In my class I try to encourage students to make as many decisions for themselves as possible. Toward that end I use quite a few open-ended investigations in my class. During these investigations students create their own research question and investigate the question by designing their own investigation techniques, analyzing their own data and coming to their own conclusions. They then create a “product” that they share with their classmates both in class and online. This post highlights some ways I manage these projects.
I feel compelled to mention my role during these investigations. First of all, the student research questions must be approved by me, answerable with materials in class and somehow related to course content. By “signing off” on students’ research questions I can help them ask answerable questions, questions they will find of value and questions I could argue to administrators relate to expected curricular outcomes :). During the investigation days I am VERY busy. I am keeping one eye on the class overall, while helping individual groups navigate frustrations and struggles. I am always sure to position myself in the room so that my field of vision extends toward the middle of the room, I work to never turn my back on students.
Because so many groups want my help I have developed a tool to further promote my goal for students to become more autonomous. When I first started these projects, I was constantly bombarded with “Mr. Kruse, Mr. Kruse, Mr. Kruse”. Then ended up helping students with questions they ought to have been able to figure out on their own. So, I created a “see me” board. This whiteboard serves as a list on which students sign up to discuss their question with me. When I introduced the “see me” board, I explained to students that I would get to them in order and when I had time. Importantly, I made clear my expectation that they continue working on their project and trying to solve their own problem until I got to them.
What I have found is that many students figure out their own problem before I even get there. I have even started noticing students write their name on the board and then erase their name when they “figure it out”. SUCCESS! The students are becoming more independent. Yet, I am still available to support their efforts so they do not become so frustrated that they give up.
Side note: My “high level” students struggle more with this shift than the others. They are “high level” because they are good at the “school game”. When we change the rules, they aren’t quite sure what to do. :)