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
One of our Habits at KCS is Listen to Understand. Hearing comes easily for most of us. Listening requires a bit more effort but we usually try our best with that. It’s the ‘understand’ part that is trickiest. Some cool things are happening here with that Habit and they’re a reminder of why it matters.
Understanding means stepping out of our old opinions, assumptions, and even otherwise-justified practices to fully understand those of others. It requires another one of our Habits, Flexible Thinking. Cognitive science Daniel T. Willingham helps explain why that makes it so tricky. In his book Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, Willingham explains that the brain, surprisingly, is not designed for thinking. That’s right. For all its smarts, it’s actually designed to avoid thinking. When listening, the unmotivated and undisciplined brain will work to hear what it wants to hear, or rapidly defeat what it finds contradictory and therefore too much trouble. Hmm. Does that sound like some conversations you’ve heard (or even had) before?
The KCS Habits are not just for students. Listening to our senior students recently, we introduced a modified timetable during the week of exams so grade 7 and 8 students had choice in how they spent their mornings: either in subject-specific extra help or an open-study session. Earlier this year, when our senior students asked for more independence, numerous other new practices based on student suggestions were introduced (some examples include: freedom to eat lunch with friends from the other class; grade 8s being allowed to eat lunch in the Student Lounge; Special Lunches for 7s and 8s in their corridor instead of Canada Hall; more choices for students who want to stay in to work during recess). Readers of “Stay Connected” are learning direct from the students about some of the changes they helped make happen. We listened and understood. The result has been a breath of fresh air for us all.
“Respect, manners and try your best” are school rules that we all strive to follow. Figuring out what’s best is tricky. Listen to Understand is the first big step. Students and faculty are showing they can take it from there.
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.