Instead of pushing a boulder up a hill, I was trying to get students to transfer their Photo Journal pictures from their own devices to a Google Document.
That proved to be far more problematic than I expected it to be. The reasons for that were many - student excuses, technology failures, network insufficiency - and not very interesting.
Today, my final class went into the lab to complete the same task. The LAST thing I wanted was a repeat of feeling like Sisyphus. So this is what we did.
Before we went to the lab, I presented them with the following instructions, and they took a picture or copied it down:
- Create a document through the tmiclass.com first period page called "Photo Journal." Upload all the pictures to that document.
- Create a blog through your google account and send me a link to your first post (about anything).
Then the twist:
- If you ask me zero questions, I will give you 5 extra points.
- If you ask me one question only, I will give you 2 extra points.
- If your team all finishes (i.e. each person has created a document and prepared it for the photos and I have an email with a link to your blog post) before the end of class, your entire team gets 10 additional points.
We had no idea how (or if) that would work. I expected most students to cave and ask questions. After all, I gave them barely enough information to do each task. We also have had almost zero lab time this year.
I did not expect that today would be the best day I've had in a computer lab ever. Like in my entire decade of teaching.
A few times, a student raised their hand to ask a question. I would walk over and say, "Do you want to use a question?" and most of the time, their team would tell them to put their hand down, and then would answer any question that came up.
I did make an exemption for a few odd technical issues, but even those were mostly solved with creative thinking and teamwork. In the end, only two students used a question. Out of 30.
Another of my shattered expectations was that teams would decide to hoard all the knowledge and not help other groups. I didn't present it as a competition, but you could easily view it that way.
I underestimated the strength of the school and class community. Hugely underestimated.
At the end of class, I asked how many students were helped by a member of their group. Nearly every hand went up. Then I asked how many were helped by a member of another group. Nearly as many hands went up. In fact, three students seemed to help someone in every single group. These weren't the kids I would have selected as being the most likely to help others, but again - I greatly underestimated them.
After an hour, only three groups out of six were completely finished. But the really beautiful part was that no one was left behind. A few students had photo problems (far fewer than in the other two classes though), and a few weren't able to create a blog on the school computer (yay Windows 7 with very little memory and Chrome not allowed!). But everyone knew how to do both tasks.
I wish I could say that Andrew and I intended this to be an object lesson pulled directly from the curriculum we've been teaching. We didn't, but it's pretty awesome that it worked out that way.
On Monday, we finished Dan Ariely's TED talk called "What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?" Ariely says that when tasks are meaningful, we care about the product more. When we are forced to face challenges and overcome obstacles, the result is far more meaningful than if we had been walked through or taken the easy way.
What we did today, wholly on accident, was create meaning. They had to create the instructions, follow them, and then help each other do the same. Because of that, they found the process far more enjoyable and the product far more worthwhile. It was pretty cool to see the level of engagement and excitement in the room. I didn't hear a negative comment about ANYTHING the entire hour.
And it was pretty freaking sweet to not feel like I spent the whole period shoving a massive boulder up a hill. Or explaining how to upload a photo to a document for the 15309324896 time.