72 student, 3 teachers and 2 support staff make up our learning community this year. Only the 19 Grade 6 students had worked with us last year. We have 39 grade 5 and 14 grade 4 students.
Our plan was to run a couple of challenge days (whole unit, all day challenges) early in the year. Our challenge days have varied educational purposes mostly centred around student learning. However I have to confess that the two we are running at the start of the year day had the ulterior motive of releasing one of us to undertake assessment.
I happened to see a tweet last week from @Steve_Collis which led me to his blog post, The Most Audacious ‘Class’ I’ve Ever Seen, about a day he had witnessed at NBCS. At the time I was excited by the possibilities, but knew that with our mix of students and the fact that very few had worked in this environment previously it had the potential to be a challenging and maybe even disastrous day. But this year our mantra is “Be brave”.
So we did we decide to let our student’s loose with minimal teacher support and minimal direction in a format they were not used to. It certainly wasn’t because it looked like a fun thing to do, but because we actually wanted to find out about our students. Who were leaders, who could self manage, who displayed independence, persistence, problem solving skills, who could work collaboratively, who took responsibility for achieving group goals, who knew what it meant to work as part of a team and who was so far out of their comfort zone they couldn’t cope.
We learnt a lot about our students, a lot about our planning and have some very clear goals for student learning needs as we travel down the collaborative/challenge/problem based learning path.
What did we learn?
• We have a lot of work to do
• You cannot assume … when you ask teams to do a team building activity to get to know each other better, just after they have discovered they are stranded on an island, of course they are going to BUILD something
• Our students do not read written instructions very well – anything after about the first 10 words is not important – does that mean we have to change how we present information or guide them to be better readers of instructions or both?
• SO much about SO many of our students
• Not everyone thought it was great (one Grade 6 girl was heard to say – “if they think this is going to make us step up …..”)
• Everyone who is challenged, uncomfortable and confused reacts differently
• We have some amazing students
• Even big kids love the opportunity to build cubbies, boats and anything else they could think of
The panel discussion and debrief with the students after the event was a powerful experience. The opportunity to discuss their reactions when they arrived at school, what they did first, what their group did first, who were the leaders, what they would do differently next time was invaluable. The thoughtfulness and honesty of their responses was the first step to building a strong cohesive learning community
We asked our students what they thought the purpose of Stranded (Challenge day) was, their responses covered it all:
• Getting to know people
• Teachers can observe us
• Working independently
In the words of one of our students …. “My brain wasn’t working to its full ability when I was working in my group. I think this was because I didn’t know what to do some of the time and I was confused. I think if I do this kind of activity again I will be more calm and let my brain think properly. I have practised how to handle situations where things don’t go my way and I have practised working in a group and communicating with everyone. Overall it was fun, but it was a bit uncomfortable for me.”
Next week’s challenge day could be big – what are we doing? Don’t know yet, hoping for another twitter inspiration. But whatever it is – we have a very clear purpose. That is to build on the discussions around effective collaboration that we started with our students this week and facilitate opportunities for them to collaborate, next comes problem solving, decision making, creating, innovating and the list goes on.