Category Archives: student centered

Student Designed Curriculum

Piles of sorted standards

Last year was my first year at a new PBL high school. Before school started I created a year-long scope and sequence of what topics our projects would be and what the final products would be. The projects gradually went from very specific teacher designed to more open ended ones. I included lots of student choice along the way and ended the year with open ended products such as our art fair.

I knew from the beginning of last year that I would be teaching the same students for two years moving up with them for this year. One of my goals was after students understood the PBL process to invite them to help me design projects. So at the end of the year I asked for volunteers and got around 10 per class (out of 50 students).

We set aside a time to meet during work time at the end of last year and I showed them a list of this year’s state standards. I had the standards all cut out into strips and asked students to sort them by topic which they had fun with. Then we spent another hour talking about project ideas, products, and authentic audiences.

So this year I have a very general scope and sequence based on the students suggestions. I have specifically designed the first three projects (the first one is not really a project, but a review technique that deserves a separate post, the second is the #MYparty election project which had to be planned since it is being implemented around the country, and the third is a more open-ended one on 9/11) but the rest of my year is fairly wide open.

I plan to continue to gauge student interests and get their help in planning the rest of the year as far as project ideas, driving questions, products, and authentic audience. Once again I do not want to limit students’ motivation, interests, or creativity by imposing all of my ideas on them. I am excited by the unknown paths that students and I will discover together this year. I truly believe that this is the most important part of any good curriculum: allowing it to be student-designed and focused.

I leave you with a quote from Postman and Weingartner “Unless an inquiry is perceived as relevant by the learner, no significant learning will take place.”

"I don’t know either"

Today I think we had a breakthrough in one of my classes. We are about a week into our PBL unit on genocide. I changed up the driving question from “Why do people hate?” to “Why do people tolerate hate?” I really want students to focus on the lack of action by the world to stop genocide in the last century and move them to DO SOMETHING about it.

South Sudan Slaves

We started off the first day with one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan as a guest who shared his story with us. The next day we talked about the scandal at Penn State and how no one intervened to help the victims. Then I introduced the driving question and we looked at this slideshow and students generated their own essential questions in groups. I told students that they would make mini-documentaries as their final product but it was going to be up to them to decide on what to do with them and to find their audience.

We spent the next few days researching. I got some pushback from some students that they did not know what “to do.” So against my goals of student-centered approach I created a template (again) to help guide them in their research.

But… we talked about my goals and purpose of the class moving from teacher directed and centered to student-centered. I told them that worksheets are the opposite of creativity.

One of my students spoke up and said that the problem was not with the research but that they did not know what their videos are supposed to look like.

I paused and responded, “I don’t know either.”

You should have seen the look on their faces. I mean how can the teacher not know what he wants for the final project.

I told them if I told them what I wanted that is exactly what they would do. But I wanted them to be creative and come up with their own ideas. I wanted them to make a video with a message for the world, not for me. Slowly I could see the lights go one. I think we turned a corner in class today. I think they are starting to understand what this class can be like if they take control and guide it instead of me….

To be continued…