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Autonomy leads to creativity and understanding

May 5, 2015

Human_Digestive_SystemIn senior biology each year, I have the students do a travel brochure through the digestive system.  I had them use an analogy of a travel tour to explain what was happening in each organ with the hope that the students would better understand the concept when they were finished.  For the most part, the projects were good and the students did pretty well on the unit test.

This year I loosened up the expectations.  I told them they could do ANY project to show their understanding of the digestive system learning outcomes.  The only criteria was they needed to use an analogy for each term and function in the system.  I joked that the presentation format could be anything from an essay to interpretive dance.  The students, initially, did not know where to start.  Open ended projects are a challenge for students that are usually told exactly what they need to do to be successful.

With how much of a time constraint we are under in senior biology it is hard to “burn” days thinking of project ideas.  Luckily, using the flip model, I was able to free up some time usually dedicated to lecture.

I gave the students a week to finish the project and made it due the day before the test.

The creativity and the level of effort the students put in was amazing!

They immersed themselves in their projects as they chose ideas that interested them.

Here is a list of some of the projects that they created:



Abstract Painting:




House Demolition:

20150505_084611 20150505_084624 20150505_084638

Pirate Ship:


Video: Digestion Dundee


I always reflect after I do activities, labs, and projects to see if it was beneficial.  After seeing the results of the tests it is obvious that the understanding of the concepts improved.  In addition to the understanding, I could also see that students were proud of the projects they created.

Looking back, the key to the success of this project was autonomy.  In letting the students come up with their own ideas and presentation style the students were invested in the project and the finished projects blew my expectations out of the water.

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