Hands on learning

Our Lewis and Clark project is time consuming and messy.  An observer stepping into our room might take one look at all the bodies and supplies scattered around the classroom, hear the decibel level (loud) and conclude that learning had given way to entertainment – i.e. we were wasting our learning time.  And sometimes, when my kids ask for another day to add onto our project days because they simply need more time, I cringe – the driven-by-the-school-calendar-teacher in me (which is small but significant) starts to panic.  Then I listen in more carefully, pay attention to the projects being created, question the logic of this or that decision and I back off.  My kids gain so much from these projects:

  • they learn to figure out the core components of the task and figure out how to go about it (problem solving, individual skills assessments, division of labor logistics)
  • they learn to talk amongst each other and listen to what their team members say (team building, empathy, patience)
  • since this is an in-class project, they learn how to make use of what is at hand by themselves – no mom or dad to save the day (self reliance, resourcefulness)
  • they learn the limitations and boundaries of gravity, creativity, time and patience (i.e. reality)

Their maps of the Lewis and Clark expedition vary in color and design, but they’ve emerged knowing geography and terrain.  And their monuments also vary in design and execution, but some have learned  that their end products are all about the time and creativity they were willing to invest – some are awesome (check out Fort Clatsop – an engineering feat) and some are (let’s be honest) lame. But even for those who fell short there was a lesson learned – they saw how deeply some of their classmates were willing to think through and figure out their awesome monuments, the satisfaction and pride they took in their projects, and the less-than-hard-working kids learned a lesson, too: you work is a reflection of your commitment to it. 
Tomorrow, we will have a museum day – a gallery walk and discussion, a celebration of all the learning (about ourselves as well as the Expedition) we did…before we move back into the text for an examination of Marbury vs. Madison and Judicial Review – a completely different sort of learning experience.


7 thoughts on “Hands on learning

  1. Projects involves very much learning as you say, so much good decision-making and problem-solving, and the observations, as you said Tara, of classmates' work teaches a lot too. I think you're right to let them set the pace in the work, and then review what worked and what did not after. The final celebration sounds like a very satisfying end!

  2. You are so right! Hands on learning is what it is all about. In the real world, these students will have to work with others to solve problems so why not start now. If only the powers that be would understand that there is more to learning than book, paper and pencil and more to assessment than a written test, our education system might be able to catch up to China, Japan, India, the UK, etc.

  3. So I was enjoying your post when that part about it being an "in class assignment" where among all of the other positives the kids learned resourcefulness and I thought … yes. She's got it right. I'll be back to this blog! Can't wait to poke around and see some of your other posts.

  4. Tara,thank you for visiting my blog. Just reviewed yours and I love what you are doing with your students! This is a very important blog and resource! You are very creative with your students.

  5. Tara, thanks for stopping by my kids' poetry blog – I hope you find something to share with your students. I love the collaborative learning model you are using – I did the same when I taught HS English and theater, and talk about messy! Sometimes I wondered if I was doing the right thing – art, creative writing, drama! – but as you say, they gained so much more from the experience than just the "content." Brava to you! (BTW, I also blog on teaching and language at All About Learning Press – and this week I posted about my rookie teacher experience with the Punctuation Olympics. You might be interested. http://community.allaboutlearningpress.com/entry.php/44-Teaching-Tales-When-Too-Much-Is…Too-Much) I subscribed and will be back. Thanks!

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