Personalized Learning, Ungrading, and a Tree

Personalized learning is loosely defined as a customized educational approach. For me, personalized learning came hand-in-hand with Ungrading. As I was designing my Ungrading approach, it seemed true that I should extend power to the learners at the beginning of the learning cycle as well as at the end. (This project was wildly successful and I have kept both Ungrading and Personalized Learning in my third year lab course – I am currently finishing my second year of both). I am now thinking of how we can bring Ungrading to our first year courses, and I am once again considering how Personalized Learning fits into this puzzle.

Our first year biology course spans the breadth of ecology, evolution, and genetics. As much as I love my lab course, first year is my favourite! I am excited to be back in the world of first-year students. Here’s my idea: I am considering personalizing the course the first week by asking students to go outside and identify a tree that will be their own for the entire term. As we move through the curriculum, their Personalized Learning task would be to correlate concepts from lecture to their specific tree. (What organisms are living on your tree this week? Who are your tree’s closest relatives? What is happening in the soil around your tree? What microclimate is your tree providing? What adaptations does your tree have that helps it survive here? How does it reproduce? What kind of variation exists in the population? Etc.) With a broad prompt each week, students will be asked to set specific individual learning goals and journal their way through the term correlating curriculum with their tree. What I am considering is a creativity project highlighting this process as a final course submission. (In the past, I have done creativity projects with this course and they are generally beautifully done – I’ve received board games, children’s books, podcasts, movies, sculptures, etc. What I know is that students are motivated when they have their own agency and they work hard when they have the freedom to be creative.) This is a work in progress – stay tuned!

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