The story so far…
I returned to school this year after about 18 months working in an office helping to build PLANE – a cross sectoral professional learning community.
I always intended to return – many thought I wouldn’t. But I always thought that to keep something like PLANE (or any sabbatical) real, it has to have a practical application. Otherwise it remains ethereal learning – a vapour that swirls and adds atmosphere, but doesn’t add to practice.
One of the coolest things I was exposed to during my time with PLANE was the idea of Inquiry. I worked with a great Inquiry thinker and do-er Mark Treadwell, and the conversations with Mark I remember most clearly when it comes to putting some theory into practice.
I found that I’d been allocated a Stage 6 PDHPE class – senior students studying for the HSC. I’ve never been a fan of the “senior circus” – it was always about Bands, and ATARs and exams. And learning was framed in the end result that was the HSC exam mark.
I always figured there had to be a better way. So I took a chance and decided to move away from the “lecture” model that had so often been promoted as best practice, and do something different. Well, different to what I’d seen around the traps.
I don’t doubt that other people do what I’m trying to do much better, and I don’t claim to be innovative to the extent that it’s unique. To me the big thing is that I’m trying something new, and not falling back into formualaic content driven spoonfeeding.
So, what does it look like?
This is what I envisaged the aim of the concept to be.
Starting with a question, we look at what is already known, find out more about what we don’t know and then share our findings. All the while, the central focus is reflecting on the process and learning.
Rather than me pile content into them, I wanted the students to LEARN about my subject. I stated from the outset – I won’t be GIVING you the answers. I still have to honour the syllabus and its concepts and content. So I thought of a different way to get there. I created a process scaffold that described our weekly Inquiry cycle. It was given to every student, and is referred to consistently.
I would start and finish the week with concept introduction and a concept wrap. The OneNote has the “mini questions” as a starting point. During the cycle, the students would investigate, research and discuss these smaller questions. These questions focused on the dot points in the syllabus. The information the students gathered answering these questions would be the basis of their notes. These notes in turn helped them answer the weekly question. Each Wednesday, the students would submit their responses to the weekly question. I provide feedback on their writing. And the cycle starts again. (While the cycle indicates where all this will happen, that was a starting point. There is no reason why any part of the cycle has to take place in one venue only. And as I found, the feedback isn’t just my domain)
In the early stages, class time activities are structured around presentations from me (in the form of asking questions), discussion time where we work through the questions and student research on answering the questions.
I wanted to blend digital with traditional. You can’t escape traditional in the HSC. I wanted somewhere the students could access resources and each other, whenever they wanted. We use Edmodo as our 24 hour classroom. Here the students can share, connect and contribute. All the official documents are here, along with other resources. Powerpoints of my weekly concept intros and wrap ups are left here as well. They submit their weekly writing tasks and notes here.
I needed a way to present the “big picture” – the entire Core 1 with guiding questions and interactive resources. My aim was to have a synchronised OneNote via Skydrive so that as we found things they could be added to build a rich resource. That failed as the students were blocked access from school to the shared document. It became a date stamped file transfer. I may have to reassess this for next time
Blog – we decide we would publish one student’s work each week. I set up Full Class Press for this purpose – check it out and comment.
These students have the Green DER laptop. It has the capability to use all the tools we need. Our TSO has undertaken to provide a pool of returned S2 laptops for my room so everyone has access to one.
I tried SO HARD to use a digital text, but in the spirit of equity and a blended approach to using technology and tradition, we have a pool of paper texts to use for those who need them.
My verdict so far?
I was amazed at the resistance some kids offered from the start. They WANTED to be spoonfed. Staff looked at me like I was mad when I shared what I was proposing.
But wonders of wonders. The student writing is improving (in my opinion). The students are starting to ask their own questions. They are also organically forming their own discussion groups and working together to solve problems. Edmodo has 100% usage amongst the students with working laptops. Laptop usage has increased – although non functioning laptops are a massive frustration).
Apart from a few technology fails and some horse trading on how to submit work, I have to say I’m encouraged, feeling enabled and emboldened. And glad I left the spoons on the sink.