By Alex More
Inspired by Prof Stephen Heppell’s work on agile learning spaces I have been experimenting with ways to reduce paper use and maximise learning time in the classroom. Here are some ideas from a work in progress …
Writing on the walls
The rebel in me has always loved the idea of writing on walls. This cheap retro-blackboard concept is cost effective and appeals to the hipster in everyone. So, I have 2 x blackboard set up, both of which students can use to explore ideas and map thoughts.
Big Ideas Board
This is where students map out questions they have about topics or ideas. They pose those questions to each other and sometimes to me, the teacher. The big ideas represent things they don’t know yet, or sometimes things they are confused about. The students really like the process and it gets students out of their seats and active. The questions act as a platform for discussions and debates within the class. The image below shows a recent lessons work. This task took 4 minutes for students to complete but led to 17 minutes of deep engaged discussion about the big questions. associated with diet and nutrition. After 21 minutes we had explored and learned 11 new ideas, which includes the fact that there are 13 vitamins the body needs (which I didn’t know). You just need a old wooden board, some blackboard paint and chalk!
Writing on the desks
My new year pledge was to reduce the number of post-it notes I use for ‘Do Now Activities’ so writing on the desks avoids excess paper use and is better for the environment. I upcycled some pen pots and scattered them all over the room so students have access to a range of colours and rags to wipe the desk clean with. It’s a great way to share thinking, scaffold thinking and engage students in challenge. I use this to really challenge ideas and have shared a few strategies below that work really well.
Great for easy access and high challenge. As a recap ask students to recall 5 facts. Let’s imagine this was a follow up lesson to diet and nutrition, you could ask them to write down 5 of the 7 nutrients the body needs. They might write down Carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and fibre. Once done, ask them to underline 3 that relate to the main learning aim. For the diet and nutrition example, this could be under line 3 that are macronutrients. The final 1 needs to be the most important part or component, so perhaps Carbohydrates if that is what you are about to teach them.
Marketplace Learning or Rotating tables
A simple variation on the above, ask students to stand up and move to another table to discuss the ideas displayed there. To increase challenge, ask one student per group to remain at their table to defend ideas and present the groups ideas. To develop further, you could ask a representative from each table to present ideas at the front of the class or take questions from the class.
More confused – More questions – More ideas
Set up 3 points on 3 walls of the classroom. Have 3 mini-whiteboards ready. Write the words More confused on one whiteboard and More questions or More ideas on the others. When introducing a new topic or checking progress on an existing topic ask students to go and stand next to the whiteboard that best represents their thinking at that point in time. In my experience, most will go for More questions as children are naturally curious and if engaged in what you are teaching them will want to explore concepts at greater depth. You now have the perfect platform to take questions, bounce them around the room and explore knowledge. If students opt for more confused, don’t panic, they just need more explanation or are articulating gaps in their knowledge.
To develop this idea, ask them to write their questions on any of your writable surfaces. A challenge could consist of other students or teams trying to solve the question and offer support. If Ed Tech is your thing, why not invest in a Google assistant so students can ask Hey Google, what’s …. ?
So, there you have a few ideas to play around with. They are low cost but high impact. The benefits are increased challenge and active engagement. You can also take some screen shots of what they have written on the tables or walls which provide evidence of progress over time and feedback, especially if they include teacher comments too!