Welcome to my Professional Learning blog.
My name is Matt Nicoll and I am a high school teacher in New Zealand, interested in improving the classroom experience for my students. I am open to trialing new approaches and hope to use this blog to reflect on my ideas and practices.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

After Exams....

In the past, after our junior exams, we have had activities and a trip to a Marae. This year, that was changed; instead, we continued with our teaching programme.

I had a few ideas of what to focus on, but ultimately decided on an idea which has been very successful for keeping students engaged and I am being blown away by the quality of my students' work. Heaven knows that my students had the potential to be very demotivated as this work could be considered unimportant!

The first idea that I had was to spend two weeks doing some scientific investigation. Spending two weeks on the "Nature of Science" has a lot of educational merit. However, we did a lot of this throughout the year in the context of the units we were studying.

The second idea was not actually mine, but came from my Head of Department. He set up a series of tasks as a Science Olympics. The tasks were really hard and interesting. I was very close to doing this, but came up with a third option that I felt would be more useful for my class; my students have a huge range of abilities and some have real learning difficulties.

So, the third idea, and the one I ran with...

In the exam, my students had very different areas of weakness. After going over the key aspects of the exam in class, I asked them to individually select a part of the exam they did poorly in and feel they could have done better in. These ideas were "big ideas" that are core to learning Science in the future, such as Graphing Skills, learning vocabulary etc. Students were discouraged from choosing specific content knowledge.

Then they were given a selection of possible ways to explain the concept (or help learn it), and choose one that they thought they could use:

  • song
  • poem
  • mnemonic
  • video
  • game
  • PowerPoint presentation

The students were asked to find at least one other student who had the same aspect identified. They could either work together (using an agreed medium) or work individually if they could not agree on a medium to use. The students were given four lessons to plan and create their piece of work.

Day One: select concept and medium
Day Two: plan (share idea with teacher for vetting)
Days Three and Four: creation

The next two lessons (next week) will be the time for students to present their piece of work for the class. With their permission, I will put some this work on our class blog.

I am not saying this was the best thing for us to do; the other options I mentioned above would probably have been successful too. But this has actually been a bit of an experiment (and risk) for me and more successful than I anticipated.

  • every student has been engaged in class
  • most students have commented that they understand the concepts they are working on even better
  • the quality of the work is very pleasing, and worth sharing
  • the students are having fun

So, this makes me wonder... Should more opportunities for this type of learning be made throughout the year? If I can find a way to put it into even one of my units, it would be worthwhile finding out.

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