Home' Teacher : March 2010 Contents 28 TEACHER MARCH 2010
A renewed bu zz went around the room.
Most groups found that the ends were the
strongest part, which was a great opportu-
nity for me to introduce the word 'pole.'
The best moment came when I handed
out a horseshoe magnet to each group. I was
so impressed with the interest and depth of
the explorations that the girls designed to
compare the strength of the horseshoe mag-
net and bar magnet.
The session was drawing to a close, yet we
still hadn't begun to consolidate the ideas
or write any notes. So, I began the next les-
son with a three-two -one activity, asking
the girls to note three things they remem-
bered from the previous activity, two things
they weren't sure about and one thing they
didn't understand, phrased as a question.
Each student had to contribute something
to the discussion.
As the girls offered their ideas, I compiled
a list on the board. Then I asked them how
to organise these notes to produce a logical
summary of ideas about magnetism.
What has been the learning for me?
Giving up some of the control of my class
was well worth the pay-off. It became clear
to me that when students are provided with
an effective stimulus, they're capable of
producing rich questions and conducting
meaningful experiments. They can listen
to each other and make thoughtful contri-
I spent a lot of my time congratulat-
ing the girls on their efforts. I was really
pleased with their willingness to engage
in the tasks and the high level of focussed
talk. At the same time, there was a more
relaxed atmosphere in the class and fewer
discipline issues. Perhaps the most dramatic
result was how much more I enjoyed the
My advice? Trust yourself. Every les-
son doesn't have to have a perfect plan.
I can now use my professional judgment
more confidently to let students learn for
themselves. I've also found out in the proc-
ess that I can learn a lot more from my
students when I listen, rather than when
Leanne Brockway teaches Scienc e at
Mate r Christi College, Belgrave, in
Melbourne's outer south- east.
A ve rsion of this article first appeared
as 'From dinosaur to. . .' in Looking into
Practice: Cases of Science teachers' pro-
fessional growth, published by Mon ash
Print Services/Catholic Educ ation Office,
Melbourne, as part of the Commonwealth
government's Quality Teacher Program.
Reproduced with kind permission. For the
full set of ca ses on which this series draws,
see Berry, A. , & Keast, S. (Eds). (2009).
Looking into Practice: Cases of Science
teachers' professional growth Melbourne:
Mona sh Print Services/Catholic Educ ation
'Opposites attract' -- it's a title that's appro-
priate for more than just the obvious rea-
sons. Leanne Brockway discusses the way
she has her class investigate magnetism, but
she's also talking about the way she takes a
class of disruptive students and turns it into
the opposite: a productive and engaged one.
Look also at the way she does it -- doing the
opposite of what is for many teachers an
instinct to be the centre of attention in a
classroom, in control of the class and conse-
quently the learning that takes place.
Brockway makes the conscious deci-
sion to make her students responsible for
their learning and let go of 'control' in the
classroom. This is not to say that her classes
became unruly, but that she allowed her
students to determine the direction of the
class rather than having it predetermined for
them before the lesson started. She planned
to be u nplanned, and see which direction
her students took the class. For most teach-
ers this would be a scary and daunting pros-
pect, but as Brockway remarks, 'perhaps the
most dramatic result was how much more
I enjoyed the teaching process.' Taking the
risk has, for Brockway, an almost immedi-
ate teaching pay-off, and for the students,
the pay-off is all about engagement.
To get the level of engagement that
Brockway experiences, you need the right
stimulus, one that provides many ways in
and raises several questions for the students.
The stimulus doesn't have to be anything
sophisticated: Brockway uses a paperclip, a
magnet and retort stand. It can be as simple
as a good open question, a photograph or
a short video clip. A short YouTube video
of a person being shot out of cannon into a
wading pool, for example, could generate a
lot of discussion about projectiles landing
in a specific place. Interest can be generated
by the simplest of things and can lead to a
need-to -know high level of engagement that
in turn leads to answers.
Brockway explains that she works hard
to break up her lessons, but then mentions
that she has great success with her predict-
Doing the opposite leads to success
GOING AGAINST YOUR INSTINCTS AND DOING THE OPPOSITE CAN LEAD TO SOME POWERFUL LEARNING
EXPERIENCES FOR YOUR STUDENTS, AS STEPHEN KEAST AND REBECCA COOPER EXPLAIN.
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