One of the things I love most about the ARCTIC Zone is a student’s ability to hit the reset button at the start of a new quarter. It isn’t often that students get that chance. In math, for example, because its content is so linear, if a student gets behind … they’re behind. There is no skipping ahead or starting over. It becomes a struggle for the student and for the teacher to help get that student “caught up.” It can be a deflating experience.
With project-based learning, the goal is always to complete each project, but to expect that every time is unrealistic and, quite frankly, unfair to students. There is far more learning to be done throughout the project process than can be measured by the project product. So with the start of each new quarter, we offer the option of hitting the reset button. We talk about that decision with each student, and we reflect on why it’s being made. Students write down what they learned about themselves and their projects throughout this quarter and what they will use to execute the next project in a more productive or successful way. Then they can breathe again. We watch them dive into their new project ideas with vigor and determination.
Fortunately for Andy and me, the reset button is open to us, as well. The ARCTIC Zone is in its fourth year, and every single quarter, we find ourselves discussing ways to improve our processes and expectations. I have to laugh because at the end of each of these talk sessions, where we adjust and tweak and change as we see fit, we always look at each other and say something along the lines of, “This is going to be so great – so much better than what we had before.” Although I believe we truly ARE sooooo much better than we were when we started in 2016, I am convinced our quarterly check-ins and improvement sessions are far from over.
We spent this past summer infusing our power standards into every step of the project process. Our thought was that it would help to align and connect the standard to the project in a more cohesive way for students. I remember the look we gave each other this fall, “I can’t wait to see this play out with projects this year.” In reality, we caused one of our own worst nightmares. We unintentionally sucked the excitement and enthusiasm out of every project by expecting standard “work” at the front end of every project. We watched all quarter as students became bogged down by standards and less and less engaged in their original ideas. Argh! What were we thinking???
Between first and second quarter, we worked frantically to redesign the project process once again. The absolute most important part about project-based learning is that students should be excited about their projects. Otherwise, what are we doing here? What a difference these small tweaks have made in just the first week of the quarter! Students have some great ideas in the works, and their confidence is soaring now as they’re cruising through the first few phases of the process. The work is still there. It just reveals itself in a different way and at a different time.
What I love most about making a huge change like this one in the middle of the year … Modeling quality reflection and revision. Explaining our rationale for designing things the way we did in the first place and then explaining our rationale for redesigning. Admitting to them we screwed up … big time. Proving to them once again we’re human and we want what’s best for them and their learning.
We can all use a redo once in a while…