Ever said to them or him or her, "I'm sorry, we don't have time for that question. We have work to do"...but when you reflected on it later, you regretted not MAKING that time?
That happened to me for years.
I had a routine early in my career called Check In. We did it at the start of class every day, and we took those random off-the-wall questions that students had and shared them, found answers, talked about college, relationships, parents, school...pretty much everything.
But as with many things, I felt like it took too much time from curriculum so I stopped doing it.
That has felt like a mistake ever since.
So today, inspired by Jon Corippo's mini-research projects, we began a week of Flash Research Projects.
Every day this week, for the last 25 minutes of class, students choose a question they want the answer to and find the answer. I encouraged them to choose something they thought of during class today. We read from Wednesday Wars (which has lots of potentially rich research questions), worked on an independent reading project, and watched the beginning of Walking the Nile, a documentary about a man walking the entire length of the Nile River over nine months.
We are preparing for our study of Egypt, and I thought that documentary gave a really good geographical background to how important the Nile is in Egypt (and to much of the rest of East Africa). It also brought up questions about the length, breadth, depth and temperature of the river, the numerous explorers who tried to find the source of the Nile, the animals living along its banks (and in it), and even how animals are killed in order for us to eat them (there is a part where a goat is killed - off screen of course - in order for them to eat it, and students found the idea of an animal being killed and then eaten very difficult...even though they eat meat every day).
After deciding on a question, students make a copy of my Google Drawing (which they then share back with me), and then use the time they have remaining to find three credible websites to answer their question, one image/map/diagram/drawing that helps answer the question, and write one paragraph that answers the question. If they had trouble finding information, there is a place to explain that as well. That's part of the journey - learning that some questions are not answerable, and that some have contradictory answers.
But the real beauty of this project is that it takes these small pearls of information that students might not think of on their own, and it gives them the freedom to find answers. There is hardly a day that goes by where I don't use google to answer a question that arises in my daily life and conversations. I model that in class all the time.
It also creates room for the detours, the rabbit trails, and the interesting side-streets within our class time. It gives students the freedom to learn something that THEY CHOSE. There is a lot of power in student choice.
And because it is a FLASH project, it starts and finishes in that short time period - 20-25 minutes. If students don't finish, they don't finish. If they want to continue at home, they can, but the point isn't to always complete it. The point is to encourage students to come up with good questions, to test those questions, and to find the best ways to answer those questions through research.
It teaches important research skills, but in small enough bursts that I can give them meaningful feedback after each round. Too many students used an unreliable source? We can do a mini-lesson on that. Some students didn't use time effectively? They get another chance at it after I give them some tips. They will get better at it, faster at it, and more confident in their techniques.
The time commitment here - about 80-100 minutes a week - is similar to my old strategy Check In. But instead of students asking ME questions, they are finding their own source of answers. Their access to me ends when their course is over. So teaching them how to find their own answers is an investment.
And this time, it's well worth the time we spend.