Twice a year, our school offers students the opportunity to participate in a pathfinder academy known as SOAR. Students can choose “courses” in one of the three pathways: STEM, Health and Wellness, or Arts and Culture; they can also earn a certificate in one of these pathways. You can learn more about our pathway academies program here.
Teachers volunteer to sponsor or “teach” a SOAR class; in addition, our amazing coordinator Janelle Bowker polls students for topics they’d like to see added the SOAR menu. Students get to vote on their top choices, and Ms. Bowker works diligently to place students in one of their top picks. Because many students indicated an interest in art history and artist, I decided to take on that topic even though I know very little about it. Because our courses are designed to be inquiry driven, it is not necessary for you the teacher to be an expert; I think not knowing a lot about a particular topic allows more space for students to step up as the experts and to position teachers and student as co-learners. My interest in taking on this topic comes from my work with Dorsey Sammataro and her art students last year, so I am hopeful this SOAR course will be fun for all of us!
We just began our first meeting this past Friday, August 26; we will meet twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays this semester) until November 17 when we have our culminating Day at the Museum where students showcase their products/learning artifacts. My game plan is to incorporate the elements of students designing their own inquiry projects using the principles and learning structures I learned at the wonderful inquiry workshop in Santa Fe I attended this past January (you can learn more all about that experience here). Students will have opportunities to read an assortment of texts (traditional and multimedia) to build some background knowledge before we begin brainstorming topics, forming birds of feather groups, and then helping students draft their own inquiry project plans. I am excited to see where the kids go with their work and the kinds of learning products they choose to create.
We kicked off the first day by asking students to individually share what they knew about art, artists, and art history on index cards. I then had students form groups by counting off students in groups of four where they introduced themselves and shared their thinking. Groups then created a T-chart of “what we know” and “what we want to know” to get a preliminary list of questions or ideas out there though we certainly will grow those questions/wonderings.
Not only did this activity spark some thinking, but it gave me an opportunity to see how students work in groups since many don’t have much experience at this age. Though some students were very conformable doing this simple activity with others, I could see that some students were definitely struggling and needed some support. Based on what I observed, I will definitely incorporate some of the community building activities and scaffold social skill interactions using strategies from Harvey Daniels, Nancy Steineke, and Sara Ahmed.
Once students finished their charts, we did a group share out—not only was this a great opportunity for the groups to hear from each other, but it was a teachable moment about respectful listening and the power of community thinking. Here is what my students devised in roughly 25 minutes:
As you can see from the work, some students were more comfortable than others in working together with others, but I am appreciative that nearly every student made the effort to participate, especially since students are in mixed grade levels (6, 7, and 8) and were for the most part with students they didn’t know—those are big steps for middle schoolers. The charts also reveal that quite a few students may have thought our course was about how to make art (even though the course description was very clear about our focus); though it is not, they can certainly develop as a mini-inquiry project to piggyback on the larger themes of art and artists.
I’m excited to see how our inquiry work unfolds and develops! Stay tuned as I will post updates and share our journey of learning with you.