Master's Project: Self-directed learning in the science classroom be precise, it's titled "Implementation of a technology-rich self-directed learning environment in a ninth grade Integrated Science classroom." Catchy, I know.

To be honest, this is a bit old. I thought I had posted this a long time ago, but recently realized I never had despite always meaning to do so. I implemented this project in the spring of 2010 and officially submitted my project in June of the same year. It won me a "Scholar of Excellence" award, so it must be at least somewhat decent. 😉

The Goods

Though the full paper may not be of interest to you, let me recommend the Lit Review. I went through many, many papers on constructivist environments and instructional technology's impact on student learning. It'd make me very happy if anybody found this even remotely useful.

I've decided to release it under a Creative Commons Attribution license, so have at it. Here's the full paper in variety of formats for any of your consumption needs:

  • Implementation of a technology-rich self-directed learning environment in a ninth grade Integrated Science classroom


Simply put, students worked in teams of four to five and shared a team blog. Students investigated any topic that interested them around the general theme of climate change. Students were tasked with researching the topic and sharing their learning and questions on their blog. There were no due dates (other than the end of the school year), though students were all required to write a certain number of posts and comments on their classmates' posts (for more details, check out the Project Design section of the paper). For a bit on the rationale, here's an excerpt from the Introduction and Rationale:

The purpose of the educational system in the United States has been described in many different ways depending on the viewpoint of the individual doing the describing. Creating individuals able to become positive members of society, providing skills for the future workforce, or preparing individuals for an uncertain future have all been cited by various people and organizations as the purpose of schooling- each relying on their own value set and particular social and political biases. While there is no doubt that these various beliefs about the purpose of the American educational system have been true, and may continue to be true in various times and places, it is this author's belief that one of the more important goals of the educational system is to create life-long learners who will be able to actively and knowledgeably engage in whatever ideas and issues may cross their paths. As specific information and skill-sets are quickly changing due to the rapid increases in knowledge and improvements in technology the importance of teaching students specific content information decreases while the importance of teaching students how to locate, evaluate, and interact with knowledge increases. As what it means to be productive members of society or effective members of the workforce changes, the ability for individuals to understand how to learn new knowledge when they need it is more valuable than simply falling back on information learned through formal schooling.

If schools are to become a place where students learn how to interact with, challenge, and develop new knowledge, then the traditional classroom structure- that of the teacher as the primary source of knowledge and assessment- needs to change as well. Students should be given a chance to work out the solutions to problems that do not have predefined answers. In doing so, students lose their status as passive recipients of information and instead become active creators of knowledge. A method of implementing this might be built on the problem-based learning (PBL) model that has been used for many years in many content areas with various age levels. The incarnation of PBL envisioned here provides students with real-world problems to solve that do not already have easy or "neat" answers, gives students the freedom to explore down side canyons as part of the problem solving process, allows time for students to share their ideas and work with others, and provides support and time for students to document and reflect on their learning and problem solving process.

Let me know what you think or if you found anything useful for your own purposes.

Pipe Insulation Roller Coaster Assessment

Welcome back. If you haven't joined us for the last two posts, let me recommend that you first read about determining rolling friction on the coaster and the project overview.

On to the assessment...

Assessment is extremely important. It explicitly informs students what things we value (and thus the things we value). If we assess the wrong things, students will focus on the wrong things. This can turn an otherwise excellent project into a mediocre project. For this post, I'll share two methods of assessment: First, the "old" method I used when I last taught physics (in 2008). Second, my updated assessment scheme that I'd use if I did this project again.

The old assessment strategy

Embedded below is the document I gave to students at the beginning of the pipe insulation roller coaster project. Most noticeably it includes a description of the assessment scheme I used way back in January of 2008.

As you can see, I split the assessment of this project into two equal parts:

An assessment of the finished roller coaster

I wanted students to think carefully about the design, construction, and "marketing" of their coasters. I wanted them to design coasters that not only met the requirements, but coasters that were beautiful and interesting. Individual items being assessed under this rubric were weighted differently. For example, "Appropriate name of the coaster" was only worth 5%, while "Creativity, originality, and aesthetics" was worth 20%. Here's a link to the sheet I used when assessing this aspect of the coaster project.

An assessment of the physics concepts

In the embedded document above, you can see the breakdown of what items were being assessed. In my last post on pipe insulation roller coasters, you can see how students labeled their coasters with information on the marble's energy, velocity, and such along the track. Groups were required to turn in a sheet with the calculations they performed to arrive at these numbers. These sheets were the primary basis for determining whether students understood the physics concepts.


There are a lot of problems with the assessment scheme as described above. I'm not going to try to address them all, so here are a couple of the biggest issues:

  • Assessing coaster design
    • I'm a fan of elegant design. For this project I'm a fan of finished coasters that look well designed and exciting. That's why I included the first part of the assessment. I wanted to incentivize students to think about the design and construction of their coasters. In retrospect this is probably unnecessary. Students generally came into this project with plenty of intrinsic motivation to make their coaster the best in the history of the class. While I'd still stress the importance of quality design in the future, I'd completely cut this half of the assessment. Students already cared about the design of their coaster. If anything, awarding points for coaster design had an net negative effect. Especially because it doesn't assess anything related to the understanding of physics.
  • Assessing student understanding of physics concepts
    • As a normal part of working in a group while attempting to complete a large project in a limited time, students split up the work. Students are generally pretty smart about this in their own way. While I stressed that everyone in the group should contribute equally towards the calculations. Most groups would have the student who had the best understanding of the physics do most of the calculations. Why? Because it was faster. They needed to finish their coaster and just having the fastest person do the calculations meant more time for construction. While I generally knew when students in a group were adding very little to the calculations (and would assess them accordingly), on the whole this method didn't give me a good picture of each individual students' level of understanding. There were certainly students who skated through the project while minimally demonstrating their understanding of the energy and friction concepts involved.

The new assessment strategy

You've probably already picked up on a few of the improvements I'd make for this project.

  1. Use standards-based assessment. Standards-based assessment is an integral part of the classroom throughout the year- not just for projects. If you're unfamiliar with what this "standards-based" business is all about click the little number at the end of this sentence for plenty of links in the footnotes1. Here are a list of standards that would be assessed through this project:

    Content standards assessed

    • Energy
      • Understand and apply the law of conservation of energy.
      • Explain and calculate the kinetic energy and potential energy of an object.
      • Explain and calculate the amount of work done on and by an object.
      • Solve basic conservation of energy problems involving kinetic energy and potential energy.
      • Solve conservation of energy problems involving work and thermal energy.
    • Circular Motion
      • Solve basic circular motion problems using formulas.
    • Habits of Mind
      • Collaborate and communicate with others to meet specific goals.
      • Handle and overcome hurdles creatively and productively.

    The specific standards used can vary based on your specific implementation.

  2. No points for coaster requirements. As I mentioned earlier, it proved unnecessary to incentivize their coaster designs and meeting the basic requirements of the project. This decision also comes out of standards-based grading, which focuses assessment around, "Do you know physics?" instead of "Can you jump through the right hoops?" That isn't to say we don't talk about what makes a coaster "exciting" or "aesthetically pleasing" or whatever. It just means a student needs to demonstrate their understanding of the physics to earn their grade.
  3. A focus on informal assessment. Rather than heavily relying on a sheet of calculations turned in at the end of the project (and probably done lopsidedly by one or two group members) to determine if the group understands the physics, I'd assess their understanding as I walked around the classroom discussing the coasters and their designs with the students as they work on them. Starting with questions like, "Why did you make that loop smaller?," or "Where are you having trouble staying within the requirements?" can be used to probe into student thinking and understanding. The final calculations would still be a part of the assessment, but no longer the single key piece of information in the assessment.

On the whole I was very happy with this project as I used it in the past. As I've learned and grown as a teacher I've found several ways I can tweak the old project to keep up with the type of student learning I want to support in my classroom. If you have other suggestions for improvement, I'd be happy to hear them.

As a bonus, here's a student produced video of the roller coaster project made for the daily announcements. The video was made by a student who wasn't in the physics class, so there's a little more emphasis on the destruction of the roller coasters at the end of the project than I'd like. Kids. What can ya do?


  1. Here are posts I've written about my experience implementing standards-based assessment. I'm not an expert, so let me also direct you my bookmarks related to standards-based grading, and some resources written by a couple people who are more expert: Shawn Cornally and Frank Noschese (who offers blog posts, a shared google doc foler, and a collection of bookmarked links). There are certainly other great resources out there, but these are a great starting point. (back)

Pipe Insulation Roller Coasters

The Hazard Zone team with their coaster
The Hazard Zone team with their coaster

I like projects. I really liked this project. The pipe insulation roller coaster project is one of the most enjoyable projects I've ever used in class.


It was my second year teaching physics. During the unit on energy, the book we were using frequently used roller coasters in their problems. We even had a little "roller coaster" to use with photo gates. I thought we could do better.

My original idea was to get some flexible Hot Wheels tracks and make some loop-de-loops and hills. Turns out a class set of Hot Wheels track is pretty expensive. On an unrelated yet serendipitous visit to my local big box hardware store, I ran across the perfect (and cheap!) substitute: Pipe Insulation!. For $1.30 or so you can get six feet of pipe insulation- which doubles nicely as a marble track1 when you split the pipe insulation into two equal halves. It's really easy to cut pipe insulation with a sharp pair of scissors. Just be sure you don't buy the "self-sealing" pipe insulation, which has glue pre-applied- it's more expensive and it'd turn into a sticky mess.

At first I planning to simply design a one-period long investigation using the pipe insulation (my original ideas morphed into the pre-activity for this project). As I started to think through the project more and more, I realized we could go way bigger. And thus, the pipe insulation roller coaster project was born.

Building the Coasters

In groups of three, students were given 24 feet of pipe insulation (4 pieces), a roll of duct tape2, and access to a large pile of cardboard boxes3. All groups had to adhere to a few standard requirements:

  • Construction requirements
    1. The entire roller coaster must fit within a 1.0m x 2.0m rectangle4.
    2. There must be at least two inversions (loops, corkscrews, etc.).
    3. All 24 feet of pipe insulation must be used.
    4. The track must end 50 cm above the ground.

    The coaster is under construction

  • Physics requirements
    In addition to meeting the above requirements, students were required to utilize their understanding of the work-energy theorem, circular motion, and friction to do the following:
    1. Determine the average rolling friction, kinetic energy, and potential energy at 8 locations on their roller coaster.
    2. Determine the minimum velocities required for the marble to stay on the track at the top of all the inversions
    3. Determine the g-forces the marble experiences through the inversions and at least five additional corners, hills, or valleys.
    4. The g-forces must be kept at "safe" levels5.
Labeling the Physics Data
The labels included information about the energy, velocity, and acceleration of the marble at specific points (Note: there are some sig fig issues here).
  1. Rolling friction, kinetic energy, and potential energy
    • The potential energy (U_g = mgh) is easy enough to find after measuring the height of the track and finding the mass of the marble. The kinetic energy is trickier and can be done by filming the marble and doing some analysis with Tracker, but since the speed of the marble is likely to be a little too fast for most cameras to pick up clearly, it's probably easier (and much faster) to simply measure the time it takes the marble travel a certain length of track. I describe how this can be done in a previous post, so check that out for more info. That post also includes how to calculated the coefficient of friction by finding how much work was done on the marble due to friction- so I'll keep things shorter here by not re-explaining that process.
      • Pro-tip: Have students mark every 10 cm or so on their track before they start putting together their coasters (note the tape marks in this pic). Since d in W=F\cdot d in this case is the length of track the marble has rolled so far, it makes finding the value for d much easier than trying to measure a twisting, looping roller coaster track.
  2. Minimum marble velocities through the inversions.
    • This is also called the critical velocity. That's fitting. If you're riding a roller coaster it's pretty critical that you make it around each loop. Also, you might be in critical condition if you don't. While falling to our death would be exciting, it also limits the ability to ride roller coasters in the future (and I like roller coasters). Since we're primarily concerned with what is happening to the marble at the top of the loop, here's a diagram of the vertical forces on the marble at the very top of the loop:

      The red curve is the roller coaster track. Just so you know.

      So just normal force (the track pushing on the marble) and gravitational force (the earth pulling on the marble). Since these forces are both acting towards the center of the loop together they're equal to the radial force:

      When the marble is just barely making it around the loop (at the critical velocity), the normal force goes to zero. That is, the track stops pushing on the marble for just an instant at the top of the loop. If the normal force stays zero for any longer than that it means the marble is in free fall, and that's just not safe. So:

      Then when you substitute in masses and accelerations for the forces and do some rearranging:

      There you go. All you need to know is the radius of the loop, and that's easy enough to measure. Of course, you'd want a little cushion above the critical velocity, especially because we're ignoring the friction that is constantly slowing down the marble as it makes its way down the track.

  3. Finding g-forces
    • An exciting roller coaster will make you weightless and in the next instant squish you into your seat. A really bad roller coaster squishes you until you pass out. This is awesomely known as G-LOC (G-force Induced Loss of Consciousness). With the proper training and gear, fighter pilots can make it to about 9g's before G-LOC. Mere mortals like myself usually experience G-LOC between 4 and 6g's.

      As I mentioned, I set the limit for pipe insulation roller coasters at 30g's simply because it allowed more creative and exciting coaster designs. While this would kill most humans, it turns out marbles have a very high tolerance before reaching G-LOC.

      To find the g-forces being pulled on corners, loops, or hills you just need to find the radial acceleration (keeping in mind that 1g = 9.8 m/s^2):

    Pipe Insulation Roller Coaster construction underway

    Raise the stakes

    Students become fiercely proud of their roller coasters. They'll name them. Brag about them. Drag their friends in during lunch to show them off. Seeing this, I had students show off their creations to any teachers, parents, or administrators that I was able to cajole into stopping by for the official testing of the coasters. I even made up a fun little rubric (.doc file) for any observers to fill out for each coaster. This introduces some level of competition into the project, which gives me pause- though from day one students generally start some friendly smack talk about how their coaster is akin to the Millenium Force while all other coasters are more like the Woodstock Express. The students love to show off their coasters, and it seems the people being shown enjoy the experience as well.

    Coaster judging in progress.
    Coaster judging in progress.


    Assessment is massively important. However, this post is already long. The exciting conclusion of this post will feature the assessment piece in: Part 2: Pipe Insulation Roller Coaster Assessment.

    The Pipe Insulation Roller Coaster Series

    1. Pipe Insulation Roller Coasters and Rolling Friction
    2. Pipe Insulation Roller Coasters
    3. Pipe Insulation Roller Coaster Assessment


    1. The first day we played with pipe insulation in class I had students use some marble-sized steel balls. Unfortunately because the steel balls are so much heavier and the pipe insulation is spongy and flexible, there was just too much friction. When we switched to marbles the next day everything worked like a charm. (back)
    2. Most groups typically use more than one roll of duct tape. My first couple years I bought the colored duct tape and gave each group a different color. That was a nice touch, but also a bit more expensive than using the standard silver. Whatever you decide, I highly recommend avoiding the cut-rate duct tape. The cheap stuff just didn't stick as well which caused students to waste a lot of time fixing places where the duct tape fell and in the end used a lot more duct tape. (back)
    3. I had an arrangement with our school's kitchen manager to set broken down boxes aside for me for a few weeks before we started the project. If that's not an option, I've also found if you talk to a manager of a local grocery store they're usually more than willing to donate boxes. (back)
    4. I made it a requirement for groups to start by building a cardboard rectangle with the maximum dimensions. This served two functions: (1) It made it easy for the groups to see what space they had to work with, and (2) it allows the roller coasters to be moved around a little by sliding them across the floor. (back)
    5. Originally I wanted students to keep g-forces below 10. Very quickly it became apparent that under 10g's was overly restrictive and I upped it to 30g's. That's not really safe for living creatures, but it would certainly make it more "exciting." (back)

Adventures in Engineering: What makes a quality project?

Some of the best times I've shared with students in a classroom have involved projects where they're making something. Not making as in making letters appear on a worksheet, as in building some object that needs to accomplish some task or solve some problem. There's something about working on a physical product that clearly demonstrates success or failure that resonates strongly with students.

As part of my attempt to make this site seem all professional and stuff, I proudly announce...wait for it...a series of blog posts tentatively titled:

Adventures in Engineering!

Here's what you can expect:

  1. A description and analysis of projects I've done in the past that involved engineering. I've been pretty bad about sharing these, so there are quite a few that have been wildly successful that I've never written about.
  2. Thoughts on engineering in the science classroom. Maybe you noticed that I previously asked for teachers to have their students fill out a survey related to engineering. That hasn't been forgotten, and I'll get to the results of the survey as part of the series. If you haven't had your students fill out the survey
    yet, don't fret, the survey is still open!
  3. Maybe, just maybe, I'll design brand new projects and share them out for criticism and critique. In fact, do you have any units that are badly in need of a project? Let me know in the comments and maybe I'll see if I can whip something up for you. Have a project that just isn't working out like it should? Let me know in the comments and maybe I'll test out my powers of project redesign1.

What makes a project an effective learning experience?

Let me kick the series off with some quick thoughts on what I think projects of this sort should include:

  1. It needs to be hard, but not crazy hard. I've discussed this a bit, but I strongly believe challenging tasks are good for us. However, the task needs to hit that sweet spot of being challenging enough but not so challenging that students deem success as an impossibility. I'd like to call this the Goldilocks Zo-ne of Proximal Development- a term that I'm sure Lev Vygotsky would've coined had he written fairy tales on the side (or been an astrophysicist). Truly great projects would start out fairly simple and increase the challenge as students are ready.
  2. Success requires the use and understanding of the desired concepts and skills. Not as in, "The teacher requires that I do this, so I'm doing it," but instead the task demands the students to utilize the concepts and skills as an integral part of successfully completing the task. To borrow an illustration from Papert, you could demand students to find 2/3 of 3/4 on a worksheet or you could have them make a 2/3 batch of cookies where the original recipe calls for 3/4 cup of sugar. Both require the same skill, but an incorrect answer on a worksheet provides little motivation to learn. A batch of crappy cookies does2.
  3. A project that fails isn't a failure, but a chance to improve. There should be time built in for students to reflect on their project's failings, attempt to address them, and retry the challenge. You may know this as the Iterative Process or Engineering Design Process. I haven't been great at including time for this in the past, but as I've thought and more about project design I've come to value the Design-Test-ReDesign-ReTest model.
Number 2 to is pretty difficult to nail. Most likely I've never done a project with students that has truly met this standard. The better of my projects have inherently require some of the desired concepts and skills, but I'm also often "forcing" some concepts and skills into the projects even when they're not necessarily required to complete the task. I'm not sure that's horrible.

Next up in the series:

Pipe Insulation Roller Coasters


  1. No promises I'll come up with anything mind blowing. Your mileage may vary.    (back)
  2. Cookie Monster would not be amused.     (back)

Rubber Band Cars

There's something powerful about physically making something that works yourself. The tinkering, trial and error testing, and early frustration often lead to some impressive feelings of accomplishment in the end.

This year when covering the types of energy and energy transformations, I realized a project I ran for 6 years at my school in Michigan would fit in quite well: The Rubber Band Car Project.1

You can check out the handout and guidelines I provided to students, though the basic gist of the project consists of:

  • Building a car from found materials;
  • Using no more than two #33 size rubber bands to power the car;
  • Getting said car to move as great a distance as possible (6 meters is the goal);
  • Describing how the energy stored in the rubber bands is transformed and conserved as the car does its thing.

Testing Rubber Band CarsInitially students are generally pretty worried because the guidelines ban items like CDs & DVDs as wheels, and Legos or other such objects from being used. However, as I share some examples of cars from the past (see them here), and as students start tinkering and sharing ideas with each other, the worries start to fade.

Most of the building process takes place at home, but I provide one day in class for students to bring in their cars (or materials that will eventually become their cars) and work on them in class. This is often extremely helpful for students who are struggling to figure out how to put their cars together and get them to work. As they walk around the room, they can see how everyone else is tackling similar problems and get ideas for how to solve their own.


Standards-Based Grading. I had a pretty solid assessment system that I was quite happy with before I went all-SBG. I'm not sure I'm quite as comfortable with how I'm assessing it using the SBG system. As of right now I'm not too worried by this. The old system had many years of tweaks and adjustments to get it to that sweet spot, and it'll probably take a couple tweaks to get the SBG-assessment for the project there too.

"I didn't do it." In the past there was always a small minority (~2% to 5%) of students who just didn't make anything for the project. This year it seems like the percentage of students with no car will be higher. I'm not sure what to think of that, but it's worrying.

Cool stuff

Non-competitiveness. I try my hardest to make sure the assessment system and the general classroom environment is as non-competitive as possible for this project. I want students to share ideas and collaborate with each other even though they're all making cars individually. For the most part this works out. Students who've figured things out are generally happy to share their knowledge with students who don't. However, there's no getting away from the fact that most students want the bragging rights for having the car that went the furthest.

Engaging the unengaged. Having to physically make something that works is a different sort of project for many students. It's interesting to see how some of the "I-need-an-A-or-I'll-die" students struggle with the project while some who often struggle with traditional projects become the super stars.

Results. I've always recorded every students' results and shared who had some of the most successful cars,2 and this year I'll be using a self-sorting Google Spreadsheet to automatically post the results to the Rubber Band Car Project Page in near real-time.3 I'm not sure if that's really necessary, but it is a fun trick. Perhaps I'll have to do a post on creating self-sorting spreadsheets if anyone is into that sort of thing.


  1. A big tip o' the hat to Mr. Randy Commeret at Grand Rapids Christian High School; from whom I grabbed this project from nearly wholesale. Rumor has it this project has been around for 20ish years in total.    (back)
  2. Which might feed the competitive nature that I'm trying to avoid, but to date it hasn't gotten too competitive between students.     (back)
  3. Which means you can follow along with the results as we test cars on Thursday, March 24 & Friday, March 25. 🙂      (back)

Work in progress: Project Climate

I'm definitely overdue for a bit of in-progress analysis of Project Climate (as described here). We've been at it for a few weeks now, and we're in the final stages of the project as a whole.

Makin' me proud

  • Quality of product. The quality level of the students' writing and thinking on climate change related topics is impressive. Take this student's entire work, for example. The posts are a great mix of information, opinion, and insight.
  • Staying engaged. I was afraid as we began this project that students would grow tired of it and lose momentum and enthusiasm. So far this hasn't been an issue, and the level of engagement seems to have increased somewhat as students became more comfortable with the format.
  • All of you. We've gotten quite a good response from those of you in the Twitterverse & beyond. Students really enjoy getting comments from people outside of the school and from around the world. I'm not sure this would've been possible without twitter1.
  • Rethinking learning. A student's reflection & self-evaluation of the project says it more eloquently than I could phrase it:

As far as the learning part goes, I’m not sure anything I have learned would be on a test. I have learned things that no one could learn from a text book because they are objective to the point of teaching people the facts. I haven’t learned the facts, I don’t know the carbon emissions of countries by heart, I don’t know all the projects people have set up to help solve global warming, and I don’t think that I should. I have learned far more important things. I have learned that you don’t have to be wealthy to help others, maybe it’s even the opposite. I have learned that you can fix a problem you didn’t cause. I have even learned that people of different cultures and different native language can work together to make a big difference.

The not so great

  • More parents. I stink at parental involvement. I should've done a better job at communicating with parents and getting them involved in the project. I sent out a letter early in the semester explaining what we'd be doing, but didn't do much since then. Next time around this needs to improve.
  • Self-evaluation. I wanted students to be intimately involved in the assessment of their work. Unfortunately I didn't get started on doing this with students until recently. Self-evaluation will still play a role in the students' final assessment of their work, but I didn't set up the framework early enough to have it play a major role.
  • Not enough experts. I managed to make contact with a couple scientists who were willing to help out- but I  should've put forth a better effort to get people working in and around climate change issues involved2
  • That great story. I don't have a student who was totally struggling and then suddenly became engaged in the project and subsequently committed their life to being a climate scientist- or anything close to it. Some students aren't as engaged as I'd like- many of the same who weren't as engaged pre-Project Climate. I'm not sure if this is really a negative or just the way things are. I would've preferred if all the strugglers suddenly became over-achievers, but perhaps that's a little optimistic.
  • Lack of local knowledge. I haven't done a great job of sharing what we're doing within my own school as I have with those online. I've told a few other teachers and a couple administrators about it, but I'm not sure any of them have actually looked at any students' work. I'm not so great at self-promotion, especially in person.

Next time around

I'd like to run this project again in future years. From my (biased) perspective, the students are actively involved in selecting their specific topics and as such are finding it easier to really dig into the content. Student learning seems to be high. Classroom happiness is high. It's a fun time to be in the classroom. However, we're spending essentially 5 weeks studying climate change. Is that too long? Is the depth of learning worth the loss in breadth of learning? Will students bomb the standardized tests because we traded electricity & magnetism for Project Climate? Will I get support from the administration in the future?3

Help 'em out

Students are still writing and reflecting on issues of climate change. They'd still love your thoughts and comments on their posts. Check them out:


  1. If you're sick of seeing me posting #ProjectClimate tweets, don't worry, the project will be over soon. 🙂      (back)
  2. Big thanks to Eric Heupel for coming in and explaining to students his work involving the effect of warming waters on native fish populations in the Gulf of Maine.     (back)
  3. I did run this project by my principal and curriculum coordinator before it began, but at that point it was hypothetical. Now it's real and eating up nearly a quarter of a quarter of the school year- and totally different from anything the other teachers with the same class are doing.     (back)

Week 1: Self-directed learning Project

As the project introduction date loomed closer and closer I was getting more and more nervous. "Am I really ready for this? Do I have everything together? Will the students buy in?" I'm not sure I've ever been so nervous about unveiling a big project despite being more prepared than I've ever been.


The project introduction date has come and gone, and we're nearly done with our first full week. I've mentioned this project in the past, since it's kind of a big deal1, but if you'll allow me a brief overview of the setup:

  1. Students are blogging in teams of four. Each week of the project a different student is "editor2."
  2. Students individually select a topic of interest under the broad umbrella of "climate change."
  3. Students research their topic, investigate their topic, and attempt to contact experts in their topic.
  4. Students write posts to share their learning and reflections along the way.

Come join us

As part of this project students are required to contact people who actively work in and around issues that relate to climate change. Although I want students to learn from experts in the field,  I'd also like them to get perspectives and feedback from people of all types outside the classroom. I invite and encourage all of you to comment on any student posts. You can find my students on these 5 team blogs:

Great stuff

As of this posting, students are just starting to blow up the blogosphere with some great posts. From looking at the energy bill, to the BP oil spill, to tropical diseases, to positive effects of climate change, to the effects of climate change on the clothing industry, there are many good thoughts and ideas being put out there.

Now I'm worried they're working at such a high level that there isn't much room to improve. 🙂


  1. For me, anyway. It's my Master's project and a type of learning environment I'd like to work in more often.     (back)
  2. Editors are responsible for reviewing and approving all posts before they're published.     (back)