Friday, June 5, 2015

When the end is in sight

Boom! That's what happens to engagement as the end of the year approaches in my mastery-based biology class.

Well, not exactly. Last week it was plummeting. But this week it went through the roof. At one point today, every student was working on a quiz or project. And for the past two days, I was unable to get all of the engagement measurements I wanted because I was too busy answering students' questions.

So what happened?

Yesterday I started class by reminding them that they had little time left to complete all of their projects, and that this class could run into the summer for some of them. (They have to complete everything to get credit. That's part of the master-based deal, I tell them.)

I hate doing this--using negative ways of motivating them, and part of me really doesn't like the fact that the imposing end of the course has motivated them better than autonomy, mastery, and purpose could.

But the other part of me understands. My efforts at making meaningful objectives, giving them plenty of choice, and unlimited opportunity for mastery have not been perfect. Especially the objectives part. I feel like the projects and objectives have a long way to go before they are really meaningful to students.

But I also understand how our brains work. We drastically discount the importance of events the further they are into the future. It's called present bias or hyperbolic discounting. This is why we procrastinate. And it's especially true for some teens who haven't yet learned how to worry about the future as much as grown-ups like me. (Sometimes I wish I were a bit less concerned about the future.)

So it makes sense that my students kick it in gear as the end comes into focus.

So my goals for next year:

1) Teach them how to see the future more clearly and not discount it quite so much.
2) Make my projects and objectives so meaningful that that's not even necessary.

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