Do McAuliffe students find their passion through work done in school? The answer is often a resounding “YES”. But sometimes their discovery might come from learning what they DON’T like to do. Giving students choices about what to study is a high priority in our McAuliffe philosophy. Being allowed to dive deep into an area of interest is essential in finding passion in life, no matter how it turns out.
Jackie’s 7-8th grade class uses the “student driven curriculum” approach to determine the topics students will focus on for their science, social studies, and history. This method shares characteristics of “inquiry based learning” and “challenge based learning” practices. Jackie’s approach starts with students “wondering” about the world and themselves. Their Wonder Questions are written down and categorized into separate “subject/topic” areas. This year, one topic studied was: “What is the Universe?” Students brainstormed and came up with questions like:
“Will people land on Mars?”
“Can you stop a Big Bang?”
“How does Hawking Radiation work?”
From this point, each student decided which of the selected topics from the “What is the Universe?” subject to study in depth. Noted throughout this process, all class decisions had to be made unanimously, not just with a majority vote.
Jackie’s students called this learning module their “Astronomy” unit. Students divided themselves into groups based on areas of interest within Astronomy. They researched, supported each other, and debated ideas. Each group picked a target audience to tailor their articles to. Target audiences ranged from high schoolers to dyslexic elementary school students. Students peer reviewed their articles. Presentations were made to classmates. Their newly gained knowledge was published in science articles on blogging websites each group built and customized. They will be sharing their articles at McAuliffe’s Science Day on May 29, 2013 with the school community.
Here is a sample of student articles from the group that decided to explore The Universe from a Physics perspective:
Physics Group: http://modernphysicsmagazine.zohosites.com/
What did the students think of this “Astronomy” unit after it was over?
“If it is something I enjoy doing, I put more effort into it. Since I do photography, I chose to learn about the Hubble Space Telescope. It was something I always wondered about. “ – Alex L., 7th Grader
“It was a really fun way to learn about Astronomy. I figured out that there were so many branches of Astronomy that I never knew about. I got a lot out of it, more than a teacher telling me what to do – because I got to choose the topic.” – Collin P., 7th Grader
“I didn’t like it. It’s not that I didn’t have fun, but it’s just something I’m not interested in. I did learn about how planets die. I learned more by listening to other students’ presentations and by reviewing their articles.” – Mikayla L., 7th Grader
Allowing students to reflect on their experience is the final piece of this process. While it is important as a life skill, self-assessment is highly critical to develop during the teenage years. Adolescents are trying to figure out who they are, what they are passionate about, and how to fit into society. Self reflection of their learning process and the work accomplished on a lesson like this “Astronomy” unit gives them practice in the evaluating their actions.
McAuliffe’s student centered curriculum guided these students to discover more of themselves and their interest as they explored the Universe. Being on an educational journey with classmates creates the support a middle school student craves when diving into some uncharted material and research. What if they didn’t find their passion this time? No need to worry. Students are acquiring their own tailored formula for finding and pursuing their passions in life. Besides, there are more opportunities coming up for Jackie’s class as students head off on their next adventure: the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon.