In a perfect world, this would happen every day. As I’ve found in recent weeks, when kids are able to construct their own knowledge, it is not only more engaging, but it is also more meaningful and authentic, helping them to retain the information or skills for greater lengths of time.
In fact, I believe that the success of my current social studies unit, especially within the short period of time that we’ve been learning about the regions, has been so successful because my students have had an active role in constructing their own knowledge.
However, I have to ask myself: Does this unit, which I think to be excellent teaching and learning, truly embody this mentality of learning alongside my students? I think it does to a certain extent, but I cannot be sure that it does fully. In my opinion, truly learning alongside students would entail them choosing their own topics for study and exploring them on their own. Is that truly possible? The closest I’ve come to that is last year’s TED talks.
Regardless, I can tell you that this social studies unit has allowed my students to explore each of the states on their own, make their own connections, and then delve more deeply into topics. Additionally, there has been a certain amount of control that I’ve had to exercise throughout the project. For instance, I created the rubric with my team, outlining the outcomes they need to meet throughout their study of the Northeast. I’ve also provided them with the resources and the structure. On the other hand, I will say that I have been able to learn alongside them on several occasions. For instance, I learned about the multiple ethnic groups that occupied New England during colonial times. Judging from their motivation to conduct further research and the quality of the information they are finding, it seems that this freedom coupled with some structure has truly provided them the opportunity to make their own connections and approach the higher-order thinking that I wanted for them.
Recently, I’ve been providing them with articles and videos that relate to key aspects of the region, asking them to continue making connections between key factors in the area. They’ve read about the Appalachian Mountains, the fishing industry, the steel industry, as well as factors that could change the region such as climate change and overfishing. Their responses are an excellent example of the critical thinking they are doing, and I am happy to say I’ve learned a bit from them, too!
Perhaps there is no “one” answer for what this looks like. After all, kids are in the classroom because they need a certain level of support. However, it is very difficult to argue with the results of students taking some ownership and responsibility over seeking out knowledge and making connections on their own. Please see below for some of this unit’s recent responses from Edmodo:
Kids are brilliant when you allow them some time to be!