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There's an Update in My Settings App

I really don't like it when I learn that my phone needs a new update. To me it means new bugs, new tips and preferences, and time for the actual update. I know this is really petty of me but I don't like the change and I hold off the update as long as I can. Inevitably, my friends make the update and text me with fancy bitmojis and confetti. My curiosity gets the most of me and I begrudgingly make the change.

The more and more I read about what we know about the human brain, what motivates us, and fixed mindset vs. growth mindset, the more I understand how our schools need a desperate update. Actually, an upgrade is way overdue. Schools are still set up so kids can help with the farm in the summer. Our daily routines at school are organized by bells. Homework is assigned, the day is organized by subject and we can still sign up to go to the computer lab if we need some tech time. In some ways, it's very similar to when I went to school......30+ years ago.

Daniel Pink, the author of "Drive," explains that what we do and what science knows is vastly different and that we need to catch up with the science. He says that our old system of carrots and sticks doesn't work in the 21st Century. He says that carrots and sticks aren't always bad but in many situations they can be harmful. I learned with my knitting experience (see blog #1) that extrinsic rewards can extinguish intrinsic motivation. The money undermines my joy of the activity. I also think getting paid to knit crowded out good behavior. By this I mean that I also enjoy the good deed of giving someone something I bought and made. Giving to someone feels good. Getting paid to give to someone isn't the same. Pink says that carrots and sticks can drive out creativity. I know when I was getting paid for knitting, I didn't stray from a pattern or buy a different kind of yarn. I stuck with what I knew because I didn't want to fail.

So, carrots and sticks don't work well for activities that are noble or creative. However, if the activity is mechanical, a reward may be appropriate. He recommends you explain why a reward is offered, acknowledge that the task is boring, and allow the participants to complete the task their own way within guidelines of course. With all this said, carrots and sticks should only be used in theses instances and done sparingly.

One of the many takeaways from reading the book was that schools have WAY too many carrots and sticks. This week I tried to notice more and more of them in my own classroom. We are getting ready for the spring musical in fifth grade so I created a list of all the songs from the musical on the dry erase board so we could start marking off when the song is learned and memorized. I heard myself saying to the class, "If we can work on 2-3 songs and make some good progress on those songs, we can stop to play a drama game." Translation: If we do this boring task, we can do the fun task. Did my chart on the board and statement turn the musical songs into work? Uh oh.

As I debated this thought in my head, fifth graders left the room and fourth graders walked in. I switched gears and started a new project with the fourth graders. I read them the book, "The Napping House" by Audrey Wood and asked them to help me brainstorm how they could create their own audio track to this book. One of the tasks in this project will be to play a lullaby in triple meter with pick up notes. The rest of the project will be their own ideas. Their eyes lit up. They were so excited to get started. After I read the book, we learned parts of the lullaby and brainstormed ideas. The energy in the room was amazing and the kids were oozing ideas they couldn't wait to try.

I want all my kids in room 253 to leave music with that excitement and high level of engagement. How can I redesign my lessons to use WAY less of the "If and then" statements and WAY more autonomy, mastery and purpose? While I continue to contemplate Daniel Pink's book, I have started to read, LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by by John Spencer, A.J. Juliani. Maybe this book will help me find ways to change the way I frame my lessons to allow more engagement and empowerment for the kiddos of room 253.

So the next time there's an update in my settings app, I'm going see the change as an opportunity. After all that's nothing compared to the upgrade that's starting to happen in room 253. It's time to change my mindset, take a risk and upgrade my classroom.

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