Josh Stumpenhorst, a teacher in the suburbs of Chicago, wrote to share his experience trying implement a FedEx Day, one of the stickiest ideas in the Motivation 3.0 repertoire, in his 6th grade classroom. He dubbed it Innovation Day 2011 and has a great description at his blog, Stump the Teacher. But I wanted to highlight some of his ideas that I thought were exceptional.

Josh’s goal was to guide 250 students as they tackled self-selected learning projects — everything from building a model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to writing and performing a comedy act, to creating a documentary video of Innovation Day itself. What could have been full-bore chaos turned into a fantastic day of learning and sharing. In his blog, Josh reveals some of the secrets of the day’s success:

  • Teachers, administrators, and students treated each other with mutual respect. The kids knew Josh would support them, and Josh knew the school administrators would support him in turn. According to Josh, “One of the hallmarks of the school I work in and the principal that leads us is innovation.”
  • As a teacher, Josh was flexible, in touch, and resourceful. He kept an eye on his students’ progress, knowing “when to step in and when to step back.” And rather than pose as the expert, he used all the resources at his disposal to give the students “access to as many learning opportunities as possible.”
  • Josh recognized the importance of asking his students to do worthwhile work. “You don’t want students to waste your time turning in sub-par quality work, so don’t waste their time and ask them to do sub-par quality activities.”

So how did the project turn out? Josh reports that his students tackled their tasks with “an abundance of enthusiasm.” They completed more than 20 projects. Discipline problems were nonexistent.  Students helped each other out. Administrators and Josh’s fellow teachers dropped by the classroom and were caught up in the excitement. But perhaps this exchange between Josh and one of the sixth-graders best illustrates the power of Innovation Day:

As the students were walking out at the end of the day one student stopped me and asked, ”Can we do this again tomorrow”?

I responded with, “Well, I would love to, but tomorrow is Saturday,” in a half-joking manner.

This student looked me dead in the eyes and replied, “I would come back tomorrow to do this again.”

22 Responses to “What your business can learn from a 6th grade classroom”

  1. Joann Sondy says:

    What a beautiful and inspirational story. Kudos to the teacher and students!

    I would have loved to hear the excitement and exuberance in a child’s voice when asked by their parent at the dinner table, “How was school today?”

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing the story from my school. I do want to point out that this was not just me behind this initiative. Many teachers participated and helped make this a success for our students. In addition, we had well over 150 project completed in that day and some finished on their own time afterward. It was a great day that has been “copied” at other schools since I first wrote about it. I encourage all teachers to give it a try…you won’t regret it!

    Thanks again for the mention!

    Josh

  3. John Zimmer says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Dan. And kudos to Josh and his colleagues for the initiative. I suspect that the “ripples” created by casting this “pebble” into the students’ lives will travel far and wide over the years to come.

    A great example of “Drive” in action.

    John

  4. john serpa says:

    Josh Stumpenhorst, this comment is for you.

    What you did was rudimentary yet profound, it did not require a consultant, mind numbing PowerPoint slides or gosh, a committee vote (cringe).

    What you exemplify is the missing link in many organizations today, people that act as conduits and not buckets. You became an advocate for the students’ ideas; you validated their strengths and they thrived!

    You also allowed them to create pictures of the outcomes and own the solution, which is true empowerment!

    If every Fortune 1000 executive leadership team emulated what you did, the DJIA would leap to 20,000 and we would have a labor shortage.

    People will give 200% and yes, even give up their day off when they are set free from linear modalities that do not foster the art of engagement.

    Thanks for setting such a great example for all of us (and to Dan for posting such a terrific blog post)!

    Sincerely,
    John Serpa
    Vienna, VA

  5. Trevor Lewis says:

    A plug for the school my two kids attend in Delaware, “Newark Center for Creative Learning” (www.ncclschool.com). I am pleased to say that the curriculum for the last 40 years has been built on the philosophy. Quote: “Our primary goal is to inspire and encourage students to take responsibility for themselves and their own education.”
    Put another way … Right on, Josh! Keep up the great work! This is how to create the next generation of responsible citizens who are true leaders.

  6. Brahm Memone says:

    Great post Dan. Thank you for sharing, and a huge thank you to Josh – what an inspiration, you are a game changer!!

    When you create an environment of experiential learning, eliminating internal competitiveness and create a space for self-empowerement, you get complete engagement as people pursue mastery with a focused purpose!!

    Love It!!

    PS: Also loved John Serpas comment above “people that act as conduits and not buckets” Great insight.

  7. Rika says:

    Wonderful story! It’s a shame that the current education bureaucracy makes it almost impossible for more teachers to be innovative in the classroom. It’s also too bad that it was a rare event for this school, instead of the norm. There are many schools where this kind of learning is foundational –check out these 2 websites: educationrevolution.org and sudburyvalleyschool.com.
    Unfortunately, they usually have to be private schools. Often operate in obscurity because they try to stay as affordable as possible and thus hv little time or money for marketing. Definitely learning for the 21st century.

  8. I just came back from meeting Cyane Dandige, founder of Strategic Energy Innovations in San Rafael, CA, to talk about the new Marin School for Environmental Leadership that she’s starting as part of Terre Linda public high school. I shared your 3.0 operating system with her since she hadn’t read “Drive”, and she loved it. She talk with me about using “self-organizing” as one of the key concepts of the school, so it was beautiful to come home and find Josh’s beautiful example of how engaged kids are when they have the space to pursue mastery, autonomy and purpose. One day a year can turn into one day a week, can turn into every day.

  9. What an awesome story! We need more innovation in education. Congrats, Josh, that you have a principal who is willing to allow you to try new things. Dan, thanks for continuing to share ideas that can change education. Please keep them coming!

  10. Bob Williams says:

    Businesses, especially manufacturing, have learnt as did these sixth graders that monotonous routine tasks lead to drudgery and lower productivity. Social interaction is the spice of labour. As Mary Poppins so well put it – “a teaspoon of sugar helps the medicine go down”.

  11. tami says:

    And why shouldn’t kids be excited enough to come back on Saturday. If they’re doing what they love, they won’t be counting sleeps until the weekend!

  12. It’d be great if there were a “self-directed” education plan implemented — nationally!

    With Love and Gratitude,

    Jeremiah

  13. Scott McLeod says:

    The Discovery and Ultimate schools in Christchurch, New Zealand – as well as other inquiry-based schools all over the world – do this on a daily basis throughout the school year. Their experiences echo what you’ve written here: few discipline problems, no one’s off task, teacher as facilitator rather than expert, and POWERFUL student learning.

  14. Susan says:

    We teach preschoolers with a Reggio approach to learning – learning directed by the children, facilitated by the teacher. As an art teacher I’ve been teaching learning by doing for years. The evidence is clear there is no better way to learn than to build on children’s natural curiosity. It is such a shame that when my preschoolers are in elementary school for a few years much of their enthusiasm for learning and trying new things is gone. I sure would love to change that. Kudos to you Josh!

  15. Louisa Gholson says:

    I ended my servant leadership course classes today. We hand in our take home final on Tuesday. I can honestly say now when I look at the world I do see it as a brighter tomorrow.

    I had a friend ramble on about current events while I worked a cipher puzzle for the first time in 16 years. When I finished, I felt accomplishment. When he finished, he felt bitter. So Josh is very practical in asking all of us what are we doing to challenge ourselves regularly? And how are we encouraging others to do the same?

    One of my professors quoted Mother Theresa “…do little things with great love.” I have been working with this same friend for weeks about his depression. My suggestions have fallen on deaf ears. While he was talking, today I chose to work on a puzzle, because I asked myself could I do it.

    Earlier in the day, I read about bipolar changing your brain shape and how medication could reverse it. I started medication a month ago, and I wanted to put “my money where my mouth is.” Simple experiment. Entertaining results. Plus I didn’t need a government grant to perform it. hehe

    Louisa Gholson

  16. A really great story. I will encourage my kid’s teachers to do the same project (here in Jakarta, Indonesia).

    I think every school should do this innovation day three times a year.

  17. Not only did I appreciate Dan’s story, I appreciate all the great comments, especially those about schools where learning this way is inherent in their educational approach. The school I founded, Puget Sound Community School in Seattle (http://www.pscs.org), is another such school and one lucky enough to be mentioned in Drive.

    Kudos to schools and teachers who put trust in our natural desire to learn!

  18. Ed Brenegar says:

    Dan & John,
    I have found that kids age 10-12 are ready to explore big ideas, try new things, and want to see what the whole world is like.
    Another place that kids can do this is with RandomKid(http://www.randomkid.org/)The Power of ANYone. (Disclosure: I’m the board chair.) Here a kid can take on their own social entrepreneur project and be successful at it. What we’ve found is that from a little investment comes a Big Return. See what is happening in St. Louis- http://www.randomkid.org/content/133/The-Big-Return-St.-Louis.html. And we found that the sweet spot for helping kids learn these kids and values is 4th through 8th grade.
    John, your kids and the other kids in your school inspire us old guys to be better people. Thank you.

  19. Wow! What teacher wouldn’t treasure that last comment–or for that matter, is there a professional in any field who wouldn’t love to hear that from a customer/client/vendor!

  20. Nancy Hartman says:

    If all schools were Montessori schools, all children would be able to experience this type of education every day!

  21. Dr.K.Prabhakar says:

    A great post and i think i will try it in my class. However, one important question is how the projects are selected? is it a surprise for students or they knew about the programme but not the mechanics. If you can elaborate about the experiment; it will be great learning for all of us. Thanks a lot.

  22. Joy Kirr says:

    It seems as if the notion of Genius Hour is coming full circle! It is because of Gallit Zvi and Denise Krebs and their Genius Hour wiki – http://geniushour.wikispaces.com/home – that I learned about your ideas in DRIVE. We’ve been trying to let students choose what they want to learn for awhile now, and I’ve been collecting other teachers’ stories here – http://www.livebinders.com/play/play/829279?tabid=119ce482-d653-60f0-2303-b742dcb3943b

    Josh’s story is here, along with many others. Many of us credit your ideas in DRIVE – Thank you! You’re a star in the “Twitterverse,” that’s for sure, and our students are benefitting every day.

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