Posts tagged motivation
The second semester started a few weeks ago here at the school where I teach. One of the real frustrations for me has been watching the enrollment in my second semester classes bottom out — conversations with students suggest that they are making this decision based largely on graduation requirements (they don’t need my courses to graduate). I had one particularly poignant conversation with a student this afternoon who asked, “why would someone sign up for the second semester? What do they get out of it? Are they just taking the class because they like it?”
In any event, sad though this is at a macro level, it has provided me with an opportunity to do what I enjoy most: build a project with my students. The few students remaining in my computer animation class and I are going to write, produce and animate a short film this spring. This is a project with more than a few steps, and no small amount of complexity. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the students can do this, and I’m expecting to have to step in to pull my own weight in this project as well. And I’m kind of looking forward to that. (I’m certainly teaching this class because I like it!)
In doing this, I started to map out the steps of the project in a variety of different tools. I experimented with a bunch of online options (BaseCamp, 5pm, LiquidPlanner, Tom’s Planner) and have ended up with a tool that Adam Seldow introduced me to back when we were working on EdTags: dotProject. It’s a quirky little open source project planner, that has a fairly extensive collection of community-produced add-ons. It runs on a standard PHP/MySQL installation. It lets me map out milestones, tasks (with dependencies on other tasks), and have my students log their work (and progress) in the tool.
…and it generates Gantt charts of the project. Which turned out, to my surprise, to be a shockingly effective visualization for my students this afternoon. They haven’t exactly been coming out swinging — they’ve only been working on this project in class, while I’m there to crack the whip. But when they saw a) the complexity of the project and b) that their progress bars were behind where today’s date line was on the chart and c) that now our projected date of completion is two weeks after our last class. And they got religion.
As I worked with dotProject some more this afternoon, I’m beginning to think that the logging feature are going to provide me with some really spectacular qualitative data for assessing these students, as well as allowing them to visualize their progress in an immediate and understandable way. I’m totally excited about this: it’s authentic learning, with assessment, with intrinsic motivation! Woo hoo!
Let’s hope that this high lasts….
I’ve been working and reworking this idea, and would rather get it out there short and sweet than turn it into an epic:
The hardest thing that I am doing right now as a teacher is to try to be less authoritative and expert in my own classroom. This springs from the realization last year that, as it is my inclination to answer questions as they are posed to me, projects that I have structured for my students to do their own learning are sabotaged by my answers. If it’s easy to ask me a question and get a (decently accurate) answer, my students have no incentive to work out their own answers.
With my change in schools, I suspect that I am also experiencing a shift in student culture, so this may be a moot goal in another month…