This year I have tried to integrate more activities that involve choice. Our school system requires a fully developed research paper for all middle school students the third nine weeks of school. I anchored this unit with the topic of “The Holocaust” and asked students to form a research question that dealt with some type of injustice that middle school students endure. I also allowed students to work in groups though they each submitted an individual final draft.
This worked fairly well. When it came time to share, that is when I opened up the choices even more. I always model what we are doing so I had written a research paper as well. I looked at various ideas for presenting this information. I ended up sharing my research through Google Presentations, Prezi, Animoto, Go Animate, Voicethread, and Xtranormal. I created the same basic ideas, six different ways, to allow students to get way more creative than me. They were allowed to work in small groups, pairs, or individuals and choose the tool that best met their needs.
Well…. the work began. The room was filled with a noise level above the normal range. Giggles floated through the learning atmosphere. I did some observing but truly believe that too much interference from me ends up with work that projects my vision not the students, so was predominately an outside onlooker.
Each day the noise level increased. I confessed to my peers that I may have made a mistake allowing the projects to be created in this way. I made it clear to the students that there would be no excuses. At the end of the week ALL groups, pairs, and individuals should be prepared to present.
The day for sharing arrived. Most hands went up quickly; yearning to be first. They went to the class media projector, logged in and began explaining. The assistant principal walked in and sat down. We both were amazed, me more than her! The projects were accurate, clever, amusing, and well thought out. What I perceived as play was actually collaboration. WORK WAS OCCURRING.
But you know as I reflect, when I work with my peers, we are not quiet. We get excited and we produce. Why was I so surprised that this could be the same with 8th graders? I asked them to reflect on the process and was again reassured by their insightful responses. They pointed out honestly who was on task and admitted who was not. They explained why they chose their online tool and what inspired the concept behind their data sharing.
Next year I want to introduce this kind of learning much earlier in the year. I read what I can find on project-based learning and am still working on finding a way to implement more relevant experiences but along the way I have learned it is OK to have fun with it!