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Is this what learning looks like? 2/3

This is part two of a three part trilogypart 1 is here, and part 3 is here.

What should learning look like?  

My students were recently working on a project that was on the Monroe Doctrine.  We had this fantastic idea of making a music video…not just any video, but a mash up of all the different ways we have presented this year.  It would have original lyrics, common craft style bits, RSA Style pieces, and other various things mashed in.  Let’s just say things did not go so smoothly.  My student teacher had two of my classes, I did this with three.  There were 6 groups in each class, 18 total.  Things moved so slowly, no one met any deadline, and some groups seemed to be re-starting each day. One day was added, another…another, and still we seemed to just never be close to finishing.

I have all of the groups written on the front board and one day was sitting staring at the names.  Out of 18 groups 3 had finished on time and done a great job.  Then I realized that every other group had been hit by the flu.  Some days we had 20% of our kids out.  Some groups had two kids out the first few days, and the other two members went out when the first two returned.  The three groups that finished were the only groups not hit by the flu.  Needless to say, we staggered to the finish.  We ended up pulling in things from one class to use in another, used some groups products in more than one video.  But in the end, we finished.

Now here is the problem.  The kids were making a video on the Monroe Doctrine…what should the videos look like to showed that they learned?  The lyrics drove each song.  What should the lyrics include?  What if you really can’t make out exactly ware saying because they are too symbolic in nature?  What if the kids used words that make perfect sense in their head, but would cause confusion for a listener?  Where is the line between education and entertainment?  Struggle and joy?  Hard work and fun?

The biggest question that I had coming out of this unit is one that I have struggled with for my entire career.  Is it better to teach a unit that leaves kids starving for more?  Or should they leave with a full belly?  Meaning this…

One class does a unit on the American Revolution…they barely scratch the surface of the people, events, and the concepts that could be explored.  When the kids finish the unit, they had so much fun with what they did and found it so interesting that whenever a movie about the American Revolution appears on TV they stop to watch it, when they are on vacation and see a museum for Paul Revere they ask to go, they actually even download historical fiction book about the American Revolution onto their Kindle.

Another class does an in depth look at the American Revolution.  There are all sorts of of primary sources used, and many formative and summative assessments.  The students centered their research around an awesome essential question and connected what they learned to current events.  When they were done, the thought they knew everything about the American Revolution.  When a movie came on TV, the clicked to Sponge Bob, when see the Paul Revere House on vacation, they chose the amusement park.

Which class would you chose?

I know the line is somewhere in between…I know it is not black and white…maybe it is.

We are not a music class, we kind of hacked the songs together.  Just like many projects that we do, most of the time is spent reading, researching, and writing…and then one furious day of recording.  I know the songs seem simple, but if you have ever tried this, you know that it could take hours to record a single song…we had minutes 🙂

Whenever we produce something that does not seem like hardcore history, I always reflect on the song below:

Paul McCarthy’s song about a bird?  Or a powerful message about the civil rights movement?

 

Our songs are below…TURN UP THE VOLUME!  Enjoy…and share…I told them they have seven days to teach 2,000 people about the Monroe Doctrine!

Is this what learning looks like?

 

 

 

 

7 comments

  1. I think your dichotomy is wrong. The students with the fun-fun-fun project are more like to think they know it all and switch to SpongeBob, while the ones with the in-dpeth look will be more interested in learning more and seeing the original artifacts.

    1. Hmmm…re-read what I wrote. Fun is probably the wrong word. I don’t think any of the kids would have described the process of making the above videos “fun” while making them (research, note-taking, etc). They probably would not even have described the actual making of the video “fun.” A word they might use is “struggle.” There was a lot of hard work and stress all along the way. The videos actually show them after all the work is done, and we just synced the video to the recorded lyrics–the smiles were not there during the recording.

      I can just see first hand that the more “rigorous” we make the curriculum, the more kids dislike history…and learning. The more writing scores go up, the less they want to write. Readings have become more challenging in school, and there is a such an obvious increase in students not wanting to read anything other than pop literature.

      I know first hand the more (I’ll use the word) “fun” I make the beginning of the year, the less fun I have to make it at the end. The more fun at the beginning of the year, the more they are willing to take on challenges and simply think. We just read a letter from John Calhoun in class. Everyone stayed with it…at the beginning of the year they would have not even been interested and complained about the writing, the quality of the original copy, etc.

      So I guess in the end, you can have “fun” doing deep research ( I can certainly have fun reading in dusty archives) and producing final products that are “fun,” I guess the line is drawn when “fun” becomes fluffy nonsense assignments that most kids are familiar with (research and bring in a food from Iceland).

      Sorry…comment was more for myself thinking this through…

      This week we are doing papers on Andrew Jackson…I can assure you no one will think they are fun and I won’t be posting those. The research, the discussions, examining the sources was fun, but there is no way 75% of the kids will find writing the final paper interesting!

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