I hope that you had a chance to wander over to the Middle School yesterday. If not, I think it would be worth a 10-15 minute walk through to interact with the Middle School students who are participating in the Middle School theme week on sustainability. Reflecting on this last night, this unit designed by Lee Block and Steve Collins, exemplifies the type of learning environment that you heard and want us to think about implementing.
After their going on their field trips and listening to a speaker on Monday, students spent the yesterday brainstorming, researching, and developing the plans for the structure that they decided to build for this project. Utilizing four of our laptop carts (60 computers) plus ones that students brought from home, it seemed that nearly all of the Middle School students were on a computer working in groups, researching web sites, checking their location using Google Earth, and summarizing their findings. Some students began to mock up their projects using a 3-D drawing program that they had used in 5th Grade (Google Sketchup) and others were searching for images of what other structures in their areas looked like. Using the Collaborative Workspace that we have set up for the project (https://sites.google.com/a/nscds.org/mstheme2010/ note – this site is currently for use of the students and is not publicly accessible. It will be shared at the end of the project, once we have reviewed and added pictures for documentation), the students in the group were adding to their shared word processing documents, sharing their reflections and sharing the process that they are using to determine how their structure will be designed. The students are searching for information using a custom built search engine which was developed collaboratively by our librarian and the project leaders, to provide students focused and targeted web sites to support their research. Some of the groups are using an electronic to-do list built into the collaborative site, others are using the shared word processing documents. The focus is on the process and not the tools. We have provided them a rich set of tools and the students are determining which make the most sense for them to be able to help solve their problem. What a great picture of learning in a digitally rich environment, a 1-to-1 laptop, this provided.
Today, Wednesday, as I wandered the hallways, you will see students continuing to brainstorm and research, others editing documents to get them ready to print for their display board, and others actively working on constructing the models that they will be presenting. It is a wonderful combination of hand-on, problem-based inquiry. Technology is purposefully not a focus area in the project, yet it is an essential tool which has been embedded into the project to help the groups collect information, collaborate with each other at school and at home, so that they can create their solution.
Much our 5th Grade iMovie project, this is an exemplar unit showing how “21st Century Learning” can occur. Students are working in collaborative groups, creating their own solutions, being guided by the teachers, who don’t have the all the answers. This is a messy hands-on project. I look forward to see how the two groups working to create a solution for the same area of the world create solutions which are similar, yet differ.