Small group and whole class challenge
This lesson took place towards the end of year 9 as the students’ collaboration skills were becoming more refined. This task was designed to develop the skills of planning, researching, problem solving and collaboration further.
Trajan’s column, in Rome, is often referred to as the very first action picture, as it tells the story of the Roman emperor Trajan and his conquest of Dacia (Romania). It is basically a 3d spiral storyboard. I chose it as a presentation tool / product for students as it would require careful planning to construct and decorate with the story of the changes in the earth’s atmosphere. I also thought it could throw up a few potential problems for the students to solve along the way.
After an initial review of what they already know about the atmosphere, the students were put into groups of 4 or 5 and issued the challenge. They were given a little time to discuss the task, then we reconvened to discuss what they were going to do during the lesson. The students were shown some images of Trajans column in Rome to clarify what they were working towards. With this idea in hand the students set of to complete the challenge.
The students correctly attempted to divide the task up, most groups assigned each other roles along the lines of researcher, constructor, artist and sculptor for the object that had to be placed on top. This would lead to difficulties for these groups, as very little planning of the actual task took place. It is clear that some students were not even thinking about the science, especially the student who had been given the job of constructing a sugar paper tube with a pair of parallel lines spiralling it.
A lack of planning became apparent when the students could not draw on to their columns without flattening it. So problem solving task number one was revealed and most groups abandoned their roles to solve the problem together. Some students backtracked and unravelled their tubes, and figured out where the images would need to go, while others just drew the pictures onto paper and glued them on! In terms of the science being taught the students had now begun to sequence the information.
The tricky construction of the column forced the students to collaborate and share the information amongst the group. If the product was a conventional poster, these restraints would not be there; students could have divided the poster up into their own sections and not collaborated or shared the information.
The penny drops!
After these problems students began to value a more careful planning procedure and actually went back to the beginning of the task and started again, reassigning tasks. Groups researched before they sketched out what they could produce. One of the students who had previously been in charge of creating an object to summarise the information, had found this onerous to the point of frustration. This student had asked each member of their group what he should make to symbolise the history of the earth’s atmosphere Each student in turn duly scratched their chins for a moment and replied, “mmm, I don’t know yet”. They gave a truly honest answer! How could they summarise their learning, when they had not yet gained an understanding of the topic. The students therefore decided that this job was best left until the end. Although I must add that despite this rethink, I was a little disappointed by the quality of these objects. In fact some groups failed to place an object. Those that did, tended to be simplistic such as a cloud or the earth itself. This was partly due to time and partly due to the difficulty of the task itself. Next time, I would consider giving an example of a richer object; for example a ‘half earth, half watch’ image with clouds around the middle to represent the change of the atmosphere on the earth over time. I hope this would encourage the students to think more deeply about the construction of the object. It must be stressed, though, that the purpose of this activity was not one of presentation, but of collaboration, planning skills and scientific content. On completion of the task the students used the success criteria to assess and feedback to another group. This also allowed the students to review their own learning by looking for specific bits of information in the work of others.
Five from Three Quiz
This technique, discovered through PEEL, was employed next as a way for students to demonstrate their new learning and receive feedback to enhance their understanding of the topic. A full explanation of this procedure can be found on the PEEL website.
It is essentially a group quiz, where the students are provided with a few questions, in this case six, to be answered in any order. They are told that each question will be scored out of three points, so one sensible contribution will gain one point. A fully answered question will gain three points out of three. If the students include more relevant information to enhance the answer an extra point will be awarded, bringing the score to a possible four points out of three. This idea really got the students discussing what good answers should look like. At the end of the quiz all of the answers to each question were to be compared and the best answer was awarded an extra mark to make five out of three.
The students now had a competition on their hands, which worked wonderfully in motivating students to discuss their learning and gain feedback from their teacher. I must admit it was a pleasure to sit and watch students scramble across my classroom and say, “Sir, how can I improve my answer”. Now, that doesn’t happen every day!
This was one of those lessons that you are never sure the students have learned what you want them to, until you give them a different task to do using the same information. I chose to use a 5 from 3 quiz as it maintained the group work ethos and it gave an opportunity to give students feedback instantaneously. They were designed to cover the important aspects of the content. Comment only marking helped the students move beyond simple responses. I was satisfied that the constructing activity allowed the students to make their own meaning, and that the demonstrate activity was sufficiently different, so that the students did not have to regurgitate the information, but use what they had created.
Whole Class Challenge!
Following on the from the success Darren had enjoyed with his Trajan’s column, I decided to up the ante with my year 11 and create challenge that would involve all 32 students. They got on reasonably well and had worked together in a variety of groupings previously. By coincidence the topics I wanted to revise was the development of the atmosphere and the changing surface of the earth since the dawn of time, or there about. I have included the challenge which has been annotated to explain the careful thinking that went in to planning this challenge, so that it was as effective as possible. On the face of it the challenge seemed insurmountable but, having had group work discussions before when we look at the number of person hours available to a group, they realised that their 80 minutes in the chemistry lesson was effectively over 40 man-hours, the challenge becomes more feasible – as long as it is managed effectively.
I offered no guidance to this group and, as expected, they all set off working on different parts of the task with no cohesion whatsoever. About 15 minutes in Jo, who had been getting increasingly agitated, yelled to everyone in the room “Right everyone get back in a circle, we’ll never get it done like this”. It was to the palpable relief of everyone in the room, myself included, that someone was willing to take control. I read through the key requirements of the challenge and went through the criteria checklist with the whole class (this had not yet been done). She them asked people to volunteer for certain jobs that they felt they would be good and formed teams to concentrate different aspects of the science. Later, in good time, she got everyone back together to reform into new groups according to the timings at which the geological events occurred. This was necessary in order for the final column to be chronologically accurate. The feeling of pride and the respect she received from the group was immense.
One important aspect of this type of large group activity is that roles emerge that do not present themselves in everyday smaller group work. Especially leadership and the responsibility for completing individual tasks that might otherwise scupper the final project.
Included below are a couple of reflections, including Jo’s. This consolidation brought closure to a hectic learning experience and is an essential part of the session.
Following this there are some examples of the five from three quiz, which shows how progression was easily made using this fun assessment strategy.
The Muse will be taking a break next week because of half term. Back on the 10th June! -Ed.