School-Wide Innovation Day

By CUE Guest Bloggers Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Sarah Press, and Liz Tompkins


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Many teachers and administrators are creating time in their students’ days to allow for passion-based learning. You might have heard of Genius Hour (check out the #geniushour hashtag on Twitter) or 20% Time (#20time on Twitter). Instead of a chunk of time each week being used for passion-based learning and creation – like with Genius Hour and 20% Time – Innovation Day allows for a whole school day of student creation. Kind of like an on-campus field trip, on Innovation Day students come to school and spend the whole day doing projects they have planned based on their own interests.

Why Do Innovation Day?

Several reasons, really.

  • It’s fun. Let’s not overrate kids being excited to come to school.

  • It gives kids a sense of ownership and voice. We ask students to come to school and do what we ask them to do on a regular basis. Why not give them some–or, in the case of Innovation Day–a lot of ownership and choice?

  • It fosters intrinsic motivation. According to Daniel Pink’s Drive, motivation comes from the ability to have autonomy in a task, the ability to show mastery, and a purpose for the task to be completed. We want motivated students, and Innovation Day provides a forum for students to experience autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

  • Innovation Day foregrounds talents and interests that don’t necessarily get revealed at school that often.

  • It’s a great place to develop 21st century skills like collaboration, problem-solving, and project management.

  • Innovation Day serves as a community builder as students who don’t often get a chance to collaborate academically get to work with each other for purposeful, not just social, work.

  • On year-end reflections, students loved Innovation Day. It was universally a high point for our students.

  • Lastly, we felt like we saw increased engagement in tasks in our classes after Innovation Day, though this is hard to quantify. The day seemed to pay off in student focus and attitude for the rest of the year.

How Did We Engage All Students on Innovation Day?

7 hours is a long time. How do you keep over a hundred kids engaged in completely unique projects?

  • Discussion. In the weeks before, students have to reflect on what matters to them. Innovation Day is engaging when you are passionate.  Discussion, innovative YouTube clips, and models help kids realize the exciting autonomy they’ll be facing.

  • Open Options. Group work vs. independent work, indoors, outdoors, on computers, on instruments—since all kids learn differently, different options are better for different kids.

  • Structured, Hour-By-Hour Proposals. The proposals reveal the logistics of the project and the realistic level of engagement it provides.  Broad guidelines, i.e. projects will: produce a deliverable, address a larger audience, and have an impact on the audience, allow for independence but add a helpful structure.

  • Formative Feedback on Proposals.  It’s a place you can ask follow-up questions and suggest an added layer of complexity or a different medium if necessary.

  • Excitement! Have kids talk about what they are planning to do.

  • Breaks. Allow a few breaks in the day so kids can see what the others are doing— and be sure to check in with them throughout the day! There is a fun buzz in the room when all the projects are being completed.

Logistical Concerns For Innovation Day

Even with the detailed planning that went into pre-Innovation Day preparations, we still had several logistical concerns to work out.


Some kids needed quiet, others (like the student writing a heavy-metal guitar solo) needed to make noise. Some needed room to spread out, others needed space to focus. We surveyed students a week ahead of time to assess their needs in terms of space and materials, and then worked with the spaces available to us to accommodate what students needed. We ended up having a collaborative, relatively noisy work space in our cafeteria, a computer lab, a quiet classroom, and a variety of students in outdoor spaces and special rooms (e.g. music practice rooms on periods without music classes).

Materials and Technology

Our school is quite limited in our technological resources. We encouraged students to work in groups, to bring their own devices when possible, lent out several Chromebooks, and opened a (slow, but functional) computer lab with internet connectivity. There ended up being enough devices to go around.


All Innovation Day participants wore a special name tag that served both as a hall pass and as identification in case of behavioral concerns. We also created a shared Google Doc that listed all of the work spaces available. Each of the four advisory teachers on our team then listed which students should be in which spaces, and updated the list as student needs changed so that we always knew where kids should be. We had five supervising teachers (the four advisors and one student teacher), so each of the three main workspaces had one supervising teacher, with two roving the other locations.

What Innovation Day Looked Like: Student Documentarian Perspective

Innovation Day was a really good way to let us experience something we are truly interested in while in an educational environment. There were so many different project ideas that people were doing, like song writing/singing, story writing and movie making. After about two hours some people started to lose focus, because their projects had only just been started and they weren’t all the way into it yet, but they did get back on track fairly quickly.

It would have been nice for them to take a break to go and look at everyone else’s project throughout the day, just so they could take their minds off their project and do something else, while still participating in Innovation Day. Toward the end of the day people had either finished their projects and were sitting around, or were working really hard in trying to get to a good stopping point. It seemed to work well with the amount of people we had; it might have been really hectic if there had been more people participating in it.

How Innovation Day Went: Teacher Perspective

The day was hard to beat for positive energy. Students were excited, by the time the day actually rolled around, to implement their meticulously planned projects. They were equally excited to see what others were doing. Many concerns, such as behavioral problems, never materialized for us, and many positive surprises–students teaching other students, students shocked at the talents of their peers, honest and sincere praise for work–arose. And clearly, the true measure of success was in students demanding to know, even before the day was over, if we were going to do Innovation Day again next year.

What did our Innovation Day look like? Check out our student author Rian’s Innovation Day video!

Really, though, the last word on Innovation Day should be left to our students. Why should you run an Innovation Day at your school? See what they had to say below!

Interested in running an Innovation Day at your school? Let us help you get started! Check out the Florence Innovation Day Website with a ton of awesome student products from our spring 2013 Innovation Day. All of our Innovation Day prep resources can be accessed in a Google Folder – feel free to modify and use the heck out of them!

From the left: Johnny Tsao, Liz Tompkins, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Brian Wasserman, and Sarah Press

This article was cowritten by teachers Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Sarah Press, and Liz Tompkins. We’d like to thank Rian for adding her student perspective on the day, and for contributing the awesome video embedded above!

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