The Exploding Box

My daughter Sarah is in grade 9 in a pre IB (International Baccalaureate) program. One of the courses the students have to take in grade 9 in preparation for the IB program is Reading is Thinking. An essential piece the students have focused on during this course is their “Learner Profile”.  The teacher has provided opportunities for them to explore learning styles, their multiple intelligences, strengths and challenges all while also considering it through the lens of the IB Learner Profile characteristics. The teacher also offered the opportunity of an alternate viewpoint having the students watch a video debating the notion of “learning styles” and Sarah and her classmates had to think critically and evaluate their own perspectives on this topic, and in turn defend their position.



Sarah is an insightful, reflective student. She and I have had many rich conversations about her as a learner over the last number of weeks as she has explored this topic. Most recently, she and her classmates were assigned a final project to synthesize their learning in relation to the insights they have gained into themselves as a learner. They were assigned to capture their own personal Learner Profile in whatever format they wished. There were some criteria outlined for the assignment but for the most part, the project was left very open-ended.

Sarah was so excited about this assignment and opportunity. It was the first chance in 10 years of schooling that she had been given free license to share her learning in whatever way she saw fit.  She immediately knew what she was going to do. As of late, my very creative, driven daughter has been very into bullet journaling, sketch noting and hand lettering. Countless trips to Micheals and orders on Amazon for just the right, paper, journals, pens, and embellishments drive this new passion. Recently she came across a new project she wanted to try called an “Exploding Box”; this school assignment was a perfect fit.

Sarah spent hours on the assignment both in planning, designing and constructing her box as well as in thoughtful reflection and conversation around what content she would include.  She planned her profile, found related quotes, measured, built, made adjustments and appreciated every minute of the process. Her “exploding box” turned out beautiful (see above) and when her teacher asked her if she could keep it as an example to share with future classes, Sarah was reluctant to part with it and we created the video above as a compromise.

This wonderful assignment empowered Sarah as a learner like no other ever as. It spoke to her creative, dynamic nature and free spirit. I applaud this teacher who was willing to relinquish much of the control of this unit by offering the students true, authentic choice to produce to show understanding and share their learning.

Realistically, it may be difficult for teachers to offer such personalized learning opportunities to meet all learning outcomes, but creating space for these types of choice driven projects and finding the places and in which they can be a regular part of our students’ learning lives is essential.  Ensuring some time is spent co-creating criteria or rubrics with students would be an important part of the process.

And realistically, it may not be possible to offer such open-ended learning tasks to all students. Some students are still going to need scaffolds.  Some students who may at times struggle with independent tasks or organizational skills may need you to limit their choices to three options (ie. Descriptive writing piece, collage or multimedia presentation) and some students may need your support in planning the steps of the process of whatever they choose. Realistically, our learners are all different. They each have unique, diverse needs, as does Sarah. She needs to be challenged to use her creative thinking, artistic side and driven nature to push herself in new ways that speak to her own unique passions. Assignments like this offer entry points for each student; our independent learners can fly, while others may need more focused support.

When we reframe learning and provide opportunities for more student-driven, learner-centered approaches in the classroom, we provide opportunities to meet the learning needs of all students in new, exciting, engaging and empowering ways! We also support deeper thinking, richer learning, student ownership, and student autonomy. We open a new world of possibilities for our learners and as suggested by Katie Martin, “the opportunity to engage in a worthy challenge can expand one’s horizons and dreams.”

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