Ever since I visited Google for the Google Teacher Academy I have been mulling the idea of what Google calls "20% time." That is, time set aside from your normal duties to work on projects of your own choosing and liking. Fellow blogger Joel Zehring posted a video from TED in which Daniel Pink lays out the case for this same model. I would encourage you to watch and consider Pink's idea.
If you don't have 20 minutes to watch the whole talk, it boils down to the following:
Traditional business models are based on incentives. If you accomplish this, you will be rewarded with this. It's the old carrot and stick approach. According to the research which Pink cites, this approach works only for rote, manual tasks. It does not work for dynamic tasks that involve creative problem solving.
The model that does work involves autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Workers should be able to work freely toward a goal, they should be constantly striving to increase their proficiency in their core duties, and they should be working on something that transcends themselves.
These ideas fit in well with Maslow's Hierachy of needs. Productivity should increase as self-actualization occurs.
Now, back to education. How can this be applied to the classroom? Here's my idea. I have a smattering of grades 9-12 in my biology classes. Each spring the seniors head out on their "senior trip." They're gone for a week which presents a challenge for me as I plan my units. I've decided to give my remaining students "20% time" (or as Pink calls it, FedEx days). For one week they will be allowed to learn about a topic of their choosing. At the end of the week they must have created something of value to share with their classmates and the world.
This is a bold and potentially disastrous idea. Are the forces of autonomy, mastery, and purpose strong enough to motivate and mobilize freshmen?
I covet your ideas and thoughts before I enact this crazy idea of mine. I have until March to figure it all out!