I teach three 8th grade digital information technology classes at my school. This week I am using a discovery learning approach to instruction by having students create tours using Google Earth.
The task itself in not innovative; after completing a unit on databases students research for answers to some basic questions to learn which roller coasters hold the records for being the longest, tallest, and fastest in the world. I send them to a database on roller coasters to find these answers. Next, they are to create an annotated tour of the coasters and share what they have learned using Google Earth.
Discovery occurs when they are assigned to work together in small groups and to run Google Earth-with no direct instruction. They must learn the basics together such as how to get started using the program, how to add pins and folders to My places, and how to create a tour. They are forced to problem solve together when their recordings do not work or when they want to manipulate images so that a 3-D affect is achieved.
I tell students from the start they will not be graded on "using Google Earth", but rather on finding and sharing accurate data, on creating a "polished & professional" tour, and on how well they problem solve together.
Students often wait for us to teach them "how to do something" before we send them off to complete a task. Discovery learning allows me to turn this notion on its head. I begin by telling them what I want the end result to be, but that the problem of how to do it is their to tackle.
I do provide support as the project unfolds. I begin the first day by showing samples of tours previous students have completed and share links to Google Earth tutorials and videos. I travel around the room as they work making suggestions or asking leading questions to send them toward solutions. Students have to work together, though, to read and analyze the tutorials and videos and to apply what they learn.
I will be quite frank in stating that there is frustration along the way. Things don't work like they are supposed to and the task is not easy. Students aren't used to being told-"try again" instead of just being given the answer. And when the wheels of learning start to turn-the classroom runs like a dream. It is noisy but collaborative. There is laughter when things go right and arguing when students disagree. But most importantly there is learning and in the end, success when they are able to produce a finished product they are happy to hand in.
We end the project by sharing the projects on a wide screen for all to see and hear. The students chatter about each others work and laugh at others mistakes. And when we decompress and talk about what we learned-they are always proud of themselves for having figured it out for themselves and for discovering they could do it.