With approximately 60% of the middle school students absent this week on a school trip to DC, I knew that I would have a group of students for an extra hour of class-time every day during the week while their teachers are away. I also knew that this would be a group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders from different classes and with mixed abilities. I was reminded of this series of blog posts on an attempt/experiment with passion-based learning in an elementary classroom as well as some reading I completed during the summer on Genius Hour. So with this in mind, I wanted to engage the students in an activity where they had the freedom to explore their passions and interests. More specifically, I wanted to encourage the students to follow a question in search for an answer.
We started today by briefly differentiating two different types of questions: “What do we mean by an ‘open’ or ‘closed’ question?” After a few examples as a group, the students drafted some additional examples of each type of question.
We then moved on to brainstorm individual passions and ideas. I asked each student to consider the following prompts:
What are 10 things you love to do and learn?
What are 10 things you are good at?
What are 10 things you wonder about?
I had the students share their lists with others in the class. They enjoyed this step. I believe that students love to share their ideas together, especially when it is on topics that are dear to them. In addition, this provided an extra opportunity to build some community among this new “class” of students who would be together all week.
For the next step, I asked the students to consider 2-3 items in order to draft 2-3 ‘open’ questions that they would like to answer if given the opportunity for research, practice and reflection. I then asked the students to share their questions with other classmates so that they could be “fine-tuned” by each other: Did the question make sense? Was it an ‘open’ question? How could the question be worded better to help focus any research to answer it?
To end our session together I highlighted how we will attempt to research and answer our questions, and what we will do to share what we learn. I was surprised at how the class time flew by, and the students were, too. They were definitely engaged in the sharing of their interests and drafting process of their questions. A wide range of passions became evident, and I learned more about each student, too. They left feeling good about being “stuck at school” while their classmates are away. Even this little feeling of student empowerment was a reward for me.