What Happens When You Give Students the Control? Part 2

I wanted to follow up on one of the stories I told in the last post. When I gave a group of 4th graders the freedom to learn about anything they wanted, they chose to purse the answer to the question: What is it about the human brain which causes it to make the decisions that it does? This question continues to floor me that it came out of the mouth’s of ten year old children. When they realized that they couldn’t google the answer, they looked for more sources. They then came up with the idea to ask a “super smart scientist.” They sought out scientists who study the brain. I emailed them, and Dr. David Wingate from MIT graciously agreed to spend 30 min with these amazing fourth graders.

I was very proud of our kids for both their questions for Dr. Wingate, and for the way they interacted with him. Below is a few excerpts of our skype conversation with him this past Monday.

As I ponder how these students both formulated their question, and how they went about trying to find the answer, I am struck with two things:

  • This was their problem. They wanted to know the answer to this question. When we give students the power to decide what they want to learn, they will go above and beyond the “classroom.”
  • Passion Driven Learning is more a mirror of how we all learn now. When I want to learn about something, I just go and learn it. I don’t usually take a class, I simply go out on the web, or find people to help me, and hunker down and learn. This is exactly what these students did (and are still doing).

7 Responses

  1. jrsowash

    THanks for sharing the video and the experience of this elementary class. I thInk that passion driven learning has great potential, however I think that we are going to need to do some work to restore the passion for learning in the upper grades.

    I did what I call the "FedEx project" with my high school students. It's a projecet that allows the to research something they are interested in. I have always been surprised that the most difficult part of the project is choosing what to research. It's almost as if high school students have become to used to being told who to do that they have lost their curiosity.

    I'm glad you are starting this type of project with younger students. They need regular exposure to this type of learning to keep the fire alive!

    Here is the link to the details of my FedEx project for those who are interested: Bit.ly/hEM8ab

    1. JR:  I agree.  Finding the right project can be a challenge.  I confess that I totally "copied" Ewan McIntosh's method for getting students to become problem finders.  It has worked.  I am also doing this with a group of 8th graders.  Thus far it is working.  I hope to get a blog post to highlight their progress soon.

      1. Time-shifting instruction: fpilped teaching and classrooms At its core, fpilped teaching (also called fpilped classroom, fpilped instruction, vodcasting, educational video-on-demand) is a format for removing some of the lecture-based lessons from classrooms and giving students Source:

  2. hfdoyle

    Thank you for sharing the story of your fourth graders. I work with 7th and 8th grader and definitely find that the open-ended projects are more of a struggle. I need to remind them that struggle is normal. How can I learn more about "Ewan McIntosh's method for getting students to become problem finders"?

      1. I do the same thing with my students’ wrtiing. In fact, the wrtiing part of the class is only 20% of their grade, given in a final portfolio. Participation in the blog and in class is 60% of their grade. I want them to come to class and think and ask questions and work in groups. I want them to do the same on the blog.I am meeting with my students’ right now to go over their first papers. I read them. I don’t really write on them. I ask each one of them what they would do on their paper to improve it. So far, the answers I’ve gotten are great. They already know. I ask them why questions. Why did you think to put this here or that there? Or what do you think would support this claim here, which I think is interesting and believe in my gut?It is hard and it’s hard to resist the temptation to say, you need to expand here or cut there or rearrange there. And it’s hard for them when I say, you can revise or not, now or later and whenever you do, I’ll give you feedback. They want a grade. And I won’t give it to them. I’m also having them, beginning at midterm, do a lot of self-evaluation. I think it’s important to constantly look back over your work and see where you’ve come and think about where you want to be and whether you’re on the right track to get there.I’m really enjoying your reflections here. It’s giving me lots of ideas and confirms a lot of what I believe teaching and learning should be.

    1. What is exciting is the lneanirg journey itself! We have gathered a group of enthusiastic teachers and their students to join in a collaborative journey together. We have gained momentum through each other’s enthusiasm to embrace the challenge, How to learn and teach using a new technology the iPad 2 .I think that we will discover a way to create authentic lneanirg experiences using an electronic pencil. It is the new tool of the classroom and we are discovering together the educational applications as well as the artistic creativity of this tool. It’s capabilities are endless and we will engage students because it is something children like to play with. We may not want to call it a toy but we are playing with technology. Not just entertaining ourselves but mindful development of lneanirg outside the box.It creates excitement in all of us because it is lneanirg to use a modern machine which an adult has developed and children learn to use it by playing with it. Adults like to play too!We are throwing our group into the cyber sandbox. We won’t have much time for entertainment! This is entertainment we will be busy lneanirg to find apps, creating ePubs, accessing information, posting, tweeting, blogging and more! Enjoy the journey and drive away with us!

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