Students have very different experiences from their teachers and view life with different lenses than we perhaps do. So when you start a new topic, if you discuss or introduce a new concept, how far do you think students see what you see? The quest, as always, is to make the abstractions of our subjects more concrete so they understand.
Seeing things differently
When Johannes first came to the UK from Sweden many years ago he got a job as a Guest Porter in a fancy hotel in Cambridge. This was a real learning experience for him particularly when it came learning colloquial terms and phrases. For example colleagues would ask if he was ‘alright’. Now this may not seem like an odd question to most, however Johannes felt that although they may be concerned about his well-being, he certainly was ‘alright’ as there was nothing wrong with him, so he would reply: “Yes I’m ‘ALRIGHT, there’s nothing wrong with me'”. Today Johannes can see what they meant. Strangely enough he was never lynched.
In a similar vein, the 3 minute talk below deals with those simple issues that can very easily be misunderstood, although you wouldn’t think that asking for direction could be so different? Continue reading Simplicity at its best
Today my Year 9 low ability / SEN class made this:
It was the result of a lesson that started by analysing current adverts for their message. We then went on to look at the story of Kitty Eckersley and why her husband joined the Army.
Next, we brainstormed (properly – in fours and in silence, then sharing!) why men might volunteer to fight. With a little help, we came up with four ways that the government might try to persuade people to ‘join up’:
Students then looked at six posters from WWI and identified one of the four elements within them, choosing specific parts and not whole posters.
As an extended plenary, students used the free form capture tool on the whiteboard to cut out the areas for their theme and designed new posters using the bits they had selected. We were able to save it as an image and print it out.
For homework, the students are comparing the posters they created to the Kitty Eckersley story and identirying which of the four methods most influenced her husband.
What was really good to see was students making informed choices and debating whether certain sections could be included under two headings. By allowing the creative task to come to the forefront of the lesson we unlocked a new set of thinking: students were thinking about the interplay of images and text, as well as how to create an overall effect. They got an end product and were willing to invest time in making it look good. Also, they wanted it to work.
Students need to see how units of work tie together, link up, sequence and that there are recognizable patterns across what they have learned. It is of course our job to do this well but sometimes it can be very hard to make it concrete so that students understand. This is when the 30 Circle Test can help. We have adapted this activity for education from a task invented by IDEO, an innovative design company in the US (please watch Tim Brown’s talk on TED.com to see how they use it).
The 30 Circle Test
The key behind this activity is to get students thinking about the bigger issues and how they link together.
Print off a copy of the image/worksheet for every learner. Give them a Unit or Course area e.g. Surgery in Medicine through Time and give them 60 seconds to draw everything they know about the topic or unit. Students are not allowed to write anything just draw. Notice that quantity not quality is key here, so sketches rather than Monet will work better. Then get them to compare with each other and talk through what sort of items they have added to their 30 Circles – probably not many… Allow them time, round 7 minutes, to finish their drawings. Then in pairs ask students to compare with each other and give them a new 30 Circle sheet and get them to produce a new piece using their (can also be three students involved) previous ‘circle drawings’. It is important that they have established what the core of the topic or Unit is and what the key issues are for the activity to work so it needs to be guided by the teacher.
I came across a very interesting feature in WIRED UK (Agust 2009) on Peter Funch. Funch is a photographer and uses a very particular method when he creates projects, namely, shooting a series of images from the exact same location then examining them for commonalities. He will then mash together what he considers to be the key theme amongst the hundreds of images and the result is astounding. Take a look at the image below for example to get a flavour of his work. You can visit Peter Funch’s website to view his fantastic portfolio.
What’s particularly interesting about this way of working, especially for us teachers, is the skill of synthesizing information as well as blending features together to create a new learning experience. We can challenge students to think more laterally, holistically, about the way they view ideas, concepts, problems and so on. For example, provide them with a range of resources, like texts or statistical information and ask them to explore what key themes or messages might be hidden in the depth of the material given to them. Educational mashups can easily be created and Funch’s examples can give students a more concrete insight into what we want them to achieve with other material such as text.