More Tenacious than the Gentleman from Indiana

The Gist:

  • Something happened in class today that surprised me.
  • Students chose to work together.
  • They had an out I probably would have availed myself of, but they didn’t take it.

The Whole Story:

By all accounts, they shouldn’t have done it.

Just the same, 8 students sat in a group in my first period class today and worked on a seemingly insolvable problem.

For the last six weeks or so of class, my students have been researching problems or issues in the world that they thought deserved attention. Nothing was off the board. In fact, the whole thing started by putting every problem they could think of on the board in my classroom with no filter for ideas that might otherwise have gotten at least a jeer or two.

For six weeks they’ve been working largely independently to understand these problems. They’ve been asking questions, mining information and putting it here and here on their class blogs.

The whole thing’s led to some difficult conversations about what happens when you begin to lose interest in something you care about, what to do when you feel like you’ve been scratching at the surface so long  you’re out of fingernails and other such problems.

It’s been an interesting stretch of learning how to write in a new medium and research in mediums old and new.

Last week, we moved to Phase II. Each student was required to prepare a fact sheet on his or her individual problem. I almost told them what a fact sheet was and how it could be formatted, then I remembered the Interwebs exists and let them figure it out on their own.

Following the fact sheets, they were given a solution organizer asking them to track causes, effects, solutions, main players, etc.

Their research fed the fact sheets which fed the solution organizers.

Today, things got a little more interesting, they got their solution groups.

After polling everyone on their topics, I went through and assigned groups based on perceived commonalities. In today’s class, this meant:

  • Inhumane Acts
  • Health
  • Violence
  • Climate
  • Social Issues

After they’d seen their groups, I told the students I realized my impression may not be the correct one and I was open to rearrangements. In particular, I sat waiting for the Social Issues group. With eight members, it’s the largest group in the class and contains the topics:

  • animal abuse
  • abortion
  • stem cells
  • natural disaster response
  • poverty
  • overpopulation
  • education

As the name implies, the Solution Groups are charged with looking at the commonalities of their problems and identifying where strategic additional pressure would lead to a shared improvement in the identified area of need. Solve many problems with one action, rather than asking people to do many things to solve many problems.

Ten minutes in, Social Issues was still talking things out. I went over to check in, “You know, if you think this group needs to divide into smaller groups with more commonalities, I’m cool with that.”

“No,” said they, “We’re working on it.”

And they were. It was weird.

Look back up at that list, I certainly have. I cannot conceive an application of pressure that would catalyze solutions to all of those issues.

Still, I’ve a group of students who will be coming back tomorrow to give it another go.

Tonight, they’re looking at this article and each member is drafting three possible group goals that match the criteria.

It’s as though no one told them they couldn’t do it.

You won’t hear it from me.

4 thoughts on “More Tenacious than the Gentleman from Indiana

  1. Hey… look at that. Disqus comments.I am always amazed at how groups seem to form around the most difficult problems. On the whole, I prefer to figure things out on my own. I fear that others will not have the same level of passion (I don't care so much that they disagree with me) or that they will mock my sincerity in trying to figure something out. The one thing that kills a group more often than not is apathy or sarcasm for the task at hand. It gives people a way out too easily. And yet, this group was so earnestly engaged. I love seeing that. I look forward to seeing what solution they come up with as well.

    • I've certainly seen apathy and sarcasm in high school students working together. I tried to head that off in this project by having them attach themselves to individual topics about which they felt passionate. That's certainly been visible as they've been working.One of the things I remarked to Hannah, my intern, was the level of investment. They naturally moved from an individual mindset to working interdependently. The discussion continued today and their dedication to staying together went undaunted. It was a sight to see.The thing I notice as different is the individual investment. That doesn't happen enough as we work in groups. As I work through Season 1 of _The Wire_, I'm struck by how many police officers are attached to the detail who lack McNulty's clear resolve to attack this case with all he has.I'd like to imagine we all got into this teaching gig because of some sense of calling or passion or curiosity. When I work with teachers who lack any or all of those qualities, all I want to do is ask them why they became teachers to see if they remember.

      • I think that probably they remember, but I don't think that everyone getsinto teaching for noble reasons. Nor do I think that they have to. I thinkthat you can find passion in something that you didn't originally have. Ithink that you can create that investment even if it was something that justfell into your lap.However, I think that you do have to find it, just like your students had tofind their entrance into being responsible for what they were doing. I thinkthat anything you can do without passion for any length of time, really issucking your life away (and sucking the lives of others as well).

  2. Pingback: Time I was Wrong #3,596,897 at Autodizactic

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