Friday, November 15, 2013

Flex Your Brain (FYB)

We all love Fridays...

but I really love Fridays. 

Our school dismisses each Friday at 12:30 for faculty meetings. In addition to the half day, there is a weekly assembly, and often extended recess. It makes for an awkward, choppy day. It is impossible to run regular classes and periods with these goofy schedules. To counter this lack of regular class, our school has a "Flex Your Brain" (FYB) program. Basically, FYB is a way to continue learning outside of a regimented science, history, english, or math class. It is a time to learn about things we may not learn in school. We combine different class levels and the students work in teams to finish projects. 

When I came to my school last year, the FYB program was fledgling. Instead of an opportunity for students to explore, experiment, and create with other students, FYB was very similar to everyday school work. Teachers claimed the purpose of FYB was to reinforce curriculum, a time to help students remember times tables, writing devices, or science vocabulary. Students received some type of "project" that looked the same as an assignment based on standard instruction. Students complained it was boring and teachers hated planning for it each Friday. We even though of canceling the concept.

I fought to change FYB to truly embrace its name. Why not truly have students "Flex Their Brains"? Rather than add more structure, requirements, or work, why not do the opposite? Let students pick what they want to learn, take away the grades, and create actual projects. This would lead to true engagement and also reduce some teacher stress. I vociferously defended my thoughts and swore it would work.  

The school gave my idea a shot. The faculty decided to organize each month around a theme. September's theme was "change". We picked "change" so students could think about the nascent school year and other new things in their lives. We gave them a simple planning sheet (to define essential ideas and schedule), put them in groups, and told them to create something about "change". A month later, the students presented projects to other the faculty, parents, and other students. The results were simply breath-taking.

The October theme was "community" and the students stepped their game up. They came me up with bigger ideas, grander thoughts, and more innovative products. I was astounded and amazed. Mind you, there was no grade or reward for finishing, the students just wanted to come up with things that were "cool". It was pure intrinsic motivation and learning. 

Below are a few pictures I snapped to illustrate the learning. This is "community" to our middle school. 


What does music mean to our school community?

A model of our school carnival 
(A student built the Ferris Wheel without outside design)

Plans for a Community Service Week at school

Designing the community restaurant of the future on Minecraft

Student bracelets to create community

A community "food truck"

Do sports help a community?

What would an eco-friendly community look like?

How would you Flex Your Brain?

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