photo © 2010 Abby | more info (via: Wylio)It’s research paper time in the library, but today the un-paper research project was born. I have an English teacher who lamented that a college prep high school English class of hers was extremely varied in abilities and interest in her class, and she was trying to figure out what the next assignment for the class would be. She knew she wanted to do some kind of biographical project, but was thinking out loud in the library, saying she was letting them pick their person to research, and learn about name origins and such, and whether or not that person fit their name’s origin history. A group of us agreed giving these students choice would engage them more, as they would be interested in learning about the person they chose. Of course we also knew many would choose current pop culture icons.
What is the purpose of the assignment?
As we had the conversation, I asked what her students needed to learn, and what would they be graded on. She said primarily she wanted the kids to practice and improve their research skills and she wanted to focus on citing sources. When she did not say “writing sills” I asked her: Does this project HAVE to be a written paper?
What else can they do?
She thought for a moment, and then turned it back to me. What else could they do? So I promised to go into her class and talk to her class about some projects–>end products, so to speak, designed to demonstrate students had done their research, and the only requirements would be notes, a class presentation, and a bibliography citing resources.
Ideas & Teasers, but no paper to write (and no papers to read for a grade!)
I visited her room Wednesday, and using nothing more than a Google word document on the projector as my launch pad, I went over some “project ideas” as I called them. Some I listed as were very low tech, while others were extremely techy/computer based. (The Google doc has since been moved to the school library wiki for student access.) We also talked about what makes a good presentation, and how to learn to use the sites and applications I show cased.
There were many questions, but more importantly, solid interest. I’m a talkative person in the classroom, and I tend to get on my little soapbox when kids seem interested, so it was no surprise that it took almost the entire ninety minutes in class to do this. But my students and my collaborating teacher remembered my spill about not knowing all the ideas well, and that she and her students needed to “play” and figure them out. This class visited the library today, and their task was to first, spend some time exploring the tools introduced or showcased yesterday, and then second, explore both the library’s book catalog and databases to begin the research element of the project.
My collaborating teacher (CT) and I were amazed at the interest and swiftness at which the kids explored, manipulated, and created content today. There was a lot of collaboration amongst the students as well, sharing how to do this or that, or how they created something on their screen. The class of often described disinterested students were very much into their assignment today, and eagerly helping each other as they “played” there way through various applications. Some even solidly began to create content. I was able to remind students of “fair use” in this project too, grabbing that teachable moment to discuss copyright in a relevant way, and remind students that all material such as pictures, songs, etc would need a citation. That ninety minutes swiftly went by too.
A different rubric–let’s decide together what you’ll be graded on.
As kids worked, my CT and I talked about conferencing with students, and individually developing a rubric to guide their work, as each student could potentially have a totally different approach. They return next week for a little more “play time” and I plan to hook up my InFocus 3916 projector and give different students the reins of the class to show the class what they have figured out about tools they have been exploring. They will be able to model for the rest of the class and give tips for use. I have confessed several times to the class that I know about the tools, but do not necessarily have any skills in using them (like Prezi.)
They are begging for staff development time on this!
The best result of this endeavor that stemmed from an impromptu discussion at the circulation desk is that word has gotten around. Other teachers are asking for the same lesson, and even asking for “teacher time” to learn the applications or sites I previewed with this class. We even came up with a model for a GBE (goals based evaluation) for this department’s teachers after the ISTE SIGMS One Tool at a Time, planning dates where the department would come together for the purpose of learning about a tool that might be used for technology integration or increasing student engagement. I shared about the ne Tool at a Time concept when some in our group got the “deer in the headlight” look on their faces. My collaborating teacher talked about the many tools and sites I had just shared, and how overwhelming it was for her, while her students seemed to soak it all right in, and showed no signs of fear or worry.
This is all great, though other than this one class, I’m not sure how many others will jump in or invite me to work with their classes–particularly since there are only 21 more days left. But as I walked away, I could feel the buzz of interest as this group of teachers from one department excitedly thought out loud but the possibilities.
UPDATE: Two more teachers want me to come to their room and go over parts or all of what I shared with the first class. These teachers have definitely been talking.
Image Attribution/Works not already cited:
Stahmer, Tim, “The Mythbuster’s Kindergarten.” Image: Cycle.jpg. Weblog entry. Assorted Stuff. August 11, 2009. Accessed April 29, 2011.