I have been motivated since my first big open ended project this year to not limit the learning in my science classroom. The project I speak of was the “Grand Portage” project in December. The rubric was very basic and integrated our learning during the year with technology. In addition, I wanted to cross the curriculums of math and social studies.
The math challenge was clear and present, as we were asking students to build the formula to calculate speed. The problem is that not all math students had mastered that skill yet, with many not being exposed to this skill until spring of the school year. Still this was connected to one of our standards and an important skill for their science classes yet to come. It wasn’t uncommon to see those cross-eyed looks of confusion showing they’re not there yet.
In social studies the students were studying the fur trade in Minnesota. So my idea was to connect all three subjects that hopefully supported each other and ultimately met my project standard. Students would plan a trip from our school to a historical fur trade location, traveling in 2014. Their return trip would be using the travel means of fur traders in the 1800’s. We used Google My Maps to use different layers and routes for both legs of their trip. Students were free to select their own route and we had some very interesting ways to get there.
The maps were the fun part, then came the meat of the project. For each leg the project required students to account for miles, total time including stops, moving time, average and moving speed. These equations made me uneasy and nervous, for the difficulty was much greater than we had done with basic labs to date. Finally they had to present their trip to the class. I was really letting go of my traditional learning box and handing the steering wheel over to the students.
Let me clearly state this method was stepping way outside of my comfort zone. I was in year 4 of teaching this part of the chapter and had my canned lesson ready. As mentioned in an earlier blog, I was inspired by Jenny Magiera’s TEDx BurnsvilleEd talk on “Power of the Pupil”. If you have yet to view, it is well worth your time to watch. So here I was letting go, guiding the learning instead of thinking I was controlling it. A leap of faith for this educator, whom my friends sometimes refer to as Sheldon Cooper.
During the work time, technology was the tool of collaboration. This wasn’t a surprise, for I had seen examples of sharing the learning via technology many times. This time technology was the motivation to not limit their project based upon their math or social studies challenges a student may have experienced in the past. There were no limits on the learning for this project.
The presentations showed students doing successful math equations that earlier were quite foggy and far from clear. Even when their calculations weren’t accurate, in most cases the student brought it to my attention. Then asking, “can I fix this before your grade it?” Now that was learning that I wasn’t expecting and it was quite refreshing. Presentation after presentation exceeded my expectations and many times the student’s, with some presentations off the chart amazing. I learned so many new, slick things about Google My Maps from this project.
Were there students that came up short … for sure. The number was much less than a regular lesson of this size. Most of those students not getting it the first time had a solution before I broached the question of fixing. However, I had goosebumps from many presentations. Those students hit nothing short of a home run and could recognize their accomplishment. They were very proud of their work and well, they should be.
My prior practice learning box had a clear expected outcome and boundaries to stay within. The problem was my boundaries limited the learning to the standard I was seeking. Yes, we met the standard, but why limit the learning. My traditional model kept control and order, while keeping the project within my learning box. It was clear, clean and manageable for this teacher of 21 years. However, it”s their learning that’s important.