After two weeks of student-driven research, planning, and production the results to the Dynamic Earth Project were shared and were (to be completely blunt) … disappointing. With the exception of a few, productions were typical and mundane. Many groups, given the charge to create something in a form they had total control over, elected instead to follow the path of most familiarity and least resistance (be it a powerpoint or posterboard.) Many students who interpreted dynamic as “tech-savvy” were disappointed when their websites and wiki grades were returned with mixed scores, many failing to grasp what really makes digital media so captivating and powerful, creating instead something to the like of a digital textbook.
Worse still is my suspicion that a lack of depth of knowledge was achieved. Besides many groups recitation of basic facts and an inability to ask their peers insightful questions during the presentations, the reflection blog post by student, Hannah L. summed it up best:
I do not think that this project was worth a week and a half of school. I learned some stuff from my researching, but I don’t think that a lot of kids learned anything from this. From watching other people’s presentations, no one even knew anything about the information in their presentations. I thought this was odd because “everyone” worked on the presentations “together”. Which obviously was not true. My group was pretty good, although we had a few slackers. Our class didn’t gain a lot of anything from this project, so if I were the teacher I wouldn’t do it again.
But this weekend I was given some heart-lifting feedback from my students as I reviewed their own opinions of the project through their reflection blog posts. In their own words:
“One thing I learned from the project was to make do with what you have. It was like we were builders who were on a budget.” -Kevin F.
“The kids, who constantly need to be pushed to do their work, didn’t do too well. I think that is good, not because I like to see kids do badly but because they were taught that sometimes they person that needs to tell them what to do is themselves. … this project, to me, gets an A for a grade when it comes to learning things like independence and team work.” -Jared D.
“What I learned other than science was how to be a manager of something, knowing what has to get done to get to our goals. This something that is good to have experience with beyond just science and school projects. Also, this was the first time we had to worry about making a project that was not boring instead of just getting the right information on it.” -Dave M.
“Some things I learned after doing this project is that if you don’t hold your side of the bargain your whole group will fail.” -Ian W.
“I get sick to my stomach and feel like we might not get a good grade. However, the whole point of the group is to work together. This project helped me learn how to balance these things. Not only did I learn a lot about myself, but I learned a lot about my group and the way each of them work.” -Maddie D.
The blog post by Rachel F. was particularly lifting. Like many of the above students, there was no mention of the science learned, but a great amount of thought went into the experience as a whole and its application to her future as a collaborator and creator.
So where do we go from here? The project structure students are clearly seeing the benefit of and I feel it is a responsibility to all of us educators to give students such opportunities. I am, however, still required to bring students to a proficient level of understanding about their earth and space. So where is the middle? Should I even aim for it and simply keep it as is? I suspect next year I can achieve greater results by biting off less curriculum, having the project focus instead on just one of the three main criteria such as the local evidence of weathering and erosion, something that can’t simply be ripped from the pages of a book and pasted to a website. I’m wondering what other suggestions my PLN might have to offer as well! Please let me know what you think!