Yesterday morning I visited Arizona School for the Arts in order to see two Modeling teachers in action. Arizona School for the Arts is a charter school, which means it has some flexibility with the design of its curriculum and as a result has a program which is rich in the performing arts. However, it is also academically rigourous: school starts at 7.45 am in order to fit in all the ‘academic’ classes before lunchtime. I watched lessons in both Physics and Chemistry to see how two experienced Modeling Instruction teachers teach on a day-to-day basis.
Notable about these classrooms was that although they may not be flashy in the way that many new science labs at home are, they were very functional, and had excellent use of both low tech and high tech resources. I was surprised to see just how many whiteboards there were stashed around the room – not just enough for one per group, but many others obviously with work on them possibly waiting to be shared in a future lesson. With regards to high tech solution
s, their use of data logging equipment was fantastic. They obviously have enough data logging equipment (motion sensors, pressure sensors, light gates, etc.) for each group to work independently, and the use of these tools allowed experimental data to be collected quickly, allowing the class to maximise analysis and discussion time.
Despite the fact that these teachers are experienced Modelers, they weren’t using the whiteboards in all of the lessons I observed, which shows that even Modelers have times where the class is less whiteboard-centred. However, I noticed that even in the more teacher-directed lessons, the students showed some characteristics which may be a result of the regular group work. In particular, students were very good at explaining concepts to one another, and students were obviously unafraid to ask questions when they were confused about the topic at hand. Indeed, at one point and interesting student question became the starting point for small group discussion, where students talked in groups before sharing, and the teacher questioned without providing answers. It was great to hear kids saying things like “do you understand?” to their peers, and then helping their peers develop that understanding. It showed a proactive, collaborative class environment.
Particularly entertaining for me was watching a Chemistry class tackle to the question of why a liquid goes up a straw when you suck on it. They whiteboarded their answers and shared their ideaswith the class, with the teacher and other students asking questions to explore the issue. The students were obviously very engaged in this activity – they wanted to understand, and I heard their groans as they commented “He [the teacher] isn’t going to tell us until next lesson!” They knew from experience that the teacher would let them dwell and think and reflect, rather than provide the answer. Most importantly, this promoted an environment where they were all working to find a model to explain the phenomena, and questioning slowly led them to a position where they were close to understanding. It was an enjoyable lesson to watch, with the kids so obviously engaged and their misconceptions really coming out. That’s what’s important, I think – to draw out correct the misconceptions, rather than just telling them the answer.
Watching the class interactions at ASA has only strengthened my desire to bring at least some elements of modeling into my own classroom. I still have a lot to learn though, and I look forward to meeting more Modelers when I get to New York and New England in the coming weeks.