Sunday, March 13, 2011

Taking students and teachers out of the comfort zone

Re-reading my own post from last week I could summarise it by just stating 'we need to change the structure of 'traditional timetabling!'

Why am I in education? That answer can partly begin to be found in my last blog post in which I mentioned my last years of high school. I want to make sure that every student comes out of high school with a mindset of 'I can be great! I can achieve! I can create my own is not predetermined!' What is crucial in the school I work in is that we have to get to our students before they leave high school. Instil an optimism and drive that becomes so strong it cannot be crushed by the first rejection they get when they leave our doors.

6 hours per day is what we have to constantly reinforce values and belief in our students. It's not a lot of time given that you lose so many learning minutes thanks to the bells. In fact when we travelled to Ulearn 2010 the statistic we learnt was that on average, time wasted in which students are not actually 'doing' in a school amounts to about 1 day per week. I love having conversations with my students - to me it is critical in beginning to form a teacher - student relationship and from 6 weeks worth of conversations one of the major points I've come away with is that learning for most of my students is done at school.

Home unfortunately often has a number of distractions and negative conditions which make it difficult for rigorous learning to take place.

Now for a quick update on where my students currently are at in terms of Year 10 Multimedia before I continue (you'll see the connection of where I'm going with this). A quality multimedia project has to live with the student well after they have submitted the piece of work - it needs to have a life of its own. At the moment I'm structuring a situation in which my students will create TV and Radio episodes that are ongoing and relevant to their interests. So far students have engaged in:

An RC Car TV Show
A Movie Review Show
A Rugby Show
A Show on Science
A Show on Soccer
A Show on Port Adelaide Football Club
A Gamers Review Show

Let me take one of these shows and breakdown how if the timetable allowed it and as teachers we took ourselves completely out of the comfort zone the 'multimedia project' could become 'the students entire semester of work'.

An RC Car TV Show
'Bob' has a huge interest in RC Cars (I had no idea what they were) and asked if his TV show could focus on them. 'Perfect!' I replied. RC Cars are remote controlled cars and as I've found out have a huge following around the world. So the TV show in this case would centre around RC Cars, how to repair them, new models coming out etc (the etc is important as this is an organic project - it grows with the student).

As the student led me down the path of explaining these cars; as the teacher I started making some serious links to the fields of science, mathematics and design and technology. ICT and English were already embedded in the multimedia side of the project. The student given the right conditions could conduct a fully fledged show on:

- The design of the engines in the cars
- A discussion on speed, energy generated, pollution (some of the cars are petrol operated)
- Marketing, competitions
- A hundred more ideas!

We need the timetable structured so when he comes to school during the 9-11am block titled for titles sake 'Think 1,2,3' he is analysing the mathematics behind the car. The dimensions, rotations per minute of the wheels, cost of the car - breaking down the price of parts, etc

He is doing this in a room setup that has other students also working on their own project. Relevance in the mathematics!

This is a difficult setup to envisage now because we are so committed to what we have because what we have is what has 'worked' for a number of students (across the state and Australia). I spoke with a good friend (head of school) of mine from an elite private school in Adelaide. I spoke to him about the structure of schools and I'll never forget his comment, "Emil, the reason we can get away with the traditional setup is that the students just accept it". For some reason, deep down when I went to my elite private school I was one of the few students that actively didn't accept it - I wanted more than just ROTE.

No time to waste - lets begin the discussion of how we'll bring about this change in structure. If we don't and if we somehow think that by sprinkling a bit here and there but leaving one of the major pieces of the problem untouched (and in my eyes the perhaps the core of the problem is the traditional subject/timetable setup) then we will never truly end up with significant lasting change that will produce students who LOVE learning, see a PURPOSE to education and have the BELIEF to change when everyone in their past hasn't.


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