After attending the EduCon 2.1 Conference in Philadelphia, I became acquainted with the Science Leadership Academy and their core values: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation, and Reflection. The value of using these ideas to teach biology, as opposed to the traditional value placed on transmitting content knowledge, has been nothing short of transformational for both my students and myself. To help students design projects that help them develop these skills, skills that have proven themselves indispensible to successful people throughout history, a colleague, Mike Murphy, and I created this Project Guide Sheet. The students struggle with this document, in a positive way, in more ways than I ever could have imagined. Working through this document with students to help them design projects has brought into my classroom some of the richest experiences that I have had in my career. I would love the feedback of the KABT community to help me to take this idea even further.
The Project Guide Sheet is divided into the following sections: Inquiry, Plan, Collaboration, Research, and Reflection. In the following lines, I will highlight some of the successes and insights I have gained from each section.
Inquiry: In the first part of this section, I have seen just how difficult of a time students have creating questions to guide their projects. They are so conditioned for the questions to be asked for them that creating their own question proves to be tremendously difficult for students of all ability levels. This section leads to great one-on-one discussions with students. The second part of this section asks students to identify their intended audience. I have found that this is an area students never consider. For us, as successful educators, it is something that we do without thinking. For students, they almost never spend time thinking about who the presentation is for, let alone put into words. The third part of this section asks students to explain why their intended audience will find the project interesting. This section has been mind-blowing for me, because I discovered that students almost NEVER consider why their audience might find their project interesting. Typical answers from students are along the lines of, “…this project will be interesting because my classmates will get new information”. My students are shocked to discover that not all students find all new information to be interesting!
Plan: This section asks students to plan their projects. Again, this is an area students rarely consider because project plans are typically provided for them. Helping them through the struggle of planning projects has been particularly enriching for us all in my classroom.
Collaboration: This section asks students to collaborate with family members, other faculty, fellow students, community members and/or field professionals. This is my very favorite section because it brings the projects to life by bringing in new ideas and it expands the scope of project beyond the confines of our classroom. One of the best examples of the power of this section involves a student who was completing a project on genetic engineering and was absolutely positive that genetic engineering was morally wrong on religious grounds. Had she completed a traditional project, without collaboration, she would have found sources to solidify her viewpoint and that would have been the end. Instead, one of the people with whom she chose to collaborate was her minister who SHOCKED her by sharing that he saw no problems with genetic engineering as long as it benefitted God’s children and was respectful of life. This was earth-shattering for this student, in a very positive way. She left the experience with the idea that this issue is much more complicated than she originally thought, and left her with more questions than answers, a hallmark of quality, meaningful learning.
Research: This section is pretty traditional, and is an area where I would like more collaboration with colleagues in how to enrich it and make it more meaningful/useful for students.
Reflection: This is undoubtedly one of the most important parts of the process as it provides students the opportunity to make meaning from their experience. A successful project should leave students with new understandings, new questions, and a clear idea about how lessons learned from this project can improve the quality of projects they complete in the future, whether scholastic or otherwise. Giving the students the opportunity for metacognition is an ESSENTIAL part of a meaningful project experience.
I have no doubt that with meaningful collaboration, this document will evolve over time. I sincerely hope that the KABT community will play a large role in that evolution.
If you’d like to give this a try in your classroom, please feel free to modify it in any way you see fit. My only request is that you let me know how it goes for you and your students. 🙂