This semester, as students wrap up their PBAT essays, wrap up their content learning, and wrap up their super special time with me learning about Trigonometry, I began to think about the same question over and over again.

“How can I get students to think more for themselves, and stop asking me to think for them?”

The project we settled on was always the capstone project for Trigonometry, where we model daylight hours using sine waves. However this time, I decided to show students more, and then push them to make their own questions. (I swear, I’m not pushy all the time.) . Students explored cities all over the world—from Johannesburg, South Africa to Monteverde, Costa Rica—playing with numbers and making keen observations of the representations they developed.

“Why do our graphs look upside down from one another” one student would ask, reflecting on one city’s daylight graph from the southern hemisphere, compared to another in the north.

“What’s it like to fast somewhere like Russia?” another student would ask, remembering that I was also fasting this month for Ramadan, along with a handful of other ESA students.

“Hmm…well, what do we know about their daylight hours during this month?” I would answer back, then spiraling the class into another off-topic, but not-so-off-topic conversation about how these daylight hours—manifested as beautiful, unique sine waves—say so much more about the day-to-day experiences of people than we would initially give credit.

The real question, however, is not just about modeling the daylight hours, but about the questions we ask after getting to see the models.

Some of the questions students developed:

“How do daylight hours affect people with seasonal affective disorder?”

“How do different locations’ daylight hours affect the circadian rhythms of people living there?”

“How can we use sine to understand daylight hour patterns on other planets?”

What is interesting now is that students have launched into a battle for needing more research, finding attainable data that really suits their needs to answer their questions.

And for the first time, I cannot prescribe students exactly what to do. We are knee-deep in constructing these essays, but each and every student has to make a choice about the representations they use, and why they use them. My feedback to students must be in the form of questions, because I am trying to understand their line of thinking, just like they are grasping for connections between this content and the dizzying world around them.

In the mean time, they’ve been able to produce some interesting stuff:

My role in all of this has been to provide more of the scaffolds, and interfere less in the exciting journey for answering questions, revising questions, and searching for more answers.

I’m toying with how I introduce helpful sentence starters, or how I set up criteria for writing all sections of their essay, or even provide general help.

Stay tuned to see the fruits of our labor!