Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Tapping Into Problem-Based Learning

Problem based learning (PBL) is a student-centred approach that gives students experience with solving open-ended problems. This approach to learning encourages teamwork, the use of trial and error and critical thinking, all of which are vital skills for students to acquire in high school.  
 
 
A great example of this teaching method was used recently in our Grade 8 science classes. As part of a unit on simple machines and the study of levers, students worked in teams to design and build a Trebuchet. A trebuchet is a medieval siege weapon designed to throw projectiles long distances. A key element of this design involves using a beam, hinged at a pivot point to launch a projectile.
 
 

 
Students began the task by making a prototype and used it to experiment with the ideal ratios of the beam, pivot and counterweight to develop their final design. Students used materials such as doweling, straws and plastic spoons to build their final prototype. They used their machine to calculate mechanical advantage and work. A written reflection on what they had learned through the process was also completed.
 

 
As a concluding activity, students competed against one another to determine which trebuchet could fling a mini-marshmallow the furthest distance. Knowing the inquiry ended with this type of competition really motivated students to build the most effective trebuchet.  

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Developing Unique Solutions to Open-Ended Problems

The ability to develop solutions to open-ended problems is an important skill in a knowledge-based economy. Our Grade 9 Science students had an opportunity to gain practice with this skill through the culminating project in the Electricity unit.
 
Using knowledge developed in the unit, students had to design and build an electrical gadget. This gadget had to include an energy source (battery), conducting wires, and multiple loads (lights, motors, etc.) Students also had to use ammeters and voltmeters to measure their gadget’s current and voltage, and predict how much energy the gadget would use over a 24 hour-period.

 
Very few initial designs produced the desired result. Consequently, students were forced to continually re-think their initial assumptions and try another approach, which is a key element of effective problem solving. This process also enabled students to demonstrate perseverance and engage in meaningful teamwork, another essential element of problem solving.
 
 
Overall, this project enabled students to take risks in thinking and creating, which will be immensely helpful as they move forward with their learning at Greenwood and beyond.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

"Flipping" Student Learning

Educational research indicates that deep learning takes place when there is “interplay between the cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills” (National Research Council, July 2012, p.2). This approach was evident in a recent Grade 10 Canadian History class, as students used “flip debates” to develop a position on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The class began with students using appropriate documents and working in small teams to become familiar with the fact patterns related to this historical event. This team work enabled students to develop such important interpersonal skills as communication and perspective.
 
Students were then instructed to work with their team to develop a position as to whether the bombing should have taken place. Doing so enables students to think and reason about an important moral issue. Teachers then placed teams with opposing viewpoints on the issue into one group and instructed the group to examine the “flip” side of their position. Ultimately, the team had to reach a consensus on the topic. Adding this step to the process forces students to think carefully and debate both sides of the issues in order to reach a carefully considered point of view.
 
Having students write about what they learned through the “flip debate” is an excellent intrapersonal activity, as it allows them to assess how their initial position on the issue evolved.