Today, at the beginning of our Biology class, I asked my students to estimate how long they would need to finish the cell projects they are currently working on. One of my students made an exasperated sound and said, “months!” Oh-Oh.
The project they’ve been working on for the past two weeks was to create a presentation along the lines of “voyage through a cell”. Essentially, how does a cell work? While it sounds easy, it’s actually quite a complicated process.
So I asked, “What’s up?” A number of groups tried to explain the issues, fumbling around for an explanation that could accurately describe the problems — words that were too big, complicated processes, trying to find words that rhyme (don’t ask!). One student summed it up by stating, “It’s just not working. Can we scrap this project and do something else?” I honestly don’t think he was very hopeful that I would say yes.
My response? “Sure. It’s your learning.”
What happens in my classroom isn’t about me. It’s about my students learning, not just content, but also skills. If a project isn’t working, obviously it’s not the right one. One of my students stated, “I’ve been so concerned about trying to get the project done, that I haven’t learned any of the stuff I’ve been researching.”
That’s a problem. And I’m guessing it exists because the bottom-line for most of our school system is getting the project done and earning the A. This is the first thing we need to unlearn. In my class, the most important thing is the learning. The project or whatever we’re working on is the fruition of that learning.
So we talked about what their projects might look like instead. In place of the presentation, they’re going to create an analogy of a cell. For example, a cell is like a house…and each organelle must correspond to something of similar function in the analogy. They can build it, film it, draw it, or whatever else they come up with. They also need to explain why they made that choice.
At the end of all of this, my students thanked me for being gracious. It’s not about being gracious. It’s about my students knowing what they need and asking for it. Next time I hope they ask sooner.
Have the past two weeks been a waste then? No. We spent the rest of the period going through the google docs they’ve created about the cell. We distilled their research into the basic information they need about cells & their parts, which they will use for their notes.
Tomorrow we’ll shift gears and take a different approach with our inquiry. Cells are the basic building blocks of life: to survive, they need to eat, breathe, and reproduce. How do they do that?
picture courtesy of cc flickr: euthman