How Can I Provide Students with Exploration Time in Class?

I still remember when I first received the Ewoks treetop village house toy for Christmas when I was a young lad.  Rather than play with it right away, I observed it in awe.  It was exactly as I pictured it based on how it was depicted in the movies.  Amazing.  Then, I began to explore each part of the plastic toy.  It came with some Ewok figures as well, but I didn’t play with them right away.  I wanted to really understand the Ewok structure first, before I began just playing with it.  I took the time to explore it before I actually played with it.  Growing up, I did this with most new toys or things I bought or received as gifts.  I carefully inspected the headphones of the new Sony Sport yellow cassette player I had purchased before I even put in a tape to listen to.  That’s how I was as a young boy and preadolescent me.  I was curious.

While not every student or child is curious like me, as everyone learns through different modalities, the neuroscience of learning tells us that students need time to explore new things, gadgets, applications, programs, projects, etc. before actually starting to do work.  Exploration or play time is crucial in helping students solve problems, figure things out, and learn to be a self-sufficient learner.

Today, in my Humanities class, the students went to the library to learn how to effectively find and locate print resources for their I-Search Project.  They then had time to explore the books they found to determine how useful they would be in helping the boys answer their guiding question.  Some of the students found a source right away and started documenting its details in their I-Search Document on Google Drive while others struggled to find an appropriate text or perused the book they did find to check its relevance to their guiding question.  Every student seemed to be at a different stage in the process while we were in the library today.  About half of the boys were completely engaged looking through the books they found, reading the text and looking over diagrams and illustrations.  Some of the students asked for help to find a resource while others needed to peruse several different sources to assess their usefulness.  It was quite a sight to observe.  Because we provided the students with a double-block period to locate and explore print resources in the library, they took advantage of really digging into the books they had found.

Was this exploration time necessary?  Could they have found appropriate resources in just one period?  Sure, many of the students could have found resources quickly and been able to move back into the classroom after one period.  Did we need to spend two periods in the library today?  Did it make a difference?  Are the students now more engaged with their topics and resources because we provided them with ample play time?  At this point, it’s hard to assess if spending more time in the library was beneficial or not.  Tomorrow’s class period will hopefully shed some light on this issue as they will continue working on their I-Search Project then.  However, from my past experiences with exploration or play time, the work that follows tends to be more effective because they more genuinely understand and are engaged with the task at hand or topic being discussed or learned about.  So, my hypothesis is that tomorrow’s Humanities class will be more productive because the students had time to delve into their topics in a meaningful manner in the library today.


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