When we give students choices and ownership in the direction that learning takes them, we present opportunities for engagement at heightened levels. As hobbies, interests, and life-long passions develop in students, it is very powerful to let them make personalized choices during an open learning time. If a variety of options are presented, teachers can ignite newfound areas of interest that allow students to pursue unique and challenging ventures that otherwise wouldn’t have been on the radar.
Part One of The Power of Student Choices in Open Learning Time explored three avenues of a more digital nature. We shared how a device and/or resource materials coupled with some creativity can allow students to explore a wide range of interests. Part Two focuses on finding and/or creating learning spaces that facilitate the exploration of some hands-on interests. The planning, preparation, execution, and reflection that go hand-in-hand with specialized learning zones can help students develop a more well-rounded set of interests. Setting up some time to explore the different zones and allowing students to give them all a try is a great way to spark some curiosity surrounding previously unexplored concepts.
Makerspaces — The beauty of the makerspace movement is that rather than answering a singular question of How is this supposed to work?, it lets students create new questions and determine How can I make this work? The concept behind a makerspace is to allow students to break down, explore, build up, and repurpose just about anything. The materials provided in a makerspace will look different at different grade levels, but the ability to tinker and create will remain the same regardless of age. Makerspace materials can be stored on a mobile cart, in a closet, in designated bins/shelving units, etc. Materials can be garnered from AV closets, pleas to parents, garage sales, community drives, or any other host of supply avenues. Giving students the freedom to explore, plan, and create new concoctions is a great way to offer hands-on exploration through problem-solving concepts.
Garden Centers — Developing a green thumb can be a tricky process filled with lots of trial and error. Offering a learning zone that focuses on the planning, planting, caring, and nurturing of flora and/or nourishment gives students a great way to get in touch with the wonders of nature. A perfect scenario would offer some green space just outside the classroom for students to create a garden, but some indoor alternatives can be just as engaging. Adding some planter boxes to a well-lit learning zone can bring gardening indoors. There are endless combinations that could be explored with nurturing seeds, studying natural vs. artificial lighting, experimenting with soil types, etc. The research, maintenance, and troubleshooting associated with gardening and growing are all skills and concepts that can be implemented at any level.
Culinary Creations — A love of cooking and creating in the kitchen isn’t just reserved for professional chefs. Experimenting with flavor combinations can spark an interest in students of all ages. Many schools may be left with unused spaces housing kitchens from unfortunate budget cuts to family consumer science programs. This makes a great resource space for a specialized learning zone! Even if a kitchen isn’t in the midst, there are plenty of possibilities for culinary creations that can be done in a regular classroom. Students can also experiment with the planning and execution of the intricacies associated with frosting and pastry decorating. Those interests could be pursued with premade or purchased baked goods. A culinary study could be rounded out with a final activity that mirrors the concept of shows like Chopped with mystery ingredients and time limits. A great open learning option to engage the mind and the palate!
The more choices we can offer students, the more apt students are to become engaged in their learning. When activities are presented with the spaces where students can explore unique and possibly unknown interests, a renewed fervor of excitement can be unleashed. Allowing students to explore a variety of engaging zones and ideas can shed some new light on ways to explore key concepts associated with problem solving, critical thinking, analysis, organization, time management, etc. By creating learning zones and presenting materials for experimentation and product development, students will be eager to enter highly engaging and personalized centers for learning.