What would Leonardo do with $.25 notebook from Staples?

So, I am trying something completely different with my Modern World PBL/Inquiry section. For the unit where the content is the Renaissance, Reformation, and Scientific Enlightenment, I decided to use Leonardo (da Vinci not di Caprio) as my inspiration.

After talking a bit about Leonardo’s notebooks including his rather ambitious “to do” list that can be found in one of them, I handed out journals that I had gotten when they were super cheap at Staples at the start of the school year. I had not found a way to use them – yet. They are to investigate history in the spirit of Leonardo da Vinci. Our essential question is more of a gentle reminder about process than anything to do about content – what would Leonardo do?

I have asked students to use the notebooks to document their learning with a combination of notes, reflections, images, and questions. They can start where they want and spend as much time as they want on a topic and then move wherever they want so long as they remain somewhere within the three main topics and the loose time frame of 1450-1750. They keep looking at me to see what the catch is, where the essay assignment or the test comes in. They want to know what I want them to learn; some are afraid to do it wrong. There is no catch. They just need to think and learn and document that thinking and learning. I was going to have them each do a presentation, but I am thinking I will make that optional. Students can either do the journal and the more formal sharing or just the journal and the informal sharing that we’ll do during discussion.

I see how much pressure they feel in general, and I think that impedes their learning. I am experimenting to see what will happen if I value their learning journey rather than the destination. In terms of content, this means that some kids will learn about Renaissance architecture while others will know more about Galileo. It’s a price I’m willing to pay because I think they will actually remember their experience positively and maybe even remember some of the content.

Some kids are having a little trouble letting go and not worrying. Others need a gentle push to document their learning. But already, on the second day I had kids who wanted to take their journals home even though I’m not asking to work outside of class right now. One student came into class and wanted to start right away, even before the bell. About halfway through yesteday’s class, I had the best conversation with a student who was learning more about Leonardo and was really inspired by him. They asked me how long we would be doing this. I told them I didn’t know; we have to see how it goes. My gut tells me we will know when it’s time to move on.

The foot is off the gas. I’m encouraging wandering and thinking. What’s the worst that can happen?