Learning Something New. . .

Undertaking an inquiry project is an innovative way to approach learning to be a better educator.  To go back to being a student puts one in the mindset of a student–to no longer be an expert, to try and try and try before getting something (sort of) right…it is very good to be reminded of what that feels like.

This project also brought to the forefront the different ways students can access information outside a traditional classroom.  Let’s be honest. . .the learning landscape is not the same as it was when I was a student.  So much has changed, but as a teacher it is often easier to want things to remain the way they were rather than have to roll with those changes.  This project was a good reminder that learning is dynamic, that it can’t rely on the things that we have done in the past, and that times do (and should) change.

The other part of this inquiry project that I so valued was the chance to do something for myself.  I find teaching is a profession that requires so much of oneself–in terms of time, energy, and mental space–that it’s nice to be able to take some time to work on what I want.  I am not just my job, although that is certainly one thing that defines me.  I need other things in my life so that I can bring all the passion I have for education to my students.  They are better for it, and so am I.

I loved thinking about the process, and not just what I was learning.  This is a metacognitive activity that is valuable for both the learning and teaching moving forward.  As well, to receive feedback from peers regarding that process was incredibly  valuable.  Thanks classmates and Eva for a great 2 weeks of learning.

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Webquests

To me, a webquest isn’t just about learning the material that is found when completing an assignment, it is also an excellent way to teach students how to look for reputable, relevant information.  I have been thinking about the work I have students do in my class Integrated Pest Management, and I think a webquest would be exactly right.  A large part of the course is learning to identify and manage plant problems, but I think it is more important for them to learn how to accurately diagnose a problem, then find information regarding that diagnosis.  There is always something new to learn about plant diseases, insects and other disorders, so teaching students facts now that they may not need until some unknown future date, doesn’t seem to be the best education.

When looking around Zunal, I found a webquest called Biological Pest Control.  It is an interesting way to teach students that topic, but is too specific for what I would like to do in my class.  Instead, I would like students to think about a site or a group of plants they manage, and begin to develop a management ‘toolbox’ that deals specifically with pathogens, insects and abiotic disorders commonly encountered with those plants.  I would start by pointing students towards sites such as The American Phytopathological Society, UC Integrated Pest Management, NCSU Turf Disease Identification and OMFRA Broad-Leaf Tree Disorders.  These sites are broad in perspective, and would provide students a place to begin discovering which insects, diseases and disorders to include in their assignment.  Additionally, they provide information about other areas of integrated pest management, reinforcing lessons from earlier in the term.

In order to complete this webquest, students would need a thorough introduction to these other areas of integrated pest management, which would occur before the webquest is assigned.  Throughout the duration of the webquest, I would review these topics as a way of keeping them in students’ minds.  Other resources such as pictures, tools required for diagnosis, record keeping forms, etc. are items the students would be expected to discover or create during the course of the webquest itself.

I see this as a powerful tool for students to learn industry-related content, but more importantly, to learn life-long skills such as research, critical thinking and synthesis of information that will make them good horticulturists and site managers into the future.

Reflection as Part of Teaching and Learning

I read 2 articles about a flipped classroom–one about reflection and one about introverts and active learning.  It surprised me to read the authors assumed that a flipped classroom or active learning implied a group mentality.  I can see how group work factors in, for sure, but I had understood a flipped classroom to mean that in-class time was used to work through applying knowledge gained outside scheduled class time.  In other words, I see no reason for in-class work to be completed by a group of people rather than individually.  This makes me wonder if there are certain activities that are more appropriate for a flipped classroom than others. . .or perhaps some that work better than others.

I nosed around a bit to see what types of activities might be useful, and discovered there is no one assignment or assessment that works for all subject areas all the time.  The Centre for Teaching Excellence at the University of Waterloo has some great teaching resources for post-secondary educators, and there was one titled ‘In-class Activities and Assessments for the Flipped Classroom‘.  Exactly what I was looking for.  Although it lists more group activities than individual ones, and states that individual work is best when students have difficulty with the content, it does point out that individual assignments work when students need some reflective time in order to engage with the material.

I started out thinking I was going to write about how I really buy in to the idea of leaving room for reflection in our scheduled teaching time. . .not leaving it to happen when (or if) the student gives themselves that space.  This post has given me the chance to articulate that, for some students, reflection is active learning and engagement.  An active learner is one who is connecting with the material, seeking a deeper understanding, and this doesn’t only look like a loud, boisterous, gregarious group of people.  Although it can, too.  Take your cue from the people who are doing the learning.

Student Centred Approaches: The End of Flip

I haven’t been teaching long…officially only 7 years.  But in that short time I have already seen educational fads abound–project based learning, problem based learning, ifat tests…and the lists goes on.  I was attracted to The Flip: End of a Love Affair because of its title.  I’m at the end of my love affair with fads and jargon…but I’m not at the end of my love affair with good teaching and learning.  I love what I do and I love being in the classroom.  I want my students to really learn the material rather than memorize it, but I don’t love deciphering what is the next best thing and trying to fit my teaching into that.

This article explores one teacher’s experience with moving towards student centred education, and what that really means.  The emphasis must be placed on the students’ ownership of and responsibility for their learning.  The educator’s responsibilities lies in having well thought out, well written, clear outcomes,  guiding student work in achieving those outcomes, as well as teaching students how to evaluate the quality of the resources they are finding on their own.

This teacher allowed students to work through outcomes at their own pace, negotiating how they would show her what they learned.  While I find this to be an interesting idea, I’m not sure how it would work in practice.  At the College, with the emphasis on standardized course outlines, would a teacher be allowed to create individualized education plans for each student?  And yet, what a great way to really place students at centre the of the learning.

Another benefit to this type of education was that students learned not only the course material, but the so-called soft skills of research, critical thinking, collaboration and problem solving.  What more can a teacher ask?