The "Dynamic" Earth Project

Fellow earth and space science teacher, Connie Quackenbush and I came back from February break charged to shake up our ‘business as usual’ approach to an upcoming unit on earth processes and their effect on the earthen landscape. Instead a series of fairly controlled demonstrations and interactive activities we elected to loosen up the reins on our students and allow them to explore and demonstrate their understanding of the content in their own way.

The experiment was dubbed “The Dynamic Earth Project.” A complete explanation of the project can be found here, but to sum it up in one statement: students were given a wealth of text and tech resources with three essential questions to answer in a project/presentation that was “dynamic, educational, and for an audience greater than themselves.”

The project is ambitious and risky. With so few weeks before the Science and Technology MCAS, poor results in student connections to the content will come with little time to reflect and reteach. In addition, the opportunity to let students create what they deem a “dynamic” project/presentation will likely result in a wide range of results that may or may not be cumbersome to evaluate for true understanding.

Despite the many pitfalls and possible failures, I found myself reaffirming Connie and I’s original intention to give students an opportunity to learn in the ways they find easiest when responding to a recent #edchat question by facilitator Tom Whitby.

My thought…

This is, after all, learning at an individualized level. The challenges are large, many students seem content to scratch the surface and move on, leaving me and specialists in the classrooms at times to constantly push them further, postulating questions that lead to deeper understanding and (please, please, please) application to their own world.

To any readers out there I ask you. Have you taken on projects of similar style in the past? What did you find to be the greatest challenges? Were you pleased with the results? What would you do to make the experience a better one for students?

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
This entry was posted in Classroom Activities, Professional Reflections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The "Dynamic" Earth Project

  1. How did your students respond to the challenge of individualized learning? Have they reached the levels that you hoped…or given further questions achieved a depth of knowledge and gained insight into real world application of that knowledge that you wanted them too?Given that it is my first year teaching my experiences are limited – my biggest challenge that I've faced when handing over the reins to my students is their inability to take the reins and construct a body of knowledge that is their own. I believe that some of this can be attributed to the fact that many of them have not been exposed to this type of learning experience and are uncomfortable in their departure from "the traditional and formulaic" education model. Not that this deters me…just a notable challenge. Anyway, just curious to see how your students are responding to the project and wanted to see if you might have some advice for a "novice" teacher.

  2. Brian,At the moment we are seeing mixed results. Some kids are really running with some creative ideas to demonstrate their understanding! Others are falling into the trap that you stated some of your own students are having trouble with. The students have another week to work before they must present their final presentations and body of work. I will likely post a follow up regarding the results here. Hope to share a more engaging conversation with you then. Feel free to DM me your email via Twitter. I am @MrMusselman

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