Earlier this week, I posted an open-ended assignment in which my students were able to identify a topic of their choice, learn about the topic, and share their knowledge with the world. Today is day number three of student progress and I am happy to report both failure and success.
I say happy to report failure, because some of the students are really struggling to wrap their head around this assignment. Many students consistently ask me what to do or if they can do this or that. To these questions I “politely” reply, “It’s not my project”. The students are also struggling to identify a topic about which they are truly passionate. They have not been asked to guide their own learning before and many of them are failing. Yet, as we all know, this “failure” could be the greatest success of their k-12 experience.
Many of the students are running with the projects. I see activity on twitter late into the night. Students are working collaboratively within and across class periods. Students are collecting and organizing vast amounts of information via digital tools and beginning to create complex and interconnected products to demonstrate their learning. Students are studying anything from endangered animals, to baseball, to the converse company, to the cultural differences between two countries.
Today, I made a mistake. I met with each student/group of students to discuss their progress. They showed/described to me what they have learned, how they were keeping track of their learning, and how they intended to share their learning. After each discussion I asked, how would you grade yourself based on the last three days? This is my mistake. I am playing into my and their deep rooted, but inaccurate, notions of what it means to learn. Moving forward I will ask students, “What do you need to work on?” and “How will you move your learning/project forward?”
Fortunately, this project will continue for quite some time. I hope for some students the project continues indefinitely. For others, I know the project will end with the school year. While I am having students spend much class time working on the project, the goals I am promoting and the benefits for students far outweigh any esoteric content I might not get covered. My plan is to spend some time each week on the project and some time each week working to understand what the state DOE deems appropriate. I wonder which the students and I will enjoy more? :)