Trajans column and the 5 from 3 quiz

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.

Darren Mead

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.

Fergus Hegarty

The Muse will be taking a break next week because of half term.  Back on  the 10th June!  -Ed.


Setting an expert’s challenge in 3D (Issue 8, January 2011)

– Stepping outside the comfort zone with ‘launch assemblies’, 3D experiences and project learning.

Any teacher knows that getting students engaged in their subject is one of the most vital parts of education; in maths we are constantly searching for new ways to hook students in to the topics being taught in class.

When David Price and David Jackson visited the school earlier this term to discuss our involvement in the new Learning Futures project, I was inspired to turn what was an enquiry module of work into a project learning opportunity through which students could learn the importance of using data presentation to form an argument.

Project-based learning is an approach to enquiry in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, with any challenges being set by an expert in the field. The students engage in design, problem solving, decision making, and investigative activities. It allows students to work in groups or by themselves and allows them to come up with ideas and realistic solutions or presentations.

Our new module of work covering data handling is organized around the question of ‘Can we save the Planet?’ and was originally planned to involve a series of small tasks based on the effects of pollution. Having heard from the two visitors, I re-evaluated this and decided to be brave, step out of my comfort zone and try to develop our first real maths project.

Jackie Stent was able to put me in touch with Phil Tomlinson, the Divisional Energy Specialist for a large company in Ashington. I arranged a meeting with him to discuss the ways in which he could support the module of work. He was full of ideas to help; agreeing to launch the project through a letter to the students, and to view the work the students created to give them a real audience. We agreed to base the module around the recent Cancun meeting, where governments will meet to try to create a new Kyoto agreement, with each group of students being assigned a country’s data to work with.

I then had to decide how to launch the project to year eight in a way that would engage them. I decided to hold the first ‘Maths Assembly’ and booked the hub for the first lesson of the half term; but had to solve the problem of how to give it a hook! Having already identified a series of video clips to introduce students to the dangers of global warming, I tried to think of a way to go even further. Having seen the 3D screen in action for the school production of ‘Return to the Forbidden Planet’, when a dancing alien joined in with the cast, I thought about making use of the 3D facilities to get the students thinking about the context of the project.

Graham Quince and I designed a 3D true or false quiz, which students would answer by showing hands in assembly. A variety of facts, designed to emphasise the severity of the problems our planet is facing, would fly out in front of students as they were flown around the planet we were discussing. Graham built this and agreed to help out on the day in making sure everything went to plan; a vital help, which I couldn’t have done without!

And so the day finally arrived. Having never led a school assembly before, I was more nervous than I had been since my NQT year! The students filed in, the excitement growing as they were handed 3D glasses upon their arrival.

Students were a little unsettled in the first assembly, but with small adaptations made to the running order the second assembly went much more smoothly and effectively. Students were desperate to wear the glasses; asking whether they should wear them for each bit of video. The enthusiasm they had for the task can be clearly seen and feedback from students has been extremely positive.

“I think that the 3D was amazing. I think we should do projects like this more often. ” – Luke, Year 8

There are still, however, further improvements to be made. I found it difficult to discuss the answers to questions during the excitement of 3D viewing; staff have suggested that they would like more time to discuss the questions and ideas promoted in the assembly when back in the classroom, which we will implement when the module next runs.

Only time will tell how the remainder of the project based learning goes, as we will be working on it for the remainder of this half term. The launch assembly brought this new maths project and the global issues it concerns, to the forefront of students’ attention; hopefully making all of the nerves worthwhile!

Ruth Christopher