Reflecting, Post Inquiry-Based Project

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tiled backsplashBeing a hands-on learner, I’m always enthused about an assignment that lets me dig into a project and see where it takes me. The idea of tiling the back splash came to me in a heartbeat, but the process of learning about it took quite a bit longer. Thinking about learning this skill was invaluable, as it deepened my awareness beyond the scaffolding steps I’ve contemplated in the last while.

When I think of the elements that make up a great learning experience, I think the way each person learns needs to be respected. Added to this, multiple intelligences must to be honored. That’s no small task to weave into each lesson. However, it is much more easily accomplished through a student-centered learning approach. If I can boil all my inquiry project learning experience down to one central take-away, it is this: There are many ways to learn to tile a back splash. Creating space for the student to decide how they are going to learn to tile the back splash is likely going to create the most rewarding and memorable learning experience.

This realization has cemented my commitment to the student-centered learning approach. My role as instructor needs to focus primarily on being a guide rather than being the giver of all information. I have many student-centered practices and assignments in my courses now. Still, there is lots of room for improvement. In the process of moving my existing material over to an even greater emphasis to student-centered approaches, I need to remember to engage the students as I go. Rather than coming up with case studies on my own, I can ask students to share scenarios that are relevant to them. I can call on students who love the research phase of 4MAT to help me choose the best resources for webquests. I can encourage students to find or even make short videos to explain topics that I have typically covered by lecture.  And building on Tim’s idea, I can encourage students to create questions for tests, because being student-centered means remembering that some students prefer tests to projects.  I think this is my new inquiry project – engaging students in assisting me to set up a more student-centered learning approach, while we cover the content. It’s going to take lots of work and creativity to make this happen, but I’m up for it, and I can’t wait to see where this project takes us!

Flip the Classroom with Webquests

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webquest 2If you’re looking for a way to move from lecture to student-centered activity, webquests are an excellent option.  I learned about webquests about a year ago and built one to replace a lecture on nutrition.  The results were worth the time it took to research material and build the content.

The students took the resources and instructions and came up with innovative ways to explain the Canada Food Guide and the importance of healthy, balanced meals.  I included resources on menu diversity and the benefits of an active lifestyle to round out the subject. Rather than the fact-filled lecture I had inherited in this course, the students used the webquest resources to build a game show to share the content in a dynamic way.

We also looked at developing a food budget and compared local grocery chains including Safeway, Sobeys, and Superstore for value and variety.  Finally, we addressed dining out at both fast-food and sit-down restaurants such as Tim Horton’s and Moxi’s to compare value, calories and menu options.  Students included their favorite restaurants into this search.

The positive results should not be a surprise.  Students’ engagement in the topic was far greater with the webquest approach, and several students remarked that they were in a better position to apply this information in their own lives.  Compared to other cohorts, this class as a whole did a better job of connecting the nutrition topic to their work supporting people who have an intellectual disability to understand nutrition.

A key component to the success of webquests lies in choosing resources that are easy to use, and giving the students control over how they decide to share what they learn.  The game show concept was the students’ idea.  The next group may approach it in a very different way.  No matter how they choose to share it, if the ability to put the information to use remains as high as it was with the first group, I will have even more proof that webquests are a beneficial method for flipping the classroom.

Flip the Classroom

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flipped classroomI love the idea of flipping the classroom as a way of focusing my time with students on higher level learning.  Adopting this student-centered approach will require re-thinking the use of in-and-out of class time and assessments.  The article How to Create Assessments for the Flipped Classroom referenced the layer 3 worksheet as practical format for preparing students to come to class with the foundational information already in mind.  By taking the learning outcomes and addressing what can occur before, during and after class, and how it would be best approached, it becomes clearer to see how I can move from the teacher-centered approach of delivering most of the content.

Having a format to guide me in flipping the classroom is helpful. I don’t want to lose necessary information, but rather  provide it in a different manner.  Through the use of articles, short recorded lecture PowerPoints and videos offered ahead of class time, I can turn my focus to the activities and assignments that bring the learning to life and create a lab in the classroom. Follow up activities for reflection – which are often best done outside of class to avoid distractions and let the student control the pace – can be done after class.

Processes like the 3 layer worksheet assist me to flip the classroom with a greater sense of confidence and enthusiasm.  The student’s time on each subject is limited, and I want to make the most of each learning opportunity.

What Does Student Centered Really Mean?

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student centered learing 1 The article What Does Student Centered Really Mean?  offered a good opportunity for reflecting on what I am focusing on as an instructor, and how much it is connected to the student-centered approach.

One of the quotes mentioned in the article relates to how teachers have been seen as a “sage on stage”.  As much as I know this is not a student-centered approach to learning, it is still very accepted, and somewhat expected by many peers and supervisors.  If we are dynamic and wise, we’re viewed as being a great instructor.  But really, that means we are little more than entertaining.  And sharing pearls of wisdom doesn’t lead students to think for themselves.

A second idea worth contemplating involves the high tech equipment we believe is needed in each classroom.  A PowerPoint presentation is just a prettier version of the old school overheads.  And while it has the advantages of being potentially more interesting, it really doesn’t mean we are doing anything more student-centered in our classroom.  Same goes for a smart board or any other technology that remains in the hands of the instructor.

The student-centered classroom requires us to re-think and question some of our common practices.  Instead of being the sage on stage, our passion for a subject, and our ability to guide and facilitate is demonstrated in an even more dynamic way when we share more responsibility with students.  And whether our classroom is low or high tech, the practice of teaching needs to be focused on active learning where the needs and interests of the student are respected and expressed.  If we are sage instructors, then surely it is because we create environments where the student’s creativity, brilliance, resourcefulness and confidence is given room to grow.