Monday, September 1, 2014

Setting a standard of learning: what happened when we tried 100% time.

So, I started today's 8th grade class with this question, "How many people know about genius time?" All hands went up. I said, "They sometimes call this 20% time." I then went on to explain how we are going to set our standard of learning for this trimester. We are starting by doing 100% time.

What is 100% time? It's like 20% time, but just all the time.

I set the following expectations:
  • You need to learn about something that interests you.
  • You need to learn about something that is worth researching. (That one dashed the hopes of one student who wanted to research glow-in-the-dark paper clips.)
  • You need to give us your opinion on what you research. I need to see "you" in your proof of learning.
I explained all of this to my students and they took off! The room buzzed. It was exciting.

And then we ran head-long into day two. We had a chorus of the following sung by a group known as the Coalition for the Promotion of Unison Off Task Behavior:
  • Mr, Barner, this is hard.
  • Mr. Barner, I'm done.
  • Mr. Barner, what am I supposed to be doing?
All of the momentum and excitement of earlier class meetings were gone and I realized (again) that kids don't know how to learn this way.

So, I went about explaining that the goal was not to find the answer, but to find the next question. When kids came up to me and said they were "done," I asked them what their next question was. I said, "you learned this_____, but what else don't you know about ______." The faces they made were somewhere between blank stares and the look you would give someone with three heads.

On the flip side, I had some students who literally (and I do mean literally) writhed in their chair while asking, "what am I supposed to DO!!" This was not someone who was not willing to learn. This was coming from a very high achieving student. But she was so programmed to answer the question, she didn't know how to learn. Students are master manipulators of information. They can take information from a book or website, mix it around a bit, and foist it off as learning. Additionally, they are requirement meeters (that's not a word). They long to fill in blanks and create an exact number of slides or use a specified tool to deposit their manipulated information. Why do they do this? They do this because we taught them to. This behavior comes from years of fill-able blanks, page requirements, multiple choices where there was only one correct answer, and short answer spaces filled with lines telling them what is enough.

But, to me, the most amazing thing is when they get it. I had a student, middle of the road achiever and sometimes discipline problem, research ALS. She was intrigued by the ice bucket challenge that was going around Facebook (an aside, please consider taking the challenge and donating to this cause. It is noble.) She did incredible research. She had brain scans of people who were suffering from the disease and showed the degradation over time. She found the video of the person who started the challenge off. She sat at her desk and practiced saying the medical terminology so when she proved her learning to the class she was ready.

I had a student research wind turbines. He wants to work in renewable energy. He looks at me and says, "Hey, Mr. Barner. Can I build a wind turbine?" Now I have no idea if he will, but he took the step from research to reality. He considered taking his time, outside of class, to extend his learning. Now, if he comes back from the long weekend with a wind turbine, I'll probably start dancing in the street.

Now, here is the gotcha. What the kids don't realize is that we are going to use this level of learning as a benchmark for the learning I want them to do the rest of the trimester. We are going to learn about the history of music, musical theatre, eastern Asian music, and other stuff at the level they are learning what is intrinsically important to them. And when they ask me if it is good enough we will have something to look back on that was good enough. This is a huge experiment, but I think the pay off is going to be impressive. We will see.

Your comments are welcomed and encouraged,

Dane Barner

1 comment:

  1. I love your ideas! It's amazing that "all hands went up" when questioned about genius time, yet so many still struggled with the "how-to." It's hard for both teachers and students to change methods of teaching/learning but in order for us to prepare them for a world of unknowns and problem-solving challenges we must allow them these opportunities to struggle a little and keep asking questions. Great post!