Seven years ago I started a class called “Innovation and Open Source Learning,” after I watched Daniel Pink’s TED talk. The talk was centered around what motivates people in the workplace- Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose, and how most companies have assumed it was financial “if/then” rewards. If you haven’t witnessed the TED talk, please do yourself a favor and watch it.
So while the talk was about the workplace, I immediately thought of what motivates students. I thought:
“Instead of money, do students work for grades… and if so, would students respond to mastery, autotomy and purpose in the way Daniel Pink had talked about?”
What I witnessed over the past seven years has been eye-opening, if not troubling, because it takes a LONG time for high school students to consider the “mastery, autotomy, and purpose” because they’ve been taught to focus solely on the grade, the test, and “tips” on how to get into college. In short, its rarely about the purpose, and all about the compliance.
It is VERY difficult to get most high school students to focus on anything BUT the grades. Most students see success in getting the good grade and SAT/ACT score and then getting into that great college. Not going to college is for those “other students.”
Side note: I had a teacher in Nebraska email me about an SAT workshop (endorsed by the Superintendent) that featured someone that had taken the SAT 25 times- to learn “tips and tricks” to score better. Is there a better example of saying “its not about the learning” than this?
So suddenly telling students that they should find his/her purpose, take risks, learn from failure, and not focus on memorization is totally foreign to them.
The Genius Hour Movement To The Rescue
Luckily the #GeniusHour and/or 20% Time movement is starting to catch on, especially at the elementary and middle school level. I LOVE Genius Hour in that it brings a balance to the school week of things you have to learn, with a part of the week on things students WANT to learn. In a previous blog, I broke down the “20%” in 20% time as:
50% of school week you “Have To” (covering standards) 30% “Should Do” (projects/activities), and 20% Want To (Innovation, invention time).
The Hard Part of Genius Hour: Purpose over Compliance
However, getting students to understand what they’re passionate/curious about is difficult. I’ve talked with literally hundreds of teachers that tell me the biggest obstacle in students involved in Genius Hour is first identifying what they are interested in. Many students have been conditioned to be told what do, so this choice in class time might be difficult at first. The idea of “positive failure” is REALLY confusing to them. Therefore it is important that you focus on purpose first- not a product.
Below is an interview I did on Inside Quest, this short clip is on giving students a safe place to fail.
I know many Genius Hour projects feature a demonstration at the end of the month/ semester/ year. Therefore many students are already thinking about the “product” at the end; but what hopefully drives them is THEIR purpose.
Here is an example- I will ask students (early in the year and often) “what is your purpose?” They are usually shocked that they have never considered this before. The most common answer is “to be happy,” “do what I love,” or “to serve others.” These are all awesome answers, by the way. But then I follow up with- “what makes you happy/ what do you love, or HOW do you plan on serving others.”
This places the focus on starting with purpose first, THEN on product. It goes back to what Daniel Pink talked about in his TED talk. The purpose is there first- now they can work toward mastery on something specific, instead of just saying vague goals like “I want to help people.”
“Help people how”… I will now allow them to dive deeper into the focused details. In fact the more specific the better. Thus when I asked a student that said the cliche “I want to help people,” she thought about it and said, “Help parents that have children with Downs Syndrome.”
Digging deeper I asked, “by doing what specifically?”
“Like offering a parents night out once a month where we could have fun, interactive games with the student, and give them some much needed time to relax and maybe go out to dinner.”
She focused on a smaller segment once she identified her purpose. She had a brother with Downs Syndrome and knew her parents deserved a quiet dinner without kids AND her brother would love a fun activity on a Friday night. Everyone wins. Now THEY are the experts (Mastery), providing value to others (Purpose), while getting to choose this path (Autotomy).
Purpose Based Education
My desire is to allow more students to understand their purpose. Let them have time to think about what is truly important to THEM- not the college admission committee. Then once they start to identify the purpose, teachers digging deep and identifying what specific people and product to bring to life- to fulfill that purpose.
If you want to see the entire interview on Inside Quest you can find it here.
If you are interested in providing more innovation time in the curriculum, please visit us at www.futurereadyu.com.
Or take a peek at our video: “Destroying the Status Quo- Future Ready U”