One of my favorite books is Daniel Pink's Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. And speaking of motivation, I was movitated to read his book after watching the animation of a talk he gave. I must have watched that video three or four times before getting online and ordering his book, and after devoring his book my mind kept thinking, "How can I use these ideas in my classroom?"
One of the real big things that stuck in my mind was the idea of autonomy -- or having the freedom to choose how we do something. He explains how this can be one of the biggest reasons why people succeed at a given task. The problem was that when I went back through my lesson plans I didn't see any autonomy for my students. Every one of them were step-by-step tech projects. So over the summer I started to revamp some of my lessons to include student autonomy.
Take for example my fourth grade U.S. Constitution Podcast project. The original lesson plan was very rigid on how students were suppose to do things. But after my autonomy re-do I had changed a few parts to "student choice." Students were now free to choose to do their podcast on whatever part of the Constitution they chose rather than being assigned. They then were free to choose their own characters and story line.
I have to admit, it was a little more chaotic to watch them work on this project, and at first they were lost with this new found freedom. "So I can do my podcast on anything I want?" But once they got used to a little "structured" freedom they did way better this year on the project.
If creativity is a 21st Century Skill that we want our students to develop, then how could they possible develop this skill without the freedom to choose for themselves how they do certain parts of a project? So take a chance and add a few elements of autonomy to your lessons, cross your fingers, give a little guidance and advice and then be prepared to be shocked by what your students do.