challenge, hopes, Innovation Day, Student-centered

What Is Innovation Day and Why Should You Care?

On May 7th, I was lucky enough to witness almost seventy 5th grade students take full control of their learning, their time, their outcomes, and their work ethic.  How you may ask?  By having them all partake in Innovation Day, my second annual one.  For those who do not know Innovation Day is the school version of FedEx Day (although they want to rename it); a day where students get to choose what they want to learn about as long as they create something to deliver.  These creations are varied as can be seen by the different pictures in our video, but the one thing they all have in common is passion.

You see Innovation Day is all about passionate self-directed learning.  I do not dictate what the students have to do or what topic they study.  I do not give them output restrictions.  I do not grade it.  I do not guide them.  What I do though is help them find a way to create, I guide them through discussion and preparation before the day and then on the day I step aside, fully confident that they can indeed achieve without me.  And that is truly what is hardest about Innovation day; getting out of the way.  not offering your help, not showing students how to do something or research something, but trusting their abilities and talents to navigate through every obstacle.  Of course, I am there in the room with them, but I mainly film their progress and then stay in my own corner.  In fact, most students are so focused on what they are trying to create that they have little time or desire to speak to me.

So why should you take the Innovation day challenge, because it is a challenge indeed!  You should take it because the trust you hand over to your students is palpable.  Because students realize that they can direct their own learning.  Because students get excited about learning and see that many things can be accomplished at school.  Because students get to show off their interests and their skills in new ways.  Because this may just inspire you to do this more often, perhaps as a genius hour?  Because this allows students to prove to you that they can manage their own time, that they can get things done within a deadline, that they do have a great work ethic; all things we tend to use homework for.  Because my students voted Innovation Day their second most favorite thing of the whol e year and that says a lot.

So how do you get started?  Well, here is my planning sheet  I have students fill out a couple weeks prior.  Here is the first post I ever wrote about it.  Here is the post I wrote after my first one where I was totally blown away.  Here are Josh Stumpenhorsts’ resources that I have used.  And finally here are two videos to show you the results.  One is of the day, the other is created on Innovation Day by Jacob who decided to do stop motion and by golly figured it out on his own.  And that truly is what it is all about.  So this year or next take the Innovation day challenge; give your students a whole day to direct their own learning and let them astound you.  You will not be disappointed.

blogging, challenge, kidblog, writing

Student Blogging Challenges – A List of Ideas

One of the things that my students love the most on our KidBlog are our weekly blog challenges.  And while these challenges are in sense homework, they always have the opportunity to do them at school, and get enough time to do it without being a hassle.  Over the past two years we have had quite a lot of fun with these, so why not share for all you blogging with your students.  Feel free to borrow or change to suit your kids.

I have broken these into categories for easier reading.

All About You

  • Imagine you have been given $100 to donate to someone or something like a charity or even to start a charitable business.   The challenge is to make your money grow whether through product or some other form.  So you need to blog about what you will do with the money, how it will grow and how much you can make it grow even more.  Your money will have 3 months to grow.
  • If you could go anywhere in time once round-trip, where would you go and why?  What would you see there?  What would you do?  Would you bring anything back or try to change the past?
  • If you could go anywhere in time once round-trip, where would you go and why?  What would you see there?  What would you do?  Would you bring anything back or try to change the past? 
  • If you could eat only one meal the next year, what would it be? 
  • If you could do one good thing this Holiday season to make others happy, what would it be?
  •  Tell me about the great traditions you have in your family. 
  •  What makes you the happiest in your life and even better how do you show how thankful you are? 
  • This week I would like to challenge you to write about about a place, from the past or the present, where you would like to live or go for a holiday or vacation.

Wacky Challenges

All About School

  • Which school rule you would change, how you would change it and why?
  • How is the year going so far?  What are you excited about?  What works for you?  What doesn’t? How can we make 5th grade better?  What should I change?
  • What would you change about school so that you would love being there?
  • Tell me what was the best, the worst, the most fun, the most boring things of the trimester?  
  • So, if you could decide what we had to learn about, what would it be?  What would our goals be? How would we learn about it? And how would we pass that learning on? 
  • What does a principal do all day?  What qualities does a principal have and what do they do in the summer?
  • You are the teacher; which class would you add to school curriculum that we don’t already have?  When would the class meet, what would the students do?  What would it look like, feel like, sound like?  And what would the students produce to show their learning?

Your Thoughts on Education and School

  • What is the true purpose of education?  Why do you go to school?  Why do you learn what you have to learn?
  • Is teaching and learning the same thing or not?
  • Should education be fun?
  • Give me your thoughts on tests!  Do you think they help or hurt your learning?  What do you suggest to teachers about tests?

Academic Related and Story Writing

  • You need to write to other teachers and tell them about the Global Read Aloud.
  • I want you to tell the world about Innovation Day!
  • Tell everyone about the simulation in social studies 
  • Keep a science diary of our experiments and answer any questions people may leave in the comments.
  • Write a book review of the book you are currently reading.
  • Explain what the author study is, who you chose to study and why.
  • Finish the story, “The crash came from around the corner…”
  • Finish the sentences:  Being a good teacher means…. Being a good student means… 
  • What do you love when teachers do in their classrooms?  What do you wish I did as a teacher? If you were a teacher how would you run your classroom?

Challenges from Students:

  • If you were to go inside of a book, what book would you go inside of, and what would you do?
  • Create a blogging challenge for other students to do.
  • If you could create your own country, what would it be called, where would it be, and what language would the residents speak?

All About Blogging

  • Should we continue to blog or not, convince me!
  • So how has blogging helped you as a writer?  What do you like about blogging?  What do you not like?  What would you change?  Would you continue blogging next year if you could?
  • What are the rules for blogging, how do you stay safe?
  •  Now that you have tried it, what would you tell other kids and teachers about blogging?  What should they know before they start?  What should they be careful with?  How can they get people to comment?  Any advice for people who want to blog but don’t know how?
  • Pick one student from another blog and introduce yourself properly 
challenge, Science

The Super Tube Challenge

Again, another great idea adapted from Bill Ferriter; The Super Tube Challenge!

Goal:  Strengthen a toilet paper tube to hold as many social studies book as possible when it stands vertically.


  • As many different paper tubes as you can collect – we collected for almost 2 months.
  • Unlimited masking tape
  • 25 small popsicle sticks – purposely set a limit because I did not want popsicle stick structures.
  • One standard toilet paper tube per group


  • Only the original toilet paper tube may touch the table.
  • It may not be taped to the table.
  • You may not stack tubes next to each other on the table, anything that is taped onto the original toilet paper tube may not touch the table.
  • You may not steal supplies from each other.
  • They get exactly one hour from start to finish.
  • They may use books throughout the challenge to test strength of their design.
  • You may not interact with other groups during the challenge.

Process before the challenge:

  1. Either have students pick or assign teams of 3
  2. Show them a regular toilet paper tube and stack as many heavy books on one until it collapses.  In our case it was 3 social studies books.
  3. Tell them the challenge.
  4. Show them materials they will be building with.
  5. Have them plan for at least 10 minutes the first day.  I did this challenge over 3 different times, 2 10 minute chunks and then big 60 minute time.
  6. Explain the rules and discuss them.  Students will probably have questions.
  7. Give them time to manipulate the tube and start a plan with group – we spent 10 minutes doing this.
  8. Another day give them another 10 minutes to discuss whether they need to have modifications to their design or not.  They also need to assign one person to be the “scavenger.”  This will be the only person who can gather materials.
  9. Have them decide on a  plan of attack for the challenge.

The Challenge:

  1.  Have 25 popsicle sticks and original paper tube ready for each team.
  2. Set a timer for 60 minutes (or whatever time you decide).
  3. Start timer – scavenger may get 10 tubes for their team – free for all.
  4. Throughout the challenge , like 15 min in I let the students scavenge one more time but usually just 2 tubes at a time.
  5. Film the challenge!
  6. At some point, inform them that you are taking away their masking tape.  This added challenge forces them to rethink their supplies as well as their original design, great on their feet thinking needed.
  7. I did shout out minutes left throughout challenge.
  8. At 60 minutes all building stops, hands off and the designs rest for a minute.  Then I place the books to see who has the strongest tube design.

Learning Goals:
Students will work on:

  • Teamwork
  • Perseverance
  • Creative problem solving
  • Engineering for structural strength
  • Time management
  • Controlling variables
  • Planning 
  • Using standard materials in a non-standard fashion.
challenge, Science, Student-centered

The Spaghetti and Marshmallow Tower Challenge

Thanks to Bill Ferriter for sharing the idea for this wonderful science challenge here.  I also garnished ideas from this PDF created by the BA.

As part of our team building and creative problem solving efforts, we have done several challenges throughout the year.  This one therefore fit perfectly in with science as we were able to discuss variables, perseverance, and working as a team.

To build the tallest marshmallow and spaghetti tower within 30 minutes.  The tallest tip will be the marshmallow that is furthest off the ground


  • You will create or be assigned a team; 3 people to each team.
  • You will be given 100g of spaghetti and 50 grams of mini marshmallows.
  • You will have 5 minutes to plan your approach.
  • You will have 30 minutes of build time.
  • Spaghetti and marshmallows may be broken but marshmallows may not be made wet.
  • You may not actively seek out other groups to poach ideas but you may spot ideas from your work station.
  • Once time is called a full minute will be waited before teacher measures height.  This is to ensure tower stability.

Learning Goals:
Students will work on

  • Determining variables and controlling them
  • Team work
  • Time management
  • Creative problem solving
  • Engineering for structural strength
  • Perseverance and idea adaptation

Here is a video showing parts of the challenge and the winning design

being a teacher, boring, challenge, Student-centered

When Students Tell You They Are Bored Can We Blame the Students As Well?

I am in a conference trying to figure out why a child seems less engaged, less into it, and just not all that excited about school.  So far the conversation has been rather one-sided, meaning me speaking and being met with lsilence.  Finally I ask, “Are you bored?”  And the student looks up and says, “Yeah.”

I think that has happened to most teachers, a bored student, but what may not have happened to many is for that student to have the guts to tell you.  I know I was incredibly bored throughout many classes in my school days but I never did tell a teacher since I figured nothing good would come of it.  And I may have been right because my gut reaction the moment I was told was to get frustrated.  How can you be bored in my room? We do so many exciting things!  And yet, I bite my tongue, nod, and go home with a head full of questions.

I have a classroom full of noise, ideas, and engagement. It is something I work incredibly hard for and I am very very proud of and yet, it can also be boring.  There are times when the base needs to be built for our further exploration and I have to talk.  I try to make it engaging, I try to make is student-centered, and yet sometimes I can’t.  It gets better every year but still; but yes I can be boring.  So these thoughts follow me home and I ask my husband what I should he do since he acutely suffered from school boredom.

His thoughts stopped me; “Maybe it isn’t you?  Maybe you do everything you can and that child needs to step up too.  Maybe boredom is a two way street and you can only make it so exciting but if the student is not ready or wanting to be engaged then it doesn’t matter what you do.”  I immediately started to defend the child and lament that it must be me until I realized he may be on to something; perhaps we as educators can only do so much.  Perhaps we can only engage and excite until a certain point and then the student has to invest as well.  Perhaps we cannot change every student’s perception of school no matter how many things we pull out to do.  Perhaps, we are not the only ones with control in our classroom?

So I turn to you; what do we do when students are bored?  After we have changed the curriculum, the approach and the task?   What do we do when a student-centered learning environment is not enough?  Do we dare tell the student that they too have to invest?  That they have to make an effort to be interested or else school will be infinitely boring no matter what we do?  Do we dare put some of the responsibility for school engagement back on their shoulders?  Or is that taking the easy way out?

Be the change, being a teacher, challenge, Student-centered

Is Teaching Killing Student Self-Reliance?

“But mommy, I can’t!!!!”  Thea is struggling to put two pieces together for a game, I look at her patiently and urge her to try again, try again.  As parents we are slightly bewildered by the “I can’ts” we hear every day; little things such as getting socks on, or big things seem an insurmountable challenge for our 3 year old turn into cries for help and yet with diligence we urge her to move on, to try again, and to figure it out.  We are trying to raise a self-reliant little girl that faces challenges with relish rather than hide from them.  We want her to have faith in herself, in her abilities, and to also have courage.

I go to school and see the same thing; “I don’t get this…”  “I can’t do this…” can be heard on a regular basis and I know I am not alone. So I made one of my goals to teach self-reliance, to teach courage, to teach willingness to try and fail.  To urge these students patiently on, to identify the problem and figure out how to solve it. Sure it would be easier if I would just do it for them, but what does that teach?

So I ponder, what if we as teacher removed ourselves from the equation?  Set up a problem or challenge for the class and then stepped back to see what would happen?  Since the beginning of the year this has played out in my classroom; here is the challenge, you have the skills, now solve it. While some may claim I do not do my full job then, I would say that I am preparing students to be independent thinkers.  To trust in themselves and their own abilities, to be problem-solvers, intuitive thinkers, and to not ever be afraid of something not working.  The result?  Students who try first and then turn to tools, to each other to figure something out. Students ho discuss solutions and challenges with themselves and each other.  Students who know it is ok to pull out a piece of scrap aper, try something, throw it out and try something else.

When we over-prescribe and over-explain, we rob students of the pleasure of accomplishment. Sure they will still get from point A to point B, but the satisfaction of true learning will be diminished. When I tell my students that I have a challenge for them, and yes that it may be difficult but not impossible, I get some trepidation, some wavering and then it turns to determination, to a “we can do this” moment.  That is what learning should look like.  My students have become more self-reliant, more courageous learners, more willing to take a risk and figure something out. Sure they still ask for my help, but it is with pointed questions and tried pathways.

So can you step back, can you let them try without giving out all of the steps?  Can you teach them overall skills on how to attack problems and then let them customize to each situation?  It takes guts and it takes courage, and it also takes an enormous belief in your students.  I think they deserve it.