Monday, 16 January 2012

Active Learning, post 16

On my flying visit to the ASE Conference I went to one of the seminars/talks about active learning for post 16 students.  This is something I've been interested in for a while - we have a course at KS3 (Upd8 Wikid/Segue) that uses a lot of class discussion, peer assessment and working in groups, and some of these skills have been carried forward to KS4.  It seems that once the kids make it to KS5 they become so focused on passing exams that they demand their teachers stand and lecture them so they get the information they need to pass their exams.

Unfortunately for the classes I teach, that isn't my way.  I expect pupils to engage with the material and will set homework that requires them to make a presentation to explain something to the rest of the class.  I've had a lot of success with class-made revision guides or "Everything you need to know about parasites" booklets...We all know that research shows that we learn better if you do something with the material rather than passively sit and have it spoon fed to you.

The ASE talk referred to an activity called "Marketplace", found in "The Teacher's Toolkit" (p122 if you have it handy!) Today I tried this for the first time, with my year 12 biology group.

It took me about 15 minutes to prepare for - I wanted to get them started on Unit 2, the parts about DNA and meiosis, so I pulled the key facts out of that section of the (AQA) syllabus, and turned them into 12 questions.  There were basic themes: structure of DNA; function of DNA; replication and meiosis - I colour-coded the questions, and pre-typed them onto an interactive whiteboard page. The questions were displayed for the first 10 minutes or so of the lesson (as the class arrived and got themselves organised...). I didn't refer to them until I was explaining what they were going to be doing.  The second slide of the chart was a basic list of instructions about how the lesson would flow.  I managed to differentiate by appointing a team captain for each group, basing this on how taxing that theme was.  I let the team captain pick three other people for their group. In future I would control the groups more, two pupils struggled as they ended up in the more complicated topics.

The activity gives the group 15 minutes to make a poster about their topic, without having the questions to look at.  They can only use 10 words and that frustrated and amused them in equal parts.  They used their textbooks and some other A level books I had in my room to carry out research, and one enterprising pupil used his smart phone!  I used groups of four and this worked well - one pupil seemed to do all the writing, one did the research and the other two swotted up on things they might be asked by the others in the group.

The part where they moved around went ok, some made decent notes and were able to teach this to the others in their groups when they returned.  The stall holders could only answer questions and this mixed ability group struggled at times to know what to ask and understand the answers they were getting - they need more practice.  The teaching was variable too, in future I'll send some off to see the other posters and swap them over with the stallholders, and then give them group discussion time.

The sneaky bit of the lesson is the return of the questions from the start of the lesson in the form of the quiz at the end - they all got more right at the end than they said they would've done at the start. There were a couple of good explanations of how DNA replicates and why this is important.  I'm counting this as a result.  I also had some past paper questions lined up as extension/homework/confidence builder and we had a quick look at how they would have to apply their knowledge to a question.

Over all, worth doing.  It was very active on their part, they had to use group work, research skills and explanations.  I plan to do it again tomorrow to start year 13 human biology off on homeostasis and for year 11 (targets D-G) for radioactivity.

These are their posters....

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