Learning from failure

My Year 7s had a go at designing their own experiments this week.  Year 7s were designing experiments to compare their reaction times. As an introductory activity, we did the classic ruler reaction time test, where students had to catch a falling ruler as fast as they can.

They then worked in groups to design an experiment to compare the reaction times of two groups of people. They had a choice of comparing the reaction times between teachers and students, students who play sports often and students who did not; or boys and girls.

For some reason, all groups except one decided to do experiments that had nothing to do with the ruler reaction test. These groups had variations of a method of throwing balls at test subjects without warning and counting how many times the each person catches and misses the ball. Their method designs were quiet creative but very complex and required very efficient team work. And this class does not have the team work skills to pull it off.

I knew that some students will fight to be the leader of the group; some students will not listen to the instructions from other students; and other groups do not have a common understanding of the method amongst all group members that it will result in the experiment falling apart. Now usually I will say no to the experiment design. I would force them to go back and re-design their experiment. I might even force them to do the ruler experiment instead. I would explain to them that they need to choose a leader in their group and have roles assigned to each group member. I would go to lengths to avoid the potential chaos that was about to happen.

But this time I didn’t do it.  And yes, chaos followed and all my predictions were correct. There were groups where multiple students were giving instructions so overall no one knew what to do. One group had one student becoming extremely frustrated, yelling “No one is listening to me!”

So yes, the experiment was a failure. A lot of students went back to the classroom feeling defeated. They knew they have failed to achieve their goal. They don’t like to fail.

But that was what I wanted them to do – fail. I knew they had lousy team work skills. However, instead of me lecturing them on the importance of effective team work before they headed off to do their experiment, they experienced first-hand what ineffective team work feels like. When we returned to the classroom, we had a debrief activity where students identified what went wrong and what they would do next time. The effective team work elements came from them rather than me. We also discussed the emotions associated with failing. I knew some of them were quite upset because they couldn’t do the experiment the way they had planned it. We discussed the importance of acknowledging those emotions and that it is OK to feel that way. As a class we then agreed that we can feel sad for a little while, but we need to go back and try again because if we don’t, we will never be able to achieve the goal.


This whole activity reflects some elements of gaming. In a game, the game doesn’t tell you what you exactly have to do to win the game. You start playing, you fail, you work out what you did that made you fail and not do it again. In games, players go through a repeated cycle of fail, learn and re-try. Even if you succeed, you can re-play that level and work out how to improve your score.

So why doesn’t this cycle replicated at school. Students often feel the need to master the understanding of a concept or skill straight away. Schools often don’t allow opportunities for students to fail. There is a pressure for students to succeed the first time. When students do an exam, they don’t get to re-sit that exam and show what they’ve learnt from it. When students complete an assignment, they don’t get to re-do that assignment to improve on their previous performance. It’s like school is setting up students to rage quit.

When playing games, players go through the cycle of fail, learn and re-try many times. This leads to risk taking, trial and error and persistence – skills that many teachers want their students to develop. It also allows students to develop resilience. Students need to be able to bounce back from their failures, self assess what they need to do differently and be aware of what their strengths and weaknesses to turn the failure into a success.

So let your students fail. Teach them how to fail. Teach how to bounce back from a failure.


Can you see the thousands of dollars?

My year 7 has had laptops now for a few weeks. The class received 12 laptops, which is a costly investment. A colleague once wisely said if that much money was spent you should be able to walk into a classroom/school and notice a difference. You should be able to visibly see that investment’s impact on student learning. So I asked myself exactly that question – Is the learning different in my classroom now? Is the learning better in my classroom now?

I’d like to say yes, and here’s my evidence:
-Students now use their laptops in small groups to demonstrate their understanding, often with higher order thinking skills. Today we explored the properties of magnets. Instead of doing the prac activity from the textbook and writing a prac report, students made a photo story to explain to other year 7s the magnetic properties they have discovered. This took 2 hours. Minimal editing was involved as I wanted the students to focus on the explanation of science, not on fancy video transitions.

-Laptops are used to differentiate learning. Year 7s have been learning about area of composite shapes and expressing area and perimeter through algebraic expressions. Students had to self assess whether they needed more practice in composite shapes or were ready to move onto algebra. Students who selected to refine their skills in composite shapes worked on a self-marking quiz on the laptops while the rest had small group instruction on algebra.

These are just 2 activities where laptops have enhanced learning. When you walk into my classroom, you can see, hear and feel those thousands of dollars making an impact.

Are your thousands of dollars of investments visibly making a difference?



Saying goodbye to the computer room

On Friday I said goodbye to the computer room. The computer room that I have been hogging for at least 4 hours a week since the start of the year. I have spent so much effort making sure I made books as advanced as possible for that computer room so that my Year 7 integrated curriculum class can use it. I felt guilty every time I did that. My students needed to use it, but I also felt as though I was removing a shared resource from other students and teachers. Having taught in a 1:1 learning environment for the past 3 years, teaching only Year 7s this year, where they were not entitled to their own laptops as part of the Digital Education Revolution, really killed me. I was so used to designing learning using collaborative spaces like Edmodo that it felt like all that was taken away from me in the first two terms this year.

However on Friday August 3, my Year 7s received a class set of laptops as part of our school’s middle years strategy and our connected learning strategy. Year 7s received 12 Lenovo Thinkpads, which makes the official laptop to student ratio in my class 1:2.5. The real ratio is 1:2 as some students bring their own devices.

For some people I have talked to, they found it strange that I’m so excited about getting 12 laptops when a computer room offers 20 computers. I would rather have 12 laptops in the classroom than 20 desktop computers that are bolted in a room because:

  • For my Year 7 integrated curriculum class, we used computers mainly for project based learning. So far we have made infographics, science videos and built Parthenons in Minecraft just to name a few. For these projects, students are required to do a mixture of activities that require technology and activities do not require technology. A lot of the times, some students are on computers and other students are working in another area as they are discussing their project or that part of their project does not require a computer. My students will choose the tools that best fit their learning needs at a particular time. Laptops in the classroom do this so much better than computer rooms.

  • Computer rooms are often restrictive learning spaces. They are often built where the only thing you can do is go on computers for the entire lesson. We have 4 computer rooms at the school and I only ever booked one computer room. That’s because this particular room allowed students to spill out into an adjacent area with couches where they can have discussions about their learning rather than being squashed in front of a computer for hours at a time.

  • Having laptops in the classroom allows more flexibility in learning design. Laptops allow the learning to drive the need for technology, not the other way around. When laptops are in the classroom you can use them for lengthy periods of time or in short bursts, depending on the learning need. When computers are fixed in computer rooms, you need to make sure that the whole lesson requires the use of computers so that you’re not wasting the computer room as a resource. You don’t want to book into a computer room if the learning only requires students to be using computers for 15 minutes out of a 60 minute lesson.
  • Laptops in the classroom allows anytime, anywhere learning. If there is a need, my Year 7s can jump on a laptop to go online, to watch an animation that explains a concept, etc. My Year 7s can take their laptops anywhere in the school. They can use it to connect their data loggers to measure features of the environment and they can enter data into a spreadsheet when we are using an outdoor space. If they need to go to a quiet space to record audio, they can take their laptops to that quiet space rather than trying to do so in a computer room with 29 other students. Laptops not only allow learning to drive the need for technology, but it also allows learning to drive the need for a particular style of learning space.

Finally I really hate the concept of computer rooms. To me it’s like going into a calculator room to use a calculator, or a pen room to use a pen. Technology is part of our daily lives now that we shouldn’t have to move to a specialised space to use it. Unless you are doing some hard core 3D animation that requires a high end computer, there should be no need to move to a computer room.

So on Friday my Year 7s and I waved goodbye to the computer room. I have been waiting for that moment for the whole year.

Action learning with Minecraft – Cycle 1

Last term I decided to undertake an action learning project to see whether using feedback will improve students’ self regulation skills in project based learning. This came from my observations that some of my  Year 7 students, who work well in traditional, teacher-centred learning activities, displayed a lot of off-task behaviours in project based learning, which included being not staying with their teams, constantly changing their minds about their projects and other actions, which resulted in a very low-quality learning artefact being produced (see my previous post for more details). This happened in their 60 second science project, where they worked in teams to create a 60 second video on an astronomical phenomenon. Their latest project was to create a model Parthenon in Minecraft where the architecture followed the golden ratio. This project was broken into 4 stages where each stage had a goal and students and I had to assess on how well they have achieved their goal in the form of medals and missions.

Based on informal classroom observations, more students were on task than the previous project. From their survey data, more students said they knew what their team’s goal was, knew how they could help their team achieve that goal, stayed with their team and were on task.

Note: The first graph shows the survey data from the 60 second science project while the second and third graphs show the data from the Minecraft Parthenon project. (Sorry, the categories have been listed backwards in surveys 2 and 3.)

student survey results for self regulation

shows the data from the Minecraft Parthenon project

shows the data from the Minecraft Parthenon project

There were also selected students who struggled with self regulation skills more than the rest of the class in the 60 second science project. Let’s call them Student A, Student B and Student C. When I compared their data, this is what it showed:

student A's survey data over time

student B's survey data over time

student C's survey data over time

When I combine the students’ survey data with my own classroom observations, I can conclude that these three students have worked a lot better during our project sessions. They weren’t “perfect” though, but they did improve. I did see them looking up their own houses on Google Maps a few times while they were meant to be working on their Minecraft Parthenons.

However, I don’t think I can just conclude that giving effective student feedback will cause students to have better self regulation skills in project based learning. There were some major differences between the 60 second science project and the Minecraft Parthenon project:

  • Duration of the project – The 60 second science project lasted 8 weeks while the Minecraft Parthenon project only took 3 weeks. Students might work more effectively in shorter-duration projects.
  • General appeal of the project – While the class in general enjoyed both projects, there was a more heightened excitement about using Minecraft. The games based learning aspect might have affected students’ work ethic. Many students are also very familiar with Minecraft, while the 60 second science project involved students learning and applying unfamiliar concepts such as scripting and storyboarding.
  • Structure of the projects – The 60 second science project involved students working in a range of learning spaces. At any one session, some students were in our main classroom, some students were in another classroom to film, some students were in another classroom so they can record audio. This created a slightly chaotic atmosphere even though it was organised chaos. In the Minecraft Parthenon project, all students were on the mezzanine level of the library. For students who are easily distracted, such an environmental difference might also affect their ability to self regulate.

I’m now coming up to cycle 2 of my action learning project. The next project will involve year 7s creating their own newspapers to report on the London Olympics. I’m staying with feedback and self regulation but will make a few changes to the way data is collected:

  • Student surveys will have additional questions that ask them how well they understood the feedback and how well they know how to act on that feedback
  • Observations from other teachers – I’d like someone else to come into the class and observe Student A, Student B and Student C as well as the rest of the class and note what they are doing at what times of the project session

Cycle 2 will begin in week 2 of Term 3 so watch this space for updates. Also watch this space for updates on how my team of science teachers have been using action learning to improve student learning in science at our school.

Let the games begin!

The London Olympic games will be starting on July 27. My Year 7 class will be studying a unit of work based on the Olympics that combines English, Maths, Science, Geography and History. So when I saw the Xbox game London 2012, I couldn’t help but test it out and see whether I can incorporate games based learning into parts of the unit.

London 2012 is available on Xbox and Playstation 3. On the Xbox some games are also able to be played via the Kinect motion sensor. Players can compete in over 45 Olympic events including track and field, swimming, archery, gymnastics, cycling and diving.

cycling in london 2012 game

I tried the events with both Kinect and the controller. I found the controller much more enjoyable. While some reviewers have said that using the Kinect gave the game more of an authentic feel, I would disagree. For example in the spint events, there is no need to run. All you need to do is to wave your arms wildly.(This is possibly because the game is also designed for Playstation Move, which can’t detect whether your legs are moving or not.) The KInect is nowhere sensitive enough to play table tennis properly (the ball sort of flies through the middle of your body). Archery was quite fun on the connect. If you want to play the events with Kinect, I find that Kinect Sports is much, much better (and cheaper the moment).

There were some events that were really enjoyable with the controller. I particularly liked trampoline and gymnastics, which required you to perform different routines based on pressing different combinations of buttons. Kayaking, weightlifting and shooting were also very good.

The game does have a lot of detail and gives an authentic Olympic feel. You can choose to play as different countries and when you win a gold medal, a shortened version of the national anthem plays. Each event is played at the real location of the London Olympics.

Overall, the game is OK. If your class is doing a unit on the Olympics in Term 3, it is a quite good game to use as a hook for your class. However, I find Kinect Sports to be a much better game. If you already have Kinect Sports, it might not be worth getting the London 2012 game as Kinect Sports‘ game play is much more sensitive and intuitive, cheaper, and will have a longer lifespan. Kinect Sports also has lot of the same track and field events, and in Kinect Sports, you actually need to run in the running events.

Kinect Sports game cover

 Games based learning activities using London 2012

If you are thinking about getting London 2012 for your classroom, here are some games based learning activities;

  • Experiencing unfamiliar sports

Students can play sports that they may be unfamiliar with like the different routines in gymnastics and trampolining. Students can describe how these sports are judged. This can also include the venues that the sports are being played in.

  • Science of angles and wind resistance

In javelin and discus, players are required to throw at an optimum angle in order to achieve the maximum distance. In archery, wind resistance plays a part in how you aim the arrow. Learning can be designed where the London 2012 game can be used as a launch pad into more discoveries on projectile motion and wind resistance.

  • Evaluating the authenticity of the events

Most events require players to time their button pressing. For example in swimming you have to time when you press particular buttons so that it simulates smooth strokes. In sculling you have to press the buttons at the right time and maintain a consistent rhythm to gain speed. Students can learn about the techniques used in each sport and evaluate how well the game has tried to replicate that.

  • Use the game as a stimulus for students to create and host their own mini Olympics games

The London 2012 game will give students the experience to learn how different sports work and they will be able to choose their events for their Olympics, create a schedule and create processes for judging.

There are heaps more ways to integrate games into Olympic-themed learning experiences. What are your ideas?

Project based learning in an integrated curriculum – students’ perspectives

As Term 2 draws to a close I have surveyed my students again on their perception of classroom learning. I regularly gather and analyse feedback from my students in order to inform my future directions in designing their learning activities. Every week my students complete a “Reflection of my learning” survey and at the end of each term they complete a survey where they evaluate the teaching and learning of the term.

a screenshot of the reflection of my learning survey

This term has been my second term teaching an integrated curriculum class. I teach just one Year 7 class this year. I have this class for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History. This means that lessons often have content from a mixture of KLAs. This is a middle years initiative my school is implementing for the first time. The aim is to allow a smoother primary-secondary transition and to implement best practices in teaching and learning for middle years students.

Over the last two terms, I have also been experimenting with project based learning. My Year 7 class work on long term projects where on two hours every Monday and Friday, they work in teams on their projects. Our two latest projects are the 60 second science project (a combination of Science and English) and the Parthenon Project (a combination of History and Maths). In these projects, each team work at their own pace and they have choice over certain aspects of the project such us the method of presentation, the content, etc. To see some work samples from these projects, visit our class blog.

So what do the students think? Here are the main themes from the results:

Integrated Curriculum is most of the students’ favourite subject. (Note that in Term 1 PDPHE was most students’ favourite subject)

A pie graph showing students' favourite subjects

The reasons cited by students for Integrated Curriculum being their favourite subject followed several themes, which were:

  • Having learning activities they thought was fun and interesting
  • Having an enthusiastic teacher who makes the class fun and interesting
  • Students noticing how they improved – We have been implementing the goals, medals and missions model of feedback over these two terms. I don’t give out marks or grades.
  • Project based learning – Students mentioned how they liked having more freedom and choice over the way they presented their learning in these projects. One student mentioned that most lessons are about getting “the right answer” while she is able to express herself more creatively in projects
  • Learning different subjects together
  • Doing science experiments – The most interesting thing from this was that students mentioned how they enjoyed doing experiments where they did not know what will happen. They also mentioned how they liked experiments that allowed them to see changes overtime. We have been doing a lot of science experiments where the content was a mixture of science and geography. They were environmental science activities from Murder Under the Microscope where experiments required observations over several days. Students did not mention they enjoyed science experiments because they involved explosions or flames, which are often mentioned by students in previous year groups.
Students were also asked how much they enjoyed particular types of learning activities and how much they thought they learnt from them. The top three activities that students enjoyed learning were also the activities they felt they learnt the most from.
bar graph showing students' enjoyment of activities
bar graph showing how much students thought they learnt from different activities

When asked in the survey whether they would like to continue project based learning in Term 3, 100% of students answered yes. In my observations and conversations with students, they clearly enjoy project based learning and are on task most of the time. From my observations they are also learning important skills in self-regulation, time management and team work, which will become increasingly important in their later years of high school. From my conversations with students, many of them often say Mondays and Friday’s are their favourite days because they have “project time” and they get very disappointed when I have to sometimes move their project sessions to different days due to learning spaces and resources being booked out.

So where to now?

Well for one thing, I really want to lead my faculty in using data such as these weekly reflections and surveys to drive future directions in teaching and learning. I have found the weekly surveys to be an invaluable source of information to inform my teaching. Yes they take a long time to analyse but I have felt that my own teaching has improved massively because of it.

I am also going to continue project based learning. PBL has been a highly stressful experience at times (see my previous posts). Students enjoy doing them and feel they are learning lots from it. Their formal assessment results also show they are achieving highly as well. So it’s a win-win situation 🙂

I find it interesting that the results show such a positive response for science. There is a trend for students in Year 7/8 to lose interest in science. Many science teachers think that students need to be engaged through explosive experiments. My Year 7s’ survey responses show a different story. They liked experiments which were long term and where they did not know the results before doing the experiment. This data will allow us to better design science learning for our other students.

Lessons learnt from project based learning

This year I embarked on a journey of project based learning with my year 7 class. The Year 7s have been doing mini projects in the first term. They have made infographics, videos and models. These mini projects allowed them to develop team work skills, time management skills and self-regulation skills.

At the moment, my Year 7s are doing their first long-term project. They are now working in teams to make a one-minute long video to explain an astronomical concept (the occurrence of day and night, seasons, tides, etc). They will enter the video into the 60 second science competition.  This project didn’t involve a simple point-and-shoot video. The project had four phases: (1) Research; (2) Pre-production (scripting and storyboarding); (3) Filming; and (4) Post production. Students were guided through the processes of scripting, storyboarding and using video editing software for post-production.

We have 4 hours of “project time” a week and most students are on task. Each team needs to state their goals and also say why they needed certain equipment (such as iPads and laptops) before they started.

So far most teams are progressing well:

  • One team is extremely well prepared. They have spent time and effort into their script and storyboard. They have organised props and are filming against a Chroma key background. They will soon be working with a teacher who specialised post production skills to edit their video. This group is doing really well.
  • One team is highly experienced in creating videos, especially animated videos. They now spend their dedicated project lessons doing highly technical things that they learn from watching video tutorials.
  •  One team is now up to their post –production phase. This group was a little less prepared than the other teams in their scripts and storyboarding, so they found it difficult to negotiate during filming as each person had a different idea of how it should be done. In the end (with some suggestions on how to negotiate and compromise), they were able to finish their filming.
  • One team is using GoAnimate to make their video. This team has also completed a fairly detailed script and storyboard so their filming process was also straight forward.

However, one team is not progressing as well. They have changed their scripts and storyboard multiple times and is the only group who haven’t started filming. This team works well in traditional classroom activities, but seems to be overwhelmed in project based learning. Even when they state their goals at the start of a session, the goals would often change.

So the lessons I have learnt so far is:

  • Have more checkpoints in the project phases – Even though I broke up the project into the stages of research, pre-production, filming and post production, I should’ve built in checkpoints within each phase. For example, students had to get feedback from another group about their storyboard after drawing three scenes. This would’ve helped students gain more regular feedback.
  • Have a half session checkpoint where each group needs to report on the progress in reaching their goal.
  • Have restrictions placed on the task – Next time I would not only specify the video is 60 seconds long, but only contains a certain number of scenes. This would’ve prevented students from going overboard and becoming overwhelmed with the process.
  • Have small sessions on how to work in a team, how to communicate effectively and how to negotiate and compromise.
  • Have each group nominate a project manager who is responsible for making sure the team stays on track.

I am just a beginner in project based learning and I am learning a lot of lessons. What lessons have you learnt from project based learning?

Project based learning – a continuing journey

I have been embarking on a journey this year that is transforming my teaching practice. I have always liked to experiment with different teaching and learning strategies, but they’ve always had constraints that were beyond my immediate control, which included running them within one hour periods and within one subject area (when I knew it had so much potential for cross curricular opportunities)

Now that I’m teaching a year 7 class in English, maths, science, geography and history, I have more opportunities to try things like project based learning. I see my year 7 class the whole day on Mondays and Fridays and they’re our “project days”. That just means on Mondays and Fridays we have at least two to three hours where students work in teams on projects. These projects span from one week to a few months. They all involve students working in teams,, determining their project goals, working out a timeline to achieve those goals and producing a product that they think best demonstrates their learning. The process of getting to the end product is just as important as the end product itself. the process of the project is adapted from the design process.

design process

To build student capacity to undertake such activities, we started with relatively small projects that were heavily scaffolded. These projects were completed within a few hours over a couple of days so that students can get used to working in a team and practise self-regulatory behaviours. Students then moved onto a project that required a couple of weeks to complete and involved them designing a question about the people of the school, creating a survey to answer the question and then creating a more complex infographic than the previous project. Some students chose to draw graphs on a poster, while others decided to make a video.

In each project, students completed an ‘evaluation of my learning’ activity, which involve students reflecting on:

  • whether they have achieved their goals and why (most students are quite honest with this question, often citing the completion of some tasks were held back because they were distracted for some period of time)
  • how they knew they’ve done a good job
  • how they can improve on their next project (we still need to work on this more as many students still say “work faster”)

Students then review each other’s work and give feedback to each other. We then upload the learning products onto our class blog, Too School for Cool, so that a global audience can comment on the students’ work.

The project the year 7s are doing now is the 60 second science video challenge, which is their first long term project. The project involves students working in teams to create a one-minute video to explain a science concept. The project is divided into four phases: research, pre-production, production and post production. Most year 7 teams have completed their research, a draft script and a draft storyboard for their video. We have also learnt some of the easier script/screenplay conventions and also camera angles for the storyboard.

So these projects with year 7s have been working well so far. When I surveyed the class, the majority of students said they enjoyed doing the projects, learnt a lot from doing them and would like to continue doing projects in the following term.

For me personally, it is a continuing learning journey. I have experimented with similar project based learning activities last year, mainly with games based learning. However, this is the first time where I have been able to implement project based learning continuously for a much longer time. I think it does make learning more meaningful for students and allows them to create products that demonstrate their understanding, that shows me much more on what my students can do and need to improve on in comparison to traditional lessons that lead up to a topic test. Lessons also place a lot of emphasis on the process of learning, which is often lacking in more traditional-styled lessons.

However there are some challenges that I am exploring and implementing strategies for, such as:

  • Continuing to build some students’ abilities to negotiate in teams (some teams often break up as they can’t agree on minor details like whether to do a presentation or a video and we had to play some games and do role plays to show the importance of communication in team work)
  • Some students needing much more help in self regulation than others
  • Students being up to different parts of their project – This sounds relatively minor but it’s the biggest challenge I face at the moment. For example, in the last few weeks of term 1, some teams were still researching, other teams were writing their scripts and about three teams were ready to do their storyboards. It was difficult to determine when I should stop the whole class and have a quick session on how to draw storyboards because three teams were up to it or teach it to each cluster of teams when they were ready to do the storyboards. One of the biggest challenges are towards the end of projects when a few teams finish and some teams haven’t. This isn’t like some kids finishing a worksheet a few minutes before the others. Since these are projects spanning weeks, some teams might finish a few hours or a few days before others

Overall I find project based learning requires a lot more effort to design learning experiences for than the more traditional lessons, but projects provide more intellectual rigour and allow students to enjoy learning rather than seeing it as ‘school work’.

I’m more than happy to continue this journey and I don’t see myself turning back.

Maths … it doesn’t have to be every odd question in Ex 2.3

This year I’m teaching an integrated curriculum for Year 7. This means Year 7s are learning English, Maths, Science, Geography and History through cross-KLA concepts.

Last week we had a lesson on scaled drawings and maps, which covered both ratios in Maths and map reading in Geography. The traditional (and perhaps easier) way is for me to show them how to work with ratios and different types of scales is to do a few examples on the board and then the students do a bunch of maths and geography questions. I then tell them whether they’re right or wrong.

But I decided to do it differently. I wanted my students to show their understanding in their own way, not through a set of questions that someone has set for them. It is also my school’s goal to allow students to negotiate their learning, and to prepare them for this I wanted to let them make negotiations on small parts of the task.

The “lesson” lasted for 5 periods. In the first 2 hours we discussed ratios, scales and how they were applied in real life (in maps, scaled models, toys, etc). Then we made “desk maps”, which were scaled drawings of our desks in the classrooms using scales such as 1 cm = 10 cm, with various objects (also drawn to scale) on the desk. This was followed by measuring scaled distances of a street map showing the local area.

The class then broke into teams. Their task was to make an explanation on how to draw a scaled diagram to someone who doesn’t know how to draw scaled diagrams. They had to plan according to these 3 questions:

1. What is my goal for this task?

2. What will my explanation for the scaled diagram be?

3. How will I present my explanation? Why have I chosen to present it in this way?

The planning process involved students spread across the whole classroom. Some students stayed at their regular desks. Others moved to the lab benches for more space. Others used the whiteboard on the other side of the room. It is more chaotic then the regular classroom, but it’s good chaos 🙂

Most students chose to do a video (for some reason my Year 7s love to make videos; I think it’s because they want to use the iPads). Their reason was because it’s easier to understand how to do maths when you can see and hear the explanation. Other groups chose to make posters. Their reasoning was because the posters can be pinned up in the classroom and students can refer to them if they needed to.

The groups then started to make their products. This involved students spreading out even more. Students who made videos went out into the playground or the storeroom next to the classroom to make their recordings. Students who made posters stayed in the classroom.

The last hour of the lesson involved students evaluating their learning process. I emphasised the process of making their product was just as important as the product. Students had to reflect on these questions:

1. What have I learnt this lesson?

2. How do I know I’ve done a good job?

3. Did I know what I had to do during the lesson? If not, how did I find out?

4. Was I able to stay on task? Why or why not?

5. Was I able to complete my task on time? Why or why not?

6. If I did the task again, how will I do an even better job?

I planned for the class to watch the videos and look at the posters after their learning evaluations, but we ran out of time. We’re going to do that next lesson where each group has to come up with a “wow” and “wonder” for each product. The “wow” is something that was done well in the product. The “wonder” is a question raised from the product such as “I wonder if you could show other scales besides 1cm=10cm to show more difficult calculations”. We’ll see how it goes.

Here’s part of one group’s videos.

A new year, a new challenge

It’s now been a week into the 2012 school year. For me, this year is a little different – I am only teaching one class! At my school we are implementing an integrated curriculum for year 7 as a middle years strategy (and it’s actually a proper integrated curriculum; not just me teaching multiple subjects). Year 7s have one teacher for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History, and I’m lucky enough to be one of those teachers.

I see my Year 7s all day Monday and Friday and two hours on Tuesday and Wednesday. This is a huge change from I was used to. I see this as an opportunity to really get to know my students and implement a lot more problem based learning (PBL). There has been many learning activities I want to implement and some I have implemented that are long-term projects and did not work as well as they could have due to the rigid high school timetable. Seeing students for large chunks of time makes PBL a lot easier.

So here’s some of the things I’ve done differently this year:

I have rearranged my classroom

I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I have moved my desks from rows to groups. I wanted the physical space to reflect how my students will learn best. My classroom is actually a science laboratory so it’s double the size of regular classrooms. There is enough space for students to work in groups on the regular tables and move to the practical benches if they need to work independently or in smaller groups away from the rest of the class. I eventually would like my students to choose the space that would allow them to work the best for a particular activity.

classroom layout







I don’t have a front-of-the-classroom

There is no front of the classroom. There are three sides of the room where information are displayed – the interactive whiteboard (IWB), the side wall and a regular whiteboard on the opposite side of the room. The side wall holds learning intentions and success criteria for the lesson and the IWB and the regular whiteboard are used by students.

learning intentions board

I let my students negotiate on their learning

Year 7s came up with 5 class rules. We then used Class Dojo to come up with positive behaviours and negative behaviours that would gain points or lose points respectively. Year 7s devised a reward system where 5 points would gain a merit award and every 15 points they accumulate will allow them to “level up” and choose a new avatar for themselves on ClassDojo.

reward system negotiated by students   class dojo screenshot

Letting students sustain their own learning community

When I first used Edmodo last year, I used it as space to upload files. Lesson resources, worksheets and quizzes were uploaded onto Edmodo. Half way through last year I started using Edmodo as an online space for students to share and collaborate. Students started to share links, samples of work and PrimaryPad was embedded for groups of students work collaboratively. This year I wanted to continue this and extend it further. It’s good to see that when I scan the page of my year 7 Edmodo group, most of the posts are made by students and NOT me.

This year is going to be very different. It’s going to be challenging, but at the same time a really good opportunity to explore learning. I’m really looking forward to further exploring PBL and going further with I’ve been doing with games based learning. I am also leading some new initiatives in my faculty, which I will write a blog post on later. Watch this space. 🙂