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Monday, March 25, 2013

Student Choice Project: Inquiry, passion, focus for students and the teacher

Fourth term traditionally has been final project term. I have tweaked this for the past five years and last year felt good about the types of projects that were being produced. However, that didn't save me from tinkering again. Inquiry and passion are two important ingredients in learning and education and I feel that I have to allow my students to tap into them more than I previously have done. Which led me to decide to allow student's to choose their own topic and presentation method (website, video, art, slide show, etc...)

I decided to ask my students about this process with a google form survey. The results were surprising in some ways, not so much in others. I wasn't really surprised that students were roughly split on whether or not they cared about the presentation method. I was surprised that while students wanted to choose their topic, they wanted a comprehensive list to view when considering topics. Nearly every student accepted the presentation methods I suggested, only a couple students made suggestions in addition to the ones I offered.

I think it's important to remember that while these students are ninth graders (14-15) they still look for and need guidance. They are passionate and inquisitive, but probably aren't as knowledgeable as they'd like to think they are. Especially when deciding a big final project. I believe they want to make informed choices before offering up a selection. Passion is one thing, focus is another, and I think the two combined make for an exciting proposition.

My plan is to implement a bit of the 'genius hour' idea and allow students a 45 min class period once a week to work solely on their projects. I will have to plan for some sort of ticket out the door accounting, but overall I am not worried about them using their time wisely. They get to pick the project so it will be what they want to do, not what I chose for them.

Also I believe most projects fail or aren't as successful as they could be because they are not structured properly. Too many teachers say this will be due in eight weeks and then are shocked when no one has started a few days before they are due. I am going to have an element of the project due each week so that as long as they follow the plan they will finish on time without any rush the day before. It will be a natural conclusion to their work.

My job along the way will be to push, prod, guide, challenge, get them to critically examine and think about their topic, add perspective and point of view, and help them understand and evaluate to the best of their ability their topic. In order to do that I will have be totally engaged in the process. I will need to be the teacher I dreamed of being when I started this journey. It's easy to sit behind a desk and let students work, sometimes it's good to let them get their hands dirty and get messy with the work, but I need to be at my best in order for me to expect them to be at their best.

While they are working on a focused, passion, inquiry driven journey I will have my own project. Can I transform my classes into the students I know they can become by being the teacher I know I can be? This is my drive, my passion. This is my final project of the year.

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