On Wednesday evening (10/26/16), PFFS-Downtown 8th graders presented an hour-long, public demonstration of deep learning related to current water issues, namely: climate change, water quality, and water usage & distribution. So (you might ask)…
How does a group of middle school 8th graders demonstrate ‘deep learning’ in such a short block of time?
Well first of all, their teachers needed to insure that students were given the opportunity to learn deeply so that when exhibition time came around, there would be something deep to demonstrate. In this case, students studied water and water issues together for several weeks during which time they identified the big problems/questions, participated in whole class and small group inquiry and Socratic discussions about these problems, and finally were given the ‘voice and choice’ to identify in pairs a ‘driving question’ around a particular problem within the three water issue categories and to research in pairs and develop a possible solution for that problem. Using this tiered process of group inquiry, their teachers provided them multiple opportunities to learn deeply about current water issues.
Secondly, once the learning process was completed their teachers needed to create a structure/venue that would give students the opportunity to authentically demonstrate deep learning. In this case, a large room was set-up with a center table and chairs (for 8th graders), surrounded by a wider circle of chairs (for parents and community members), and against the walls of the room places for presentations of final products resulting from the work of the pairs of 8th graders.
The hour-long, public demonstration of learning opened with a very brief introduction to the process provided by the teachers. The hour was divided into three parts (corresponding to the three main water issues). Each part opened with a brief but provocative video segment (not seen before by the students) after which the students themselves conducted a Socratic discussion of the video segment and its relationship with the particular water issue.
Students participated and moderated each segment’s discussion without any prompts from their teachers. There was both agreement and disagreement – with students in many cases referring to notes to make their points. The audience of parents and community members listened intently during each discussion segment. Their was a small break between segments for the audience to make their way around the outer circle of inquiry projects where each pair of students would explain their question/problem, possible solution, and work product.
All in all, it was a powerful demonstration of deep learning attested to by the audience of parents and community members during a debrief at the end of the hour. Congratulations to our PFFS-D 8th graders and to your teachers Deborah Barca and Patrick Kelly. And thank you to all of our parents and community members for upping the ante by being an authentic audience. Well done all!