Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Rockin' roller coasters!

I've mentioned in previous posts my interest in Google + as a tool for use in the classroom, and I still think there is a place for it. This last couple of weeks some of my students have made experimental forays into posting their work. Initially the posts have been made on the community I set up specifically for the classes, giving them a safe place to get used to posting. It did not take long for a few hardy souls to actually make some public posts regarding the roller coasters they are making. We are investigating forces, and rather than waffle on about actions/ reactions etc. I decided to let them investigate forces through making roller coasters from card to test with a marble. That way we can find out about inertia, momentum, actions and reactions, gravity and other force-related ideas. More fun that way too!

It has taken us 3.5 weeks to get to the stage of even getting track onto the coasters, however the other skills that have been developed have been very worthwhile, and perhaps were not something I considered prior to starting the unit. The NZ curriculum mentions key competencies about Thinking, Relating to Others, Using Language, Symbols and Text, Managing Self and Participation and Contribution. This is not to mention the thinking in science and Nature of Science objectives.
What I have notices is that the thinking has been developmental with the students. Initially it was just a case of build whatever appears to be useful, and this has shifted to thinking about what is actually needed to get this project working properly.
As for relating to others, they are evaluating their team-mates weekly, and themselves. The team work that has been coming out with sharing of tasks, collaboration on ideas and general effort to pull together have been outstanding. Some of the teams are becoming really cohesive units. Slacking members have even been expelled in one case as the team was being pulled down!
Posting openly on Google + has been an interesting challenge for thee students, as making these sort of comments public requires a bit of thought about what should be written, as this has engaged certain students. The students that did post publicly were succinct, and there was a hint of pride in what they had done in terms of construction. Awesome!
Self-management is an important part of the project because the students are being left to just get on with it. Of course, I am there to help, but each team has to get building and evaluating their own ideas to achieve the team goals. The extent to which the kids get straight on with things is demonstrated by my tutor class who I also teach for science. They regularly want to use tutor time for some little bit of building, and I am happy to let them get on with it. Double awesome!!

Clearly there is some participation and contribution there too.
Testing and evaluating their work has given them some of the scientific thinking and knowledge necessary too. The Nature of Science (NoS) aspects are seen as a critically important part of science education, allowing students to THINK about the world around them. I don't care if none of my students become scientists, in fact it is quite unlikely. But having a natural curiosity about the world, and what happens around them, that has to be worth more than the formal education that a rigid curriculum does not allow. We have some additional freedom in the current curriculum to allow us to find interesting things to do with the students, and mine seem to be enjoying steeping away from formal tests, and I certainly am. Marking this work is done in terms of stages of the build and evaluation. We will actually use some proper tests once the coasters are built, just to make sure we are covering the physics aspects!
I am posting pics (and so are the students!) onto Google +, so watch out for them and leave them a comment- they'd be really pleased with that!