Personalized learning and student choice are spouting in our district. The pure concept is extremely exciting and scary compared to the practices we have delivered for many years. At the core, I really like looking at what is effective in our classrooms and adding student options to get there.
I’ve been building the student choice options. The early choice lessons of the school year were simply “Choice A” or “Choice B”, whatever the A or B was. 6th graders are still 11/12 years old, loving the chance to choose, but needing to be taught the process. This is all built around the question “What choice is best for your learning?”. This is very challenging since friends are often more important than academics.
So here we are in mid-November rolling out a full blown student choice project. We are combining Science and Social Studies. Science has been working on motion via calculating speed and average speed. In Social Studies our state’s fur trade is the unit of study. I had loosely attempted to connect my Science with Minnesota History in the past. This project would be so much more.
The speed concept would be the underlying standard, divided into two part. Driving from our school to the location of a historical fur trading post. Travel would be using current, modern means and requiring 3 stops on the way. Students would calculate moving speed and average speed with their stops.
The return trip back to our school would be in 1804, the peak of the fur trade in our state. They had to research the limitations of traveling during that era, with no roads and travel progress which was limited to daylight hours. Being able to travel just 30-40 miles a day created a much more challenging math equation for a 300 plus mile journey on horseback.
We used Google MyMaps as our tool to draw each route. I have used this tool in and out of class often. It is a bit of an acquired taste, but students found their way just fine. There are definitely many ways to display their route, with stops and all of the data points needed for calculations.
Beyond traveling in the day of the fur trade, the social studies learning required pinning locations of key trading posts around Lake Superior. Students could clearly see the great effort traders endured moving from post to post. In addition, they learned the importance of those locations to sustain their exchange businesses to survive. Most students made this a completely different layer in MyMaps.
Project participation options included working alone or with another student. In my experience, when student learning choice is given, groups of three are not as effective. From the beginning you could see and feel the learning energy. There were obvious waves of excitement flowing, as student found their virtual journey. Students clearly embraced having the option to take any route of their choice, as long as they could calculate their speed.
Students hit the mark for both subjects, with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. Don’t get me wrong, there were presentations that are still emerging and needing some serious attention. Even when there were presentation accuracy errors, most student caught the mistake and could verbally fix on the spot. I appreciate that part of the project, which is more like real-life projects. We often don’t hit the mark the first time, but fix it and at learning generally sticks beyond the deadline.