Goin’ With The Flow, Uncomfortably: Following Student Interest

I love Reggio. I love project and inquiry based learning.
Wait.
I love the IDEA of those approaches. Executing them in the classroom is a whole other story.
I’ve been taking baby steps to becoming more Reggio inspired in my classroom. I feel fairly confident about how to set up the environment, how to have self-managed projects in the classroom, and how to document effectively enough to point out areas or student interest.
It is at that point where the most difficult part has been for me as a teacher. Learning how to go with the flow with student interest while tying it into the provincial Program of Studies has been…tough. Let’s not sugar coat it.

Giving the freedom to students as they inquire about a specific subject gives me an uncomfortable feeling inside because I’m not sure where we are going with it. But that’s kinda how I know it’s working.

I know I’m not the first person to come to the conclusion that if you had a class of 10 students, going with their interests would be a lot easier. If 5 of them take a liking to flowers you have put everywhere in the classroom, you could probably convince the other 5 fairly easily to learn about flowers. It would lead to a perfect investigation and exploration of a million areas within the subject. What I’m struggling with now is finding the common points in student documentation, and making it enthusiastic and engaging for 51 students. To make it even more difficult, I have an AM program and a PM program. In the example I’m about to talk about, it was interest from the AM class that lead to our investigation about boats. However, I had to convince the PM class to explore the same thing as well, without them even having been there for the initial discussion of boats.

I wanted to take a really good shot at going with the students’ interest about one subject this year. We were creating some bookmarks for our library when I drew a boat in my example.

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Lots of other students drew boats too.

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I set up a self-managed area with rocks and tiles for the students to make boats.

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We were also inspired by a student who went on a cruise over the break and painted us a picture of a boat.

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Another student made a boat out of modeling clay.

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It was kinda staring me in the face that we could get on board with the ships exploration. Pun TOTALLY intended. And again, that uncomfortable feeling came creeping in because is hadn’t obsessively planned a boat unit that would go on for 3.5 weeks detailing every activity the students would do. Meep!

I thought exploring sinking and floating would be a great place to go from here. We put different objects in water and basically loved this activity for days and days.

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The students basically came to the conclusion that if the objects were made of wood they would float, if they were made of plastic that was hollow enough it would float, and that heavy items sank.
Even TALKING about this with students without giving them the answer was difficult for me. Again, uncomfortable feelings by GUIDING the students to their own conclusion rather than saying it and having them remember it.

I then decided to pull the rug out of under them by using material that wasn’t plastic or wood. I have them tin foil to make boats. We tested them with marbles and the whole nine yards, and they loved it.

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A few students then came to the conclusion that the bigger you made the boat, and the longer, the more marbles it would hold. When they were adding the marbles, counting in French so high was difficult for them so I used me of my favorite apps called “My Blackboard” to record some winning results.

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But what to do next? Uncomfortable feelings were killing me yet again! I figured we had so many conclusions and ideas swirling around in our heads that we had better organize our ideas. We used Popplet to organize items that float and sink when we tested them.

We talked about what a word web was, and did an example on the smart board together. The students paired themselves up and in their groups of two, each student tested three items from the class. They got to choose if they would like to retest the items from our previous experiment or if they would like to test new items. I helped them write the words “sink” and “float” in French. They took individual pictures of each item they wanted to test. Then all I had to do was teach them how to make a new bubble out of the primary bubble and how to insert the photo. Almost every student caught on quickly and needed little assistance from me. I stayed with them to enforce the French vocabulary when they were experimenting.

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We’re will we go next? I’m not sure. But let me tell you, those uncomfortable feelings will be accompanying me for sure.

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