Do-It-Yourself first! Projects, labs, assignments..

September 12, 2010 at 5:07 PM 1 comment

Really this blog should be one word to myself: Duh.

It’s only THIS year, that I’ve really committed to doing the homework, the labs, the projects I assign BEFORE making the kids do them. For the Take Action Project, Karen and I did do it first, but only barely and not before I’d written a s&*^*^ load of curriculum, some of which then had to be re-written.

It feels really tedious to start with, a ‘one more damn thing’. On the flip side is the ‘Oh, kids, um, you’re going to need to ignore #4, do this other, fiddly thing instead of #5…” and the whole activity collapses with students literally pulling at my sleeves needing help, or acting up out of sheer frustration.

Along those lines, I made myself write an example for the “Trucker’s Speed Story” and did the graph to show the story – for an 8th grade lesson on speed and velocity and interpreting graphs. The example saved the activity and helped me know that they have to write the story first, then the graph.

Next tip to self – SHUT UP and let them get to it faster.

When I told students my commitment to doing homework I assign and projects first, or at least with them,  one of my highly motivated girls said “Please would you tell our other teachers to do that too?” I know it’s really easy to accidentally assign way too much homework that might not be all that fun or relevant. It’s maybe a better way to check I’m not assigning the dreaded ‘busy work’ and might help student stress.

For developing a new project, doing it first is golden – is it do-able? Where are the resources? What are some pitfalls and organization tips? Is it fun enough to keep you and them engaged? Is it helping you achieve some goals you care about too? Your enthusiasm is key to the success of the whole thing.

And of course, you’ll have an example for them to visualize the end product and critique it using the rubric you develop. It’s a chance to model not being perfect the first time out too… a bit humbling but in the name of the learning mindset. Yeah, it’s personal growth – 🙂

1. 7th Grade “Grow Food Project” this fall:

This is the third year out with this one, based on the “Characteristics and needs of life” unit. I’m going to grow my own food right in the classroom and in our planter box outside with my 7th graders. (I’ll blog this project starting Monday.)

2. 8th Grade “Sports Project” this fall:

The second year out for this project – we apply laws of physics and the scientific method to make measurable improvements in sports of our choice. Did it with them the first time and went from a 5.9 to a 5.10a climber over the course of the project. Think I’ll aim for 5.11a this time… Or swim faster. Depends on the weather. Fun also to share the journey with them, and leads to much more authentic conversations.

3. New 8th Grade “Problems with Oil Project” starting in January.

This project is designed to fit with 8th grade physical science concepts around density and chemistry, and to take their skills from the Take Action Project up to the next level. It’s in early development right now (fancy talk for starting to think about it… ) Instead of posters, they will be doing  the mystery ‘multimedia presentation’ beloved of all 21st Century projects.

So am making some lame little video clips with the school’s Flip camera. Will upload as relevant to blogs. The kids are entertained to see me learning and doing a poor job the first time out.

Dang, I’m going to have to do my own POP thing too. Maybe on plastic debris. Already super interested in that after having done an Exploratorium summer workshop on it….

4. The Take Action Project with 7th grade also starting in Jan.:

I’ll do the Plastic Debris project in two formats and at the two levels, so I can be sure that I am not just having 8th grade repeat TAP, but will take it to the next level. I’ll need a way to clearly differentiate between the two projects.  (Plus a list of last year’s TAPs so I can tell if they just wheel out the same thing again. Not that they would… 🙂


Entry filed under: Creativity, Grow Food Project, Starting the School Year, The Problems with Oil Project, The Sports Project. Tags: , .

Homework? What affects tests scores? Kids graph it themselves.

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Karen Snelson  |  September 12, 2010 at 8:52 PM

    I’ll tell what is helpful in doing the work before we assign it:
    It is humbling. I find that my “clear instructions” are not so clear when I’m trying to come up with a sample response or product myself. The resulting sample is more informative that all my words explaining what I expect. Then, it is even more humbling to see the quality of work they end up doing compared to my “sample”.
    It all takes more time in the front loading but makes it so much easier on the execution and assessment.



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