Portugal Cycle 2 – PD 1

Date and Time: 16.06.2011, 17.30 – 19.30

Participants: Three secondary school teachers: (1) Maria Manuel, teaches Physics and Chemistry. She has been a teacher for 24 years and is very keen on implementing projects with her students in a subject called Project Area: (2) Sofia, teaches Mathematics. She has been a teacher for 13 years and is a regular user of ICT for preparing her classes. She uses ICT with her students and the local Moodle platform; (3) Francisco is a Geography teacher. He has been a teacher for 36 years and is a highly proficient user of ICT. He is a teacher trainer in the educational use of ICT in Geography education and is the ICT coordinator at his school and has been involved in various research projects pertaining to the educational use of ICT

Scenarios discussed: Students creating science learning resources | Embedding exam preparation in learning activities

Main points:

1.     Students creating science learning resources

·      All three teachers found that the scenario and the methodology that is exposed in it are very interesting and valuable. All three agreed that it applies wholly to the so-called Project Area, which will be discontinued next school year. This is the kind of project that can be done with or without technologies but in and for which ICT can bring some added value.

·      One of the teachers mentioned that some of her students had once used computers to actually create a Faraday flashlight and then showed younger primary school colleagues what they had done. Some others created a Galileo telescope with the aid of a computer simulation.

·      Heterogeneous groups are important when using ICT and setting them up brings results that homogeneous groups do not seem to be able to replicate.

·      This kind of scenario promotes learner autonomy.

·      It also triggers students’ creativity and the freedom that students are given is crucial in awakening their creativity.

·      Teachers should “give clues” to their students rather than providing them with the actual solutions to problems they are set.

·      Resources that students access should not be confined to those they can find on the Web. Other valuable resources include textbooks and other books that can be found in school libraries.

·      The fact that students are given a chance to show younger ones what they have done is extremely valuable both to the younger kids and for those who actually created the resources.

·      Assessing students is a hard and harsh activity, even though teachers know that it is one of their staple tasks.

·      In spite of all the excitement that surrounds putting this scenario into practice, the actual curriculum has to be taught and learned and it is often necessary, due to time constraints, to teach kids in a more “old-fashioned” way.

·      However, it was also stated that when students have to explain younger kids what they have done, they are showing not only what they have learned but also the ways they have gone about learning.

·      The emphasis should be placed on what is suggested in the text as “learning experiences”, of which this scenario is but one example.

·      This kind of scenario clearly motivates students to want to learn, even though, as will be seen next, there are obstacles to its implementation.

·      The main obstacle is indiscipline in some classes and in some age groups. Not full disruption, but a generalised lack of interest that is contagious and leads to talking, lack of attention and general apathy. This applies mainly to 8th year students, aged 13-14, according to one of the teachers.

·      The main obstacle, according to another teacher, is to motivate students to win over that first resistance to making an effort to learn.

·      According to all three teachers, there are no infra-structure obstacles or constraints in their respective schools.

·      A sequel to the scenario would be to try it again with other students and other classes. Sharing the experience with other colleagues and creating a teacher network to that purpose would be very welcome, a network where they could share their experiences, ideas and their students’ output. A contest could also be rather motivating for students.

·      Finally, all teachers agreed that with all the paper work they have to do and all the meetings they have to attend there is little time left for activities which involve more time and preparation and effort on their part.

2.     Embedding exam preparation in learning activities

·      For Maria Manuel this type of scenario does not in any way seem to help students better prepare for the national examinations they have to sit.

·      Francisco really liked the idea of ending the gap between learning and exams. The response of many teachers to the use of ICT is “I don’t have the time for it because I have to prepare my students for the final examinations”. This kind of attitude does not, in his opinion, make any sense. The emphasis should be on learning and not on exams. If a student learns, then s/he will have a good performance in exams. He liked most of the examples given, some of which he has tried himself with his students. His experience of the use of the Moodle platform includes student creation of glossaries which are added on by each student and then accessed and completed by other students the following year. He also mentioned wikis as a rather useful tool and gave the example of students sharing information they had gathered on rivers in Portugal in one wiki. Finally, he drew his colleagues’ attention to a paragraph that cautions teachers to the fact that these activities should be integrated cautiously at specific times during the school year.

·      Sofia said that the main constraint regarding the implementation of this scenario is the time it takes to create resources such as the ones indicated. Teachers have to teach the whole syllabi and these are, in most cases, rather large. In secondary education, exams are high-stakes tests and you need to be rather careful when you teach students who need high grades to enter university. This really conditions teachers and the way they teach. That is a tremendous constraint. She also said that she creates some of the materials which are mentioned in the scenario but that she had never thought of asking students to do them themselves.

·      Maria Manuel commented that it is difficult to create credible multiple choice quizzes, as you have to be very careful about scientific accuracy and distracters. This is even more the case when it is students creating them themselves.

·      Francisco added that this year his students had created a quiz in the Moodle platform. He believes that the very activity of creating a quiz helps them structure their knowledge. A constraint he identified has to do with the fact that skills and competences students acquire while doing this activity may not be the ones that are later tested formally. From his point of view, group work and evaluating other colleagues’ work seem useful options.

·      Sofia and Maria Manuel commented that if teachers want to implement this scenario they will have to be trained beforehand in the use of specific tools so that they can help their students when creating resources.

·      Francisco then went on to say that there are more and more tools which are easy to learn how to use. An example: it takes 10 minutes to learn how to use a wiki. Quizzes are also very easy to create. However, in some cases, training is a must.

3.     Specific ideas concerning iTEC technologies

·      Teacher training: face-to-face, distance and b-learning. There should be no “abstract training”. There must be a kind of “tripartite system”, comprising training, support and collaboration.

·      Support system: experts would help teachers. It could be an informal system. There could be some kind of “helpdesk”, which is crucial when you are learning how to use new ICT tools.

    • Peer network: Specific groups could work around specific tools, exchanging ideas, experiences and difficulties. Local help is also always welcome.

·      Student-created resources: some resources could reside in local Moodle platforms, while others could also be transferred to a more pan-European repository. Teachers must be very cautious about what student-created resources they share with other people outside their school.

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