What the Minister Saw

Last month Olchfa was visited by Leighton Andrews, Minister for Education in the Welsh Government, as part of a visit to Swansea to see how technology is being used in teaching and learning. As part of that visit, he dropped in to my room for a few minutes to see the kind of things we’ve been doing with technology in History.

The lesson he saw was inspired by the work of Sugata Mitre and the experiments he’s done bringing his experience of putting computers into walls in New Delhi slums, into classrooms in the UK. (TED talk / Keynote from UK Partners in Learning)

Each group of 4 students get one netbook. One student logs into the Portal and accesses a shared Google Presentation which has been set up waiting. Each group has one slide on the presentation, which is also being projected onto the whiteboard.

Following a quick check for understanding and ground rules, I start putting questions onto the first slide and the students go off and try and find an answer. These are added to their side (in their own words) along with a link to the website(s) they used to find the answer. These get regularly reviewed as the lesson goes on, and are used as a platform to talk about research strategies, reliability of websites, techniques for summarising etc etc. The key point is that these ideas arise naturally out of their work rather than being artificially introduced. Feedback from all pupils I’ve done this lesson with is than an overwhelming majority feel they were better equipped to use the internet outside of school as a research tool than they were before.

I repeated the lesson the following week for my Head of Department observation. To be fair it didn’t go as well on this occasion (isn’t that always the way?), so at the end I asked the students for some suggestions as to how it could be improved. To their credit they nailed most of the problems. They suggested that the groups needed to be changed (and to be fair this is an issue that Prof. Mitre addresses, I just didn’t follow his advice), and that the addition of offline resources (eg textbooks) would encourage everyone in the group to join in (I’m less convinced about this second one if I get the groups right)
To that, I would add that I need to go for less questions, but greater depth. An extra suggestion that came from Emma was that giving the questions out in advance would perhaps reduce the sense of rush and frustration that some of the students were showing.

Feel free to borrow and adapt the lesson, and remember to ask your students how to make the lessons better (Credit to Andrew Field for the idea) – they’ll probably come up with better ideas that you would on your own!

Dave Stacey