Sunday, 26 May 2013

ICTEV13 Conference and Silence.

I have two things to talk about in this post. Yesterday I had the absolute pleasure of attending the ICTEV conference in Melbourne. I have never been to one of these conferences and was very surprised at how many educators showed up on a Saturday to share with and learn from one another.

I also had the opportunity to share my experiences of using MinecraftEdu in my classes alongside another Victorian teacher with a group, in the last session of the day (commonly called the graveyard shift, as you are dealing with 'brain dead' people who have information overload). The session was recorded and I cannot wait to see the finished product.

The passion of the educators there during the day, from those sharing, to those attending sessions was an eye opener for me. I have not been in the company of so many passionate ICT educators in once physical space before and it was amazing. I think you can probably tell I am still trying to digest what I saw yesterday and am at a bit of a loss as to what else to write so I will begin on the second thing I wanted to post about.

I did something very different on Friday, I wrote the following on the board (or at least something very similar)

"Welcome Year 11 Biology students, today it is time to do something different. I am not going to speak today. Your task, the most difficult in living history. Classify the creatures. This is to be finished by the end of the lesson."

And so I spent the entire 50 minutes listening and observing my class as they went about their task. I also recorded the audio from the class so I could reflect on what happened throughout the lesson. I took some notes as I was listening.

It was interesting to observe the students go from almost open rebellion, thinking that there would be no repercussions for their behaviour to getting enthralled in the task. Of course I chose my test audience very carefully, I would not do this with just any class. I trust these students, and I knew that the lure of the problem would outweigh any urge to rebel and take advantage of my 'inability' to tell them off.

I had given the students a sheet with 20 different 'Pamishan' creatures (google it) with the instructions removed and the key also removed. So all the students had were the diagrams of these creatures. What was interesting was that my instruction of 'classify the creatures' was quite obtuse and students approached it varying ways. The reason I chose to not speak was because I did not want to interfere with the students problem solving, I wanted to observe them try without any input from me. With the aim of in future lessons asking why we might need to classify things, and the ways in which the Science community chooses to do it.

Most students started grouping the creatures in various ways, from writing lists of all the creatures with similar characteristics to cutting the individual images out and then moving them around. It was also interesting to see the students watch what other students were doing, think about that process and deciding to either do the same, or continue with what they were doing their own way.

Another really interesting observation was that about half way through the lesson instead of just grouping the creatures, the students started grasping at stories to make sense of the task. What I mean by this is that some students began looking at how these creatures may have come about. One of the two main groups that went down this path started looking at possible mating patterns, the other started looking at it in terms of evolution and how these creatures fit in to an evolutionary timeline.

Now neither of these ways of looking at the problem are necessary for the classification of these creatures, but without my interference they started looking for connections to prior knowledge and using that knowledge. I was astounded at some of the connections they were using.

The other interesting outcome was the students need to make sure they were doing it right, to the point that some of the students would not leave my class at the end (when I started speaking again) without seeing how they were classified. I asked them if they were going to stress about it over the weekend, and they honestly replied yes. WOW! Now I don't want to add stress to my students lives, so I showed them, but that sort of thirst for the correct answer, or at least the affirmation that they were on the correct path interests me. I don't know whether it is a good thing to try and replicate or not.

Should I continue allowing my students to chase the 'correct' answer, or be confident in their own thinking skills? Not all answers in life are clearly defined, and is the thirst for the correct answer going to 'get in the way' somehow. I have no idea, but it is something I want to explore some more. I think that is enough for now, thanks for reading, and feel free to comment below.

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