Friday, 17 February 2012

Enquiry based learning with year 7

Last week I gave my year 7 class this to work on:

Its an exercise on measuring angles based on this game. The idea is to see how far the first cannonball went, noticing that the angle going in when it hits a side is the same as the one going out. You can then repeat this for the next cannonball. Fairly simple you might think, particularly for the top set. I had resolved, though, to help out as little as possible, and whenever they asked for help I told them to measure everything and try something out. You could see that these year 7s had not come across this style of teaching before and I had wails of "but what do I actually DO?" to which I'd say: "work it out". They weren't happy. I started worrying that year 7 maybe too young for this.

Fifteen minutes into the lesson and all but two of the tables had quietened down and were just getting on with it. Most of them in fact got on to questions using the tangent of the stationary cannonballs without any drama or questions to me. To the remaining two tables, I did give some extra support until they got it. In the end I folded to their looks of panic.

Although I'm sad that I couldn't hold out for those two tables, I'm happy that I held out as long as I did. The temptation is all too easy to take to lead them through the question to the correct answer. By the end of the lesson, everyone can do it just as you did, and you get a lot less panicked kids. Come back to the topic a month later, however, and you can't understand why they all look at you with blank faces. I'm new to this enquiry style and so I'm yet to see what will happen when I return to these topics. I'm positive, however, that they learned a little about their own capabilities and about the importance of patience.