George Lucas Educational Foundation
Schools That Work
Interest-Based Learning

Thinkering Studio: Supporting Self-Directed Learning

Watch students take charge of their project-based learning, by creating their own learning goals and identifying resources beyond their teacher.
This is part of our Schools That Work series, which features key practices from Birmingham Covington School.
View a transcript of this video

Teacher: All right, Zoe, what's up?

Zoe: So I want to make sure these chemicals are safe.

Teacher: So you're going to make your own acid.

Zoe: Yes.

Mark: Our elective Thinkering Studio enhances students' levels of engagement and motivates them to learn, in an intrinsic way, rather than an extrinsic way.

Teacher: I want to be there when you do it, because I've never made hydrochloric acid.

Mark: We are constantly refining our approach to maximize student learning, and one of the ways we can do that is by maximizing their ability to choose. Thinkering studio is a program that students in fifth through eighth grade are able to select as an elective. It starts with, what are you interested in?

Student: I'm doing photography.

Student: I'm making, like a track to put a marble down.

Student: I'm drawing graphic novel characters.

Student: I'm learning how to play the ukulele.

Jordy: The focus of Thinkering Studio is kids as lifelong learners. When they leave here, are they able to teach themselves what they want to learn?

Zoe: Thinkering studio is kind of class where you get to choose whatever projects you want to do. It's learning what you want to learn and at your own pace.

Jordy: They come up with a project idea. They look at a template that has a series of questions they have to answer that help them plan what they want to do. What's the overall challenge? What do they expect to learn? How will they evaluate the success of their project? Who or what can they go to when they get stuck?

Student: We need help putting pictures and videos onto the--

Student: On the computer.

Student: Yeah.

Mark: Students manage themselves through that process. The teacher facilitates it through artful questioning.

Jordy: Who's going to help you if you get stuck?

That puts the onus back on them to figure it out themselves.

Student: I've been having issues figuring out what's wrong with this thing.

Jordy: So you're making your own jumpers now.

Sometimes they need help to get there.

You might even be able to take it a step further.

So I point them to a resource, another student, another teacher, a book, a website.

This is your third week where you are putting reflections onto the journal.

I also have their weekly journals, where I can see what they'd planned to get done and their reflections on what they're getting done.

Student: Whenever we fold our paper, it doesn't go as well as planned.

Student: Yep.

Nate: Our reflection is telling what was not going according to plan, and also, if you made a mistake, you try to come up with a way to redo it more creatively.

Student: So in my project, I'm learning Turkish.

Zoe: Every other week, we get together in peer critique groups. One person presents the project for about three minutes.

Student: I made flip pages with Turkish phrases, and I'm making ones with adjectives right now.

Zoe: The other people give critiques.

When you start learning more and more words, you have to keep going back to the beginning ones.

Student: Yeah.

Zoe: Even though you're learning harder stuff, you also got to remember the basics.

Student: Yeah.

Zoe: We also sometimes help each other, like if someone needs help filming something.

Adam: Just put a few drops of it in.

Jordy: Part of the project may seem easy for them, but there may be a second part that's not as easy, and that's where I may see their learning going on.

Adam: This was DIY tie-dye color milk magic trick.

Jordy: The student doing the DIY is mostly following a recipe when he does that, but the sharing of that project is the growth area for him. He was borrowing another student to figure out how to get his voiceovers into this. He was borrowing the same student later, to figure out how to cut parts of the video out that he didn't need. He's got to work on the YouTube channel, and so he's learning about video making, communicating, and then how to get that shared to a wider audience.

Adam: Hopefully I will be able to get some kind of social media to sort of broadcast and say, "Hey, new video uploaded today." I love connecting with people. It's a really great thing.

Mark: All of a sudden, you've opened the ceiling to what kids think they're able to do and they surprise us sometimes.

Jordy: That's cool.

I want them to be that self directed learner.

So that would be how you're going to share it.

So they can do whatever it is that they're interested in.

Student: Ah, here it is.

Jordy: And create what they want to create.

Adam: And boom, look at that.

Student: Whoa.

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L Matsuba's picture

My first thought, just a few seconds into this video, was "This is SO cool!"

The first thing that stood out to me was that this course is an elective. Students are choosing to take the class and then choosing what they'd like to learn. Right off the bat, this increases student motivation as they learn something of interest. I think the wording of the teacher's comment in the video is so important. He asked if students, when they leave, are able to "teach themselves what they want to learn." It's not just about choosing something they're interested in but learning how to learn on their own. Students are demonstrating self-regulated learning at an early level.

The template provided to students ensures they have a successful plan for accomplishing their goal. Similar to our Inquiry Project, these students are reflecting on a regular basis. Their reflection time allows them to recognize obstacles and find appropriate solutions. Not only that but they're learning how to document their learning process.

It's quite evident in the video that students are using resources other than the teacher. Other than the fact that the teacher isn't expected to be an expert in every field, students must know how to find resources and use them effectively. The teacher seems to provide excellent guidance to the student in this regard, as students also need to learn to navigate these resources and determine the most accurate and relevant information.

Lastly, I like the point that there may be an easy task associated with a student's goal but it's the difficult part that provides the learning. Regardless of the goal, each student will have a difficult task to learn from and aim to accomplish. Again, this is self-regulated learning in action. The learning is not only differentiated for each student but allows for individual growth regardless of their starting point.

While I provide some opportunities for student choice, it's continually a goal of mine to incorporate more. I have always thought this was a lot of work on my part because I don't feel I can provide enough support to students - especially if they're choosing topics I don't know anything about. This video on "Thinkering" confirms that I don't actually need to know anything about a student's topic but I do need to provide them with techniques to learn on their own. These are transferable skills students can take with them into any learning opportunity that arises.

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