Saturday, April 20, 2013

The only problem was the flying chickens

Our next Unit of Inquiry looks at the power of imagination and creativity. Passion projects, Genius Hour, Oasis Time - whatever you choose to call it, is going to be a big part of our approach for this UOI. We figure that this is a great opportunity for us to let our students really go for it without having too many other 'demands' on us. Hopefully the results will be so amazing that this will become more of a regular structure next year.

We followed an system to plan this UOI that is referred to as the 'bubble up approach'. This means that we aim to connect each students' passions to our own curriculum framework. So the students are deciding on their own passion and then bubbling it up through their own persnal UOI to choose a TD Theme, skills, concepts, specific subject areas, action opportunities and anything else that applies to their inquiry. 

We've called upon the expertise of many teachers outside of our regular grade level teachers - there are many experts that can help us. One of these, our librarian, is helping us organise a group of students that want to explore Minecraft. She has run an after-school club with some middle school students and is amazed by how well they manage themselves as a group, make decisions and achieve goals together. In fact, their only problem was that someone was creating flying chickens and sending them around their Minecraft world. This was dealt with by the group once they all discussed the problem and decided on an appropriate outcome. We're hoping that our grade three students can achieve some similar results. Other inquiries include cooking, creating on-line games, building designs out of wood, organising sports tournaments, creating music and artwork.

It is now early August and I've finally had time to get around to completing this blog post that I started last school year. This gives me an opportunity to further reflect on the outcome of this inquiry. First of all, and probably most importantly, the students loved this UOI. Unsurprisingly, they were all highly engaged and used their imagination to create, innovate and solve problems. What was most interesting in my class is that some students started out pursuing individual inquiries and then decided after a week or two to connect their work with another person. An example of this was a student thAt wanted to organise a race car tournament. He approached the woodwork group and convinced them to design a special track for the tournament. This group the recruited one of the music people to compose some tournament tunes so it would be more of a party atmosphere. Finally, they organised the cooking group to bake some tasty treats for the audience on the day. Conversely, the group of three that initially started out inquiring into ways that they could help endangered animals ended up splitting into a pair and a single because yet couldn't all decide on one way to work together. 

The students completed weekly reflections that centered around six conditions of creativity and how well they were using these throughout their inquiry time. These conditions are outlined in my post 'An Oasis of Creativity'. Some students have better meta-cognitive skills than others, but this task (one of the only 'must-do' items that I asked them to complete in this UOI) kept them coming back to consider the lines of inquiry. 

What didn't work well? Some things. The planning process needed to be better scaffolded for these students. Some were able to identify each essential element but many found this very difficult. Perhaps this is because they haven't done much of this type of work before and hopefully it will help them to make better connections in the coming years. Another problem was finding the time for the students to meet with other teachers or students. This UOI was at the end of the year and, while that means that some events in a school's yearly calendar were out of the way, many teachers especially were busy tying up things for the end of the year. I imagine this will be a problem at any time of the year though. The third difficulty was maintaining the right balance between creativity and efficiency. We had to give appropriate time to the students to allow their creative ideas to flourish, but we also had a specific timeframe that wee had to adhere to. This meant that some students needed the odd hurry up and others needed to be reminded of the ample time that they had left. One other critique that was given by another teacher was that she felt that the UOI was too 'airy fairy' and that her students weren't learning anything concrete. I believe that this speaks more about that particular teacher's mindset and practice than the abilities and productivity of her students. Creative work and inquiry must involve some level of 'cloudiness' and the right amount of time must be spent in order to move through this period. 

Overall I think the UOI was a success. There are definitely things that I will change when I apply this approach to my new class this year, but the value for the students is far too great to give away. The fact that the students can make their own choices about their learning allows them real ownership and, I believe, yields much more powerful results in terms of learning.

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