Second Graders Continue to Pursue Their Passions

Eager faces hovered around Dr. Amy MacIsaac, ready to bombard her with questions. MacIsaac is a local veterinarian, specializing in dogs and cats, and she was virtually joining a group of 2nd graders to talk about her job, which is also her passion—a good thing, as she was one of the experts helping to guide the students through their “Passion Projects.”

While the sessions with MacIsaac and other experts took place online, the projects began long before Sidwell Friends moved to the Distance Learning Plan. 

“At the beginning of the year, we start with a passion project, and the theme that anchors the inquiry is ‘How do you ask a more beautiful question?’” says, Joyce Bidi-Olagunju, a 2nd grade teacher. “Then they begin to think about themselves and who they are as a person, and what is it they love to get up in the morning to do.” Once the students have identified that passion, Bidi-Olagunju guides them through a “process of discovering what some of their natural curiosities are about that topic.” Then the class learns what a beautiful question actually is: It’s a question that is open-ended, has many facets, and takes time to explore. “We don’t let anyone settle on a yes or no question,” Bidi-Olagunju says. Next, the students tackle independent research projects, in which they seek out the answers to the questions they formed.

In the second part of the project, the teachers group the students according to their interests and the project focuses more on design thinking. The students then work together to identify a problem or a new innovation in their area of their interest. This is where the experts come in.

“After the students have come as far as they can, they may still have questions,” Bidi-Olagunju says. “This is when talking to an adult in that field would help fill those gaps.”

Those students meeting with MacIsaac asked her about her favorite animal (dogs), how much training she had to have (lots), and if there were similarities between being an animal doctor and a people doctor (more than you’d think). As the discussion unfolded, Bidi-Olagunju hopped from one virtual group to the next to monitor the conversation and guide students into asking deep, thoughtful questions. This same process occurred in the other 2nd grade classrooms as well. 

Bidi-Olagunju noticed that, in some ways, the online conversations were moving more smoothly than they had in person in previous years. In the past, it could be a daunting task to find community experts willing to come to the School and meet with students—leaving work, scheduling convenient times, and transportation issues often made it difficult for an expert to show up. Now, things are different. “We have more access to people than if this were a regular time,” Bidi-Olagunju says. “Because everyone is at home, no one said they weren’t able to meet with us.”

Zoom also provided more efficiency when it came to group or classroom discussions. In person, the students often talk at the same time, or over each other. But, Bidi-Olagunju says, the online platform means “they actually have to take turns and share their ideas one at a time.”

Nevertheless, Bidi-Olagunju misses a little of the cross-talk: “In all honesty, I miss being able to sit with them on the floor and hash things out,” she says. “Sometimes out of the chaos, great ideas are born.” 

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