Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year, New Idea

I watched Mr. Cornally's TED talk, and immediately wished I worked in a school that operated the way he described. If you haven't watched it, please go see it before you do anything else. If he ever starts his own school, I want to work there. I shared it with some of my colleagues and even some of my students, and everyone responded with the same positive attitude saying it would be awesome to be able to get excited about education. The students that watched it expressed their love for studying something that they wanted to explore. This is what creates life-long learners and quality education. So, after much thought and reflection, I've decided that I'm going to start a little project similar to what Mr. Cornally described. It might be a lot of work, but it's going to be fun.
Some background info: In my school, we have what's called and 'iSpartan' block. Essentially it is about one hour of time where students are in their homerooms and they are expected to be working on assignments that teachers have provided. These assignments are meant to be ones that support and enhance current material and not just extra homework. During this time, students are also allowed to travel to their teachers to receive remediation if they have below a 70%. This block of time and policy is new for this year, and after watching it in action for one semester, I've noticed that many of my homeroom students either have not been assigned work or do not complete it in school (they wait until they get home or don't do it entirely). I do not like watching students do nothing during an hour of the school day when they could be using this time to their advantage. For my homeroom students, when they 'have nothing to do' during this time, I'm going to have them complete an independent research topic of their choosing. Below is an outline of what I've come up with so far. It is only a draft and needs some work, but it is what I've thought of off the top of my head. If you have any thoughts as to how this can be improved, please let me know. This is the first time I'm doing this and (as far as I know) the first time anyone in my district is pursuing anything similar.

iSpartan Independent Project

Purpose: To allow students to explore any topic of their choosing in any way they desire. The bigger picture – to explore your creativity

Who: Homeroom students, Spartan tributes, select faculty as needed

Requirements: Do something interesting that exercises your creativity and pushes your limits, forcing you to dive deep into the material at hand.
                Create a presentation to share with the class that accurately explains what you did with great detail

Procedure: Students will come up with a subject, project, topic, etc. that they are deeply and personally interested in and will share with me. Together, we will communicate on how to make it specific and engaging to develop a product that they can share with the class. Students will work on their own, with help from a faculty mentor as needed, throughout the course of the semester to create this end product. Some work may have to be done outside of class. For students who are having trouble coming up with an idea, I will work with them to discover their interests and from that develop a topic to explore.

Timeline: Projects must be completed and presented to class before the end of the year. Students will sign up for presentation dates as they arrive at the end of their project. When students are close to finishing, they will meet with me to ensure that they’ve got into great detail. Students may explore more than one topic if they wish depending on time.

Ideas     : English - Write poetry, short story, screenplay, Snap Judgement-type stories, film original movie, book report, research paper (avoid if possible), organize flash mob and explain purpose/explore effects that it had (http://improveverywhere.com/)
                Science – build model rocket, Arduino electronics (http://www.projectallusion.com/1/post/2010/7/musical-handrail-using-the-mux-shield.html 2:00) (http://www.instructables.com/community/Piano-StairsFloor/), invent something, photography, robotics
                Arts – drawings, paintings, etc. that share common theme, write music/album and explain meaning, learn to cook something awesome, build something awesome and huge out of legos, www.songreader.net
                Math – physics, find math in something you enjoy, explore topic to its fullest, learn subject we don’t offer
                History – research historical event, reenact historical event, interview someone, go to museum/fieldtrip and report on what learned, have class take part in reenactment, film documentary
                Explore How Stuff Works, How Stuff Is Made, How To Do Anything
                Organize Event

Resources: Snap Judgement, Radiolab, TED, www.popsci.com/diy