What is best for kids? How does this improve learning? If I was to do this what is the balance of risk vs. reward? Is this serving the majority or a few? Thanks to George Couros, I am always thinking of those questions before I try something new. His questions were originally guided for an IT department, but I use them for all I do. When making changes to my approach with students I answer each of those questions, and then reflect at the end of the lesson with students.
In teaching minerals, I used to use a power point (I shudder at the thought of that now) and a packet created by a colleague along with the science text. I stood up in front of the class, giving a lot of information to students. I would talk to the them about the properties of minerals, and then give them time to practice testing out each one. This passive way of learning is not best for kids. When thinking of it, I do not think it improve learning. Rather I am giving a set of facts to students and they do them like automated robots. Students really aren’t learning deeply so there is more risk than reward in this way of instructing students. And I am not serving anyone, even me because I am not engaged or talking to students when I am up in front of the room teaching. The role of the teacher, in my mind, has changed to learner or facilitator during my tenure. I have slowly transitioned to student centered learning, which is more challenging to manage and students might struggle more. However, putting the learning in the hands of the students is best for them. They get way more out of the learning experience by figuring things out for themselves.
Yesterday I decided not to teach students about properties of minerals. I brought students to the science lab. They were allowed to bring their book, packet, and a pencil. I asked them to work in a small team (3-4). I started with getting them to think about how to identify a mineral. No one knew so they were tasked with figuring it out. Several students got to work hunting in the book. One group noticed the features of non-fiction, and the sub headings allowed them to identify the properties. Students also struggled with where to begin and were confused, because I was not telling them what they were. We talked about how in life often we are left with tools and have to use them to figure out things ourselves. Students took notes on each of the six properties. Others used sketch notes per my suggestion to help them remember information. Each group was asked to be able to all identify the properties before gaining access to the tools to test the minerals. Through digging for information they figured it out. One group was given the materials and a second group was ready to move on at the end of class. We reflected and all students told me they would have tuned me out if I explained all this to them. That learning through doing is better for them. And they all discovered the properties of minerals. Others are developing stronger collaboration skills and gaining confidence.