Earlier this year I shared the outcomes of approaching a new topic with my S1 class differently. Basically, rather than starting the topic with the title, learning outcomes etc., we started with a discussion which generated questions…
Once we have the students’ questions, we add in the experiences and outcomes and begin to bring together a topic together as a class. They then name the topic. This year it’s called ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Life’ – a fantastic title which I would never have come up with myself. What has really blown me away this year however has been their questions. The following questions are the ones they came up with which we were able to easily align to our experiences and outcomes:
- What species are there?
- Is there life only on Earth? How and why was life on Earth formed?
- How was life on Earth found?
- Why did humans evolve on Earth and not on Mars?
- How did we change from monkeys to humans?
- Could there have been life on Mars because there was water?
- How does life continue every day?
However, for some reason we had a much greater variety of questions this year which left us with the following to answer…
- Why do hammer head sharks have a hammer head?
- What made the countries split up?
- How do natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes occur?
- How was the Earth made?
- Could humans survive a meteorite hitting Earth?
- How can animals survive in Chernobyl (Ukraine) and we can’t?
- Where do deadly viruses come from?
- Why were the dinosaurs killed through meteors?
- How do viruses transfer to humans?
- Will there ever be WWIII? What will happen if it does?
- How does gravity work?
- How do volcanoes erupt?
- How far away is space?
- What did space look like before Earth was created?
- How does Earth stay together?
- What will happen if meteors hit the Earth?
- How did the Earth’s core get made?
- What are the planets made from?
- How big are all the planets?
- How was the sun made?
- What did space look like before the big bang?
- Why is there no ozone layer in Australia?
- Is there anything which could destroy Earth?
- What if the hole in the ozone layer gets too big?
Wow! Remember, these students are in S1…which means they’re about 12 years old. Our curriculum will perhaps attempt to answer some of these over the next six years, but not all. How did we answer all these I hear you ask…well they each chose one to research at home and share back to the class as a homework project which they did brilliantly on Friday of last week. Not a perfect solution, but at least they had the chance of exploring at least one of these big questions and hearing from others about their questions too.
This whole process has really made me think…if that’s the questions they are arriving to us with, why is it so hard for us to make the space to answer them? Also, if we make no attempt to try and answer their own amazing questions is it little wonder that many of them eventually switch off to schooling? Imagine instead of being so obsessed with content in S1-3, we instead focused on those skills and attributes which we so wished our students possessed in S4 onwards? I’m not saying knowledge doesn’t matter, but I don’t think everything necessarily needs to be taught to everyone at the same time.
One of my favourite papers contains a much more complex version of the table below. Harris suggests that to get learners to see the purpose in, and even ‘own’, their own learning they need to be collaborators in the learning process:
Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers
can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).
I love this idea and have been striving to find a way to make it a reality in my classroom for some time now. It really shouldn’t be that hard given that there is significant overlap between this idea and the capacities we are tasked with developing as part of the curriculum.
So, for me there seems to be a contradiction here. If we want our learners to own their own learning and develop the capacities we want them to have, we need to be able to allow them to be collaborators in the learning process. If they are to be collaborators in the learning process then we need to make the space to take their complex and challenging questions seriously as part of their curriculum.
Ultimately, if we want our kids to be switched on we have to somehow find a way of decluttering the curriculum and making the space for it to happen…