No spoons

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?

The Concept
This is what I envisaged the aim of the concept to be.

CC jonesytheteacher
PE Inquiry Cycle

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.

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My Learning Cycle in PE

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

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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.

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13 thoughts on “No spoons”

  1. This is great Brendan! It is always a challenge changing culture!! I have found when kids cotton to the benefits of this approach they want more …though some are always resistant…and they would be with traditional methods as well… Have a look at thinkbinder as well. My seniors enjoyed this online chat that allowed me to post recent resources for them to read prior to chats. Kids who missed the chat could also read chat notes. I would average half of my class and you have a choice of video conferencing or traditional chat.

    • Hi Michelle, and thanks for your interest in the post. I was worried that it would be a struggle, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It certainly encourages me to tinker with other things as well. I’ll check out thinkbinder – thanks for the tip 🙂

  2. This all sounds like what I am interested in trying when i return to teaching in may after maternity leave. how hard is it to write the questions? I would love to see an example if you wouldnt mind sharing?

    • Hi Catherine and thanks for your interest in the post.
      The questions I arrived at are based on the NSW PDHPE syllabus. The “big questions” are the for the weekly response. In the Core 1 section, it actually has some big picture inquiry style questions that I adapted for my own use. The “mini questions” are questions I devised based on two requirements. The first requirement is the syllabus dot points that need to be covered and thus the basis of their class notes for revision. The second is a more holistic learning goal – what questions will get them thinking and contribute to their understanding of the “big question”. If you look in the post, you’ll see an image of the OneNote. This has both the big question and the mini questions 🙂 Cheers, Jonesy

  3. Firstly, I love this pedagogy shift. Secondly, it’s a brave step taking it to a year 12 class and I applaud you.
    I’m on my second cycle of teaching the course and although I knew I had spoon fed the first time and wanted to avoid it the second, I have pretty much fallen into the trap. And the pupils are caught in the trap with me – they just want to be told all the info rather than have a pure thirst to seek it and go beyond what’s expected (with a couple of exceptions in the boys who constantly come at me with news about the newest weightlifting super supplement). It is frustrating that their curiosity has been killed by expectation.
    However, I am using this method more widely with my year 10 PASS class with the hope that they take the HSC course and don’t need the spoon.
    I would love to hear more reflections on this as the year plays out.

    • Hi James and thanks for the interest in the post!
      I’ve been thinking for a while about how the Stage 6 course is still seen by many as a vehicle to the final exam, and not for a deeper understanding of Health. I must admit, I’m a bit nervous doing what I’m doing, because it fits outside the square on many levels – the kid’s notion of “good” learning, my school’s system of monitoring “sound” HSC teaching to name two.
      But everyone has to take that leap of faith sometimes – this is mine. I’m sure the feedback I get (both formal and informal) from all parties will guide the next iteration of this idea – but that’s how it should be. I know it’s not perfect, and that I’ll need to tweak it. But I won’t let the idea that I might get something wrong stop me from doing it in the first place. No doubt I’ll be talking about this as the year progresses. Cheers, Jonesy

  4. A great project Jonesy. This reminds me very much of the early days of my Practiitoner Research PhD and the two steps forwards and two back that I seemed to be involved in…in fact it reminds me greatly of my whole PhD. I found it particularly useful to talk to my kids. I started with comment cards – like the ones you find in restaurants (“please tell us what you thought of your meal” – whic I left in the changing rooms and asked the kids to fill in at the end of the lesson. I asked them to write their class down and make a comment. Good, bad, indifferent was OK but it had to have a why statement as well…why was it good, bad, indifferent … I then changed my lessons based on their feedback and did a “you said, I did” sort of thing…seeing me make changes based on their feedback really helped them to buy into the ideas and the change of pedagogy. Personally, I think this is great and want to challenge myself to do something similar…just need to work out how to do it with classes of 90+.

  5. Well done Jonesey – practitioners using the process and carrying out the action learning process to the inquiry process is the best way possible to develop the various models and make the process workable – to be applauded.
    The important issue is to make sure that whatever iteration of the learning processes we use whether inquiry, action learning XYZ learning . . . is a derivative of the the learning process that the brain uses. This is a necessarily chaotic process and not surprisingly there are many iterations of this out there. None of them will follow a linear process and there will be many and complex feedback and feedforward loops. I am happy to provided a copy of the paper on the learning process to anyone visiting this erudire blog – – Mark Treadwell

    • Hi Mark and thanks for your time in making a comment.
      I’m only taking baby steps with this approach at the moment, but I’m finding that the way it “works” is evolving daily.
      I’d really appreciate a copy of the paper – I’ll be in touch. Jonesy 🙂

  6. So, basically you quit the “burp-back-education” and began Project Based Learning. I am reading your blog as an assignment in my EDM310 Micro-Computing class and it seems that my professor and yourself have very similar ideas. As a student, I myself wanted to be spoon fed. I didn’t know any different and it just seemed easier to be given the answers and memorize them. Now, that I am hearing of all the things I missed out on during my education, I am beside myself that teachers just took the easy way out the whole time. I think as long as your are trying new things for your students, then you are succeeding. Yes, technology will fail, projects will go wrong, but students are still learning regardless! Great post!

    • I completely agree with what Kaylee is saying! I really liked this post as well! I had never heard of Edmodo or Onenote, and both seem like very helpful programs. But concerning burpback education I wanted to be spoon fed as well until now in which I am in EDM310. I really like PBL and what it produces.

  7. Hi Brendan. This looks great. I was hoping you would have added to your progress later on this year to see how it has evolved. Having not taught year 12 since 2007 and preparing to embark on the course this term, I am, hopefully understandably, a bit nervous as to how to approach it.

    Our results are going to be heavily scrutinised as these will be our first external exams so the pressure is immense. Not having role models above them is also proving to be an issue for these students who, in general are struggling with the concept of senior study.

    I’d love to have the courage to do something similar to your approach, but am not sure this year is the time to do that. I would like to discuss your successes and learning from this year at some stage in greater depth.

    • Hi Kerry, In all the rush to get things done at school, I have neglected to do a follow up post on this. You’ve just reminded me that I should! In the next couple of days I’ll endeavour to wrap up the Prelim year, and where I think I’ll go with it in the HSC course. 🙂 Jonesy


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