Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What happens when you give students choice?

Last week I told my environmental classes to pick a topic that falls under the umbrella of the BP oil spill. They could pick anything that interested them. They then had to develop five research questions that would guide their research. I created a google doc and shared it with everyone in each class. The students posted their topic, research questions, and eventually their answers. The students used google doc's collaborative capabilities to leave each other comments and suggestions. The students were then given the challenge of publishing their work in a way in which our district and community could learn from it. Students again used the google doc to make suggestions and comments about how they would do this. I love that all three classes picked a different tool to complete the challenge.

The students were given choice in both their individual topics and in how the class would publish them. Although they worked individually or in groups of two on their topics, they worked collaboratively throughout the project in making comments on each others work, proofreading posts, developing a reference page, and in making other formatting decisions.

This was the first time I have attempted a project with so much freedom and I am extremely happy with the results. That is not to say that it went perfectly by any stretch of the imagination though. In many cases I wish the students research would have went a bit deeper. Many of the students might have taken the project a bit more seriously. It may have taken a day or two longer than needed. Many students would claim they were done when there was many ways in which they could have continued to contribute. Considering all these flaws, the bottom line is that this was a very new experience for all of us. I will get better at facilitating it, and they will get better at working together. In the end, you can be the judge if it was successful or not.

I am posting the following message on our district website tomorrow after meeting with each class one more time:

April 20, 2011 marks the one year anniversary of the BP gulf coast oil spill. Environmental science students were asked recently to research a topic that related to the spill and interested them. They were then asked to work together as a class to find a way to share what they have learned with each other and the world. Below are the results of their endeavours. Please take some time and discover for yourself the effects such a terrible disaster has on the environment. The students would love to hear from you, feel free to leave comments for them!

Environmental Science Period 5
Environmental Science Period 7
Environmental Science Period 10