In the 6th chapter of Learn Like a Pirate, Solarz shares ways that he actively engages his students using simulations, projects, fairs, debates and Reader's Theater. Although these activities can be time consuming, their value is immeasurable. They give students the opportunity to collaborate, problem solve, think and learn in a way that they are not soon going to forget. It was fun to hear about some of his class projects and it got my mind churning about ways to teach early exploration using simulation. Maybe I can use Reader's Theater to help teach students about the parts of a plant while practicing our reading fluency.
The one thing that truly resonated with me about this chapter is that Solarz does all of these projects IN CLASS! "When students take work home, it can cause parents to become stressed. Very often, ownership gets away from the child."
At the start of the school year, I promise my parents that I will not be assigning at-home book reports or science fair projects. They look surprised and then relieved. (My husband even overheard some of my parents bragging in the copy room!)
I was not always this way. When I first started teaching, I was excited to assign science fair projects. I did them as a child and so it seemed natural that my children would do them as well. So I sent home all of the materials that other teachers at my school were using.
I received no less than twenty questions about the projects from parents. I was sending daily answers and reminders regarding the projects. I was having to have kids redo steps when they were bringing in questions that were research projects rather than experiments. I was having to ask them to make the procedure section more detailed. On the final due date, two students didn't bring a project at all. Twenty students brought projects that looked professionally done. And four sweeties brought in hand-written, crayon colored, done by themselves projects. As the students presented their projects for what seemed like an eternity, my heart broke for the four who did the experiment and project themselves and therefore didn't have the fancy board to share. They had probably learned the most, but I would be the only one to know this. Many of the students could not even tell me what their hypothesis was without reading it straight from their board.
Later, we displayed our boards for parents to see at an open house. Parents had already seen them though. So they went from desk to desk checking out what other parents had done. I am certain they were comparing their work to all the others. I could almost here them thinking "Wow! I did so much better than this kid's mom! They didn't even use glitter!"
After the open house, I spent hours grading the projects with a rubric. Could I even use these grades? I mean, how much had the students completed on their own? As I walked the room, I was asking myself "Did they learn anything about the scientific process?" "Did they enjoy making discoveries?" And to be completely honest...I wasn't sure I could say "yes" to either of those questions.
I had worked hard. Parents had worked hard. My four sweeties, who completed the project on their own, worked hard. But I don't feel much learning happened. Why work so hard for so few results? I realized that what I really wanted was for my kids to love learning. The at home project was not the answer.
I have not assigned an at-home report or project since. My parents don't complain. My kids don't complain. My class passes their standardized testing. They pass the third grade. Nothing detrimental happens because they don't have crazy projects to complete at home. Actually the opposite happened....My kids learned a ton! They learned about the scientific process by completing an experiment and project IN class. They learned to work together and make compromises while completing the projects with a collaborative group. They exercised creativity and had so much fun doing it. They produced fantastic boards that parents were excited to come see. Students took ownership of their learning and were proud to show off!
Instead of lengthy at-home book reports, my students had discussions about books in their literature circles. They asked questions and challenged one another. They wondered about things and demonstrated knowledge of our reading standards through the use of graphic organizers. Most importantly, they loved reading and found new authors and series that they enjoy. All of this was possible without asking parents to make scrapbooks or characters out of water bottles.
When my kiddos go home they will have more time to be kids. More time to read, dance, play the piano, ride bikes and be with their families.
And that is why I don't assign at-home projects!