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Launch
By Mark Heintz
Sep 6, 2019

 Day 19

Today was LAUNCH DAY! I was heavily influenced by A.J. Juliana and John Spencer’s work, hence the term Launch. For the past few days, the students have been wrapping up their initial inquires and finally got to “launch” them today. It’s been a process.  At the start of the year, I was intentionally vague on what each student had to do. I wanted the process to be theirs. If I imposed my desires or put requirements on length or the like, they would not be doing it for themselves, nor making it the way they envision it should be; But, they would be doing it rather for me.

Over the past few weeks, I fielded a lot of students questions. How is this being graded? It’s not. Do I need to add more? It depends on what you are trying to do. How should I present this? Again, it depends on what you are trying to do. What’s a good source? Let’s look at the cites you are using and look together. What should the length be? How much do you need to get your point across? What is my point of view on this topic? What do you believe about it?

The one question that caused me to pause, and I was asked this question by a lot of students was, What should I research? I’m not sure I would have been able to answer this question as a high school student. It’s a harder question to answer than I thought. I thought every student would have jumped at the opportunity to use class time to explore things they were interested in. But, I was wrong.

In the beginning of the unit, I used a QFT to spark interest in a vast array of different topics. For many of my students they developed questions that interested them. But to the few that didn’t know where to start, they struggled.  I did my best to probe them to find something of interest, but to sustain an interest in a topic for a subject they just started has proven to be difficult.

In this whole process, I found that students are programmed to do what we say. The students I have this year are very compliant, to a fault. They aren’t sure what they are interested in or what they want to pursue. They almost want worksheets because there is a “work” to complete and the thinking is usually linear.  This launch cycle has helped erode a piece of compliance, but I’m not naive enough to believe that has helped them move away from it.

On launch day, students displayed their learning and questions through drawings, PowerPoint presentations, two formal speeches, a video, essays, and compliation of pictures with descriptions. It was freeing to see the different ways the student chose to present their new understandings. 

Process

The students moved to another’s presentation. They read through the presentation and came up with as many probing questions as they possibly could.  Then, they explained another’s project to a group of four. The group then asked more questions. They jotted all of the questions on a sheet of paper for the person to review. Afterwards, they rotated to another table and repeated the process.

The students were not commenting on each other’s projects, but rather asking questions. From these questions, the students were gaining a diverse perspective outside their own narrative. They had different people look at their project who could ask questions from their perspective.

The Good

I walked around the room and wrote as much of the conversations that took place. Dominica stated,

I don’t feel pressured.

Historically, AP World History is a tough class. For her to say this validates what I have been trying to do. I feel I am honoring them as human beings and creating conditions that people learn best in. At least for this project. After spending a few weeks with my students in these conditions, I know they have read and written more than I have ever had my students do in the first month of school.

Another highlight was that they got to pick what they researched and learn about without restrictions on how they would share their learning.  With that, another student said,

I actually have to think about I am doing.

This comment goes back to what I highlighted earlier. I’m not telling them what to think or exactly how to format every detail.

Needs Improvement

Some of the students suggested that there should be a partner they check-in with more frequently, almost daily, to ensure they are moving towards a finished project. All most like a buddy system to help them along the way. Some of the projects lacked a voice or cohesion and were hard to follow.  Having a partner would mitigate some of that if they checked in with someone daily.

When the students were reviewing the project, they commented they needed a way to categorize each presentation. The students sat down and reviewed a project that they weren’t interested in or wanted to know.  They wished that for future launch days, they would know what each project was about.

Overall, I’m happy with the time I gave to it and I hope I continue to do that.  Thanks for reading.

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