Just as in Geometry/CADD class, there is for this multi-day lab project a so-called “entry document,” in this case a letter to the students from Genentech corporation (on corporate letterhead stationery), laying out this work-group’s project. Carol knows immediately what she is to do next: to prepare from this assignment her Knows and Need to Knows, and she opens a word document and begins note-taking on these topics. The teacher reinforces: “Make sure you do good Know/Need to Know lists.” The Genenetech entry doc. conveys to students that the company would like to “find a better way to simplify the cell components and its functions in a variety of analogies. You will need to complete the following: 1. Create a blueprint/map of the cell. 2. Create a blueprint/map of the city you will compare to the cell. 3. Choose an object to compare to the cell. 4. Make a blueprint/map of this. 5. Create a powerpoint with the functions and components as assessed in the rubric. 6. Presentation of the powerpoint. These powerpoints will be used in our training sessions for general knowledge and understanding of the animal cell.”
I speak to the teacher, quickly. He says this project was originated by a teacher colleague here, and he has developed it a great deal since. He tells me the “letter format” (Genentech) is a tool they use to make projects more authentic, but he then says that he doesn’t use the “letter” entry very often. More often he opens with a powerpoint with an “authentic problem” which students then have to work together to solve. He gives me an example from the previous unit of study, where he presented a forest burn authentic problem, and then students had to work together for several weeks on a restoration plan for the forest burn. Each of four students took a different role in the project, one a hydrologist, one a park ranger, one a forester, one something else, and they then collaborated, each from his or her vantage point of expertise. Love it.
Our teacher uses several different Call and Response techniques for drawing class attention. One is a callout ”Se Puede,” the response being “Si, Se Puede!” Students are volunteering the “Need to Knows” for this biology project: “What kind of presentation? How are we going to create a blueprint? What’s a blueprint? Graded by groups or individual? What’s Human Genetic info? Diagrams? What can we use for analogies?” The kids ask about workshops, and teacher explains very clearly and emphatically that he will present as many workshops as the students request. I am getting a clarification about this school’s format: workshops are the term here for teacher presentations, but the structure, which I love, is that teachers only provide workshops as needed, in response to student demand, when they are pertinent and relevant. Again, a brilliant inversion; how often we see teachers present abstract information, at the teacher’s initiative, disconnected from what students are doing and without student appreciation of the value of the teacher presentation. Instead, teachers here only present because students are requesting the information, for their immediate use, and with their clear recognition of the purpose. Really excellent. The teacher now begins answering some of the questions on the Need to Know, and very nicely provides samples of student work in this project from previous years.