This is the latest in a series of blogs by a partnering cohort teacher.
By Sue Mellon, Allegheny Valley School District
As an educator, I found this inquiry-based work extremely rewarding. I was a witness to many “ah ha” moments and I received an email from a student over the weekend before the deliverables were brought to school that stated “Mrs. Mellon, I am so excited. I can hardly wait for you to see my project.”
Considering that I basically said “you have a research project to do, but I am unsure of your topic,” I thought that the students and their parents handled things very positively. Ms. Bellavance and I fielded many parent questions/calls/emails in the days leading up to the deliverable due date. In one of my conversations with a parent, I explained that the goal was to support their child through a thinking based process. I was overjoyed when the parent said that they can definitely see that Ms. Bellavance and I accomplished this goal.
The deliverable was a tri-board which is an adaptation from the National History Day Competition. There were requirements to have three primary sources. Students were to explain the sources and explain the relationship between the source and their question. Students were also to write about an internet search or resource that was not helpful to their work. Even after the deliverables were brought to school, we stayed focused on process. If a student was missing something from the project checklist, either Ms. Bellavance or I helped them with completion.
One of the most difficult parts of doing open ended work is having no idea where the process is going or going into areas that I know little about. One young man’s parents immigrated from Turkmenistan and he was fascinated by his great great grandfather’s cunning and bravery in battles. My knowledge of world history is weak and I have no experience with the history of Turkmenistan. In the range of years for his great great grandfather’s time, there was much upset. I was definitely coming across accounts of invasions/revolts/uprisings with bias for one side or another. I felt that I was tiptoeing around blindly. I was blinded by my own ethnocentric education. I managed by finding the most factual based accounts of fighting and sending them home with hand written notes stating “I am sorry that I have limited knowledge of the history of Turkmenistan. Does this article that I found put us in the correct time for his great great grandfather’s bravery?”
As our process continued, I learned that this young man’s great great grandfather witnessed the murder of both his parents at the tender age of eleven. This ten year old’s great great grandfather’s cunning was managed through faking his own death three times. This is a story with great heart and I am humbled to know it.
I rejoice in the knowledge that all the students showed great heart in their work. Here is a Google file with pictures of their projects.