"I have been finding myself using exacto-knives a lot."
I am a secondary mathematics and technology teacher. I primarily teach math to students that are in the process of learning to build houses, and focus my curriculum in that direction. I also teach computer engineering and technological design.
I am in my fourth year of running an engineering/competitive robotics club that promotes STEM in the community. We focus on working with elementary students in promoting STEM education.
I think the connection with community partners is very important our students move into later grades. It will help maintain their curiosity and interest if they can interact with people outside the classroom.
I think a good opportunity would be if students could connect with local government to look for problems to solve within the community. Later on this could lead to looking beyond local to regional, national or global issues.
I also think that if the problem-finding can work both ways, with the students going out with community partners and the partners coming into the school to work with the students.
It would be interesting to compare elementary and secondary experiences in this type of activity.
In my limited experience with elementary, it seems to be much easier to maintain interest and create passion within the students. But this comes from working with students for 1 and 5 days.
Also, with the differences in elementary and secondary classes, does the ability to devote more time to an activity in elementary, without having to move on to the next class make a difference? At my school we have 75 minute classes, but after setting up and clean up, we really have 45 to 60 minutes of work time. Do we need to adjust schedules? Make them flexible in high school?
What if these projects where cross curricular and spanned multiple classes/subject areas?
This is a great idea, and something I have been trying to implement in my high school classes.
Over the past 2 years I have devoted at least one day a week to students working on a project of their choosing. I have encountered varying degrees of success.
The first problem that I always find is lack of passion. It's far too often that I find students that have become so trained to do what the teacher says. When you give them the opportunity to make their own decisions as to what to do, they have no idea how to make a choice; even when presented with possible ideas.
The other issue that I tend to run into is getting the students to take the lead. With some many different projects, even with students working in groups, it is difficult to spread myself over all the groups to keep them focused and moving forward.
I wonder if there is a better way to help the students develop their passions and move forward with them. Could make larger groups, or work on multiple whole classes initiatives? How do we break the training of do what teacher says?