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Tricky, Tricky

One of the best parts about being an educator is observing the various ways that students learn. There is no one definitive way to engage and inspire; instead, we get to continuously brainstorm, take risks, and learn ourselves as we try various techniques in the classroom.

This week, my partner-in-crime, Mr. Steve Wick, shared his plans to engage students and spark curiosity about their current class topic, Time and Earth Systems. His plans included various techniques to teach them necessary content, have them do something with the content, engage with their classmates about the content, and then eventually, assess their understanding of the content. His assignment sheet provides the expectations and resources needed to learn about Time and Earth Systems and do something creative with this content: 

Step 1: Learn the Content
Students were given digital resources to learn various topics connected to time. These resources included visuals, videos, and textual information to help them learn information connected to the different focus points outlined on the assignment sheet. My favorite part about the process is that it combined the textbook and external resources; they weren't given a study guide to complete; instead, they explored the topics throughout various platforms. Students had ownership over this exploration and could do what worked best for them in order to learn the content, as they would eventually have to create a design connected to what they learned.

Step 2: Creation
Students, now, had to create something connected to their learning. While we typically see a lot of digital resources utilized during this part of an activity, Mr. Wick decided to go a different route with the assignment: Students were asked to work with a partner to compete for the best design connected to time. And catch this...they had to use markers, crayons, and color pencils to create their visuals. Yes, taking it back old school. The goal was for them to demonstrate their understanding through effective visual design AND build an engaging visual to teach someone else about time connected to evolution. 

While I wasn't in class when they worked on this, it was amazing to see their final products later in the week. Each group did something different when it came to their design decisions, and it was interesting to observe that some included a ton of text, and other groups created impressive visuals to properly document/share their learning. Layouts and colors also differed quite a bit from group to group. Mr. Wick explained to me that while they worked on their designs, he shared with students that he would allow them to use these visuals on their upcoming quiz. From there, I guess some groups decided they needed to include an excessive amount of text on their designs, while others stayed true to the "design" way of thinking. As I browsed through their designs, I considered what might have helped me learn the content and use it effectively while taking an assessment. Don't worry...I'll let you in on my conclusion at the end of this post.

Step 3: Share, Learn, Revise, and Assess 
I had the pleasure of observing class the day that students did a gallery walk of their classmates' designs. When I walked into class, Mr. Wick was explaining the process students would complete to learn from their classmates, make decisions about their own work, and then evaluate what others' did when it came to design and content. Students had 7 minutes to just look at their classmates' work. After this 7 minutes, they had 10 minutes to go back to their own designs and make any necessary changes based on what they learned from others. After changes were made, they then had the rest of the period to evaluate 5 of their peers' designs using a rubric created by Mr. Wick. Talk about analysis, collaboration, revision, and synthesis. It was awesome. 

Here is what I observed/learned...
1. When students completed their gallery walk, they brought their phones with them. They took pictures of their peers' work and reconsidered their own designs. They had thoughtful conversations about the decisions their classmates' made while designing and why they didn't do the same. They complimented each other. They were engaged...and better yet, learning from each other. It was so cool to see. Check out a video of the process:

2. Most students used all 10 minutes given to make changes to their designs. When I walked around and asked questions about these changes, many of them explained to me that while they had similar information on their visuals, they liked how other students designed different elements and wanted to make sure their vision was clear and easy to use for the assessment. They didn't add a lot more text; instead, they created visuals connected to the text. They drew the process instead of just copying it down from a textbook - even if they already had the text on their designs. 

3. Students were studying the pictures they took of classmates' work and working diligently with their partner to figure out what more they needed. The conversations were in-depth as they actually had to talk about what they learned and observed and then rationalize how they should best use their time to make their product better. 

4. Students appreciated time to revise. I loved their excitement, and almost a bit of relief, to go back and make their work better. They were not punished for leaving something out but empowered to go out, learn more, and then revise as needed. This learning process was so great to see, as it was collaborative and student-centered. They had control of what they were learning and how they were making it accessible for their success. That is an #EDUWIN in my book.

So back to what I mentioned earlier....
As I walked around the room and interacted with Mr. Wick and his students, I constantly questioned what I would have done if  I was a student in this class. How would I have designed something like this to document my learning and help me gain success on an assessment? Well...I decided that my design wouldn't have really mattered that much; instead, the process itself would most likely have prepared me to take the assessment. Yes, I believe Mr. Wick's students were tricked into thinking that they would actually NEED a cheat sheet for the assessment. In reality - they will NOT need it! When we ask students to learn, create, review, revise, and evaluate, they are actually learning more about the content at hand because the content is driving the whole process. By asking them to learn, create, review, revise, and evaluate, they had to critically consider the content and how it is being presented; consequently, they ended up truly learning more about it through application and collaboration. See...tricky, tricky. 

When Mr. Wick's students sit down to take this assessment, I am confident they will be prepared because they put in the time, effort, and thought needed to truly learn the topics connected to time. No, the lesson wasn't a sit and get. It was student-centered learning at its finest: Creativity, communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and curiosity. Now, that's #whatsup.  


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