Launching students into a new and unknown framework requires an certain amount of buy in. In order to persuade my students that our new system and project were going to be worth the work I chose to begin with a task statement. The purpose of the task statement was to garner interest, cause excitement, but leave some intrigue so students would be waiting for what came next.
The students had already had several class periods were we learned about Multiple Intelligence Theory and learned the basics of Question Formulation Technique. We held several class discussions about learning styles and how to “hack” their learning for the upcoming year.
With these key lessons in mind we began with the Task Statement.
The task statement is a hook into the looming project. I read this document with them and give them a few minutes to think the project before them. We again use question formulation technique to generate questions and answer the immediate unknowns that lie before us.
The driving questions that will set the path of our project are:
How Should Power Be Distributed in a Stable Society?
What is the Relationship Between People and Government?
These two questions set up out entire project. Through questions, research, and exploration of social contract theory students will breakdown and examine these questions and propose real world solutions.
This project will drive each group in a direction that they are passionate about. Allowing them to explore the world, current events and government programs they they have interests in. Finally, they will write out the proposal and share it with the class.
Each proposal will be unique and 100% student driven. When they emerge students will have a far better understanding of the world they live in and the ideals that set that foundation then I ever could have provided through lectures and worksheets.
The students are clearly apprehensive. They have never received a task statement before and the questions that they are asked to solve are HUGE. 8th grade students have never questioned IF people and governments have a relationship. They have grown up in the United States and have no reference for how other governments work. Their questions reflect these feelings as does the confused look on their faces.
The next step is to guide students into a brainstorming session.
How would we go about solving these problems? After giving some down time for contemplation students are start generating excellent responses. Within a few minutes students agree that we must look into the past, research the world around us and define what “stable” will mean to us.
We’ve already laid the ground work and I have barely spoken.
This is when I introduce the Celebration Criteria. I formatted this as a single line rubric to set the baseline goals of the project. In my first attempt at writing the celebration criteria I wrote all three columns of the rubric out like I would in any traditional rubric. I found the the “novice” and “apprentice” categories felt limiting to students. No matter what I tried the criteria sounded negative and I did not want students to launch a project with negativity at the start line. I also did not like putting my ideas of “expert” into the expert column. When students love their work they go about and beyond. How they choose to do that cannot be defined ahead of time.
I also decided to use a one line rubric, because it seemed less intimidating. I chose to put only the words that mattered on the page. The message seemed clearer.
These are our goals. This is what you will be accomplishing. This is the finish line in each “story”.
Students will use the criteria outlined in the celebration criteria to guide their project. They now know the beginning and the end. The middle will be determined in self – selected teams.
After combing through the celebration criteria we once more run a round of question formulation technique. Students take the time to re-read both documents write down their initial thoughts and and take stock of their feels. We write out questions and our main concerns and tackle them in teams.
Randomized groups are split up where they get to express their feelings unmonitored by a teacher and compile a list of questions to ask, points to clarify and concerns that they would like to express to me.
When we rejoin as a group, hopefully, everyone has felt that they have had time to express themselves and we can all start the project on a positive and excited note. Many kids are still apprehensive, but many are lured into the idea of have creative power over their own project.
There is a sense of electricity in the room that will explode in a shower of post its as students are unleashed to plan their own projects.
As a government teacher I always start the year with social contract theory. To me it is important to understand the foundational thoughts of western governments before we can explore the creation and execution of our government.
Every year I change the “outcomes” of this project. I always being with Question Formulation Technique, but the driving questions and product are different.
This year with some student virtual and some in my classroom I wanted to keep all students connected and collaborative. My goal is to have students grow and develop self-reliance, time management and confidence as they prepare to leave middle school and enter the new challenging high school setting.
Employing the task statement and celebration criteria have set the tone for the next class where students will be self-selecting groups based on self-determined qualities and skills and learning about how to use a Flap, or project board.