Inquiring Minds…Let Them Loose

As a middle school Humanities teacher, I have to admit that when I first started to watch Dan Meyer’s TEDxNYED video I was a little curious about what I would learn from a presentation by a high school math teacher. However, after his entertaining introduction, I started to realize that the core of what he was getting at was something that I should definitely reflect on in my teaching. ..inquiry. And I realized that I too often give my students too much information and too much support. I think as teachers we want to nurture our students and we don’t like to see them students struggle…but isn’t that also where the learning takes place? I’m also really examining my view of ‘technology for learning’ in my classroom. What do I really see as the role of technology in my classroom? How do I bring the two together? Then there was the Popplet incident…

A few weeks ago a colleague told me about an online mind-mapping application called Popplet that she was trying out with her students. I took a look at it and also saw that it had options that would allow for students to collaborate on creating a ‘popplet’ (basically a graphic organizer). My students have been doing literature circles and collecting vocabulary words, developing discussion questions, creating illustrations, finding interesting quotes and passages and connecting them to our social studies topic of feudalism. This would be a great tool for them to use to collaborate and build a virtual mind map for their novel and demonstrate their learning. I spent time trying out Popplet (I have 3 different accounts now), checking out the different options, trying to anticipate any issues the students might have with it, creating an example, and even putting together some step by step instructions. I presented Popplet to my students and we began creating accounts but then there were issues with Flash and internet connections and I became very frustrated that this wasn’t going as planned after all my hard work. As I moved around the room trying to help students, I heard a voice say, “Can we just use Prezi? Some of us already have accounts.” I am embarrassed to say that I was so determined to get them on to Popplet that I mumbled something about how using Popplet was going to be so great and I’m sure we can get this figured out and that I would email IT right then….I now realize that student had it right. He saw what I wanted them to accomplish (creating a visual presentation of the important aspects of their lit circle novel) and there was another way to accomplish it.

My error was to let the technology be the center of attention (wow…look how cool this is!!) instead of the inquiry. I really should have started with the inquiry…the problem… and presented that to the students. The ‘problem’ isn’t about how to figure out Popplet…it’s about a small group of students figuring out how they are going to work together to decide what to share about this novel they have been reading and putting into a digital representation.

Toward the end of Dan Meyer’s presentation he gives suggestions to math teachers which I feel could be used by all teachers:

  1. Use multimedia.
  2. Encourage student intuition.
  3. Ask the shortest question you can.
  4. Let students build the problem.
  5. Be less helpful.

So now I’m going to focus on taking a different approach. I’m going to present the goal to my students and then let them figure it out. And for some of my students I think this will be liberating. For others, they will have lots of questions….but that’s what I want.

(I do hope at least one group wants to try to use Popplet. But, if they don’t, I’ll have to be okay with it….I will be okay with it!)

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One Response to Inquiring Minds…Let Them Loose

  1. Julie Bredy says:

    What an honest reflection on your teaching; what I think this course is about. I definitely related to your Popplet moment. I know I’ve said things to students before that I later realized didn’t support my real beliefs about learning. I will be teaching 7th grade humanities next year so I hope to keep in touch.

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