Healthy Meals for kids

Rethinking approaches to teaching with technology starts with re-thinking the way in which we learn. I previously talked about going on an ICT Diet, so this post is about what could in a healthy classroom.

Rather than ask the student questions that relate to explicit content, how about putting the content together ahead of time and get students to pre-prepare for class?

One of the most critial elements of running a project is the Driving Question. In an ICT classroom, that is a double edged sword, as you should by now be asking questions that they can’t Google the answer.

Heres an example of why I mean by a healthy classroom question.

“How has the way we think about war changed since Gallipoli” for example (HSIE in Stage 3). Here is the outcome from the syllabus (standards).

  • Research significant events in Australia’s history, eg Gold Rush, Federation. Students choose one of those events and write about life from a person’s perspective during that period of time, eg a miner, a war correspondent, a soldier, a child.

There is no one answer to that question, it’s pretty Google Proof. But how they answer the questions should promote the use of Wikipedia and Searching, but not rely on it as ‘the answers’.

Students of course would just offer personal opinions at the outset, based on a general understanding of war and ANZAC cove. If the teacher then goes on to think about the ‘end’ product, then there will be elements of other syllabus outcomes that need to be demonstrated in the project. Let’s assume we go straight from the syllabus on this one point for now.

The end product has to be given to the students. “I want you to go an make…” is not as powerful as asking them ‘what could be a great way of answering this question’.

Rather than plod through a time line of Australian’s at war, create a timeline and share it with the class. If you select the ‘content’ key elements from quality sources, then it is fairly easy to embed them into the timeline or in PBL terms – ‘entry document’.This can be a mix of text, textbook references, video and audio. It allows the teacher to engage students by appealing to their individual learning styles. It also gives them a good idea of what you are ‘expecting’ to see, read or hear.

Don’t stomp on their ideas! – If they want to make a podcast, then that might be a skill they need to learn along the way – but encourage them out of the boring old standards (MS Office).

Even the best student needs a scaffold, so put enough in the timeline to indicate the kind of learning that they will need to do to meet the goals of the teacher – though these goals do not need to explicitly outlined to the students.

So now you have a question, have given students the opportunity to think about the way they are going to represent their answers and some formal pre-class reading.

Next, construct some discussion object, that check for understanding of what to do. Most often this a rubric, but it its key characteristics is to allow students to self-measure – which is a vital skill.

Moodle could do that, or so could a forum online. “If you were going to war, what would be five things that you would have questions about – before making a choice to go to war or to lobby against it”

By encouraging students to generate their own questions, you can check that they did the reading, if they understood the issues etc., From that you can get them to collaborate and share their questions with each other. Are there any common questions, which question stuck you as surprising etc., This is giving teachers hard evidence as part of the formative assessment process. To be effective, you have to learn how to ask questions that will promote reflective answers.

At this point, the power of online discourse communities kicks in. Students will not be in a herd, some will the asking simple questions, others will ask more complex one – perhaps bringing in social, cultural and ethical facets. This watershed, gives the teacher an ability to compare the student to a taxonomy.

Being able to apply what they are saying to what you would like them to say requires some skill. Each student needs to know from the outset, if what they are about to ask/do is too easy or too hard.

During the project, you can ask them specific questions – if you think that they are not covering enough ground, but again, make them interesting and reflective rather than list, find, identify things.

The power of using a scaffold and prepared language model to do this means that any feedback you give them, can be understood and applied by other students. This creates in-built peer assessment. If you are using a forum to do this, then it is simple for students to see who is doing what, and they will model ‘where next’ to a large degree from what they see.

That requires the teaching students how to set goals, and write about reaching them, and giving them feedback using informal online spaces – not marking.

As you didn’t ask for low level answers to start with, then it is quite hard for them to head for copy and paste, as all the questions – and answers are fundamentally reflective and justified by the individual, not the group. Teachers need to keep a running record of this activity and growth, so developing a new formative assessement record is critical – but it’s not complex. The ‘teacher’ journal can be replaced with an eJournal.

As the project moves forwards, the teacher needs to ask each student questions to steer them through each of the ‘learning gates’ or re-direct them. Ideally, reference a student who has gone through a gate and ask the student who missed it to suggest why they missed it the first time. Linking their learning to each other is very powerful and motivating. It avoids saying ‘you are wrong’.

Like VET based vocational learning, I don’t think learning is yes or no anymore but merely a competency. Some answers or obviously fixed – ‘”What is the formula to measure the area of a circle” but giving them a task in which they find and apply that formula is a milestone in achieving a greater goal.

Teachers like to mark things, but marks in this context don’t work, its easy to mark the ‘area of a circle’ formula, but thats no reason to hold onto it forever. Context and information fluency is more important.

There is no harm in letting kids take another shot. So rethink what you consider to be summative assessment. Of course you can’t do that if you have given the answer already – and that happens because a lot of questions are geared towards having an answer.

Ultimately, you will cover the content, and the students will collaborate, but doing to so to meet individual goals. More complex management of groups is required if you are indeed forming ‘groups’.

You end product could be something like a dairy entry – how a soldier felt when first signing up for war, and what he felt like after being there for a short time. They could then write a letter as a elderly person, reflecting on how war has changed – or not changed, by reflecting on evidence and the questions that they raised. Of course along the way, you can still drop in a test. Moodle is great at 10 minute ‘oil dips’. Tests do motivate students, but they are not truely reflective of ability in collaborative environments.

Presenting to someone from the RSL, gives the whole project validity and passion. The questions the students created can be directly commented on by the ex-serviceman, there is a personal, authentic connection. A student just presenting a slideshow about ANZACs will merely contain linear facts.

The evaluation at the end of the presentation, is critical. It could be done by students recording a Podcast, and having a conversation about their questions and the things they decided were reasonable answers. They will not only present their work, but learn from critical feedback. So even being assessed does not have to be a once only affair, it’s okay to make summative assessment something other than a ‘test’ or a ‘hand in’.

The teacher will have a comprehensive formative record of EACH students progress. They will be able to easily demonstrate a growth in the learner, and a one to one conversation. One key indicator if the project design is individualized and comprehensive is that the end products will be different!

This automatically allows for differentiated learning and encourages creative solutions. Eric Gill (typographer) said “The artist is not a different kind of person, but every person is a different kind of artist.”

Presenting learning in interesting ways and encouraging interesting, creative use of ICTs to solve authentic projects create engagement and builds effective critical thinkers. Its healthy for the school too, as students are ‘busy’ learning not ‘busy’ looking to entertain themselves with poor behaviour – a symptom of boredom in my view.