Friday, March 2, 2012

Letting Go

I had a lovely vacation week last week, so haven't posted in a while. This week our focus was on independent chemistry experiments. Everyone developed a question or chose one of the questions off our the chart we've been adding to throughout the unit. I handed out rubrics, blank experiment forms, and gathered whatever materials kids requested.

And then I stood back.

There was some of this:

A lot of this:
And even some of this:
But there was a fair amount of this, too:And some of this...

Any teachers reading this post will likely nod their head in agreement when I say that standing back and letting your students taking the lead can be one of the hardest things about teaching. Not because we like to be in charge all the time (although most of us do), but because we want every moment to be a teaching opportunity. And when we see a kid going off track on a project, we want to jump in and steer them back on course. Sometimes they do find their way back on their own, but by our nature, we want to be the ones to help get them back where they belong.

But if it's an independent project, one that will be assessed as such, it is okay to get involved?

One sneaky thing I sometimes do is ask a student what he is doing and why. This can help the student do some needed self reflection that he might not get to on his own. Only rarely will I intervene if I've said the project is an independent one.

This round I did step in in one instance. One sixth grader returned back on Wednesday, having missed two days before vacation and two after while his family drove to Florida and back. He came back on Wednesday, but he was still on vacation, if you know what I mean. Before he left he had chosen the question: Will fruit oxidize if it's under water? The day he came back was experiment day, and he got permission to leave the room to get fruit from the kitchen and a water spritzer from our facilities manager. I was a bit disappointed that he wasn't planning to submerge the fruit, but hey, this is his experiment, not mine. I told him where the cutting board and knife was, and a few minutes later was floored to see him spritzing his fruit -- an uncut apple, an uncut kiwi, and an uncut orange! No way was anything going to oxidize with this experimental design...

The next morning I pulled him aside and asked what he remembered about the apple and potato experiment. Did we keep the produce whole? He sheepishly realized he needed to cut into his fruit and did so. I justified getting involved because he missed so many days of instruction and planning. I figured I could note that he got assistance on the experimental design, and still assess the rest of his process as independent. My involvement didn't take most of the independence away from this student; he still had to record his procedure, collect data, draw a conclusion, and figure out how to present his findings to the rest of the class.

Next week students will be working on their presentations. Most have chosen to do slideshows or prezi presentations (If you aren't familiar with prezis, you should check them out here.) We'll be presenting our findings to third and fourth grade students at the end of the week.

The week is quite full so I won't be able to fit a cooking project in, but I am already looking ahead to a Westward Expansion unit coming up later in the month. Fry bread, anyone?

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