I love my work! There is simply no two ways about it! I simply love to dream up ways for students to learn in the most authentic and engaging ways possible. This morning, I started reading Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student Centered Classroom by Mark Barnes, and by lunch time, I knew that I had to throw out my lessons for the week. Almost every word that I read resonated with me and what I believe about learning, and then I thought about the week that I had planned, and the addiction struck!
It just wasn’t good enough, not by a long shot!
I started this year with two PBLs, one for my 7th grade classes and one for my 8th, that I had developed over the summer, to hook my students on the study of history. I wanted them to experience the benefits of Project Based Learning and to tackle questions that interested them. The 7th graders were investigating the question, “Why Should We Study History?” They did lots of interviewing and investigating in order to create their music videos, based on Schoolhouse Rock style videos, to convince others that it was important to study history. The 8th graders’ work was based on a Civics unit, with the driving question being, “How can we get more 18-29 year olds to vote?” They had to learn about the government in order to effectively develop public service announcements to convince people to vote. For both projects, the students were focused and committed to the work, and while I struggled a bit with the amount of content that they learned, overall both projects were a success. The students came to class ready to do the work that they set for themselves, and it was a strong start to the year.
But when it was time to start the next unit, without really thinking about it, I fell back on what I have done before…not bad, but not empowering for my students in the best way possible. I simply pulled out the worksheets that I had used in the past, slotted them into the necessary classes and felt ready for the week. When I read Barnes’ ideas on worksheets, as poor tools for engaged learning, I knew he was right and that I already believed it. I had been lazy. I did what I knew how to do, rather than push myself to do better. Addiction to making it better struck and struck hard! I just couldn’t leave it, knowing that there was a way to make the students’ learning better. I had to change it!
Out came the laptop. I opened up every Google Doc worksheet for the coming week and totally rewrote them. (Fortunately for my colleagues, I remembered to first make a copy of the original, so that they could have a choice of which Rabbit Hole to tumble down.) As I read each one over, I considered how to connect the students with the new unit on the Islamic Empires. I decided to start with questions. I found a fabulous map on the Pew Research site that showed the number of people who are Muslims around the world. Almost a quarter of the world’s population are Muslim, so I am hoping that that will spark conversation and questions. I created a Google Doc that showed the map and then made a wiki for them to write their questions and for us all to add the answers as we find them.
Next I took my worksheets, with their programmed answers that could be found in the textbook, and created vocabulary lists of words that are part of Islam and the life of Muhammad. I am going to give the students the freedom to find and record the words in whatever way they want, with the final goal being that they have a means of sharing their learning with the rest of the class. I want for them to work with a partner or small group to make the process collaborative and to generate some buzz around the learning.
I don’t think that I am unusual in any way with this addiction! It is my experience that every truly good teacher has the same addiction. We are passionate about helping our students to learn. We work and rework our lessons to make them the best that they can be, relentlessly trying to help students unlock their full power to learn and grow!
Lessons reworked! Week planned anew! Can’t wait to see how it unfolds! I love this addiction! It makes me smile!
And you’re letting them write their own questions! You’ve just inspired me to take another look at the unit I start tomorrow. Would love a follow up post on what worked and what didn’t. You mentioned that you struggled a bit with the content they learned. How do you (and I) ensure the depth of learning?
Lisa, I will definitely let you know how it goes. I am excited about trying it. I am always trying to find ways to let the students take ownership of their learning, while at the same time making sure that they learn the necessary skills to move their thinking forward. There seem to be some skills that simply need to be practiced in order to improve. There are some facts that a well-educated person should know. I am trying to find the balance. Fun, engagement and authentic work! We shall see! Good luck with your reworking!
Hello again! Thank you for writing this post! I was a little scared of not being fully prepared for my classes, but thanks to this post I see it’s ok to change things up and be flexible! I’m also wanting to be a history teacher, and you’ve inspired new project ideas for me! Thank you!
I enjoyed this post just as much as the one I commented on a few weeks ago. I will have to give Role Reversal: Achieving Uncommonly Excellent Results in the Student Centered Classroom by Mark Barnes a read. I plan to be a history teacher as well and your PBL lesson plans for both your 7th and 8th grade class interest me. It’s easy to get complacent or fall back into old ways, but it’s encouraging for me to see how you took responsibility and changed your lesson plan for the Islamic empires. I come away from this realizing that I will have to stay addicted to working and ensuring my students grow. Thanks!