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What Happens When You Give Students the Control?

Recently I had the privilege of sitting in on a workshopconducted by Ewan McIntosh (http://www.notosh.com) who took us through a process where he helped us(the students) become better “problem finders.” He then challenged us to go out and help our students become better“problem finders.”  Giving up control isoften hard, especially for educators, but I realized I wanted to move thisway.   Thus, I thought of a group of forth graders Iwas going to work with the following week.

These forth graders come to see me twice a week forenrichment and I decided to see what would happen.  So on our first visit, I copied Ewan and tookthese ten year olds through an exercise to help them learn whatever they wantedto learn about.  The only stipulation Igave them was that they had to choose a science related topic, since this wasmy field of expertise.  After two thirty-minutesessions with these students they came up with two very good problems to besolved. 
They fell into two distinct groups and they came up with twoVERY different questions:  The firstgroup wanted to figure out how to solve the problem of groundwaterpollution.  Once they settled on theirtopic, they realized they didn’t really know very much about groundwaterpollution.  In fact, their understandingof what groundwater pollution is was incorrect. I allowed this misconception to persist and encouraged them to learn allthat they could about groundwater pollution. Once they understood what groundwater was, they realized that the bestway to “solve” the problem of groundwater pollution was to prevent it.  As of this post, these students have decidedto make a 2-3 min video where they are going to educate people about thedangers of groundwater pollution.  Theyhope to put it on youtube and educate the world.
The other group came up with the question:  What is it about the human brain that causesit to make the decisions that it makes? This question was truly advanced for a bunch of forth graders.  As they began their research they had adaunting task.  After about foursessions, they turned to me and said that this answer is not out their ongoogle.  They knew some things, but theyneeded help.  One young man told me weneeded to ask a “super smart scientist.” So I told him we should do that. He then replied, “Who would want to talk to a group of ten year olds?”  And I told him you might be surprised. 
So I encouraged them to reach out on the web and look forsome neuroscientists to skype in and help them. And you can probably predict what happened.  They are now looking forward to skypeing inwith a professor of cognitive neurology from MIT this coming Monday. 
My take-away’s from these two events is that we do need togive up the control of the learning to our students.  They will pursue things with passion if weonly give them the chance. 

One Response to What Happens When You Give Students the Control?

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