Last Friday, the students at Arrowhead Middle School finished their study of the Earth’s atmosphere with the Earth’s climate and climate change. Once again, the students split into several groups to study various factors that affect the Earth’s climate, ranging from geography, to seasonal change, to human activity. Similar to our past attempt at student teaching, each group of students was responsible for reading one section of the textbook, identifying key terms and questions, and presenting this material to the rest of the class.
The last time we tried this activity, I didn’t feel that it went particularly well, and concluded that having the students teach each other may not be an appropriate activity for this educational level. Often, the students seemed to leave their group study either still unfamiliar with the material, or unsure of how to explain it to the rest of the class. Of course, this usually resulted in the students reading to the class directly from the textbook, causing the other students to very quickly lose interest in the “lesson.”
This week, however, their teacher took a slightly different approach. In addition to defining key terms and questions, each group was responsible for drawing a picture that they thought best illustrated their section. Still skeptical, I was completely unprepared for how such a small change could make such a big difference in this teaching activity. Not only did the groups use their illustration as a foundation for understanding the material in their section, but they also used their illustration as the focus of their lesson, allowing them to provide a much more engaging presentation to the other students.
This teaching activity proved to be much more effective than the previous one, both in terms of the students learning their own sections, as well as in terms of the students learning from the other groups. I think that allowing the students to add their own illustrated interpretation of the material is what made all the difference.
Now to brag about one of my students. As an experiment, in each of the classes we had one group of students try to prepare their lesson using the laptops provided by Arrowhead Middle School. For most of the classes, I helped the students create their presentation using Microsoft PowerPoint, which actually turned out pretty well. However, in one of the classes, a student with experience using Prezi, an online presentation application, created a very impressive El Niño presentation entirely on her own. I couldn’t have been more impressed!