Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Student Centered vs. Student Led

This morning before school started I was sitting in a meeting where a question was raised about the difference between a student centered activity vs. student led activities. I will be honest that I have not taken the time to really consider the differences so the explanation was something that stuck with me for the rest of the day. We were told that a student centered activity could look like a groups of students working in small groups on an activity that was teacher directed (teacher is driving the learning) while that a student led activity is going to be the students leading the learning.

Second block I co-teach an Algebra 1 class that uses ALEKS as the curriculum. My co-teacher, Suzanne Riesen, and I are going to make a better effort to integrate some hands on, small group, problem solving, real-life application type math activities this term. Our goal is to spend half a block, once a week doing these sorts of activities as a whole class. This was week 1 and we grossly under estimated how long we were going to need. We thought 40 minutes was going to be plenty of time but an hour into it we knew it was going to take the full 88 minute block because the students were so engaged. The activity we picked for this week was Dan Meyer's Popcorn Picker. It was fantastic; maybe the best day all year.
The students were introduced to a video of Dan Meyer filling up two cylinders, each made out of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and wondering which cylinder would hold the most popcorn. We randomly split the class up into groups of two and three and they discussed what they thought. A vote was then taken and the majority students who were quite passionate that the cylinders would hold the same. My co-teacher then gave a little direction and we circulated providing the groups with just the right amount of support as they worked their way through the problem. They were encouraged to use technology to look up formulas or even do a little research. Each group had a little different strategy on how they wanted to tackle the question and nearly everyone wanted to build a model. We had some students teaching others and one boy even got up in front of the class to explain his method to solving the problem. There were student centered and student led activity happening in tandem. Our classroom was loud with chatter, students were asking for supplies like tape and rulers and engagement was at an all time high. I'm fairly certain fewer students asked to take the bathroom pass out today than normal (can you measure student engagement with that piece of data?). We have a student who needs to take sensory breaks once or twice during the block. She didn't leave once today.
I spent the rest of the day really thinking about and looking for more examples of student centered and student led activities. My day ends co-teaching Physics with Mike Mohammad. Our experiences together will no doubt be further explored in future blog posts. After all, we've been co-teaching for at least eight years together. We completed many hours of curriculum work last summer and during one of our conversations I asked, "could we paint the front of the cabinets in the lab for more white board space?" The possibilities are endless with what these blank spaces could offer. We've used them to creatively group students, illustrate a concept while working with small groups and students will use them when working out problems together. It was something so simple and now I can't imagine not having them. 

The class started with a formative assessment on energy using the Smart Response clickers. After a little lecture and some demonstrations we set the students free to either finish up calculating data from the recent marble roller  coaster or begin working out this unit's problem set. We encourage the students to work together on the problem sets. As I looked around the room, there was the group that I was working with at a lab bench who required a little bit of scaffolding and diagramming, there were groups of students working together at desks and then there was a back lab bench full of loud boys. These boys were marking up the cabinets/white boards and debating what formulas to use and what steps would be necessary to find kinetic energy with the given information. Mike circulated answering questions of the small groups and monitored our boys from a distance. The room was bustling with both teacher led (I think that's probably what I'd classify what I was doing), student centered AND student led activities. 

As we look to meet the needs of classes full of diverse learners I think there needs to be a balance of all three approaches to instruction. Our learners have different needs that are going to be met through different means whether it be teacher led, student centered or student led. 

This one way to look at personalizing their education. 

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