Tag Archives: education

“I wish school curriculums let students create more.”

12 Nov

Last month, I observed a few classes at Lakeside, an independent school in Seattle, WA. There, teachers are moving toward, what they call, a playground model in which students are encouraged to take risks and experiment. While they of course still have a curriculum that they follow, students do have freedom to do things like design, tweak, and retry their own lab experiments and to play with programming software to figure out how chaos and order are a part of an author’s writing. It sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Of course these things are not total anomalies in public education, but with increasing demands to produce evidence of student achievement, time dedicated to trying new things and allowing students the freedom to make and learn from mistakes can sometimes take a back seat to things like test prep. What seems more amazing is that students recognize that trend as well. They’re not naive in that they know acing an AP exam will put them in good standings for college admissions, but they also seem to crave more choice and more time to play.

This week, I’m reading through student reflections, in which they discuss their greatest takeaways from working with the ILP and the work in subsequent classes that makes them feel most accomplished. Here is one that seems to encapsulate what many of his peers are also thinking:

“NO other class has let me create my own work from the ground up, and this vertical growth has been enjoyable in that I have learned how to independently pursue relevant knowledge and also how to put my independent creative vision into this discovery of knowledge. Especially in my narrative writing. I found this unit to be most enjoyable because of this promotion of free creation. I don’t imagine I’ll get to use this skill again because AP classes are intensely geared towards taking a test, not promoting the free ideas and creation that all student all really need. I wish more people realized that creation is more important than just doing activities, like during this English class and in other classes as well (world language, especially), and that’s my greatest takeaway. I wish school curriculums let students create more…. This unit has made me realize that the current system of education desperately needs to reform for more independent creation.” (10th grade Honors Student)

The student’s terms, “vertical growth” and “free creation” really strike me because I see them echoed in the pleas of many other students.

During our STEM class, my partner and I developed detailed instructions for our peers to build piece of a steam engine. We failed! All of those red marks are questions from our peers. We tried again after knowing more about our audience's needs. The blue marks indicate our 2nd attempt with a focus on spacial dimensions.

During our STEM class, my partner and I developed detailed instructions for our peers to build a piece of a steam engine. We failed! All of those red marks are questions from our peers. So, we tried again after learning more about our audience’s needs. The blue marks indicate our 2nd attempt with a focus on spacial dimensions and different perspectives.

Of course, there are many, many teachers who are doing amazing things with student creation, but it seems increasingly saved for elective classes in public education. When I took a professional development course on STEM across the curriculum at my school, I had the pleasure of experiencing what those students are yearning for. While setting us off on a project of our own creation, Design and Applied Technology teacher, Michael McFadden gave three pieces of wisdom that I couldn’t help but write down:

  • In the engineering process, students have to fail before they can start. It’s not until they fail and have to figure out why something didn’t work that they have a real problem to solve.
  • You’re never finished.
  • The two biggest requirements for any project–be engaged in the process and be as ambitious as you want.

This makes me wonder, especially in highly-tested subject areas or content-heavy courses, how can we do more to let our students explore, be ambitious, and engage in the process? How can we reconcile the need for grades on “finished” products if students are forever vertically growing? And how can we allow for students to learn from mistakes?

ILP and Guided Inquiry

30 Mar

Two helpful resources in understanding the principles of Guided Inquiry (GI) are Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century (2007) and Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School  (2012) by Carol Kuhlthau, Leslie Maniotes, and Ann Caspari.  Through years of research and professional practice, this team of researchers and educators demonstrates how GI “is an approach to learning whereby students find and use a variety of sources of information and ideas to increase their understanding of a problem, topic, or issue” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes & Caspari, 2007).  Students construct new knowledge actively and strive for deep understanding.  Gone are the days of just gathering information for presentation, or copying and pasting information as ways of learning.   GI requires thorough interpretation, analysis, reflection, and synthesis to handle the complexities and nuances of various topics.  The process increases student engagement and invites students to connect what they are learning in the classroom to the world around them.  As a result, students take on more independence and more responsibility since they are constructing their own paths for learning.

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Giving Students Control

14 Mar

Over the past week, I have read numerous emails, blogs, and tweets about personalized learning, many with links to student samples or courses that teachers are redesigning so that students can have more control over their learning. Each time I navigated to these sites and saw what others were doing, I was reminded that my own students are achieving some pretty incredible goals in my current Honors Brit Lit course. For the last two and a half years, my students in my Brit Lit (and this year my English II courses) have designed their own curriculum. They choose their own texts, develop their own questions, design activities, manage their time–they control nearly everything in that classroom.

So, to help keep my students focused and organized, I developed an inquiry-based learning plan, inspired by Carol Kuhlthau’s Information Search Process and Grant Wiggins’ UbD template. This site’s purpose is to share with you that plan and many of the resources and strategies that I–and my incredible friends and colleagues Cathy Stutzman, Heather Hersey, and Marci Zane–use to prepare students for rigorous, individualized, responsible learning. The plan is to have students, teachers, librarians, administrators,  and parents contribute to this site to share with you the struggles and achievements of this type of learning.

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