day in a Google Community and one thing led to another.  I spent hours watching Ted Talks (particularly Daniel Pink's talk here), reading blogs (check this one out) and chatting in Google Communities.  I was inspired by the idea of students taking control of their own learning and choosing their own learning paths. In this model, they get to pursue a passion or interest that they have always had but maybe never had the means or opportunity to pursue.  20% Time was going to help get kids to love learning again!!! Motivate them! Ignite that inner flame of motivation that could follow them through the rest of their lives, creating a life-long learner.

We have been so amazed by what some of our kids are doing with their projects: raising money for cancer patients, building a go-kart, or starting an environmentally-friendly fishing lure business. More importantly, I have satisfied my own inner motivation personally and professionally.  Don and I have always taught this way but always behind closed doors, only collaborating with each other for fear of someone wanting to stop us in the type of teaching that we truly believed in. We knew that some people said that we "never did or taught anything" just because our students enjoyed being on our team or in our classrooms.  For me personally, that was always hard to hear. Those comments never threw Don and me from our path and we kept trudging along.

Education is changing and it is time for teachers to start jumping on the bandwagon.  Our students, more than ever, are growing up in the Information Age, where every answer is at their fingertips.  When we can answer a question with the click of the mouse, why are we making that content the basis of our curriculum?  I understand there was a need when access to that type of information was limited but that is no longer.  Curriculum needs to be changing with the needs of our students.  As teachers, we need to sit down and truly look at what is most important and what is good to know.  This is a hard step for any great teacher because we learned, when we were students in school, the traditional way to teach. When we went to college we learned the traditional way to teach, and so when we entered our career most of us clung to the traditional way to teach.  It is hard to let go of what you know and what you are comfotable with. It is scary to try something new in a classroom where you might fail or it might not work, especially if you aren't in a school culture where you are encouraged to try new things.  There was a time and place for traditional teaching (and there still is at times!) but as the world is changing, schools must change to do justice for our students.  We need to prepare our students for 20 years in the future, for jobs that haven't even yet been created.

I feel motivated now more that ever that the way I am currently teaching (I have changed what I was doing even from just a year ago!) is the correct path for my students.  Our students need skills like problem-solving, perseverance, critical thinking, social media skills, computer (or device) research skills, etc.  Is content awesome to know? Absolutely! But does our whole curriculum have to based upon the content anymore? I would have to say "No".  For example, this past week a student asked me in science, "What is the reason our hands or feet 'fall asleep'?"  I told them I didn't know the answer but asked if he had his device.  He did and I told him to find the answer for us.  What an awesome feeling this was and it was liberating as a teacher!

The role of the teacher has changed to "facilitator of learning" from "teacher-led learning".  We need create a culture of passion, love, and interest for our subjects while also allowing students a place to feel safe to "fail" and try again.  What this project has brought into me professionally could have never been foreseen.  It was the spark that ignited the flame for me in my teaching.  I encourage every teacher to be the spark for your school.  Get your peers to jump on your bandwagon because what you are doing for your students will have long-term effects on their learning.  If you believe what you are doing for kids, keep doing it.  It is hard to be the outlier but eventually you will be in the majority. - Melissa


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post, Melissa. I especially like that your goal with this project is to "help get kids to love learning again!!! Motivate them! Ignite that inner flame of motivation that could follow them through the rest of their lives, creating a life-long learner." For my son, this project has inspired him to really enjoy something that has been a struggle for him throughout his public school academic life -- writing. Writing blogs for a project that was his idea, where he is the subject expert and he can add his own humor and insights has been a real kick for him. I've never seen this excitement about writing in him before. The struggle has been getting his other "traditional" school work done so that he can focus on his 20% project. Thanks to you and Don for being inspirational facilitators of learning in his life!

  2. Great write-up! Writing is a talent, and it must not be wasted. As with everything that we had been entrusted, we should

    let it grow and share it with the world.>self

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