During the previous unit on field journals, students learned how to use all of their senses to make observations in a variety of different contexts. It seems a natural next step that students spend some time learning how their senses work to provide them with information (LS1-8). This is the idea that led to the development of this information processing unit.
I begin by having students list the five senses in order from the most important to the least important. Using my computer, I create a quick graph of the results. Students then discuss/debate their answers, being sure to justify their responses (SP7 - Engaging in Argument from Evidence). More often than not, sight is determined to be the most important sense and I use that to transition into the lesson.
I show students the first 3:35 minutes of this Deus Ex: The Eyeborg Documentary that was created by a man whose eye was injured and replaced with a video camera. I make the rest of the video accessible for any students who want to watch it all the way through by putting it on our website.
I have students write their initial reactions to the video in their journal. I give them a few minutes to think about what they would want their "dream cyborg eye" to be able to do that a regular eye can't and ask them to list that, too. I explain that for the next few weeks they will be working in groups to design a cyborg eye that they will then attempt to sell to investors.
Because this is a group project and these students are not yet able to drive (thank goodness!), I have them complete all of the work during class time and study hall. We use Google docs and presentations when we do collaborative projects so all group members can access the information from any computer, that way if someone wants to work from home they can. I plan for students to take about a week to research and design the eye and a week to put together their business pitch. I build in an extra week as a buffer since this is a student centered project that sometimes takes more time than anticipated and students who finish early can benefit from practicing and perfecting their pitch (better to allow too much time than not enough).
I take students through the basics of the project by using either the Design an Eye PowerPoint or the Student Directions. Both give detailed, step-by-step directions. In the next lesson, Design a Cyborg Eye Part 1, I provide students with the Design an Eye Checklist to help them with planning and pacing during the design portion of the project.
To get students thinking about how our eyes work, I show them the video Bionic Eye Cures Blindness. This video should help students to begin to develop questions about how the eye actually works (SP1 - Asking Questions and Defining Problems).
At this point I allow students time to determine their group members and to establish the ground rules for group work using the group work plan. This is something that I began doing in an attempt to lessen the common complaints that come with group work and I have found that it helps students be more accountable for their work and actions.
Now I want you to sit with your group members and discuss how you will work together effectively. You are NOT to be discussing your cyborg eye ideas! Work together to complete every section of the group work plan. Remember you need to be as specific as possible for this to work the way it is intended.
I proceed from this point in different ways for different classes. When working with my gifted students, I allow them to proceed without any further input from me. I monitor discussions and and read through their answers and ask clarifying questions when necessary, reminding them to be specific in their answers.
When working with grade level students, I discuss the portion of the plan that has them determine what do when group members are not on task. This is not something that most students have ever had the power to decide but it is, in my opinion, the most important part of the document. Making these decisions and following through with them helps build student independence, problem-solving skills, and collaboration skills which are so important in the world today and will benefit students no matter what they decide to do in their future.
As a class we discuss possible courses of action. I have students make suggestions and we discuss what that might look like. First I have students determine what off-task behavior means.
What does off-task behavior look like? Is it walking away from your work area for a minute? Is it having side conversations with other teams? Is it daydreaming while conducting research? Remember that you will be bound by the definition you develop right now so consider behaviors that are and are not acceptable when working in a group. Take a few minutes to talk to your team and define what you consider to be off-task behavior and write it down on your planning sheet.
When groups are done, I have a few share their definitions so others can modify their own work if they choose. I try not give students the answer while trying to keep them from being too severe as they will all fall off-task from time to time. The goal is to get them to start recognizing this and getting back on track, monitoring their own work rather than relying on the teacher to do that for them.
Next I have students determine what they will do when group members are off-task as determined by their definition. As a class we discuss several options from just deal with it and move on to "three strikes and you're out of the group". It is important that the group decides on the consequences since it leads to greater buy-in.
Once this is done, I have students work together to complete the rest of the document. Students are not allowed to begin designing their eye until they show me the finished document to approve. If I approve their plan, I have all students sign the agreement and make a copy for my files. I give the students the original to take home and have their parents sign so they are aware of what their child is working on and what is expected of them. When students bring back their parent signatures, I swap out copies so I have documentation that parents are aware of the consequences of not following through with their work.
See Student Examples Completed Contract for ideas on what type of answers students develop. My favorite comes from a group of ADHD boys (we all have them!) who had quite the unique approach to the off-task section. Knowing that attention/ time on task was likely to be a problem, they set up a routine that involves using their phone timers set to help them invest 10 minutes on task and then take a 1 minute break. So far they have not needed to use this plan as they are highly engaged in the project but it is nice to see their creativity shine!