Saturday, 17 January 2009

Maori, Aborigines and a hole in the wall

I guess many teachers have experienced that when we talk about cooperation and projects, we think of something completely different than our students do. Time and time again I have seen that in a group of four they quickly split the given assignment into four parts, and that each of the group members work more or less on his/her own finding the information required. Is this cooperation? In my opinion, it is not. Most of the time the students do not have a clue about what the other group members are talking about during their group presentations, and if one member is missing on the day of presentation, the remaining members are not able to fill in for the one absent.

Inspired by Dr. Sugata Mitra's project "Hole in the wall", my colleague Ingunn suggested that we allowed only one computer per group in a project on the Maori and the Aborigines. In this way the students were forced to cooperate, and the result was that what they presented to the others in class was known to all group members. Personally, I found this to be quite a success. Most of the groups worked well together, and there were many discussions in the classroom about which articles they should use, how they needed to structure their work when the access to computers was limited, etc. This project also made me aware of the fact that it is not necessary for all of the students to have their own computer in front of them all the time, and I try to keep this in mind when planning my teaching.

When planning this project we also decided that the time frame would be quite strict. It is my belief that we often tend to give the students too much time for group works and projects, and that the more time they have, the later they start working. We therefore said that they could only have approximately five hours for the preparations, and that they were to present their products at the end of the second day. Again this worked well; most of the groups (all teachers know that getting 100% of the students to work really hard all the time is impossible) started working at once, and the products were ready by deadline. It was actually quite impressing to see how much they had managed to get done in such a short time, and we had some very interesting and humorous presentations.

You can read Ingunn's reflections on this project here, where you also find some responses from the students. If you want to learn more about the project, have a look at this google document.

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