By Mark Heintz

I shared my last post about letting go of prescriptive lesson planning with my dad.  I was like a proud puppy.  He was a teacher, and no matter how old I get, I still want him and my mom, to know what I am doing and be proud of it.  However, most of the time, I don’t share my work with them…I think that might have been a sign that I hadn’t really been excited about what I was doing.

Anyways, my dad’s response made me well up a bit.  Always spot on, he said,”Your students must be thinking about how learning is really for themselves.”  Mic drop.

Learning for Themselves

I’m on the right track and I’m chasing this high.  So…how do I continue to create conditions that keep the learning in the kiddos’ hands? Keep in mind that in the first week of school, my students and I came to common ground on what meaningful learning is.

  1. For learning to occur, we have to want to learn it: interesting.
  2. The learning has to be useful in their lives: relevance.
  3. It has to be a struggle and should force them to change: challenging

With my focus in mind, I was ready for the second week of school.  During that week, I laid out the driving question for the course: To what extent can we do whatever we want to the Earth and its people?

Not easy. So, it’s challenging.  There are so many possible directions to go in; interesting.  And, man, is it relevant to their daily lives.

I had the students put two continuums down, one for the treatment of the Earth and one for the treatment of people.  Some said we can and should do whatever we want to the Earth and to people=100%.  Others had a much different outlook on it.  Each student was in a different place.

Then came their own questions.  Based on the driving question, the students generated their own questions.
From there, they researched their question and did a quick write up, they had a little less than two days to do this.  The only criteria I gave them: at least 200 words and any articles they read must be posted alongside their writing.  
The Result

This process resulted in the best writing I’ve ever had in teaching the course. It was interesting to read. Not really a shocker when you allow students to write about things they are interested in.  Seriously, kids wrote more than had to.  I didn’t say how or if it would be graded.  They just explored.   I’m so proud of the work they did.  I just walked around the room and gave guidance when they asked for it and probed what they were researching.  
Here is one sample that is a first draft and unedited. 
Why are people treated unfairly?

Being treated unfairly happens a lot everywhere in the world, it is probably happening right now. But it mostly occurs in lower-income countries and mostly aimed at women. Like in Saudi Arabia, they allowed Women to start driving JUST now instead of in the earlier years which is because of the government choice that is controlling everything and controlling who.

Like another example: Malala, everyone knows about her story and why she was shot. Because she was a girl that wanted the same education that boys have but couldn’t get it until her story was heard around the world. Now girls where Malala live have education.

Some people in the workforce are also being treated unfairly, how? Because of the boss and how he or she wants his/her way to get more money, or maybe the boss is being respectful to one worker than the other that is being unfair or biased.

My last example is still happening today in America is police brutality, white officers killing black people. It is very common here and we are still wondering why it is still happening but some people know why, because of racism. Racism is still happening today as no surprise either against African Americans, Hispanics, Middle East people and more. We are still being treated unfairly because of our race that somehow makes people uncomfortable.

There are many different answers to why people are still being treated unfairly, is it because of racism, biases or the government’s rules that are making these things happen today in the world.

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