Monday, April 4, 2016

Learning with Choice

Several weeks ago we began a unit in second grade enrichment centered around student based inquiry.  Students had a chance to choose a question that they wanted to answer.  Some students have been working individually while others have been working in small groups.  We have faced several challenges during this study.  We have found that we need to be persistent (the questions are not always easy to answer!) , that sometimes our group has different ideas about how to work ( collaboration and teamwork is challenging),  and that we have to be self starting and independent ( I cannot meet with each group right away).

Over several years now I have been teaching snippets of student interest inquiry units to Grade 2.  We have done student driven inquiry projects as a whole class, and we have had exploratory centers around topics of student choice.  This is the first year I have tried inquiry projects in which students select topics, design questions to research, and then create and share their findings.  It has been great to see the growth in student independence and teamwork.

  This process has also taught me a lot about the need for structures within open ended exploration.  One important thing I have learned is that at this grade level the teacher must help to curate resources...AND that often student interests cannot be answered with a book from the library.  We truly do have information about everything at our fingertips.....but finding it, evaluating that information, and synthesizing it....these are skills that take time and practice!   Sometimes it seems we are just getting to the meat of a task and it is time to clean up for our transition.  I know that classroom teachers experience this churn of time as well.....but sometimes I just wish for that extra five minutes that would allow a student to complete a task!  I have been very impressed with students move towards independence in this process, and their hard work and effort despite some limited scaffolding in some areas.  I believe that this adventure has been a successful learning experience for us all. As a teacher I have many new ideas for how to support this type of learning better in the future,including:  a slower start in which students explore topics for short periods (quick finds) and report their findings with a quick share, a method for sharing curated online resources that students can quickly access at the beginning of each class, daily task checklists (individualized for students or groups, but starting with a form I can plug into), and models of successful shares ( we will have some of those soon!). I also plan to interview students at the end of this process and hope to incorporate their feedback into student driven projects moving forward.

With all of that reflective commentary, I saved the best for last!  Students are engaged. Students are producing some great answers and creating some awesome methods for sharing their work.  
Water:  How much water makes up the Earth?  How does the water cycle work?  What are the different states of water and why do they change?

What is an asteroid?

How does sand turn into glass?

What did dinosaur skin look like and how do we know?

What is lava made of?

What does the solar system look like? (Getting help from a friend to overcome frustration while the teacher is busy! AWESOME!)

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