Hard Questions and Second Chances

In inquiry learning, questions are genuine and open-ended. In summer school this year, some of them are also incredibly challenging, not just for the students but for me as well!

1) How do you measure wetness?
2) How can you get a structure to float AND sink? (i.e. How can you transform a boat into a submarine?)
3) How much helium can fit into a typical party balloon? How many balloons are we going to need to be able to get our contraptions to get off the ground?

This uncertainty has been a lot of fun, believe it or not. Sure, we try to search for answers with our digital tools and they help, sometimes. Occasionally the actual answer is too sophisticated for me to comprehend or for me to teach my 8 year-old students. We theorize. We estimate. We hypothesize and then test out our ideas.

Our waterproof outfits – which did the best job?
Four of our boats – only a few were converted to subs.

Sometimes our ideas don’t always come to fruition in the way we’d like, which leads me to the second part of this week’s reflection. With very few exceptions, the vast majority of our assignments have multiple opportunities for “do-overs”. The final grade isn’t final until the students indicate that it is. I really like how some of my students have started to put sticky notes on pages in their notebooks that they’d like me to take another look at, because they’ve read my initial feedback and made some adjustments that they think will improve their work. Often, they are right, and their newer thoughts result in adjusted (and higher) grades.

One student was really determined to get his submarine to go all the way underwater without getting his Webkinz inside soaked. He must have rebuilt his invention at least four times, if not more. He discovered early on to put a proxy for his Webkinz pet in his prototype, because “failure” meant that his toy got wet. (He took it home to dry, but poor BullsEye still has a bit of an odor to him.)

Student “Pa” measuring and cutting the plastic for his sub
Prototype #2 – sank very well, but still wet inside
Prototype #1 – too unstable & porous = wet Webkinz!

I really wish that I could do this (explore really challenging questions and provide multiple opportunities to re-assess tasks after providing feedback) more often in my regular school program. The hard question for me will be to figure out how to do it when I’m a prep delivery teacher with limited time with classes.