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When you tell a Middle Schooler that they can choose to research ANYTHING THEY WANT, well, you are going to see some interesting ideas. In our second session we taught students the concepts of “desirable, viable, feasible, and legal” to help them refine their topics. (See my notes on our first session here, or the keys to our success here.)

 Here are a few of the proposals that stood out to me:

  • Research and write a story about a REAL zombie apocalypse (???)
  • An informative website with extensive details on “Five Operas You Should Know”
  • Without hurting myself in the kitchen, make a three-course meal for my family in which nobody gets sick afterwards
  • Remote controlled boat with nitrous (Isn’t nitrous only for a combustion engine?)

And then there were a good number of students who wanted to blow things up, or (and this was an actual proposal), make a bayonet and test it out. (I really hope that was proposed innocently; we did make sure to double check with the school counselors about that student.)

Here are a few notes on the four lenses we shared with students:

And here’s a video I made a couple of years ago when I was trying out “flipped learning” with the SML project that goes over these concepts in a bit more depth.

For students that were still “stuck” we shared the videos below:

2014 #20Time projects in 4 minutes.
2014 Genius Hour Projects in 3.5 Minutes
Obvious to you. Amazing to others. – by Derek Sivers

By the end of this lesson, every student submitted a proposal on a notecard like the one below. I should’ve snapped a picture of the 400+ pile – it was huge!

SML Proposal Notecard

And sorting through that mountain was a LOT of work. After this session was completed, our planning committee went through all 400+ proposals and gave students feedback on their topic based on the “stoplight” below. This is definitely an area where we can improve next year. We found it challenging to do this in a timely yet consistent fashion.

Stoplight SML

Then we reorganized the students into groupings around similar topics. We also matched up the 20+ mentor teachers with rooms where they share an interest. Another key logistical step was the creation of a massive Excel spreadsheet with the reorganized student groupings for attendance, and collaborative Google Spreadsheets for each room containing the “Exit Tickets” (see more on that in a later post).

Regrouping students into similar topics was a difficult decision for us but it is proving to be a great call. Students are in the same room as students working on the same project so they can easily learn from each other, and mentor teachers are better able to give feedback to the whole room rather than just the only four kids in the class trying to become better bakers. We aren’t letting students work collaboratively, but that’s a decision we will revisit next year.

Here are all the different topics we grouped students into. Isn’t it awesome to see what kids want to do when you give them the freedom to CHOOSE? Wow!

SML Topic List