SOLE Challenge: Jaki Day

SOLE Searching

By Jaki Day

I have been a teacher of gifted students for 9 years. I am currently teaching grades 3-5 in a pullout enrichment program where the students come to my class one day a week.  Our school is located in a small rural area of Georgia (USA).  I serve 34 gifted 5th graders in two classes on two separate days of the week. It is always a challenge for me to create experiences that will inspire, challenge and stretch the boundaries of their every day learning experiences.

I call my students “Beyonders”. I tell them that their education is in their own hands.  They should go beyond expectations in all areas of their lives not just academics.  They are often presented with choices of tasks in my class and sometimes in their regular education classes. The SOLE PROJECT, however, has taken this to a whole new level, and they are thriving and truly living up to the “Beyonder” name.

When I was first introduced to the SOLE PROJECT I was intrigued by the hands off approach of Dr. Mitra and the self-motivation of the students.  One of the greatest disservice and injustices we do to our gifted students, in my opinion, is to order their whole day and fill it up with more and more work that has not been chosen by them.  Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  He also said, “Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Einstein spent much of his life inside his own head, in books, and working complicated math problems. He looked to nature and books for answers and sometimes conducted experiments (often times failing and trying again).  I guess you could say he had a big question and searched his only Internet…the real world and books.  Often he found that his search just led him to more searching, much like our students did on their SOLE SEARCHING.

Gifted students have an innate curiosity that is often not allowed to flourish in modern American education.  One 45 minute block on one day a week of SOLE SEARCHING may be all we need (if not more) to get and keep our gifted students excited about learning again.  It may also be the jump-start they need to think beyond and into new possibilities.

Our SOLE PROJECT took place with two classes of 19 and 16 students.  Each class was presented with the same question and left to form groups to search for answers. We called this process SOLE SEARCHING. In order to replicate some of Dr. Mitra’s “Hole in the Wall” experiment and to add an extra challenge, I presented the question, to the English-speaking students, in Spanish.  Unfortunately, I could not replicate the learning how to browse and use the computer because they were already savvy users of the Internet. However, they did get excited about the search and it wasn’t just another trip to the computer lab to research a famous person or place.  This was bigger.

The students were asked to find out why everyone in the world doesn’t speak the same language.  Then there was a secondary question, which asked them why don’t animals speak like humans?  Since the English translation didn’t translate exactly to the same sentence structure that they are used to they had to decode a little further than just the raw translation.

Once they had figured out the question they were off and running.  Groups worked like they were running a race.  They were like starving children who were just placed before a large banquet table.  It was an amazing sight and it made me smile.  There were a few times when the students wanted to get an answer or a clarification from me, but I just took Dr. Mitra’s response and said, “I don’t know. Do I look like I know everything?”

Once they realized that I would neither confirm nor deny their information they began to discuss and clarify information with each other.  At least in one class I had one student that can never seem to work well with others.  Giving him the option to move from group to group gave him the perfect opportunity to connect on some levels and then move on when he got bored or frustrated. What was the most surprising was the new role he began to take on; he became the “courier”.  He would learn something from one group and share it with another and move on.  It was perfect.

When searching time had ended the students gathered again in groups to prepare their presentations of what they had discovered.  The one student (the Courier) eventually gravitated to one small group and was welcomed in and added to the presentation.  This was huge!

The students presented their finding which ranged from Biblical explanations of the Tower of Babel to a more scientific approach about vocal cords, tribes, and migration.

When I asked them what they thought of learning this way they were unanimous in their enthusiasm.  As a matter of fact I stayed after school the next week for three days to allow those who were able to come to the computer lab and SOLE SEARCH a big question of their own.  A few students showed up to search for the first living thing on planet earth. As I listened to this group read and discuss their findings, I was hearing these 10 and 11-year-old students talk about atoms and subatomic molecules, neutrons, electrons, the Big Bang Theory, and the periodic table. Very little of this information is on the 5th grade curriculum. They will present their information to their class this Thursday.  I can’t wait.

It has been amazing to watch these students take their education into their own hands and I don’t believe they will ever be satisfied with spoon-feeding again.  Thank you Dr. Mitra.