Home' Teacher : October 2009 Contents LOOKING INTO PRACTICE 17
Year 9s: how do I get them to focus? It's
either too hot or too cold, or they're pre-
occupied by hormones or social drama.
Who knows what drives my Year 9s on any
If I tell you the students are 'typical Year
9s' I'm sure you'll get the picture. Success
within the class varies from lesson to lesson,
and week to week.
The students work on required tasks,
often noisily, and most of them complete the
activities although the quality of the work is
not always great.
Discussion is difficult as students listen
intermittently, or go off on tangents result-
ing in a chain reaction of small, un related
conversations. At times, teaching can be a
I've spent a good deal of time organis-
ing a varied range of activities to engage
rather than entertain my students. I wonder,
though, how much thinking they've really
done. When I collect the work will I read the
exact same answer with the same spelling
mistakes from five different students?
I was aware of the Project for Enhanc-
ing Effective Learning (PEEL) approach to
learning and have incorporated a number of
PEEL activities into my teaching, for exam-
ple, think-pair-share and predict-observe-
explain, but it was when I was reintroduced
to PEEL in the first workshop of the Monash
University Science Teaching and Learning
professional development program, spon-
sored by Melbourne's Catholic Education
Office, that I felt inspired to tackle my Year 9
group with some exciting new possibilities.
My next class with Year 9 was a revision
session for an upcoming unit test on energy
and ecosystems. I chose to present this class
without talking. The students entered the
room and stood talking in their places. It's
customary to begin each class with quietness
and a 'good morning' or 'good afternoon.'
I waited for silence. Some students, seem-
ingly oblivious to the expectation, contin-
ued to talk.
I continued to wait.
Some picked up on my expectation and
stood quietly. Others kept talking. I folded
my arms and stared. This brought the atten-
tion of a few more. Then, like a ripple effect,
the talk subsided. Some students brought
the remaining few to attention. All were
quiet now and facing the front.
It seemed to take a very long time to
achieve this, although it was probably only
a minute or two. My 'wait time' had been
tested. I motioned silently for them to sit.
The tactic had begun to work. Some stu-
dents asked questions regarding today's
class. I responded with facial expressions,
raised eyebrows, a shrug. Sideways glances
were seen around the class.
'Are you mad with us?' asked one student.
'Did we take too long to quieten down?'
asked another. I felt a little tense. I was tak-
ing a chance, but ignored the questions and
continued with my planned approach.
I wrote a couple of revision statements
on the whiteboard to summarise major
points of the topic, but left gaps for signifi-
cant terms. ' Should we copy this down?' a
student asked. I gave the thumbs up. 'What
about the missing words?' another asked. I
shrugged, palms facing upwards, indicating
an inability to solve the problem. The cor-
rect terms were called out by several students
around the room. I quickly indicated accept-
ance and completed the statements on the
whiteboard. Then, I wrote three headings
on the board and one example of a suitable
term that was related to one of the headings.
My aim was to get the students to list
as many appropriate terms as possible for
each of the headings, then construct concept
maps and hopefully, through this process,
review their understanding. They caught on
quickly, suggesting herbivore, food chain,
food web, trophic levels, decomposer, photo-
synthesis. I gave a smile if correct or a frown
if not. They got the idea. Some students
reviewed their responses and suggested an
alternative. Sometimes I deliberately looked
confused and made mistakes. Students cor-
rected me readily.
Even though I hadn't asked them, they
copied the growing lists of terms. Involve-
ment was high. It was like a competition to
come up with a term that hadn't been men-
tioned or one that no one else could think of.
We continued this for 10 or so minutes,
until we had exhausted the group's knowl-
edge. I was very happy with the progress.
Amazingly, 25 minutes into the class, I
still hadn't said a word. We had produced
three columns of appropriate terms related
to energy, ecosystems, photosynthesis and
When I finally spoke, I firstly congratu-
lated the students on a good effort, then asked
them to split into small groups and construct
concept maps for a chosen column of terms.
We ended up with two groups for each set of
terms. The students were happy to comply.
We reviewed an example of concept map
information for each set of terms by the end
of the class. All students had completed at
least one and needed to finish the other two
by the next class.
'Write down three things that you are sure
of as a result of the previous activity,' I said
when we met for our next class. 'Now, write
two things you're not too sure about.
'Write one thing that you don't under-
'Write a question that you would ask
about this thing to help you better under-
stand.' Students seemed quite happy to be
involved in this type of activity.
I sum marised a range of their statements
on the things they were sure about on the
whiteboard: herbivores eat plants; food
chains show what eats what; the arrow
PHILIP SHANAHAN EXPLAINS HOW A DIFFERENT APPROACH IN YEAR 9 SCIENCE CAN
ENGAGE YOUR STUDENTS AND CREATE EFFECTIVE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES.
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