Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Personalizing Content-Heavy Courses

The curricula for science and math courses often contain so much content that teachers find it difficult to complete the course by the end of the school year. They sometimes feel pressured to adopt a lecture-based approach and remove the activities that students enjoy such as labs, discussions, demonstrations or cooperative learning structures.

Even more challenging than covering all the required topics is finding a way to personalize this type of program.

A typical science lesson plan will often involve the introduction of several new topics, a few example problems, an activity and individual practice. However, introducing new topics regularly requires more time than planned as students have questions or a concept needs to be explained in multiple ways. When this happens, the lesson plan is adjusted in the moment and may result in shortened activities or some topics receiving less explanation.

By removing the classroom lecture and making resources available outside of the classroom, the fear of not completing a lesson in the time allotted is eliminated. In-class time can be used for discovery labs (where the concept is introduced and presented through a lab), games and group activities. Both class time and outside of class time can be used to work through interactive multi-media and videos.

This approach has some similarities to the flipped classroom, as videos are utilized. However the role of the video differs with the technique I am describing as videos may simply act as an additional or optional resource to support another activity. This gives students considerable freedom with how and when they learn, which is not inherent to the flipped classroom.

This approach does require students to develop a specific skill set such as organizational skills, time management and the ability to be self-directed in their learning. However, by not having to sit through a one-size-fits-all presentation and having more control over their learning, students are able to progress more quickly through the material as the program is streamlined to fit their needs.

For example, when a student has a question, they receive individual help from the teacher - but if another student knows the answer to the question they simply continue working.

The additional class time freed up by removing the lecture can be used to further personalize any program. In our chemistry class, we have divided the course into two sections: core content (which covers our curriculum) and contract activities (which allow students to explore topics of interest to them).

Some examples of the contract activities undertaken by students include conducting additional labs, performing class demonstrations, development of a video or other classroom resource, an independent study on a new chemistry topic, completing additional problem sets and analyzing the chemistry of cooking.

Kyle Acres
Science Teacher

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