Throughout this course, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the phrase “student-centered”. We want our online courses to be student centered. We want students to act as teachers, to facilitate their own learning, to participate rather than be a passive learner. But until recently, I was not sure what that would look like in my own classroom. Our most recent discussion, as well as information learned at two conferences in the past two weeks, has led me to a deeper understanding of student-centered learning.
Much of our recent discussion focused on students as creators. We discussed the value of project based learning, examples and non-examples of student-centered learning, and specifically how to create more meaningful science activities that enable students to construct knowledge. While I was exploring these ideas in class, I was also attending two conferences that increased my understanding of practical ways to put students in control of their own learning.
First, at the Games in Education conference in Albany, NY, I learned a new way for students to take more responsibility for their goal setting and task mastery. Each day at the beginning of class, students would review their work for the unit and identify how many of the objectives they had mastered so far. Then, students would set a goal for what they would accomplish during that class period. At the end of class, students reflected on what they achieved that day. I want to incorporate this into my daily classroom routine, adding in a component where students reflect on what they should complete that night to be ready for the next day. By working with students on these skills, they will not only feel more in control but actually be aware of their learning and progress, and work to identify steps to achieve their goals. This will fit into a partially self-paced learning system, where students will have choice as they work through a variety of activities designed for them.
I then went to the School of Rock conference in Lewes, DE. Here, I spent a week delving into the Next Generation Science Standards and working with scientists and researchers on improving how we teach labs and the process of science. We discussed having a meaningful hook and how to get students asking questions to drive their learning. I learned many new ways to engage my students in authentic lab experiences, rather than recipe-style labs. For example, I learned a new approach to the standard DNA extraction lab. Rather than give students a step by step process, present them with various supplies and challenge them to extract the most DNA from the sample. As they work, students will have to document their successes and failures in detail so they can ultimately present their work. I specifically connected with a new conception of the scientific method presented by Berkeley, a flow chart rather than the old linear method. This new method highlights the fact that real science does not follow a set recipe or path, but instead is a continuous and flexible process. We worked with this flowchart in conjunction with our lab activities, tracking our progress around the steps. In the picture, you can see how we used pictures ourselves working to highlight the steps in the process.
I plan to start my year, as I often do, with a unit on Ecosystems, specifically focusing on our local watershed. Normally, this unit ends with a discussion of the health of our local ecosystem and what we can do to improve it. Instead, this year I will start my students with this problem, giving a hook to drive their learning. Students will be able to develop more complex questions to research and investigate as they dig deeper into the topic, just as real scientists do. I also plan to have them step back after a few weeks and chart their own learning path through the flow chart, using pictures similar to what we did at the conference. I hope to not only create a more authentic and student-driven environment with this approach, but to give my students more time to reflect and observe their learning.
I have also learned the value in reflecting on my own practices. I plan to continue blogging as I work to incorporate what I have learned into my class this year. Hopefully you will see some of my successes, failures, and adaptations as I work out the kinks in my increasingly student-focused classroom.