As elementary teachers, I think that we can all admit that we like a good project. As a culminating task, projects can be a great way for students to demonstrate their learning of the content of a unit. When open, projects can allow for students to share this learning in a variety of ways. In the past, I’ve offered students an opportunity to get feedback at certain points in their projects but I would admit that the larger reflection piece would happen at the end. I often felt good about them sharing what they would have done differently but this year, I’m trying to switch things up a bit. I’m wondering what a difference it would make if students were given time to sit and reflect on their work at multiple opportunities throughout the process, and then use those moments of reflection as jump-off points for further learning. How might we offer students meaningful opportunities for reflection throughout the learning process, in order to further inform their learning? In this post, I’m sharing my thoughts about what I call reflection as learning.
Feedback From Peers
In all of my design projects with students, there are opportunities for them to gather feedback on their ideas from their peers. Usually, after they have brainstormed their ideas and come up with the design that they are most passionate about, they create short storyboards to share their ideas with others. This often allows for students who are a little more reluctant to share all of their ideas, the opportunity to sit with one, further develop it, and be ready to share it in pictures and words with others.
This year, since part of my assignment, is Media Literacy through STEM, I have been working with the Grade 2s and 3s on a building challenge that focuses on movement (Grade 2) and strong and stable structures (Grade 3). For our challenge, students have been asked to create a structure that can move objects from one place to the next, using a force – either a push or pull. They also can’t use their hands to move the objects onto their structure. Along the way, we have had lessons about different types of movement; simple machines; structures and their purposes; and stable shapes and materials. From there, students used this knowledge to develop an idea for what they would create for their challenge. When it came time to share their ideas with their peers, it was great to hear the buzz in the classrooms as they spoke about their designs and heard from others about theirs. For the first time in a while, I heard one student ask another if they could take a part of their solution and change their idea. The student was ok with the sharing of their idea and I watched as the other student quickly made changes to their design. This happened several times in one class and in this first opportunity for reflection on their projects, I saw just how much these students were willing to change around their ideas in order to make them even better. Often with design projects, I have found that students are reluctant to change their ideas and almost stick with what they first designed, even after getting feedback from others. This was not the case with this group. I was excited, to say the least.
Time to Implement
I’m willing to admit that this is one of the areas that I need to grow in as an educator. Offering students the time required to successfully implement the changes needed to demonstrate learning from feedback given. Most times, I feel like I won’t have enough time if we have a project that goes on for months. Instead, I’ve settled for students sharing with me at the end – either in writing or an exit interview – what they would have changed, rather than allowing them the extra time to actually do the change.
With the Grade 2s and 3s, after students finished their designs, we did a rapid paper prototype. Given a piece of paper, glue, tape, and scissors, students were tasked with creating a 3D model of their structure in a limited amount of time. It didn’t have to be perfect but the goal was to see if what they designed would be easily built (feasibility) and what it might require as they also consider the found materials available. During the rapid prototyping, I quickly got a sense that some students were stuck on where to begin. A few were stressed, thinking about the fact that they had limited time. For some, they quickly got in the zone and began building, creating and making changes as they went. Once finished, it was time yet again for the students to reflect.
When reflecting, both orally and in writing, I use guiding questions to help students to think about their experience and also think about their next steps. After our paper prototyping, this was no different.
This time, students were asked the following six questions:
- In the space below, tell me about the structure that you built.
- What was the easiest part of building your paper prototype?
- What was the most challenging part of building your paper prototype?
- If you could build your paper prototype again, what would you do differently?
- Now that you have built a prototype of your structure, what steps will you take when it comes to building your real structure? What do you have to keep in mind?
- List the found materials that you will need to build your structure.
Some of the answers were fascinating.
- One student was surprised at how anxious they were about building “the perfect structure” and that when it came time to build, their anxiety prevented them from starting to actually build what they wanted. Their next step is to look back at what they hoped to design and see whether or not it is feasible and to plan out the steps of what they will do first, second, etc.
- Another student realized that materials are limited. While they were unrolling large amounts of tape for their paper prototype, they realized just how much they were wasting and are considering what else they might use instead to strengthen their structure. This led to us having a conversation about the use of materials for building projects and why we were mainly trying to reuse materials that were around the school. We also discussed other ways of fastening materials.
- One student thought that what they built for their paper prototype was much better than what they had designed and will be taking some time to re-draw their design prior to building. They want to make sure that their thoughts as they built were being captured so that they would remember them later. The paper prototyping for them was an opportunity to build with concrete materials and gave them more ideas as they worked with the materials.
The students have been building their actual structures for the past week and it’s been such a pleasure to watch. Next, we will be moving into the Media Literacy part of our work which will see them creating commercials for their structures. I can’t wait to see what they come up with and I do know that through reflection – both for students and myself – the learning will continue.