How Do We Help Our Students Choose their Challenge?

In school, everything was given to me.  My English teacher gave me worksheets, the lunch lady gave me the same food as everyone else, and my math teacher gave me the same textbook my peers used.  I was not allowed to choose anything, not even the person I sat next to.  Because choice was not in my school equation, learning was not fun or engaging.  In fact, I never really tried to learn more than what I was told to because I didn’t care.  I wasn’t invested in my learning process.  One of the reasons I wanted to become a teacher was so that I could offer my students choices so they could make learning fun for themselves.

In STEM class today, our students began working on the science phase of the Weather Unit.  We constructed the weather unit in a way that allowed the students to choose their projects.  For each of the three learning objectives, the students can choose from three teacher-created project ideas and one student-created project.  The projects were created using Bloom’s Taxonomy to offer students levelled choices.  For the first objective regarding air masses and how their interactions result in weather changes, the students can choose to create a unique song or rap, build a model, or create a foldable, or generate a self-created idea to explain their understanding of the standard.  This allows those students who struggle to understand the material and content, choices, while also challenging those accelerated students with higher-level critical thinking projects.  The students who like to think outside the room the box is in have the ability to design their own project as well.  Choices are everywhere in the science portion of the unit to allow for student engagement and challenge by choice.

While the students chose their projects in class today, one student said, “I don’t want to do the foldable project because it’s too easy and taking the lazy way out.  I’m no good at rapping and so the song project isn’t for me either.  I’m going with the model one because I have a great idea.”  So, the students appreciate the options provided.  Our international students needed guidance to select a project that would best suit their needs and appropriately challenge them.  The foldable project allows this.  The right choices were needed for this phase of the unit to be embraced by the students.  They were excited by the opportunities provided.  While many of the students had selected their project before we even began working in class, everyone was able to find the right choice for them.

The students were mostly focused and on task in class.  They were finding songs, designing models, and researching air masses and fronts.  The visual learners could play with models used in a mini-lesson at the start of class, the auditory learners could watch videos, and the readers could research from various text sources.  The boys were DOING science that they chose.  They asked insightful questions and used their peers as resources.  It was inspiring to watch them work.  We, as the teachers, were guides and observers.  The students did the work.

Had we not offered our students choices in how they learn the material and demonstrate their understanding, would they have been as engaged during class?  Would they have been excited?  Would they have worked as diligently in class had we simply lectured at them or had them read a packet regarding the material?  By using choice, did we inspire our students to challenge themselves without realizing it?  Did we offer too many choices or just the right amount?  Is choice the answer when teaching our students?  Is project-based learning effective for all students?

While I’d like to think I know the answers to the questions that circle my mind as I reflect on today’s class, maybe I’m wrong.  Perhaps these choices are too vast and broad.  Maybe the students won’t be able to effectively display the appropriate knowledge because there is too much wiggle room.  What if the students don’t read the instructions or spend too long researching or watching videos that they don’t actually finish a project?  How will I assess them?  Are the risks worth the outcome?  Having done projects like this in the past, I’m hopeful that the students will be able to learn the skills needed to be successful weather students.  Offering choice in how the students challenge themselves is a vital way to bring about genuine learning.


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