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Friday, July 6, 2012

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and into the Learning Zone

I worked with a colleague on an open-ended challenge this past spring….the MMS Mission.  She was a G&T teacher with a background in Language arts and the science content of the Magnetospheric MultiScale Mission and technology options were a bit out of her comfort zone.  Students were asked to determine why this mission, launching in 2014 is relevant to their lives and to find a way to share what they learned with the world.  I assured her that her students would rise to the challenge and learn the technology part on their own.  It was a stretch for both students and teacher, but the results were amazing!  (Check out some of their projects under the Student Sample Challenge Solutions tab)
The teacher’s assessment of the project:
I do have to tell you that it was very exciting for me to do this project!   Way out of my comfort zone!   I learned so much about the magnetosphere and about learning!  As educators we are programmed to be the expert of the subject matter.  After a lifetime of teaching, I am thinking that it is stifling. 
Most of my students gained so much from this experience!  There were some who wanted the road map, the requirements, the RUBRIC etc., I get that.  But the curious and the "gifted" really loved the learning and the creating.”

The students' assessment of the Challenge:

“I like the way that our teams were able to collaborate.  Also, we had free reign over the project’s actions.  Finally, we had time and were encouraged to use social media in school.”

“I like that this challenge was actually a challenge.  It caused us to work harder and faster, challenging us to learn more.” 

“I liked how it was a project for the real world instead of just in the classroom.  I learned more ways to share my work and make it public.”

“I loved the flexibility and challenge of the challenge.  Because we had really no guidelines, my creativity was at its maximum.  That is why I’m very proud of my xtranormal animation video.”

“Throughout my journey with the MMS Challenge, I had learned about more than simply the magnetosphere.  For instance, I learned about commitment, teamwork, responsibility, listening, taking advantage of given tools, etc.  The livebinder provided my group and I with a handful of tools and features that we could learn how to use then use.  This gave me a sense of the unique possibilities that could easily be found and used for the largest or smallest of projects.  I was given the feel for the community connected by the internet and web.  …I learned about technology in the real world, the everyday life of a scientist working for NASA.  I had a taste of a dream”

Wow!  Is that powerful or what?  Imagine giving your students a “taste of a dream?”  Having them enjoy the “challenge” of being pushed? 

Here is what I learned:

1.     You do not have to wait to be comfortable with something.  Take the risk.  Teachers do not have to be experts in all content areas or perfect.  Resources abound! 
2.     Let them share!  One of the keys to the great enthusiasm, creativity and care taken in this project by students resulted from the knowledge that projects would be shared with the world (one of the criteria).  Want to see some of their projects?  Link to video.  Link to livebinder
3.     Let them choose.  Students loved being allowed to select the medium of their project.  They were encouraged to select a “career path” – artist, physicist, writer, or engineer to help spread the word about the mission.    
4.     You do not have to be a techno-geek.  Students were given a long list of 2.0 tools listed by function that they might use (web-site developing, video production, blogs, animation sites, etc.).  Not one student asked for directions!  They just get on and go (my get on and go is considerable slower than theirs, but I find that there is a video for everything!).
5.     Challenge yourself and your students.   Both teachers and students were excited to learn the challenging vocabulary involved with the MMS mission.  Push each other to learn a little more!

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