First graders have spent the last few enrichment classes using a menu to continue their exploration of plants. Student menus provide them with a list of 'have tos' and then a variety of options. Students were also given time in order to add additional classroom choices to their menu.
This type of learning allows students to have choices in their learning style (some students chose to play computer games about plants in order to test their knowledge of plant parts and the plant life cycle, while others created scientific drawings of a sunflower after viewing a real sunflower with a magnifying class). A menu approach allows students to find entry points for their learning and it gives me a chance to work with small groups and individual students. I also find that the giving students the ability to move and change between tasks gives them a physical outlet for their energy that is controlled and supports their learning. Plant menu choices included: scientific observation and drawing of a sunflower, online games and stories about plants, creating a plant 'wonder', brainstorming what plants need (one group of students thought of 14 legitimate needs---how many could you come up with?), and reading plant books. In addition to these plant centers, students also had the opportunity to explore and work in a variety of centers around the room from watercolor painting to the kitchen to space manipulatives!
The menu approach to learning requires students to take control of their own learning. Some students took the knowledge that they had three weeks to complete the menu and spent the first week without completing any of their 'have tos', while other students decided they wanted to get to work right away and save up their choices until the end, still other students spent some time each week making choices. As students are in first grade, helping them to understand how much work they have to do and how much time they have is part of my job as the teacher. It is sometimes challenging when I fear that they will not finish--but experience has taught me that this is rarely the case. Students relish the chance to drive their own learning and when given the opportunity they show me their independence and enthusiasm for learning.
Next we will use some of our basic knowledge to work on a group project on plant life cycles. Stay tuned to watch some of our essential understandings of plants come to life in student made videos!