Monday, March 8, 2010

"Final Countdown" to Benchmark Project

As yet another class at NLU comes to a close, we've been asked to reflect on our final Benchmark project which was the creation of a webquest or curriculum web. Overall, I have to admit that this class has been one of the most useful and helpful yet that I've taken in regards to actual classroom use. I know that I will continue to use many of the skills gained in this class to continue with the created webquest and to also create a webpage for my beginning band students as well, a task that I've wanted to complete for some time now.

Now to address the actual benchmark project of the webquest. I chose to complete a webquest assignment on finding the most difficult instrument in the beginning band to play. This was not a question that I came up with on my own; it is a question that I am asked literally hundreds of times a school year. I feel that this in itself makes for the beginning of a useful assignment as it is something that students have questioned and examined on a superficial level throughout the year. The challenge for myself soon became how to take this valid question and turn it into a true "inquiry" based lesson, a term I still struggle with defining. But perhaps this is one of the purposes of "inquiry"after all: a term that continues to evolve and develop as our own learning continues to evolve and develop as well.

By using a question that students have developed, the project begins to take on the definition of true inquiry. The webquest also embodies analysis and synthesis in that students have to analyze each individual instrument and synthesize all of this data into choosing their hardest instrument. However, once they've come up with this answer the quest is not done yet. A single answer is not the end as I want this to challenge their current thinking. After their first answer they must then discuss this answer with other classmates using collaboration skills to see if they still want to keep their original answer. After coming up with this answer, students must then present their findings to the band as a whole for further discussion, another area of true inquiry.

After the students complete this webquest, it is hoped that the students will realize that there is no one instrument that is ultimately the "hardest" to play. There are many factors that contribute to making an instrument "hard" to play: students size of their hands and body, sound production, and interest. By looking at these factors, students will gain a better understanding of not only their instrument but how all instruments in the band function as a group, leading to better group participation and playing. Even though a student may not play an instrument from the brass family, they will understand how to play one of these instruments, some of the difficulties these players are challenged with, as well as how to incorporate their sound into that of the whole band. As more and more instruments are introduced into the mix as the students progress from year to year they can develop their own inquiries into what makes those instruments work and produce the sound they do, and whether or not it is a viable option for them to undertake learning one of these instruments or will it be their "hardest" instrument to play.

Overall, I am quite excited about having my students complete this webquest so I can take the issues that occur during the implementation of it to go back and make it even stronger as an inquiry-based learning activity. Here in, though, lies my ultimate problem. If I remember correctly, Craig made mention of this activity taking approximately 150 to 200 minutes to be completed in a class setting. Now, for teachers that may have access to their students on a weekly basis, this is not an issue. However, I only see my band students for 30 minutes once a week. If we were to attempt to complete this webquest with the above time demands, we would possibly be done with the webquest in 5 weeks at the minimum. I know this is a common complaint, but I do not have the time nor the luxury to devote to this. There is a possibility that I could complete this in collaboration with a classroom teacher at their individual schools where the classroom teacher could continue to take them into the lab after I've laid the foundation, but this also comes with complications as they have their own curriculum they need to teach.

All this to say, I have greatly enjoyed creating this instrument webquest, but have serious concerns about the time required to complete it.