On March and Motivation

It is difficult for any student–even the Innovation lab kind–to remain motivated in the month of March.  Spring promises warmer weather and all that goes with it, but the end of the school year seems light years away.  Finishing up very “traditional school” tasks like the Science CAPT and an analytical essay on the latest read did not make things any easier. Even for the most passionate student, there will be times when the zest for learning becomes diluted.


It seemed like the perfect time to introduce our students to Daniel Pink’s theories about motivation and performance.  During this third quarter students’ learning has been anchored to the theme of “inspiration.”  Not only did Pink discuss the idea of “what inspires us” in his book Drive, his philosophies helped forge the foundation of Innovation Lab itself.  Causing chaos in economic and educational circles alike, Pink illustrated through research that the familiar models of punishment and reward were useless when attempting to promote complex cognitive performance.  People are not motivated by carrots and sticks but by autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  They need to be allowed to guide their own learning, get better at what they love, and fulfill goals that they find worthy.  In other words, you can’t pay people to achieve amazing things, you just have to get out of their way and let them do what they do best.  Easy to say but not easy for a teacher, boss, or mother to do.


To be true, not everything a teenager does with his or her free time is considered a good use of time by elders.  They are physical and loud.  They play video games, listen to music, and check their social media sites.  They draw on the tables, on the walls, and on each other.  Not all their choices are good ones.


Yet it is through this play, and trial and error that greatness is discovered.


Adults need time to play too.  Next week five of our teachers will go off to beautiful San Diego and learn from the masters at a High Tech High deeper learning conference.  In this environment, surrounded by sunny days and brilliant minds, InLab teachers will reconnect with others like us and be given the free time to create new ideas for our school.  Any adult knows that sometimes a few days away is all you need to get your juices flowing again.  Sometimes the best plan gets outlined on a paper napkin in a diner far away from home.


Why should they have all the fun?  Gary Klar and I have decided to create our own deeper learning experience back home.  And in the spirit of the “unconference” of High Tech High, we will create an “unschool” school day to get our students back on track.  Students will meet all together for the part of one day to share what of their heritage inspires them, and to watch a film about a teen’s experience with her own heritage as she comes of age.  After a luncheon where we can share ideas and reconnect, students will spend time working on their latest STEM project completely uninterrupted by adult intervention.  The following day students will enjoy a discussion about North Korea by Neal Schopick, a GHS Social Studies teacher.  This discussion ties nicely with our history lessons on Communism and conformity as well as our last book, Fahrenheit 451, and was suggested by some of our students.  In tandem, Mr. Klar will be presenting a lesson and accompanying documentary on renewable energy, which ties not only with STEM lessons this year but STEM next year as well.  In allowing students choice, and in taking a break from normalcy, we hope to reinvigorate our student body and get them thinking again about why we do what we do.


We all deserve a break.  It has been a long and hard road, but it is starting to pay off.  Humanities teachers took some of our students to Sacred Heart University in Fairfield for the annual “National History Day” competition.  Several of our student teams brought home awards and honorable mentions.  Great job team!


Did I mention that the competition was on a Saturday?  How’s that for motivation?

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