This semester I'm giving my grade 11 and 12 students a chance to show their ability to learn on their own by having them complete independent learning projects. I blogged about their projects earlier (here) and have been so excited by what they have been learning. I love how this project has got kids in grade 9 and 10 talking too, they are excited to get into my class and give this type of learning a shot. The best part about this learning project is that it forced me to give up control. I explain the project, coordinate places for them to work and take care of the assessment. Other than that it's the students that are in control. They pick what they want to learn, they determine how they will be learning, they choose how they will present, and they decide how much more they want to learn after the projects are done.
Today I had a reminder of how different this project is. A grade 12 boy is building a mini bike at home after school and on weekends. He wasn't planning on doing this, but when he was forced to pick something to learn, that was the path he selected. When he's at school he cannot do the "hands on" work so he's dedicated the time to researching how to build it and where to get parts. Today he asked me where he could find a band brake and I spoke the three most important words I could at that time. Those words were I don't know. This project is all about the kids identifying and solving their own problems. This does not mean I can't give advice or provide gentle course corrections along the way. Now the truth is I really didn't know, but I thought of a place that might know, that being the local garage. I sent the boy on his way to the garage and upon his return he knew exactly where to look and had a rough idea of how much it would cost.
I worry that sometimes teachers are hesitant to use those three words. They might feel they aren't doing their job if they don't know all the answers. If that is the case, maybe sometimes they are asking the wrong questions. There is no shame in not knowing the answers to all the questions. Those moments allow students and teachers to take the role of co-learners. I learned something today, I learned what a band brake is, and I was reminded of the power of three simple words, I don't know.
As always, comments are welcome.