Inquiry Project – Setting Up a Weather Station

I really enjoyed this learning project. I found it most enjoyable because I already had an intrinsic motivation to learn this topic. I now realize the value in allowing students some autonomy in choosing their topics. Then, the teacher can suggest various methods on how to go about learning.

The weather station was something I received for Christmas, but never installed. I will admit that I have a little bit of prior knowledge about 20151025_171347meteorology due to a former job position. There was a crew at that employer who installed meteorological towers throughout Manitoba. I was always interested in their work and often questioned them about their field of expertise. So, I chose this topic.

As I started this project, I became aware of all of the learning that was occurring. This included learning that others were experiencing as well. For example, after I disassembled and then reassembled the anemometer (wind speed sensor), my 2 year old daughter said, “my turn”. She took the precision screwdriver from me and proceeded to pretend to loosen the screws. I had no idea she was watching. It reminded me the importance of modeling appropriate behaviour. I then decided to allow my family to participate in the project. As it turned out, I needed their help on more than one occasion.

I found out that higher learning comes when the problems become more difficult. The instruction manual assumed that certain mounting provisions (ie. the mast) existed. I had to figure out how to design a mast first. This is the type of hurdle where many learners would call it quits. However, the deeper learning occurred as a result of the difficulty. As educators, we need to help our students embrace the challenges and allow them to experience the sense of achievement when overcoming these difficulties.

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Webquests

I think that drafting and design is an excellent candidate for webquests. A good, straightforward example is the Basic Residential Plan. This webquest outlines a fairly involved group project that requires prerequisite theory, or at least theory introduced as the project progresses. The resources in the webquest do not delve too deep that students would be overwhelmed. It provides a good backdrop for learning residential architecture.

Within this overall framework of architectural drafting (no pun intended), I would like to develop another webquest to help students learn about, and incorporate, universal design. Universal design aims to accommodate all persons in the design of products and spaces. These are some of the resources I would likely include:

Other resources I could provide are photos of public buildings or health care facilities nearby that already incorporate universal design. I expect this webquest to take at least a week for the students to perform.

Now the best part.

I would ask the students to think of someone they care about that has more difficulty performing the tasks that the majority of people do easily. Students would be asked to list the different products that that person uses for assistance. Then I would challenge them to think of one thing they could design or modify that would help their loved one perform a task more easily. Encouraging the students to internalize this concept will help achieve higher learning levels.

I realize that not every student will have the same level of compassion toward every person, so I would have to be careful to assess participation, effort and learning. When dealing with social issues, there is a temptation to pass judgement upon students who do not share my enthusiasm for universal design.

Flipping “My” Classroom

I have been somewhat skeptical about flipping the classroom. My initial thoughts were that it amounted to switching student and teacher roles. Dr. Robert Talbert discusses this concern of students: “Shouldn’t the teacher to do the teaching?” This concern is dismissed with a proper understanding and application of flipping the classroom.

There are three basics that I consider when deciding whether I will flip a classroom topic: (1) the learner, (2) the teacher, and (3) the outcomes.

  1. I believe most learners have the capacity to learn in this way. My initial informal experimentation with flipping has given me the confidence that all students can extract knowledge from resources that they have never encountered before. I am surprised by how well students respond.
  2. While some teachers are very gifted using a lecture format because they are very engaging (and entertaining), I do not enjoy lecturing, nor do I like the sound of my own voice. But, I do enjoy making learning resources and working one-on-one. So, flipping suits my own teaching style.
  3. The outcomes are the most variable of the three. By definition, VocEd learning outcomes mirror the workplace. I find it difficult to reconcile the idea of bringing work (resources) home and the idea of proper time-management on-the-job. In industry, if you are bringing work home, you are not managing your time, or you risk longevity in your career. My use of flipping must include limiting the take home resources in a way prescribed by Pamela Kachka.

Each of these is variable. So flipping may or may not always be the best course of action. Generally, I think it works well for students and teachers. But, without some modification, I have reservations about flipping the VocEd classroom. I will continue to consider its use on a case-by-case.

Student-Centered Learning

The title of Joshua Davis’ article, “A radical way of unleashing a generation of geniuses” contains a very key word: “unleashing”. The article discusses how children have successfully learned amazing skills with little or no assistance from a teacher. This learning likely would not have occurred if the students had remained on the “leash” of traditional education.

Davis tells the story of Sergio Juárez Correa, a teacher in an impoverished community in Mexico. Correa’s students rank at the top of the country’s test scores. His success story is not about how well he teaches, but how he allows his students to learn on their own. Correa dismisses the high test scores because he is more concerned about what his students can do, than what they know.

Davis’ article also highlights selected studies that document student achievement through self-directed, and even self-prompted, learning.

This radical concept of student-centered learning has intrigued me for several years. I don’t want to be a teacher.  I don’t even want to be a facilitator, or a coach. In seeking a label for my intended “profession”, it becomes about me and I have hijacked true student-centered learning. Instead, I want to help students learn, or even better, help them learn how to learn. I’m trying to figure out how (or if) I need be involved in that process.

In my informal “teaching” of about 10 to 12 students aged 14 to 18, I try to give them at least 5-10 minutes of the 50 minute class to just visit with each other and build positive interpersonal relationships. Sometimes I don’t begin the class on time if good discussions are already happening. This is often more valuable learning than the lesson that I have prepared. Sometimes we just need to let them off the leash. Then true student-centered learning can begin.

Education Technologies I Will Use

Currently I am enrolled in a course called Intro to Technology in Education at Red River College. I have encountered many new technologies that can be used in a variety of ways. Some of them could be used for specific learning outcomes, but others would be useful over the length of the courses. I will describe three of the latter:

1. Back Channel

A back channel, such as TodaysMeet, is a private chat room that students can interact with the teacher or fellow students without disturbing the whole class. This is also good for students who are too shy to ask questions in front of the class. I would instruct the students to use their student number instead of their name to ensure it is safe for everyone to use. Personal electronic devices are required for everyone to participate.

2. Course Website

A course website service, such as Wikispaces, is a necessity in today’s connected classroom. It provides a central location for all pertinent information that students need to be successful in a course. I would fill it with daily news items, course outlines, assessment details and dates, reminders, tutorials, and additional resources. There is no end to what information that can be included in a course website.

3. Online Video Database

An online video database, such as Youtube, is great for storing video tutorials or student animations. It is available anywhere there is an internet connection and it eliminates the need for local file storage. I would embed useful videos in my presentations, on my course websites and encourage students to do the same. I also won’t be able to resist using humorous videos for focusing events.

All three of these technologies would be used mostly for general purposes to aid in teaching. They may also serve to enhance specific learning outcomes, but I expect these to be staple resources throughout my teaching.