Friday, August 23, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

Running a start-up is hard work. Especially when your co-owners are 7- and 8-year-olds. We spent most of our time in meetings - very short meetings - and working in collaborative groups to develop our schedule, procedures, and organize our space. Ownership requires a lot of thought, communication and decision making.

We began the week working on our schedule. After identifying the things that could not be changed, we began to list all the things our business had to do and wanted to do. This resulted in a rather long list of academic subjects, but also included time for project-based learning, game-based learning, blogging and genius hour. I really didn't have to lead the discussion toward including these "subjects." They wanted to make sure there was time in our day for them. Ultimately, we settled on a fairly traditional schedule Monday through Thursday and left Friday for Genius Day - yes, they are spending 20% of their workweek engaged in projects they are passionate about. I couldn't be more pleased.

Procedures were addressed as the need arose. And by the end of the week, we still don't have a list of rules or agreements on the wall. That doesn't mean we don't have any, they just weren't the focus of the week. We did create procedures for having discussions, actively listening, and being a critical friend. We practiced them during the week as we dealt with the problems that came up. Funny how that worked out.

To facilitate our discussions, we needed space and our room was not set up to accommodate our need to gather in a common area. We had some desks in the way. This was our biggest problem of the week. I decided as Chief Learning Officer, that I wanted to have the flexibility to group in a square, rectangle, triangle or circle for discussions. We started our first project by addressing our spacial problem: I wonder if it's possible for 24 kids to sit in these shapes in our room; and how large would the space have to be.

This is the kind of authentic problem-solving activity I love to incorporate. We first had to determine how much space each child needed to sit. Using a yardstick, I took some random samples and created a line plot. Our data showed that 18" was the most frequent measurement, but we decided to use 20" so our knees didn't touch. They then set to work figuring out what the perimeter of the shape would have to be to accommodate 24 students in each shape. It was amazing to see them immediately get to work, taking meter sticks, graph paper and rulers to the task.

But the highlight of the activity was when three students arrived at a solution. The first to determine that we would need a square with 120" on each side wasn't the gifted and talented kids, nor the math boys or the right answer gang. It was two English Language Learners and one of the students who scored least proficient on last year's standardized test. These students fearlessly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and took risks. I wish you could have seen the look on the faces of the class when these three students taught me how to find the perimeter of the square necessary to accommodate the class. It was priceless. I have never been so proud.

I wasn't just proud of the students who solved the problem first. The rest of the class was genuinely happy for their colleagues - even the competitive math whizzes, who realized that they had made a mistake early on and were able to explain how it had caused them to arrive at the wrong answer. (They started with 18" not 20.") They accepted their mistake, learned from it, and moved on. I realized then that the entrepreneurial spirit had taken hold.

Funny thing about giving student's ownership. They usually step-up to the task. Throughout the week they made meaningful decisions that directly effect how they are going to learn, what they are going to learn, what behavior is expected, and how they are going to work together. They solved problems in real-time. I'd say week one was a success.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic ideas Paul! I am blown away by what you are doing and am inspired to be more courageous in my teaching. Thanks