The following activity is part of a series we’re creating to support students, teachers, and caregivers, during this unprecedented time. Read more about the project here. If you try this activity with your student(s), we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.
Created by: Aleta Margolis
Age level: All
Time: The ideas generated by students could last for several weeks.
Materials: Initially just brainstorming documents but eventually student inquiry projects could require varied materials.
Begging children to get up and get ready for school is such a commonly accepted part of life in the United States that it’s the subject of or at least a common scene in many movies, television shows, and advertisements. We expect students to dislike going to school and in many instances school does a good job of meeting that expectation. But from a very young age, children know what interests them. They understand the drive to investigate what intrigues them, they can even come up with a way to feed that curiosity. Usually, they do all this outside of school because schools regulate the who, what, where, when, why, and how of their curriculum. Hence the fact we frequently ignore and then push our students to accept the idea that it’s okay if school is boring. It’s just something we have to do.
But what if that weren’t the case? Where could we turn as teachers to figure out what students might like to learn? How about the students themselves?
What to Do:
- If your students are old enough, consider making a copy of and then administering this survey or a variation of it to give you a pulse check on where your students are right now in terms of their school experience and where they would like to go.
- Begin a class session with the question: “What would make you look forward to coming to school?” At the start of the discussion you are likely to get some answers that fall outside the realm of possibility like: “I would get paid to come.” “All my classes would be filled with free candy.” “I would get to play on the playground for 7 hours a day.” “There would be no work.” Consider adding follow up questions such as, “What would you be learning about that would make you look forward to coming to school?” “What kinds of classroom activities would make being at school interesting for you?” Engage students in this discussion for as long as they are able to keep it going as this will feed their imaginations for the next step. You might want to take notes on the board (or on a google doc) as they share out.
- After the class has brainstormed collectively, ask them to write down their own personal reflection on that overarching question using this “Excited to Come to School” planning document. You can have students fill out their own individual copies or contribute to one document for the whole class.
- Take a few days to look at all the ideas students have shared. Is there overlap? Could students be combined into groups for certain projects? Which are realistic within your timeframe? Do you have a period of days or weeks when students could work on these? Could you create a “Genius Hour” once a week or once a month when students could work on these projects or ideas? Can you see how the standards you are required to teach this year could be adapted to fit these projects? Consider giving your students a list of the standards and having them map them onto their projects. You’d be surprised at how well they can do with this! After these considerations, come back to students with a plan that fills in these blanks:
Starting [beginning of project] and running through [end of the project] you will work [independently or in small groups] to take these amazing ideas and run with them. It will be important that at the end of this project [state a goal either that they set and/or one that is tied to mastery of certain standards]. How you demonstrate that learning will be up to you. I will provide [materials, support, guidance]. Your first assignment as part of this project is to create a plan for what you will need to do each [day/week] to keep you on track and move you toward your goal.
- Launch the project(s)! Once students are fully engaged in work that they’ve chosen on topics that matter to them you’ll be surprised at how much they self-regulate and keep on task. Your energies will likely be more focused on trouble-shooting, side coaching, and reminding them of timelines. You may have to significantly grow your own knowledge in the areas they’re exploring and that will be invigorating for you as well. Remember to let your students teach you! Listen and ask questions. The more you do this the more you position them as the experts.
- Consider a showcase where students can demonstrate what they have accomplished through these projects. If all went well, think about how you might continue this approach in the weeks and months ahead!
Inspired Teaching Connection
An immersive activity like this includes ALL the Inspired Teaching core elements. Learners are creating something with Purpose that also involves Persistence and Action. This is intense but Joyful work. The product as well as the process provide Wide-ranging Evidence of Student Learning. As drivers of their own discoveries, students will demonstrate the role of Experts in their final products and throughout the process. Centering students in curriculum development in this way is a strong example of Mutual Respect. Such a rich learning experience is also full of the 4 I’s, as Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity will all be hard at work. As students work through the projects they have created, you’ll see the Wonder-Experiment-Learn Cycle play out again and again.
See our instructional model here.