Time Well Spent
I spend a ton of time planning out time with my students and making plans for projects. There's a cycle of Idea --> Predict --> Observe --> Improve. Because I have had a lot of practice with this pattern it comes pretty naturally to me. Lately I have been recognizing that being able to go through these steps is a skill as much as writing, building or public speaking so I have tried to give students chances to practice the cycle of ideas.
Lots of times I will notice students get distracted or off task when something had gone unexpectedly. Their measurements were wrong or they forgot to add something important. My interpretation is that they are skipping the Predict step and not getting into the Improve step. By not making predictions they don't see potential conflicts or issues in their idea and my not being practiced in making improvements they see their first failure as the end of the process and don't continue to try new things. To be the most help to the class I've been trying to give them lots of opportunities to practice and develop these skills.
To help the class get better at predicting I gave them explicit opportunities to practice it. In my prototype of the Pendulum Project I asked everyone to draw a picture or write 2 sentences predicting how they thought the paintings would look once they had had a chance to make their first pendulums. After they had had their first experience painting I had groups give a presentation where they shared the changes that they wanted to make to their paintings and how they thought they could make those changes.
All this practice with predictions is only worth it if everybody eventually circles back and looks back at their predictions and checks to see if they were right. There's a wealth of discussion and reflection possibility in asking why predictions were or were not correct. Prompts I would like to use in the future for reflections or discussions would be "What didn't I know when I made this prediction? Could I have known that this would happen?".
Some of the most rewarding conversations that I have with students is when they are able to tell me how they tried something that didn't work, so they tried something else or got help and it worked. Leading groups to a place where they are able to make improvements to processes and systems takes a long time and I think had two main components. First, there needs to be a culture present where it is ok to make mistakes. Someone who never makes mistakes doesn't need to make improvements. Someone who is afraid to admit or show their mistakes never makes improvements either. As the facilitator of a group it is my responsibility to make a safe space for students to feel comfortable talking about mistakes and also model what it looks like to be comfortable with making mistakes.
The second component to developing a culture of improvement is providing the space to discuss and plan improvements. If there is not opportunity or the space to talk about what changes everyone is making then there won't be a model for everyone to follow. This can take the form of presentations or critiques.
Philip Estrada is a teacher at High Tech High Media Arts in San Diego California. He teaches Physics by having kids build things in a woodshop.