Knowledge Construction and Collaboration
In this issue I’ll expand on last month’s discussion of narrative-building skills. I’ll focus on 3 issues: collaborating, using new tools, and sharing, and I’ll describe a project that you can use as a template in your classroom.
Last weekend I led 2 Smithsonian explorations, one in Air and Space, and one in Natural History. For both of them I developed projects based on the school’s curriculum. Students had a choice of 4 projects for each museum.
Why 4 projects? I was constrained by 2 primary problems. First, students interests and abilities are different. One size does NOT fit all. Second, unlike classroom teachers, when a museum exploration is done, students walk away from me forever. I have no real authority to make them work, and I tell them that right up front! Actually, they love that; it’s very liberating for them. The only way I can get them to dig in is to make my projects personal and challenging. I have 90-120 minutes, so students need an immediate door in. Projects must be personal. And if projects aren’t imaginative and challenging, some students will start sneering. You’ve seen it happen. It just takes 1 or 2 saying ‘this is dumb’ and the ball game’s over.
If you think about it, the problems I face in museums aren’t much different than the ones you face in your classroom.
For the Natural History Museum I designed 4 projects for a diverse group of 8th-12th graders:
- A Day in the Life;
- Star Trek;
- Tool-maker, World-changer; and
- The Gaea Project.
Students broke into teams of 4, and I outlined the projects to them (including detailed handouts). I noted that Star Trek was the easiest project because it was mostly descriptive, and warned that The Gaea Project was by far the most difficult and challenging. I wasn’t sure any group would take it on. Instead, all 8 groups decided to do The Gaea Project! Here it is:
4. The Gaea Project:
For students interested in architecture, design, and communications, your mission is to design a new, major exhibition hall for this museum. Notice how the museum is now divided into classical categories: dinosaurs, mammals, Homo Sapiens, oceans, gems. Your new exhibition hall will be called the Gaea Exhibit, an interdisciplinary exhibit presenting earth as a single living being and all its components (mineral, vegetable, animal) as inter-connected….[fuller description deleted] Naturally, in the time allotted you will only be able to briefly explore most of these ideas. I would encourage you to focus on how to re-think this museum’s information in a more interdisciplinary way (the Ocean Today Hall will provide you with lots of ideas), and how to present the information in an interactive way…. [examples deleted]
1 hour and 20 minutes total
Students worked in teams, used their phones and tablets as cameras and for sound recording, and gave a presentation at the end of the first phase of the project. In this way students met my goals of collaborating, using new tools, and sharing.
How might you use this project as a template for your particular curriculum?
Science: you might assign a year end wrap-up project in which student teams design a new chapter for their textbook that focuses on the inter-relatedness of each of the chapters or units they studied during the year. Or they might design an experiment that highlights some or all of the units they studied.
Literature/composition: choose an artist, say Picasso or O’Keefe or Van Gogh, and have student teams compose a story as if they were the artist and were looking through his/her eyes. They must use that artist’s paintings to highlight scenes in the story. Present the story as a slideshow or video (or live performance with projected images), narrated and with music.
History: set in the historical period you’re studying, have student teams create a narrative, slideshow, or video exploring a particular city, village, or remote region, and carefully describing people’s lives there. Their project should use historic images, and they should be sure to “look in on” local people’s lives as well as famous personalities.
Quick reads; provocative articles:
Shifting Toward An Architecture of Participation, 7 Characteristics of Future Learning
“If learning is about knowledge acquisition, we go THIS way; if it’s about knowledge construction, we might go THAT way.” This article only touches on a number of important concepts. Think of it as a map showing the road ahead in education, and pointing to resources that discuss critical changes happening in the classroom.
If you’re planning a visit to Washington, DC, don’t hesitate to contact me about our great museums and ways to explore them.
All the best,