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.

Monday, 4 February 2013

Student-Driven Unit Planning

I really should take a breath before taking more risks, but I landed on my feet with this one! I decided to let my Year 13 students decide the sequence that each of them will learn about Organic Chemistry, and which learning experiences they would like to be employed - student-driven and student-centred unit planning!

Ultimately, my class will be working in small, dynamic groups which will be working collaboratively on agreed experiments and activities to learn a particular concept. They can request outside experts, additional experiments, can bring in videos, can watch YouTube clips....whatever they like, in whatever order best works for them. So, how have I got this set up and how will this be managed?

Key Concepts

Over the past week, I broke Organic Chemistry and Spectroscopy (I think they work well as complementary units) into 21 key concepts which students need to master to perform well in NCEA and Scholarship.

These concepts were put onto cards, one set of cards per student. The students were asked to use their books, discussions with each other, and their prior knowledge to find out a little about what each card was about.

They were then asked to group the cards, then create a "learning sequence" which they think would help them learn the details of each concept best. They were reassured that they could change this learning sequence at any stage during the unit.

Learning Experiences

Now every student has a learning sequence and has found other students with similar learning sequences, it is their job to agree how to learn. Their homework is to add details to the 'concept cards' outlining what learning experiences they require/desire.

For example, there are good experiments in their book that they may require; they may actually want me to teach a tough concept; they may wish to create a video or PowerPoint or Slow-mation to explain the concept; they may want me to organise a FutureIntech ambassador to visit... who knows!

The only rules I have put in place are:
  • experiments must be "legal"
  • we must already have the equipment/chemicals for experiments
  • 3 school days' notice is required for any resources
  • any teaching I do must be videoed and uploaded to the class blog

Desired Outcomes

  1. Students "own" their own learning. I am hopeful that students will look for interesting contexts and novel experiments. I am hopeful that they make their own links between the key concepts.
  2. Differentiated learning environment. With groups following different learning sequences and working at different difficulty levels, I am hopeful that fewer students will feel overwhelmed by the perceived difficulty of Chemistry.
  3. Collaboration. For this to work, students will have to work together, and be organised. The sharing of learning experiences on the Class Blog should also mean they are helping "teach" each other with me as a mentor, rather than relying on me to guide the whole process.

Potential Roadblocks

  1. Apathy. With this class, I doubt I will face this problem, but it is an obvious classroom management consideration. If students do not "buy in" on the idea and the process, there is a risk they could "get away" with doing very little, hence learning very little.
  2. Organisation. I am relying on my students to be very organised. As part of the deal, I need to be even more organised, particularly with getting the resources they request. My technician is a little concerned with the potential for many groups doing different experiments at the same time. It says something about my personality that I find this possibility to be exciting!!

Interestingly, I have no concerns about them "covering all of the work". I have outlined the key concepts for them and their books outline the specific learning outcomes required to reach the different achievement levels in NCEA. So long as I give them homework tasks which assess their depth of knowledge and communication abilities (i.e. past exam questions??), this just doesn't worry me.

1 comment:

  1. Glad I found this post before all the spam hit us on #edchatNZ. This sounds like a fantastic idea and I am now immediately wondering how I can adapt this for my students. I teach science at a middle school so am wondering if I could do something similar in the chem unit next term. Excellent post!