After watching Sugata Mitra’s TED talk on School in the Cloud, I was inspired to test out his methods in doing inquiry in the classroom. The SOLE or Self Organized Learning Environments are really nothing new. But the way in which he structures these groups is a little different than I have done before.
The Set Up
I designed my first try at a SOLE for my 6th graders. I introduced the project as Mrs. Ralf’s History Mystery. The 6th graders had to answer the prompt: Here is a picture of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. What can we learn about Ancient Greece from this broken down old building?
I selected 2 students to be the “Student Helpers” and the rest of the students chose their own groups of 3-4. Each group had a laptop or iPad, colored pencils, and an A3 sheet of paper. They had 40 minutes to research and create a poster.
Ready, Set, Go!
Some groups were slow to start. They discussed the question, discussed a game plan, discussed the picture, and then began their research. Other groups dove right in. They took turns searching for information. They would discuss with each other what something meant and if that bit of information was “poster worthy.” Some students gathered tons and tons of notes and then in the last 5 minutes threw their poster together. It was loud but 90% of the classroom was engaged in learning. Sometimes the learning was subject oriented and sometimes they were learning to solve the problem of working with difficult peers.
“I Need a Student Helper Over Here!”
It was very difficult to remove myself from being in charge of “crowd control.” I needed to let the Student Helpers do the work. At first, their peers were calling them over to fix stupid problems. With a smiles on their faces, “Helper! She took my pencil!” They weren’t really in crisis, they were just testing their new authority figures. Eventually everyone settled in and used their Student Helpers to solve real problems like: What is a good website to find this information? What should we do when someone else is using the iPad? Can you get Bob to stop hogging the poster? Some groups did actually have real crises yet others never needed any help. At times, the Student Helper approached me with the problem and I helped them figure out a way to make things better by asking them more questions.
With 10 minutes until the end of the period I had the students do some quick reflection. I only see the students 3 times a week. So I wanted them to have a moment to think about what they just did before they left for a few days. The students were given 3 prompts to complete on a piece of paper. What did you learn about Ancient Greece that you didn’t know before? What went well? This assignment would have been even better if…..
What they learned was surprising. They learned what the temple was made out of, they learned about the Golden Ratio, they learned about Athena, they learned about how the Persians defeated the great Athenians. They learned how to create a poster in 40 minutes.
The presentations took place in the following lesson. I gave the students 5 minutes to plan what they wanted to say. Each group went to the front of the class to present. Most students read straight off their posters. It is easier to face your poster instead of face the staring eyes of 15 other students. But as each group member took turns presenting, a few students would add extra highlights of things that they found that were not one their posters. After each presentation we had a short class discussion of “What can new information can we add to our list about what we learned about Ancient Greece?”
How many of you want to try this again?
The overwhelming answer was yes. The kids loved choosing their own groups. They loved having their fellow students in charge. And they loved working with technology to find the answer. And who doesn’t love making a cool poster. They realized too that they were working harder and that they were being held accountable to finishing something during a time limit. This made them more successful. They knew that with only 40 minutes, there wasn’t much time for arguing or playing around.
I think for me, I don’t know if I would use this framework all the time. They still need to learn other valuable skills. They need to learn to work on their own to find the answers as well. But this style of teaching does lend itself nicely to the anticipatory set when starting a new unit or chapter.
Haven’t we all seen this before?
Inquiry based learning is nothing new. My unit plans are always centered around a big question. I often set my students a task, they research the subject, and then create a product to present. But I think what this approach is different is that it is completely student led. They also are not allowed to use the computer to produce the product. It must be created by hand which forces them to paraphrase information they understand rather than copy information they don’t understand. They decide what is important information to share. They police each others behavior. They are responsible, completely, for the final product. Now lets see what the 11th graders think of it.