“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Programs like the Independent Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School inspire me to keep looking for ways to give my students as much control over their own learning as I can. In my 8th grade English classes, students choose the novels they want to read, the genres of writing they want to tackle, and the topics they want to research. But it wasn’t until I started teaching a digital media elective class that I was able to give my students genuine control over their learning. I built a resource website and loaded it up with project ideas, program suggestions (almost all of them free) and links to video tutorials so that students could choose and learn on their own.
The result has been a learning experience for all of us: my students, as they learn to make use of so much freedom; and me, as my role as teacher transitions to one of resource, coach and guide.
As one would expect, some students thrive in this environment. They find what they’re interested in, search out resources to learn more, and take off. Other students jump from project to project, learning a little about one, a little about another. And then there are those students who struggle with the freedom. They shrug their shoulders, say “I dunno,” and are listless and bored without someone telling them what to do.
I’m pretty sure, though, that I need to gently push them to search out their own interests, take advantage of self-teaching resources, and create products of their own design. How else will they some day make decisions about high school classes, college majors, life hobbies, career options? Making all the decisions for our kids, whether it’s which sport to play or what to do in their free time, robs them of the opportunity to learn how to take charge of their own learning and their own lives.
A typical class for my digital media students starts with me sharing project ideas or tutorials, and then we pull out the laptops and off to work the students go, some continuing a project, some starting a new one, some solo, some in partners or groups. Here are some projects-in-progress this semester…
Lindsey uses an online tutorial to create 3D animations with Blender:
Ryan plots his computer game, first on graph paper and then with AgentSheets:
Andrea designs her own info-graphic resume with re.vu:
Chris crafts a 3D sculpture with Sculptris:
Jolene uses a Wacom tablet and SketchbookExpress to create drawings of her favorite characters:
Hands are hard, especially backwards and knuckles:
Jolene is also building a digital portfolio of her art work:
T.J. and Isabella use Gimp to edit Minecraft stacks:
Ernan works on a how-to-draw movie; Ian helps to get the camera angle right:
Danielle uses SketchUp, a 3D architectural modeling program, to design a Japanese garden :
Dakota, Sam, Luke and Greg have formed their own company, each taking on a specific role in the development of an app game. They have been teaching themselves how to code so they can build their app from scratch:
Molly explores cartooning with SketchbookExpress:
James films Miguel’s sleight-of-hand to make an intro short for our school news show:
Sara uses WeVideo to make a book review movie for her English class:
Domenic works on a movie to submit to the first White House Student Film Festival:
Simon adds a car to his computer game that he is programming with the help of Alice:
One of the best outcomes of my kids-in-charge classroom is that my students experience failure in a relatively risk-free environment. They have time to learn from their mistakes, revise, start over and abandon projects without the threat of a failing grade intimidating their learning.
In reflecting on his first movie, Jacob said, “I had to fail over and over again before I got it right. I’m really proud of how it finally turned out.” And when I told Dakota that he and his team of coders would need to document their journey, he said, “It will be full of our failures!” How often do kids smile when reporting on their own failures? Dakota has learned that failures have been an important part of the learning process that is getting him closer to selling his own app game.
How do you give your students opportunities to learn to yearn? Are they choosing what to study? Or how to demonstrate their learning? I would love to hear below how you put students in the driver’s seat of their education.