ImagineIT Implementation Update
When I reflect on my ImagineIT project I realize that my big idea may have been too big to begin with. My overall goal of helping students find ways to make connections is something that needs to start small and build towards the types of big connections that I was imagining in the beginning. I thought that my goal was to help students connect ideas in science in a meaningful, big-picture way, but I now believe that my objective is to give them some tools to help them along this path of big picture understanding that might take a lifetime to achieve. To be so bold as to think that I could help students make these huge, life-changing connections, to have them all achieve an epiphany of some sort, was a fool’s errand from the start. I think that some of my frustration was the result of this error in scope and my perceived objectives. With time and reflection came clarity and I can now confidently begin to see that what I have been doing in the classroom this year has helped to set students up for hopefully a lifetime of making connections in science.
During the first quarter, I worked with my students on a project that helped them connect science to the world around them. We explored the idea of product claims. By getting students to look more carefully at the things they used in their everyday lives they noticed all the scientific claims being made. We took this new awareness and used science to test out some of these claims. Students had to design experiments to see whether there was sufficient evidence to support or reject the claims being made. All the little things we did were connected to using science to test a claim. From student feedback and observations, I realized that this simple project had helped begin to start to establish two goals; one-students becoming more observant of the world around them and seeing things through the lens of a scientist and two-getting them to start acting like scientists. They began questioning things they saw in their everyday lives and thinking of ways that science could be used to test claims and questions! They were beginning to be a bit skeptical but in a good way-that is, not just believing everything they see, but thinking about ways to put things to a test, so to speak.
Another thing I implemented was based off the world of wonder assignments that we had to do during out summer fellowship meetings. I have developed different wonders that they have had to discover and present to the class. We started in the first quarter with student-driven questions; things they wondered about and then did independent learning to discover an answer. Every day that students presented their wonders I realized that by having students in charge of what they were learning about gave them a passion and interest in learning. The learning they did was sticking and being applied in many different, and unexpected ways. Often the short 3 minute presentations in class led us down different paths with them driving the discussion and making connections between their own questions and ideas! It was a great thing to see such interest in learning. Many students commented that the assignment was fun and not like normal homework-I had students begging to present early because they were so excited to share what they had learned. We are now using the same model to present Resources of Wonder. Students are asked to identify a good science resource to the class and share things they learned using the resource. In the third quarter, I plan to have them do Culture of Wonder where they will identify an individual in their culture that has contributed to the world of science. These assignments have helped students start to make more personal connections to science-hopefully instilling in them a passion for life-long learning and curiosity.
This year I have implemented a more team-centered approach to learning. Each quarter students are in teams of 3-4 and work together on a variety of different tasks together. Teams have had to find ways to achieve success together rather than as individuals. Different activities have been designed to build on individual strengths that can be applied to the team, leading to greater success together. The connections here are between each other and have begun to show students that collaboration and teamwork can lead to greater success. There has been a lot of freedom for teams to select how they complete a task, which has helped build team strength. In the past, I have often observed that individuals in a group tend to dominate a project, and other group members were able to ride their coattails to success. Through careful planning and team selection this has not been the case with most teams. The connections being made here are between each other, showing students that science is not an individual endeavor, but rather a collaborative effort that builds over time.
All in all, I believe that my ImagineIT project really has led to a shift in focus and culture of my classroom. I can confidently say that my classroom this year is worlds apart from what a visitor would have seen in the past. I have begun to think of this as a puzzle-I am providing students with different learning opportunities that allow them to add pieces to the puzzle, so to speak. Hopefully with enough time and effort, students will begin to have enough pieces so that they can begin to see the big picture, which, after all, was where my ImagineIT project began. It’s the combination of all the little pieces that will enable this to occur.
Please feel free to view my classroom website for examples of student work and projects.