From No Spoons, to ladles, and in between

I’ve been prompted to revisit the original post “No Spoons” and give an appraisal of where it got our class. I can honestly say it’s been a difficult 9 months (there could be an extended metaphor on pregnancy in this, maybe), but in reflecting on the experience I have some good leads on where to go for the potentially more scary HSC year.

Peppercorns cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Dennis Wilkinson:

What happened?
The structures I set up had varying degrees of success in the way they were received and worked in the classroom teaching and learning setting.
Much of the “infrastructure” I set up was viewed in different ways by different students. Some embraced the OneNote notebooks enthusiastically, but I was disappointed that it was impossible to make them “live” notebooks via syncing through the DET wireless network. They ended up becoming individual notebooks, with the students responsible for their upkeep, which created an inequity of access to information as a result of inconsistent levels of student commitment.
The blog was dependent on the students submitting work electronically. This worked pretty well, but I needed to stay on top of the posting, which I didn’t. The students were offered roles as contributors, but saw that as an additional work load that they didn’t want to take on. One of my resolutions is to be more diligent in publishing out work over the next 12 months.
Textbooks – the students are so wedded to the idea of having a text book that it became a major distraction when we didn’t issue one to everyone (even though I knew some kids wouldn’t even open them over the course of the Prelim year). So I resorted to sharing snippets of textbooks that enabled them to work on the set tasks in class. This is linked to their use of laptops – digital texts were available, but not everyone valued them as much as paper texts – go figure.
The student use of laptops remains a frustration for me. Whether it’s the hardware, or the perception that bringing one meant they had to do work  – it resulted in an inconsistent approach and another equity issue. You can’t expect everyone to be on the same page if they don’t have the book, so to speak. However, the final tool in my toolbox did actually result in a reason for using laptops that most students engaged with.
Edmodo worked really well, most of the time. Submission of work, homework and quizzes were consistently completed by the majority of the class, but not everyone – it’s funny how you always seem to get one Luddite in a class these days, even amongst the technology immersed generation we teach these days! Online conversations, however, were not a strong point of our Edmodo experience – which is surprising, because the conversations in class were often of high quality and vigorous. This will be an area of development in the HSC course – I found this interesting article that hopefully will guide my implementation of the course on Edmodo this year.

The Concept
I have to say I’m still committed to the original concept, but I quickly realised that the way I went about it was obviously too much of a pedagogical shock for the kids to handle. Let’s face it, junior high school hasn’t prepared them for the sort of thing I wanted to them to do  – think for themselves about their formal learning.
As a consequence, we swung from pure inquiry (which they weren’t ready for, and rebelled against), to a pseudo spoon feeding situation that pleased them, but almost killed me. By the end of the Prelim course, the pendulum had swung to somewhere in the middle, which we both seemed to be happy with. I was getting them to think, and they were ticking their information boxes. The Learning Cycle I used in practice sort of still looks like the original, but I learned that you have to be adaptable in the  timing of it. For example, sometimes the discussion works better in class for somethings, but online for others. The recognition that discussion is an integral part of the process, however, is the non-negotiable.
I also made sure that the lesson delivery was varied – there was no way I was going to lecture. I made sure we had had stimulus material as the basis of lesson “hooks”. I also made use of the social strengths of the class, and planned to have lessons that were solely group work exercises designed to have the class mixing their knowledge and ideas to promote a deeper understanding. Some of the best feedback I got from students in the Prelim course was regarding “the classes we get to talk to each other”.
Another thing I started to use that made a difference was the Cornell notes concept.This video, although a bit cheesy, is a great intro into how to use the system. I had been worried that their note taking was not reflecting the learning in class, so I spent some time aligning our syllabus with Cornell note templates. The students were introduced to the note taking technique, then given templates to fill in during class. This allowed us to do more inquiry based work in class, and they were given reflection time to compile their notes. This certainly ticked the equity boxes, and provided collaborative opportunities for the kids to build their notes together. This is a useful template to see what it’s all about.

Just typing that gave me a gut clench. I know the students will be under pressure for the next 12 months to perform to their best, not just in my class, but in all 12 units. I will be under pressure too – I am still committed to getting the students to think about my subject, not just regurgitate in an exam. But they need to to acquire course information, and be able to use it. So my plan includes:

  • A real life approach to the learning – I’m going to create a teaching program so that where applicable the syllabus “Learn To’s” will be positioned as real life scenarios – this will be to create that climate of imagination and thinking through options. For instance,  the first “hook” lesson for Core 2 ( Factors Affecting Performance) will be a hypothetical that will set the scene for what we have to learn, but position it in a believable case study or project for them to investigate.
  • Cornell Notes – provide structured templates for the students to build a solid body of notes. Each template will be based on the critical questions in the syllabus, and the “Learn To” dot points. I’ll provide examples as I create them, but here’s one from the Prelim course to show you what I mean.
  • Edmodo – I’ve played with it for long enough to know that it has a powerful place in my classroom. Combined with our school hosted Google Apps, I intend to create an “anytime, anywhere” learning environment.
  • Make the lesson delivery as vibrant and engaging as possible. Rather than lecturing, I intend to find stimulus around us that means something to the students. Students asking questions and answering each others questions will be an indicator I strive for.
  • Quality exam preparation, where the students are adept at thinking on their feet, and not rely on preparing a stock answer, will be my goal.

I’ll endeavour to update as we go along. It’s going to be an interesting ride. But I’m feeling more confident that I can pull this off. Hell, it might even be fun.

“Twisted” cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Beyond Neon:



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4 thoughts on “From No Spoons, to ladles, and in between”

  1. Hey Jonesy! Im Cameron a student in EDM 310 at USA. I am loving your blog so far! I think the tools you have implemented in your classroom are great tools to kind of guess and check when it comes to your classes. Curious about how they are continuing to work or not work. Cant wait for the update!

  2. Hi!
    My name is Samantha, and I am a student at the University of South Alabama. I really enjoyed reading your last blog post. You reacted very well to what the classroom threw at you, and was able to work it into your syllabus. I will remember this blog when I am able to teach my own class. Thank You!


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