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Archive for the ‘inquiry based learning’ Category

Following on from my previous post about engaging senior students struggling to connect with English, I thought I’d share some start up activities developed over the past few years which now form a nice wee package of introductory lessons.

Week One is important. You only get one chance to make a first impression. That first impression for any student is key but for young people who have already experienced consecutive years of Not Achieved (and however you dress that up, it’s never a great feeling), it is vital. Instead of weighing students down with course outlines and standards offered on day one, last year I decided to focus on The Future – for the world, for them as people, and for them as English students to encourage them to reflect on where they want to be and (hopefully) see some relevance in the days, weeks and months ahead because for Mr I Hate English and Ms I Never Read, by definition, this can be a very long year.

To start with, we watched a very cool compilation video summarising the highlights of 2014 via Upworthy. All they had to do was watch and see if they could yell out the event/person’s name before the subtitles. This year – and hey, it’s still early, the best one I’ve found so far is a summary via Facebook.

Fun Factor – check.

Taking it up a level we then close view The World in 2020 (I’ve also used Shift Happens in the past) and discuss ideas around changes in technology and education. Next I used a selection of articles from Mindfood on Future Trends which featured in December’s issue (and has been repeated this year). Students choose a topic that selects them (food, travel, technology) read one or more articles then answer a series of questions. The activity culminates with them pairing up with other students who read about the same topic, summarising and mind-mapping the predictions plus adding their own.

Big Picture – check.

Next I use a reflective piece of writing by a teacher simply titled Some Thoughts (on studying English) which a colleague shared with me years ago. I remind them (hopefully) about skimming and scanning as a close reading technique and then they read and answer questions.

Subject importance – check.

Now we’re up to about Day 3 so I get the students to complete the Careers Quest  (regardless of whether they have done it before or not) which involves answering questions about their likes, strengths etc. This data generates a list of career options as well as entry requirements for the industry, income, current employment climate and information they can use as the basis for a report writing or oral presentations later in the year. (Make sure they save their results so they can refer back later on – and write down password!)

Individual relevance – check.

At this point only, I give out the course outline and go over available standards and credits with them. It might feel as if I’ve created a false impression that the year is going to be all about YouTube and mind maps but what I’ve learned about these students is they already know they will find the standard required hard but what might motivate them to give things a go is if they can see some relevance and understand that we are working together to develop life skills.  Certainly beats writing letters about yourself ….

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With ANZAC Day looming and (sorry it has to be said) media over-saturation threatening to drown us in stories of the sacrifices made for us 100 years ago, I set my self a challenge to find a suitable activity for each of my classes next week.

In one of those weird moments of serendipity, a member of my always helpful twitter PLN shared a link to a collaborative powerpoint with a wealth of activities and tasks for a range of ages, although the focus is mainly primary. You’ll need a google account to sign in and view this. You should also feel free to add ideas – but be quick! I’m also happy to share any of the resources that I developed, just contact me via this site.

Year 9 – Watch the short New Zealand film Falling Sparrows by Murray Keane. One class will answer focus questions with an emphasis on symbolism, the other will write a personal response. Both classes will also watch Sons of Gallipoli by Chris Skinner and then use that as a springboard for reflective writing in their journals. One class is using Personal Best as their linking theme this term, the other Justice and Injustice so there are some clear links to be made.

Year 10Watch the clip by 15 year old Australian Faith Howells about the ANZACs. Use as a close listening activity where students will listen out for a series of facts and end with a more open ended reflective question. I’ve got a flat screen TV now in my room so can play the clip on the TV while the questions are projected on the Whiteboard nearby – helps to keep them focussed while listening. I’ll also pause the clip a few times so they don’t get too anxious!

Year 11 – Watch Tama Tu directed by Taika Waiti and answer a series of focus questions. Our connecting theme for the term is Courage so they can use this text if they like it for their AS1.8 Making Connections report. This class is also doing AS1.11 Close Viewing next term so the questions I developed attempt to revise some basic film techniques and help them think about how those techniques are used to express an idea.

Year 12 – Watch ANZAC Letters. Note down interesting words/phrases, discuss personal connections in groups. Then either write a letter to one of the soldiers give a 21st Century perspective on their sacrifice OR write narrative base don the day in a life of one of the soldiers featured. The following week, we’ll watch Field Punishment No 1. directed by Peter Burger and available via Lippy Pictures. Either write a letter home from one of the characters OT write a letter to the editor in support of or protesting against the treatment of conscientious objectors in WW1.

Most of these planned activities use a visual text as a starter. I find with less able students, this works best to get them thinking. Close listening is also a focus for me this year with my Year 10s  – not easy for some of them.

I’ve used falling Sparrows and Tama Tu previously and found they both work well. These arepart of the Ten and Elven short film compilations produced by Vislearn – highly recommend those plus if you’re feeling fliush, the supporting study guides.

So hopefully that’s something for everyone. Will let you know how that goes down too.

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The old adage of “one page ahead” is dangerous territory for any teacher to find themselves in. Our students justifiably expect that our knowledge of our chosen subject area is more extensive than their own. But the current train of thought in New Zealand that more academic qualifications (knowledge) equates to more effective teaching is a fallacy.

I trained with people with PhDs in their chosen subject areas some of whom struggled to share that knowledge effectively with their students. Some never made it to a classroom. Why? Because when it comes to teaching, pedagogical skills (often considered to be lower level thinking than knowledge) win over subject knowledge every time. So in this regard, the push towards more time in the classrooms for secondary teacher trainees, IF adequately resourced, is a positive move.

Teaching is not an exact science. It is both art and science, profession and vocation. It requires knowledge, pedagogical understanding, experience, empathy and stamina. Experts in their fields have a tendency to forget what it is like to struggle. Their ability to recall the difficulty in learning new concepts, at breaking down subject material into bite-sized chunks for students can in fact be a hindrance. This is vital in classrooms characterised with a range of learning needs from low literacy to ADHD combined with hormones, cell phones and an endless list of other potential barriers to learning in any classroom on any given day.

It is a well known fact that we are preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist. That most of students will have not only more than one job but more than one career during their working lives and that those with a wide range of transferrable skills are most likely to succeed in a future where the pace of change is exponential. Yes, shift truly happens.

On the other hand, in some instances, it might be okay to be not just one page ahead but actually on the same page as students. A focus on inquiry-based learning in New Zealand’s curriculum, which has become almost modus operandi in our primary schools, endorses this approach. Multiple pathways to accessing, processing and synthesising new information have made it acceptable to trek the learning path alongside our students – and that in itself can have benefits for student-teacher relationships. It allows students see us as human and therefore fallible too. This is especially the case with digital technology. (Who hasn’t used a 14-year-old as their ICT go to in a classroom?!)

At the end of the day, it is how we use and share our knowledge that has the potential to make a difference to students’ lives. Pedagogical content knowledge means being aware of different teaching strategies, being able to adapt and employ them, accepting that one size does not fit all and, like our students, not being afraid to try again if things don’t work out as we anticipated the first time around.

It’s a real shame that the decision makers in New Zealand seem so far removed from the daily realities of teaching. The current obsession with more bits of paper (proof of knowledge) highlights the gap between what the general public believe makes effective teachers and the diverse skill set teachers actually require to succeed.

When I chose to become a teacher five years ago, I had plenty of knowledge in my chosen subject areas backed up by 17 years industry experience.  What I didn’t have were the skills to share my knowledge (and experiences) with my students. After four years teaching and learning in four different schools, I’m getting there but the beauty of teaching is we can never know everything while our skills in student-centred learning environments, by definition, must be constantly developing. Surely this in itself makes us if not good role models than at least good ambassadors of the life long learning philosophy espoused in the New Zealand Curriculum?

 

shift

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It had to happen. After two years of thinking about it, I’ve finally integrated the amazing CSI web-based learning adventure into an English class. And what better time of year to trial this than the end of the year when keeping students engaged becomes more challenging than ever.

I’ve posted about CSI before. I became interested in the principles of game-based learning and decided this web-adventure could be used as a spring board for creative writing for a range of reasons. I’m acutely aware of the difference between game-based learning and gamification. I’ve probably gamified the learning process more than created a genuine game-based learning opportunity BUT I’ve attempted to balance engagement, skill development and assessment in the context of creative writing. The benefits of using games in the class include:

1. The popularity of online, interactive games  – engagement

2. Rewards-based activities incentivise learning – in CSI, students gain instruments when they complete a section of rookie training.

3. The opportunity to reinforce core values around digital citizenship introduced through our wide reading blog – managing passwords and accounts, staying on task, using several sites consecutively (dictionary.com, virtual thesaurus and CSI)

4. Problem solving – one of me, lots of you means try to work it out yourself OR ask a friend first!

My learning outcomes were also linked to the NZC as creating meaning through creative writing is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the English curriculum to teach. Through embarking on the CSI web adventure I aimed to:

1. Give students a range of concrete nouns to include in their writing through creating individual glossaries of new subject specific words.

2. Provide a tangible setting for their writing – as they explored the labs and crime scenes, they were exposed to places they could describe in their stories. If they struggled to transfer that to their writing, they were also encouraged to use settings more familiar to them (Peter Johnstone Park, the Octagon, etc).

3. Introduction to a range of potential narrators through the game – students were given the choice of writing from one of the character’s points of view OR to imagine themselves as a rookie investigator as part of the team.

4. Sew the seeds of potential narratives as they took part in the interactive case studies .

5. Opportunities for cross curricular learning – the CSI game offers resources for a range of subject areas, especially Science.

Over the past few weeks, my two Year 9 classes have completed Rookie Training and at least two case studies, created a glossary of new words (the goal was 15 words) and set up Google doc accounts. I’ve also trialled using Kaizena to give verbal feedback to several students. Kaizena enables students to share their docs with your profile. You then highlight words/phrases and give feedback on improvements needed. There’s a great introductory presentation available here. I’ve found I provide more feedback and it’s highly personalised so it becomes instantly more meaningful.

We then revised characterisation and narrative structure and, discussed a range of potential hooks to draw the reader in which I modelled on the board using the CSI theme.  I got students to complete a planning sheet of ideas (who is your main character, what happens, and then…) as like most of us, the hardest thing about writing is starting.

Every one of the 58 students has submitted drafts at varying stages of the writing process.  I’ve been blown away by some of the drafts. Given the stage of the year, I fully expected to have to closely monitor laptop usage but have only had to reprimand one student in the whole two weeks for not being on task. They’ve been genuinely riveted (and at times frustrated) with the game and have taken that level of engagement through to their writing. Given that I have students working from Level 2-5 of the NZC, I’m happy with that outcome.

I’ve got a planning unit available for anyone interested in giving this a go. Over the next few days, I’ll also seek permission from a couple of students to publish their work here. Watch this space!

Screenshot 2014-11-30 21.07.38

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I’ve been following with interest discussions around the concept of flipped learning.  Flipped classrooms were named after a paper published in 2000 (so not entirely new) by Lage, Platt and Treglia where the authors sought to encourage students to learn by doing by giving them access to learning materials before they entered the classroom. This is a concept readily used by tertiary institutions although often I suspect it becomes a way of catching up on missed lectures rather than actively choosing to bring something to the learning table… .

Flipped classrooms freak me out. Not because I’m against the concept which clearly resonates with the NZC value of creating lifelong learners who are active seekers, users and creators of knowledge. Not only do they need to learn stuff with us, they need to learn how to learn. My anxiety stems from concerns around access to technology both outside and inside school for many (most?) of our state educated secondary students. In others words, love the theory, can’t get my head around the practice.

So it was with some delight I came across the related concept of tilted classrooms vie www.edudemic.com.  The more I read, the more I saw opportunities for applying the concept as well as some aha moments where I recognised I have been tilting for several months! Edudemic sums up the difference between the two approaches as:

“…flipped learning is about transferring control to students to make them more involved and more responsible for their learning process, sideways learning is about making learning and study tools accessible to all students.”

Tilting a classroom still uses online resources but blends those with group work, classroom  discussion and after school learning. So far so good. But what might it look like?

1. Proactive use of a LMS: We use ultranet as an LMS. Others schools use moodle and/or wiki. Rather than an online repository for word documents, I aim to include videos, podcasts, quizzes and links to online sites to both extend and support students’ learning. I’m not saying they are all regular users but by showing them the site often in class, there are at least some using this option.

2. Reusable videos: There are some great sites around covering ideas, concepts, texts and can be included in lessons. Kahn Academy, Teacher Tube, TED Talks, the Vlog brothers Crash Course clips and  Upworthy are worth searching and bookmarking. Recently, I used clips off YouTube from a Sunday TV programme on boy racing as a starter for Year 10 formal writing. We also discussed the case of the 4 year-old boy who was killed by a boy racer in Christchurch. This generated a brainstorming session and then planning essays on A3 in groups. Their homework was to write an introduction independently.

3. Mini-lectures: I’ve become a fan of Showme this year. These presentations are easy to create and can be added to a LMS via a link so  students (yes with computer access OR smart phones with data credit!) can review in their own time. The combination of visual and oral cues works well especially with lower literacy learners who definitely prefer this to note taking. Be warned – you’ll need your best radio voice!

4. Interactive online resources: Why recreate the wheel? These are also a great option for tilting learning. This week, I used readwritethink’s persuasion map and essay map with my Year 10 class. We were half way through a formal writing assessment when I judged they were all still struggling with the basics. So I abandoned mission, lucked it with a booking for laptops, got them to complete both planners using their assessment topic and print the results. They have been much more focussed since. We also used the BBC skillwise site as a starter going right back to sentence construction and punctuation by talking about the rules then playing games. I did them first and then challenged students to beat my time. (Yes some did!)

So even in a learning environment where access to technology is not a given, there are ways to at least tilt learning. As well as promoting deep level thinking (SOLO anyone?), encouraging self-management and inquiry based learning, there are other benefits to teachers. This approach enables us to spend more one on one time with students (and let’s face it, core subject classes are large in most state secondary schools), is a less exhausting way to teach and once you have created/bookmarked a few videos/sites, you can reuse them so is less stressful.

None of this is rocket science. In fact flipped learning is based on core pedagogical tennants of relevancy, differentiation and engagement.  And whether you’re a cautious tilter or a committed flipper, developing new ways to enhance learning outcomes is at the very least pause for thought.

 

 

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I first came across Scoop.it last year via Peter Mellow of Curtin University. Like many good ideas, it got put on the back-burner until recently when I made time to have a play – and I’m glad I did.

Scoop.it is a great online curation tool that enables us to share relevant information with students in a visually appealing, easy to use format. “Creative consumption” according to the folks at Scoop.it.  Previously I’ve shared links to websites with students via koodle/wiki/email but Scoop.it enables creators to “scoop” several sites onto one page (or online magazine).  It pays to show students the page to pique their interest.

There are plenty of reasons to love Scoop.it including:

1. One click and you’re there – saves time

2. You can include sites that appeal to a range of learners – yes, differentiate 🙂

3. You can critique each site in a separate thumbnail that appears under each previewed site for comments like “great for revision” or “has a quiz”  – saves time

4. It’s a fantastic way to extend those hungry for more than you can cover in class  – feeds the mind

5. Each site is presented visually so it looks good – holds attention

6. You can arrange the sites from most to least important – makes sense

7. It’s easy to create a topic – intuitive

And even better for time poor teachers, if you aren’t inclined to create your own page, simply search on Scoop.it and it’s highly likely someone has beaten you to it. Working smarter not harder right?

So far I have shown my level 2s a link via koodle and hope like heck they’re visiting this weekend (you can check site stats) before next week’s exams.  My iPad class should have all bookmarked and, wifi willing, will create their own pages on Romeo and Juliet next week. There is an app for iPad users to use Scoop.it too.

It’s easier to supply your students with a link to your topics as they could be searching a while otherwise .  Anyhow, check it out yourself.  Here are links to my Hone Tuwhare, To Kill a Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet pages. Enjoy.

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As teachers, we’re preparing learners for careers that may not even exist yet. It’s often quoted that Gen-Y can expect to have up to seven different jobs in their lifetimes.  As such, it’s pretty important that we’re equipping students with a range of transferable skills that enable them to survive and thrive in the future.

Increasingly skills such as critical analysis, collaboration, information gathering and dissemination will become the new black in a tight employment market.

Visual ly is a site enabling users to create and share data visualisation and infographics. Applications? Many! In a nutshell, you could either search for existing Visual-ly posters project and discuss OR create your own!

Towards the end year as students revise for exams, it would be a great way for them to show deeper understanding of texts studied throughout the year.  It would pay to have sessions during the year so everyone knew how to create a Visual-ly but this seems like a fantastic way to encourage deeper level thinking, make links within and between texts, demonstrate personal insight and present responses to texts.

It could also be used to:

  • Present material gathered during research assignments
  • Plan answers for exam questions
  • Break down complex subject matter

 

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