Let them loose – they’ll surprise you.

We help schools develop their STEM learning development with their students and teachers and one of my favourite activities is the ‘Artbot’ design challenge. It’s super low tech with simple circuitry and coloured felts and uses mostly vibration as a mechanism to drive the cup across paper to create some ‘art.’

artbot-operationMost of the time students will create something that resembles this image, especially if you frame this as a research exercise where they can research what an Artbot is.

But, given the time and space to ideate, design and redesign, students will often come up with stunning designs, completely out of the box. These students yesterday created a hand held rotating mechanism. Brilliant. I’d never seen that before.

See what happens when we allow them that time and freedom to imagine, to create, to explore. That’s what people were made to do. We were created to create.

Image above –cdn.sciencebuddies.com


Ownership – Self Directed Guidance

My Teacher Inquiry Goal this year is to provide an increase of student ownership in our
classroom. I mention ‘our’ because at our school we teach in teams of 2 (3 if you include our release teacher). At the moment I would describe our learning programme as…

 ‘Using individual learning pathways through a process of guided goal setting. We co-construct our learning goals and help students select goals that lead to a flipped learning / workshop based programme within an inquiry context.’

Wow. It sounds like a mouth-full so to break down the teacher jargon we simply;

  • Use our curriculum to help the students set their goals
  • They use these goals to select their workshops
  • They can learn before, during and after these workshops at their own pace and time
  • The learning they are doing always helps them gain the skills and understands to move ahead with our overall inquiry.

If this sounds like a lot of hard work and with the potential for chaos…then YES! I have to admit that at times my finely tuned ‘teacher chaos radar’ is pinging off bright flashing lights. BUT, the benefits we are seeing in engagement, achievement, motivation and learning dispositions (the ability to learn and take ownership over learning) is huge.

However, one of the reflections I am making from watching what is happening, and talking with the students, is how to help guide the students to be making the best decisions for their learning in a way that both gives structure and support to those that need it, as well as giving the opportunity for those increased ‘agency’ for those who are ready. Basically, how do I give ‘just the right amount of cage’ for each learner? We are very good, or better, at differentiating the learning for our students but what about differentiation in terms of the guidance and structure we put in place to help the learning happen.

This term we have added some management structures which to help students do just that. Our question was, ‘What can we do to help the students be in the right place at the right time and go where they need to go to access the learning that is right for them?’

Here are 3 things we have set up with some thoughts on their effectiveness so far.

1. Student Calendars and Timetables.

Since last term we have create a class timetable on a Google Calendar and embedded that into our Ultranet Class Page. The embedding aspect has some teething problems by-passing our domain restrictions (it reads ‘busy’) but we also have it showing on a wide screen TV on the wall. Teachers and students can see what is coming up next, especially the workshops that are happening next door and it even has a function as a planning sharing tool for release teachers who access the workshop notes through the event details.

This week we’ve started giving each student a paper timetable that we record their workshops on and it also includes an overall picture of events and changes that happen in a lively, colourful school. It’s early days with this one but the majority are learning a lot about self management and reading tables and have even started colour coding the learning areas and what they’re working on.

There is increased accountability with this timetable as well because we can quickly see if they have booked themselves in for 2 maths and reading workshops. Thanks to @fuse11 and the team of teachers at Russel St School in Palmerston North for this idea.

2. Workshop Selection Tables

We’ve made a Google doc for each set of workshops for the week. There is a designated ‘Mother Ship’ imac we have set up to a large screen where the students can move their names from one workshop to the next. The names are an image from comiclife and they are easy to move withon the table – no deleting and typing, just click and drag.

It’s been a great way to keep a record of who has attended which workshop and the students check in on the screen often.

3. Ako Hubs

This was an idea we borrowed from @msbeenz  and her classroom. It’s a buddy system that gives each learner someone to ask, question and help make great learning decisions. We start our day in these hubs and often throughout the day. They change their hubs each week and have different people to work with often.

We started working in hubs of threes but with the number of students in our room we found it easier to move to pairs. This has lessoned the likely hood that one of the students were left out of the conversation, too. We’re finding this a great accountability tool where one student will quickly let us know that their Ako buddy has not picked a maths workshop, or has lost their timetable. We’re also really pleased with the modeling that is going on from the student’s with high agency for those still learning.

Next Steps?

For a digitally minded teacher it’s been an interesting transition this year to having so much paper as a part of our programme. The students have their goals, timetables and books – all paper. For us at the moment it just makes access to all of these things instant and easy. There is no logging in, opening up etc and we have a very ‘the right tool for the right job’ attitude to what we do.

BUT, in saying that,  I’m really aware that some students would prefer to have a digital version of these tools, just like I would! One student has shown me his ipod Google Calendar and how it’s synched with our class calendar. He’s really keen to start using this as his timetable and add his calendar over the top. This could be our next step! It’s all about choice as there are lots of children who prefer the tangible version.

(Cartoon from http://www.usabilityprofessionals.org/uxmagazine/rubes-cartoon-i-roll/)

K C Web Assessment

You often hear of people asking how we can accurately assess the K.Cs – especially now that they are ideally the foundation of our curriculum.  This question, I suspect, comes from those wanting quantified and comparable data.

And it’s this school of thought about assessment – the moderated, summative philosphy, that I think is taking over the other, formative approach.   I wonder if the worst effect of the National Standards is going to be the momentum it will give the quantitative force.

There is a great quote that I have been letting settle in my mind for some time.
“Nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”  Oscar Wilde  

I see the K.Cs as fitting into these sorts of knowings.  There ARE some parts of the competencies that can be explicitly taught but others, such as self management are just as well ‘caught’ as taught through good modelling and a good deal of time.  I also wonder if we could also say that there is,

‘..nothing worth knowing that can be assessed.’

Just because something is harder to assess does it make it less valuable or worthwhile spending classroom currancy on?  I wonder if the quantifying team would suggest not.  You can’t moderate it, can’t collect accurate data on it and how will we make some flash graphs for our B.O.T?

I realise I’m being a bit cynical but it’s a road I see many schools heading in.  Is this the bigger picture that is getting lost for many in the National Standards debate?   The biggest deficit impact for students will be if we shift the K.Cs to the margins because we are chasing the numeracy and literacy wild goose.

So, this term I have been stressing to my class that our big picture is all about the Key Competency,  ‘THINKING.’  We’ve been using science as our fuel but thinking is the car we are getting better at driving.  ‘What are we getting better at?’  I ask them.  ‘Thinking!’ is their chant.

So, how do we assess the K.Cs?  I absolutely value the formative power of assessment for learning and always see a matrix or rubric as an important part of this process.  This K.C matrix, above,  is based on the web that Lester Flocton introduced in the DVD, ‘The Connected Curriculum’ and was something I started using last year as a google doc.  Students created their own copy and embeded their assessment on their efolio.

This year I have created a web for the wall which groups of three use to guide them through the independent investigation process.  A booklet scaffolds them through the stages to developing their own question, carrying out an experiment and developing a theory.  Each strand of our, ‘Thinking Web’ has three stages; no evidence, some evidence and lots of evidence.  It’s surprising how honest and thoughtful the students have been so far.
Key Competency Assessment Thinking

My next step with this process will be to use it next term too but to co-construct the strands with me.  It will be an interesting journey for our technology inquiry.