When you ask the typical middle school student what they're interested in, the most popular answer you get is "I don't know." A close second is something about gaming or maybe even hanging out with their friends. The crazy thing is that by the end of 8th grade, we expect students to choose a career pathway that they will pursue in high school....and P.S. most of the careers students will have don't even exist yet!
Current instructional methods being used in secondary classrooms are not preparing students with skills that are consistent with industry needs. But it's proven that classrooms which utilize a student-centered approach, where learners show mastery of objectives by learning the content through a lens of passion and aptitudes, empower students to take ownership of their growth and are able to connect their learning to relevant, real-world experiences.
Over 1200 Agnew students from grades 6-8 were asked what they wondered about. Some took it seriously, several said they had no clue, and many wondered why they had to fill out the Google Form. They were shown the video above and told they would get the chance to participate in Wonder Day, but besides that, that's all they knew. Nearly 100 students were selected for round 2 based on their "I Wonder" statement's appropriateness, feasibility, uniqueness and flair.
We didn't look at names, grades, or ages because none of that matters. If students showed the slightest bit of interest in learning, we included them.
Round 2 required students to join a Google Classroom and submit 3 research questions to support their topic. Keep in mind, these students still didn't know what this day was about, and all of this was dependent on them completing this on their own time and not in a specific class period. After a week of accepting questions we had 25 students complete the task, so those are the 25 that got to participate.
When I attended the Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy in Sydney, Australia, we did a ton of design work to dive into and explore our problems in education we were passionate about solving. It was a fast and furious 3 days and the best professional learning experience I have ever been a part of. It's the kind of thinking that was exhaustive, made your head hurt, but it was so ridiculously worth it. I firmly believe THIS is the type of learning our students NEED to experience EVERY day. The Innovator academy and Wonder Day seemed to compliment one another, so that's where my inspiration came from to create the schedule. The challenge was condensing it into a single day, or an amuse-bouche tasting of sorts, to see if this would even work with students.
Structuring Wonder Day this way meant I needed reinforcements. Agnew's Instructional Coaches, Librarian, and an additional Technology Facilitator stepped up to become what we called Wonder Day Coaches. Since we couldn't plan everything together, a schedule and Slides deck was necessary to organize our learning for the day, and I'm confident to say we pulled off something great.
Wonder Day was step 1 of many when it comes to changing how school is done at Agnew Middle School. No, it was not based on a specific TEK or learning objective, but that's what we'll be aiming for beginning this Fall. So, what if students were given more choice where they are allowed to explore and learn content within the context of their passions? In this type of environment, students would be given the autonomy to master objectives and standards through passion-based learning. Working in this environment of discovery would empower students to not only own the learning process themselves but to learn deep enough to teach others. These types of learning experiences will afford students life ready skills that will prepare them for success in the future.