This post has been percolating for a little while. I thought that I would write a post so that I could organize my thoughts.
Last term, I undertook a #geniushour project by allowing my students to decide what they wanted to learn more about. This involved planning a final project which would act as an archive of the learning.
Here are some things that I learned through this (sometimes messy) process:
- It is definitely not about the final project. Having the kids blog about their learning was key! For example, some students took on a green screen film project which, although funny and entertaining, did not turn out how they wanted it to. It was by reading the reflections that I gained insight into the student learning. Reading their blog posts has helped me to understand what my students are learning and what their struggles have been throughout the process.
- Feedback is essential. I walk around the room and ask questions about the projects that the kids are working on. It is hard for me to give feedback without unintentionally guiding the direction of the project. Students keep asking me, “Is this what you want, Mr. Hatch?” I keep telling them that their project has nothing to do with me…it is about them and their learning. I also encourage students to solicit peer feedback – either in person or by comments on their blogs.
- Kids are going to get stuck and they are going to fail and get frustrated. This is when it is important to support rather than bail them out. Ask questions…”What do you think you could do now?”, “Is there anything that I could do to help you?”, Is there anyone that you could ask?” It is important to keep the student from giving up. I just keep telling students that failure is learning. Write a blog post about what happened and what you intend to do.
- Encourage your students to find mentors who can help them. Mentors can be fellow students, staff members, parents or other people in the school community. One of my students was watch a tutorial video on YouTube and ended up sending an email to the developer of the video asking questions – her questions were graciously answered and she was pointed to a place on-line where she could learn more.
- You have to trust your students and the process. If you have offered the right amount of support, things will come together at the end of the term. If it doesn’t, the student still learned something and they should be encouraged to reflect on that learning.
- Reflection is essential. For my class, I had them write blog posts so I could track their progress. I found that students were brutally honest in their posts. Here is a sample post that I was reading today from a student who is part of a group working on a role playing video game. I was bubbling with excitement for this student when I read the posts because the reflections previous to this one were about how his group was stuck and was not making very much progress.
Progress, so much progress. I don’t think we have ever been as efficient as we were today. Today, we finished off fixing up the controls and the physics. We had full control over our character and we could move him around a 3D plane. It was so trivial and yet it excited all of us so much. All the things we just look over when playing games, we can really appreciate now. It took a lot of work and it wasn’t with out compiler errors, but luckily we got through it. Not only did we finally get those pesky collisions that have been giving us so much trouble out of the way, but we also started working on the camera and finished that as well. We now have our camera working as it follows the player around. Yes, it sounds really trivial, but you have no idea how much work it actually took. I mean, can you tell me what “Vector 3 = 0. Mathf.SIGN” means, because before today I sure didn’t. Overall, I felt really accomplished after today. It feels good to see the outcome of your work doesn’t it. Next up, we have to work on making a model, so that our character doesn’t look like a square. I’m looking forward to that since making your own character is one of the most exciting parts. So, things are looking up for weeks to come.
Is this student engaged and motivated in his learning? Is this kid learning skills that will benefit him in his career choice?
I can’t believe it has taken me more than 25 years as a teacher to figure out this model for learning. It has been so powerful and it has been incredibly rewarding. My students blow me away every single week by the amount that they are learning and sharing. Don’t be afraid to give up control to your students and let them navigate their own learning.