For the 5th-graders' first semester exhibition, students examined the essential question, "What does it mean to be an explorer?" As part of their inquiry, they brainstormed the many areas, both physical and conceptual, that someone could explore. This included the frontier of space, becoming a subject the students became fascinated with throughout the year.
As we transitioned into planning our fourth quarter exhibition, we wanted to tap into this interest without being overly focused on just learning facts about space. Often times, when a project is too driven by the content it can prevent deeper learning for taking root and instead, evolve into simple memorization and recitation of information.
Our solution to this challenge was to have space be the vehicle for students to engage with the design thinking and the communication literacy toolkits. Students were challenged with picking a single topic on space and creating a one hour lesson teaching this topic to another cohort in our community. Our essential questions during this process were, "What are the constraints and requirements of sharing knowledge?" and "What does quality learning look like?"
Students quickly picked intriguing topics like black holes, supernovae, and space travel. As they began with research, students had to reconcile how to condense and simplify the vast, complicated subject matter so that it was tailored to their students learning needs. The next step was to start planning out a lesson outline that took into account the grade levels of their learners. They discovered that this was affected by both the background knowledge of their class, as well as their physical and emotional needs. Their goal was to create a lesson that neither overestimated nor underestimated their learners' abilities, allowing for maximum engagement. Finally, the 5th-graders had to think critically about how they wanted to establish norms and expectations, communicate instructions, and develop time management.
When the big day finally arrived, the 5th-graders had an impactful experience stepping into the role of educator. In addition to having fun and feeling proud of their hard work, they realized that teaching is much more complicated than simply talking to a group about something you know. In our debrief after the lessons, students discussed how it required them to use all of the mindsets, especially being adaptable and collaboration. When we further explored why collaboration was important, we realized that teaching is really a relationship between the educator and the learner. What we determined is that learning is most effective when students are allowed to be involved and participate in this relationship. The times the 5th-graders felt most successful as teachers were when their learners were able to interact with the material, share their own observations, and make connections to their own knowledge.
In the end, our takeaway was that education is a field that requires us to tap into each of the toolkits and mindsets that we have acquired over our time here at Sycamore. All in all, we discovered that educators can play the role of guide to learners exercising their own agency in the role of, as luck would have it, explorers.