When Students Decide on Projects
Smarty has a wonderful Humanities teacher this year. This super woman manages to have high expectations for all kids, keep up with a super dense history curriculum and still teach writing and grammar as part of her course. She is also the main driver behind project based units of this year. The first one was an Interactive Egyptian Museum, which all kids enjoyed very much. Then Ms D. had an idea to have a vote on the next project, and kids got super excited about the proposal to build a real mini golf course where each hole will somehow represent something from the ancient world. Now Ms D. and our equally excellent Maker's Lab teacher Mr S. had to rise to the challenge, because that was certainly never done before in their former school. They agreed to take this project on and worked out an execution plan.
How Do You Eat an Elephant?
Obviously, building a real 18-size mini golf course is a huge task, so the teachers made sure to break it into sizeable pieces. First of all, students went on a field trip to a real mini golf course. Unfortunately, it had to be rescheduled twice because of the rains we had in February, but eventually this took place. Kids not only played golf but also focused on the features of the course - what kind of obstacles are there, can an experienced golf player make a hole in one shot, etc. They also sketched their favorite holes and measured them.
The next step was to do more research online on how to construct a functional golf hole and "prototyping" a golf hole in a shoe box. Students also had to make a presentation (just oral or optionally with Google slides) explaining how their golf hole represents their chosen ancient civilization and how they would build their golf hole in full size. Parent judges (5 different groups of 3 judges) rated each hole on craftsmanship and understanding of the content (i.e. knowledge of the topic represented by the golf hole) on the scale of 1 to 4 over the course of one week.
Building a Golf Hole Prototype
I will be honest. I did not feel that Smarty was as excited about this project as some of her classmates. Nevertheless, she wanted to see her projected chosen as one of the 18 golf holes that will be built full size by kids working together. Kids worked on their prototypes in class during Maker's Lab hours, but eventually she brought her hole home to finish it. Unfortunately, I did not take a picture of it when she brought it home, but it was in a sorry state! I warned my husband not to comment on her work in any way unless she asks for feedback. Instead, I went over with her over the rubric for the project and asked her to define craftsmanship and to rate her own craftsmanship. She took this "non-feedback" to heart and spent hours over the weekend rebuilding her project. We did not help her at all, and in the end she could truly say that she did her best creating a golf hole with Roman Colosseum theme. Her presentation in Google slides was quite good, which made me reflect privately how every kid has unique strengths and weaknesses and, shall we say, craftsmanship and making is not one of Smarty's strengths.
Why Projects Like These Are "Must Have" in Schools?
I volunteered to be one of the parent judges and on my judging day I had a pleasure of watching 19 sixth graders walk in, proudly or timidly, with their shoe boxes and listening to their presentations and explanations. It was amazing to see how completely different their projects were even if we saw, for example, two more Colosseums (my daughter did not present on my day) and at least five Great Walls of China. This hands-on project gave students a chance to create something tangible in 3D, to practice their presentation skills and even challenged them to consider problems beyond their grade - such as mechanics, physics, and theory of materials. I wish, however, that they were more supported in these "hard science" areas, because some projects were in the realm of "creative but not physically possible".
This week Smarty came home super excited and announced that teachers have selected the prototypes that will be built into full scale golf holes. They chose 6 prototypes from each class, and her project made a list! Now she is going to get a team of 4 classmates and materials to make her vision a reality. Frankly, I am a little terrified at this prospect, but my husband wisely reminded me that it's not I who is going to build this hole. We can expect a very busy April and early May with three different project-based units coming due, plus SBAC preparation and testing. But so far Smarty managed to meet her deadlines with a couple of reminders, so hopefully she will continue to rise to this challenge as her last spring terms unfolds.
What are your kids building?
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