Monday, November 21, 2011

"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...


  1. That was a powerful message you transmitted to the students when you said "I don't know". And actually, I think the message connects to the topic of genocide. if people thoought more independantly they wouldn't join the "horde mentality" and would be unable to slaughter their neighbors!

  2. Mike, I really like the subtle shift in your driving question. I think it gives you a nice social justice angle on your project that focuses students on human behavior and its causes. I also like the direction you offered that expanded the audience from just the instructor or others in the school to a message that would be received by the whole world. This is a very promising project. I'd really like to see what your students produce.

  3. Thanks Naomi and Jay, I definitely want to shift the focus to social justice. I will share what students come up with when they are done...

  4. I like your springboard question, "Why do people tolerate hate?" to introduce your lesson on genocide. I think your use of a guest speaker to give a first-hand account of genocide was a brilliant idea. In addition, your use of a current event, the Penn State scandal, was a good way to relate the issue to something relevant for your students. Although you provided a template for them to use in their research, I am glad that you are leaving the final project up to them entirely. This will allow your students to use their creativity and really come up with a project that they are proud of and have a sense of ownership in.

  5. I really like how you changed the main idea of your lesson to "Why do people tolerate hate?" I think it makes the students actually open their eyes and realize the bigger problem and want to do something about it.I liked The resources you chose to used with the lesson like the slideshow and the Lost Boys of Sudan . As a student who has never been in a PBL classroom, I probably would have had the same reaction as your students, confused and questioning what I really am supposed to be doing. But like Angela Pitts said above me, it is a good way for the student to show creativity and express new ideas of stop things like genocide.

  6. I like how you changed the lesson. I also like you answer being "I don't know either". I think it is good for the teacher to not fully know what they want. It leaves more room then having just a "textbook" answer. I am going to have to remember this when I have my own classroom that I need to be more student centered.

    Ash Baumann

  7. Mike, I wish I had any teacher like you when I was in HS. I can remember some teachers saying at the beginning of a semester, "I don't care what grade you get, it's just as easy for me to give you an E as it is an A. Motivational, huh! Anyway, I just stumbled onto your blog and love what you're doing for our country. Your "I don't know" reminds of what one of my former manager's used to say after giving me a new task with very broad instructions. He'd say "just give me a rock." Like you, he didn't want to constrain me, because he knew I'd put more detailed thought into the problem domain than he could. We need more teachers like you, and more managers like him:-)