All this year I've been working to empower students and turn learning over to them. We've just started my newest attempt at PBL with the rock cycle as the centerpiece. In this first day of the work, I've seen such encouraging change in student attitudes. They embrace the chance to try things out...they see the trial and error part of this kind of learning as tolerable and, dare I say it, almost enjoyable. When things don't work out the very first time, they have enough experience to realize that it will if they hang in there.
They buy into the idea that it's a design process.
So if you're a teacher or student you've seen this chart a million times. I wanted students to take it to another level...one where they experienced it. Clearly they're not going into the mantle or not top of a volcano.
How could they build a model to show their understanding?
What questions do they have about how this re-cycling works?
I told them that we were going to do this unit without cookie cutter lab directions and they would be in charge of defining how to go about learning these concepts. Loads of eyerolling went on. Hey they're middle schoolers and it goes with the territory.
As we built background information, they've developed some amazing questions.
- How does the rock cycle work in a volcano?
- Why do some rocks never go through the cycle? Where are these rocks located?
- How do we show the kinds of processes that rocks take...the melting, the pressure, the cooling and the breaking apart?
- When you build a model of something, what makes it a good model?
- How do you make dangerous things not dangerous so it can be in your model?
- What can we melt that can happen in our classroom and that can be broken up later?
- Do other planets in space have rock cycles?
- Is this really just re-cycling and why is it called a cycle instead of re-cycling?
You can see that the questions were pretty far ranging. I also think it indicates they've started going beyond the obvious questions.
One of the best parts of this phase of PBL
Now that we've been doing this kind of inquiry for a while, students are much more tolerant of the process. They know they're going to be stumped here at the beginning and it will all become more transparent as they work with the ideas and question.
They know that I'm not going to leave them out there, grading-wise or curiosity-wise, without a net. They believe that I wouldn't ask them to do something that they can't do or figure out. And that it will take a bit of experimenting to figure out what works.
We've gotten to the point where they know that some of their ideas will work and some won't. For example, one of the groups realized they would need to break down rocks in their model. They're using crayons as minerals and bricks to represent the rocks that scrap past. Unfortunately as they tested their idea, it didn't work. This would have been a diaster for the group in August. Now they realize that this idea didn't work, but if they just tweaked it a bit, it might.
They didn't see this first attempt as a failure because they get it's a design process.
They have belief that they'll figure it out on a future attempt. That's huge.