Many times, you plan for those great educational moments in the classroom. Then other times, serendipity steps into the plan and creates a more meaningful lesson. If we are wise, we not only celebrate these serendipitous moments, but we reflect on the moment and find a way to make it a habit and part of our future lessons.
A few years ago, before Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea was entrenched in scandal, my students worked on an Afghanistan project based on their reading of Mortenson’s book. Their goal was to find a workable solution for Afghanistan by choosing one of three times to begin their work: return to end of the Soviet-Afghan, begin now, or create a future time after the US-Afghanistan conflict. While there was real world thinking happening, the serendipitous part came when one of my research groups hit a roadblock on finding current information about girls and education and the costs of the work in the region. We had looked through databases and checked out the Central Asia Institute website (Mortenson’s non-profit). Then one of the students piped up, “Ms. Moser, can we use our phone to call CAI?” So, we prepped for the phone call, who might answer, and what we wanted to know. Over the next week, three small groups ended up calling CAI to complete phone interviews.
These students reminded me that real world demeanors and characteristics are just as important as the real world thinking that I often incorporated into my lesson plans.
CCSS and Real World Research
It’s nice to review different pieces of the standards when we reflecting on practice. For this reflection, I chose to return to the introduction of the college and career ready standards. If I provided these Afghanistan opportunities, without the reliance on spontaneity, I’d be focusing on three of the main characteristics of students found in the introduction:
- They value evidence.
- They use technology and digital media strategically and capably.
- They demonstrate independence.
Most important in all the skills, content knowledge, and demeanors imparted to our students is the developing of independent students, who according to the introduction can “become self-directed learners, effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them, including teachers, peers, and print and digital reference materials.” As I plan new projects and tweak older projects, I need to ask myself how my plan will provide the space for students to demonstrate independence.
Planning and Collaboration Tips
The best advice I can give, especially if tweaking an old project, is to seek out others for collaboration. A new set of eyes will help you ask honest questions of your practice, provide another expert to the work, and help you think differently. Of course, if your school has such a position, your teacher librarian should be one of the best resources in your building for planning for inquiry and research.
Consider using this one pager Research Planner, which you can modify to your needs and planning style. Borrowing from GLAD strategies, I like to consider what the classroom and products will look/sound like if I was, in this case, seeing students working independently. These concrete examples not only help me scaffold for students to get to independence, but help me assess what my true goals are of a project. If nothing else, you should develop questions, like “How have I allowed my students to interact outside the classroom walls?” These questions should provide opportunities to reflect and think of concrete actions and analysis of your plan to fit your target.
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