Moments of Discovery

I had some Year 6 students today who were working on a wiki that I asked them to create based on a Tectonic Plate webquest. Mostly they were doing okay with finding basic facts (eg what does a seismologist do?) by themselves, and very keen on finding relevant YouTube videos (they knew that irrelevant videos would not cut the mustard). It was interesting to me to see that my most important role was in prompting them to take the next step in putting together several pieces of information and articulating the new idea that created. For instance:

  • a student found maps showing the tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust, the distribution of earthquakes around the world and the active volcanoes around the world. I asked him to look at the dots of the volcanoes and earthquakes and how they followed the lines of the edges of the tectonic plates, and asked him what was the next thought he could say about that? To begin with he could only put the first two ideas together, but with some prompting he was able to say that perhaps the three things were related. It hadn’t occurred to him to put three pieces of pictorial information together that way.
  • a student playing the part of astronomer has found an interesting diagram about Mars’ magnetic field, but couldn’t explain it. He and his partner went back to the website and read through the notes to discover that putting the written information together with the diagram they could visualise and then explain the concept – he was so pleased to be able to see it clearly in his head and say it clearly on his astronomy page!
  • a student looking at biology had found information about the Tasmanian Beech, a native deciduous tree, that was supposed to be significant in supporting the idea of Continental Drift, but when I asked him to explain he merely demonstrated his great skill at reading the copied-and-pasted text. So I asked him what was important about that tree, what was so strange?? This was where environmental factors made it harder for him to get the point – Hobart is full of buildings and parks and gardens built and established in the earliest days of European settlement of Australia so – unlike most of mainland Australia – spring is heralded by flowers and new leaves on bare branches, and autumn is glorious with gold and red leaves heaped in piles under liquid ambers and stone fruit trees. We had a chat about Australian native plants usually being evergreen, how our winters simply aren’t harsh enough or long enough to make hibernation a necessity, and suddenly the lightbulb went on! Why was this native tree deciduous?? A flurry of typing altered his original entry to reflect his new understanding.

This turned out to be such an exciting pair of lessons for me! These groups had had a couple of lessons using their wikis, and had gotten past the initial confusion and messiness of trying a new technology, and were able to concentrate on understanding the purpose of the task. From trouble-shooting the ‘what am I doing?’ and ‘how do I xyz?’ questions we had moved on to constructing personal meaningĀ  – not bad for a total of four lessons!

Reading back over the above examples, I am also struck by the information skills required – one student needed to compare sets of visual data, the next had to put text and visual data together to grasp the concept, and the last needed to take text and visual data and compare it to pre-existing general knowledge in order to make an important discovery! I think that if I take a moment to look over the NETS for students, or 21st Century Learning Skills, I would find that the types of thinking being used by some of my students today are part of a suite of metal tools that many consider will be necessary to equip them for life in a digitised future.

Now if only I could replicate this for every class I teach…

Loquacious am I

I sent an email to my boss the other day, which I began by writing ‘Treat this as me thinking out loud’… I was contemplating why I felt it so necessary to write out my thoughts and email them to someone who is so very very busy – I know she wants my input and ideas, and is always happy to discuss new things/old things, but why did I need to send those ideas that way?

I’ve decided that it is a symptom of my personal thinking processes, as is my well-deserved reputation for being rather talkative. I tend to collect lots of information and ideas on a topic and float them around in my head, and then work out my understanding and analysis and new ideas by putting it all into words. The words aren’t there in fully formed sentences in my head – the act of fitting the right words to the shapes of my thoughts helps me to define my conclusions to myself.

This can be somewhat unfortunate for the poor soul enduring yet another ear-bashing as I work out how best to deal with student X or to fix problem Y.

Do you know what is odd about this habit of mine? I can’t use a diary as my sounding board. I need the feeling of speaking to another person – I need that bounce-back of someone else’s rephrasing or reply.

This learning style may be helpful in being a reflective teacher who thinks about their own practice, but what about in the classroom? Now I have to think about how to prevent my personal preference for oodles of verbiage from interfering with my student’s boyish preference for direct and specific instruction that gets to the point and gives them a clear goal with no distracting tangential asides.

The long haul begins….