The Amazing Race is an integrated project in grade 7 which combines learning in geography, math, Language Arts, French, and physical education. It has become part of a culminating assessment project at the end of our school year. Project based learning, a teaching technique that allows students to work through a big question, happens at many grade levels in our school. In this case, the intermediate teachers worked together to develop an inquiry about travel and what it teaches us. Students conduct research about a particular country, and helps to inform their work on this project in all subject areas. For example, the information that they learn in geography helps inform the scripts they write for their French plays. It culminates in a race around the school to solve challenges related to their learning. We used the Question Formulation Technique (QFT) to determine research questions.
The observations that struck me most about using the technique were:
Students came up with questions related to our learning this year in geography, and then some! There were more interesting conversations about what they could find out about the country than if I had assigned the questions.
Students really appreciate voice and choice at this age, and they felt that they could contribute their ideas without being judged; they also appreciated the ability to choose the questions that most appealed to them.
They were able to come up with thoughtful criteria for prioritizing the questions. I was impressed with their critical thinking at this stage.
They quickly learned to determine whether questions were open or closed, and tried ‘opening up’ some questions that they thought were worth exploring with more depth.
There was buy-in to the research that they were about to do. Since it was related to the Amazing Race, they knew that the research mattered. They were ready to jump right in and find answers to their questions.
Students were able to see subtopics emerge by grouping questions together.
There was very little ‘social loafing’. All students in the group were zoned in and came up with a long list of questions.
We noticed that some of the questions and subtopics related to the history themes we examined this year as well. The students noticed this before I did!
This was the first time I used QFT, but it won’t be the last. Thank you to The Right Question Institute for the guidance in a new technique that I needed to get my classes going. We’re now off and running in the Amazing Race.
Grade 7 Teacher and Citizenship Coordinator
That’s how it felt to read Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jenkins. While the bond between the brain and learning has been known for centuries, the two have been notably coy. It is only recent research which has started sharing and subsequently sparking the intimate side of this complex relationship. And like the rush of first love, it will blow your mind.
My measure of a great book on education is the degree to which it ends up highlighted. Barely a page of Jenkins’ book escaped my yellow swipe. Starting with Neuroscience 101, Jenkins addresses many of the major areas related to learning and highlights the research and implications it has for teaching. From birth and beyond, he looks at preparing the brain for school; the connections between movement, emotions, and one’s physical environment with learning; managing the social brain; and optimizing motivation, engagement, critical thinking, memory and recall. Clearly affecting a significant chunk of the school experience, Jenkins is devoting his career to having teachers ‘teach with the brain in mind’.
Some insights include:
The brain changes and can even grow new neurons throughout life. Nature and nurture both clearly play a role in defining who we are, with growing evidence revealing that nurture can override some nature, even to the degree of changing the impact of our genes.
Exercise offers much more than just physical health. If you desire a denser and better brain, make regular exercise a lifelong habit.
Much of what distinguishes teenage behaviour is rooted in the enormous changes taking place in their brains. Teens even temporarily regress in a number of abilities, such as their ability to recognize emotions in others.
While collaborative learning gets most professional press these days, brain research supports the integration of group activities with traditional learning tasks for optimal learning.
Emotions play a central role in learning and can hinder as much as enhance the brain’s ability to remember. Teachers would benefit from mindfully leveraging them.
Frequent opportunities for movement, and breaks where no new learning happens, are important for long-term storage of learning.
Teachers, indulge in the intimate details of the learner-brain relationship. Meddle even. This is one couple that needs you in the middle.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.