Posted by buell | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on January 22, 2012
In keeping with the goal of fostering a student-centered culture, I decided that this would be the year I had a FedEx Day with my students. The idea originated in the business world with an Australian software company that periodically gives employees a day to work on whatever they want to work on, during company time, with company resources. They call it FedEx Day because the only requirement is that something has to “be delivered” and shared with the whole group by the next day. I’d been reading about schools that have applied the concept, though I can’t remember the exact articles that taught me “the rules” of FedEx Day, they were all referred back to suggestions in Dan Pink‘s book Drive.
This year we had a full week of school before Christmas break. Knowing this would be a tough week for the kids, I decided it would make a great time to test out the FedEx concept. On Wednesday, we wrapped a series of lessons with a quick quiz, and I used the rest of the class period to explain the concept and the rules. Students would have all day Thursday in the library to explore a “personal passion project” on any topic they wished as long as it related to the 1800s. They could explore science, sports, art, theater, fashion, anything, with the one stipulation that there was an 1800s connection. Friday was a half day and students were to present what they learned during the 24 minute class we had scheduled. To make this truly motivated by their own interests and not “carrots and sticks” I told the class it would only be worth 1 point. Since I grade on a total points system, this would allow me to note in my gradebook which students completed the assignment, but would have virtually no impact on their averages. To reward, however, truly outstanding work, I told the students in each class they would vote for a classmate that deserved special recognition, and there would be a prize. I reminded them that the purpose of the assignment was to learn something and share what you learned, not because you had to or because there would be a reward, but just because you find it interesting.
So, how did it go? First of all, all students embraced the idea. They were unanimously excited when I presented the concept and told them they would have a truly free period on Thursday. Did that translate to every student using the time in the most productive way, and/or learning and sharing something of value? Not exactly. But in terms of building trust, in terms of learning more about my students’ work ethics, mindsets, and interests, and in terms of moving the student-centered class culture forward, the experience was wildly successful.
Here are some highlights of our FedEx Day:
Using the library instead of just the computer lab or classroom, promoted a sense of seriousness and limitless possibilities. It was also very special since the library can only be reserved by one class out of about 100 that meet each period. The library also provided spaces for students to work with art materials, and have a quiet space to think or read.
While not every student ultimately produced a project to share, they all spent some time that day considering what they were interested in. And, furthermore, no matter what they tried to throw at me, there was a connection to the 1800s–even the invention of basketball makes it in there at 1891. One of the biggest challenges in teaching history, especially world history to 14- and 15-year-olds, is getting them see how important it is to their lives. Even the students who had started to research the history of basketball, but got distracted by a website that sold basketball sneakers, felt more connected to people of the past. They were engaged, if only for a few minutes, in learning something about history not because they had to, but because they wanted to. For a few minutes, history really mattered to them. The next time they see me getting excited over some history event, they will understand the feeling, and hopefully trust me enough to study what I am telling them is important to know.
Most students, however, did have a project to present the next day. I rearranged the desks into a giant circle. Students set up their projects at their desks. We divided the period into two sessions. In session 1 half of the class stayed seated and presented to the other half who walked around the room viewing projects. In session 2 they switched. Results were often stereotypical in that many girls focused on fashion, art and literature and many boys on sports, guns and wars. We sampled an 1800s recipe, heard 1800s music, and viewed pictures of inventions. Several students made banners of famous quotes that are now decorating my room. Some wrote papers, timelines, or biographies. A few in each class made PowerPoints or Glogster posters, and we squeezed these in as soon as the student had their presentation up and running.
On the surface the projects weren’t that impressive. But I learned so much about my students. I know their level of creativity, their preferred learning-style, their willingness to take chances. As they were working in the library and I was helping them, they often asked me to explain the meaning of something they were reading, and I got a better sense of their reading comprehension and experiential background. And the students learned more about each other, and were interested in seeing what everyone came up with for their FedEx Day project. A small thing, like a hand-drawn portrait attracted much attention.
At the very end of the period the students voted for someone who deserved special recognition. I was a bit fearful that this would wind up a “popularity contest” but in each case the “winner” was legitimate. As a prize I gave each winner a $5 gift certificate to the school store.
Like most project based learning experiences, FedEx Day was more about the process than the product. In addition, the atmosphere was similar to that of a party, only it was a learning party. A perfect, happy note to end a term or in this case leave for a vacation.