“What’s Your Motivation?”: How I Got Students to Buy Into Innovation

The structure of my pilot at Orr Elementary School this summer is very similar to what I tried in my class after my first trip to California with the Education Innovation Fellowship in January. I was so excited about being in the Fellowship and trying things I was learning, so I started implementing changes right away. My class was also eager to follow my lead, which made it easy to try out new ideas and adjust them as I went.

By the end of the year, I was confident that I had a great structure in place, and I planned to use the exact same strategy with my summer school students. Well, I learned quickly that with each new year and each new set of students, my structure will definitely have to adjust.

On the first day of my summer pilot program (along with my colleague, Kelley Jones), I came in and shared my expectations with my students, talked to them about goal-setting and small groups, and—standing on my soapbox—preached about how important it was to know your data and speak to it! And when I was done and looked out at the blank faces staring back at me, I realized very quickly that my approach with this group was definitely going to have to be different.

Instead of just pointing out how important it was for students to set goals, I realized that this group needed to be engaged and to understand the importance of the math I was asking them to do. So Ms. Jones and I decided to create a culminating project that students would work on together and that would relate directly to their lives. My group from last year was motivated by just being successful in school; this group needed to see why it mattered.

The culminating project that students will complete is about money: Students use money every day and will continue to throughout their lives, so it was an intensely relatable subject. Since our last day together will be a trip to a staking rink, we’ve assigned students to figure out how much the trip will cost and what activities and snacks we will be able to afford on our budget—all the while using decimals (our Unit 1 activity) to do it.

Now that I have students’ minds turning and making connections through this culminating project, I feel their motivation to be successful in our summer pilot increasing. After a week and a half, they are eager to participate in the centers. I can’t wait to see how they do on their first quiz!

Diane Johnson, 2015 Education Innovation Fellow
Orr Elementary School


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