What Do You Want to Learn Today?

I’ve been thinking a great deal about what it means to teach our kids to be “self-learners”.   We talk about wanting kids to be able to pursue their passion.  Did I even know what my students’ passions were??  One day last week I decided to find out.  In the morning, the students found a journal prompt on the front board.  It said, “If you could learn about any subject, what would it be?  Is there something you want to know more about that we do not study at school?  How do you think  you could learn more about it?”

My 3rd graders were temporarily baffled.  They needed more information.  Should it be a subject, like Math or English?  Should it be a person?  Could it be a sport?  Could they really learn about ANYTHING??  I told them there were no wrong answers.  They were free to tell me about absolutely any topic or person they were interested in learning about. 

It wasn’t long before the room fell silent.  Suddenly, they were writing.  Could they learn about more than one thing?  I encouraged them to pick just one or two topics.  When they finished, I asked them to bring me their journals.  Slowly, they came to my desk with their journals.  They were timid, as though they were revealing a secret no one else knew.  They wanted to know if their answers were “ok”.  The results astounded me.   Here are some of the things my 8 and 9 year olds are curious about:

Russian language and culture
Ocean biology
Greek and Roman mythology
How the brain works
Haiti, and how things are since the earthquake
Steven Gerrard (soccer player)
The periodic table of elements
Civil War history
The behavior of dogs and cats
Civilization timeline – Who were the first people?
The Hope Diamond – Is it cursed?
How the body works and what it can do

Wow.  Now what???  Suddenly it felt very important to allow my students the freedom to pursue their quest for knowledge!  What good was it just to ask?  I spent some time looking for appropriate search engines, and found some great sites.  Here is a short list:

http://www.kidsclick.org/ (web search for kids by librarians)
http://quinturakids.com/ (search engine with word cloud)
http://www.kidrex.org/ (Google safe search)
http://www.studysearch.com.au/ (a cool australian search engine)

This week, I plan to bring in the laptops, and turn them loose.  I want them to learn how to be safe on the Internet, and how to find the information they want from reliable sources.  I want them to realize the vast resource at their fingertips, and encourage them to pursue their passions.  I want them to see how their curiosity can lead to learning.  I think they’ll be excited at the possibilities ahead…

One thought on “What Do You Want to Learn Today?

  1. This is great Patti! I did a similar exercise with my computer math class last year and I let them explore their topic for about a week. The only requirement that I gave them was that they had to produce a product that could be shared and give a short oral presentation about what they had learned and how to access their product. Most of my students used LiveBinders (www.livebinders.com) which they liked because it could be set up just like a notebook. LiveBinders may be a bit advanced for elementary…but maybe not.

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