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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Using the Learning Event Generator

Categories: Geography General, Glaciation

I have been using the Learning Event Generator from John Davitt with two classes recently. The experience of both classes have been very different but, ultimately, worthwhile. I have used this in the past and completely randomized the activities. Although this works sometimes, it also encounters resistance from students who feel that they are being forced to learn or show their learning in a certain way. I think taking people out of their comfort zone can bring positives, but also thought that by introducing free choice for the students, I would still be able to edit the activities to provide a real challenge.

I set the generator up as a recap on learning for glacial deposition. I had spent a few periods going through the features that students would have to potentially explain, but felt that it had been one way. I had done a lot of talking to fill in some of the textbook blanks. Students had been taking independent notes. I was not sure if students were learning or just on autopilot, and this feeling was reinforced after a discussion with both classes about the ways in which they learn. By giving students a choice of presentation methods to show their understanding, I thought I'd be able to have a better assessment of where we were at.

The activities

To give a flavour of what students chose, here are some examples:

Outwash Plains as a Chinese Whisper

Kames as a flipbook

Drumlins as a nursery rhyme

Drumlins as a pop up book

Kames as a recipe

Outwas Plains as a play by play Sports Commentary

Kames as a nightmare

Glacial Landscape Origami

These were all very diverse and each created its own successes and failures, but even the failures were things that we could learn from. I'll pick a couple of examples and explain how we translated it to an assist for the way in which students will currently be assessed.

Chinese Whispers

The outcome of this activity (four pairs were involved) was very significant. First of all, some students showed really excellent summary skills to make the whisper one that could be easily passed around the class. Their summary was clear, well structured and contained a lot of knowledge in two to three lines of text. The clearest summary was also the one which most succesfully made its way around the class - not quite unaltered, but pretty much spot on by the time it reached the last pupil. Other students really struggled with this. Students were compelled to write verbatim what was in their notes and, unsurprisingly, the longest whisper disintegrated on the way. We related this back to exam practice. You can learn something word for word, but if you don't really understand it, your response soon falters and, in an exam, it's easy to fluff your lines trying total recall. The ability to be concise was discussed too, as I find lots of students run out of time in exams as they try to cram in everything they remember, often duplicating things they have written. A good summary allows better time management without sacrificing marks. I suggested that in prep for exams, students try this in fours as a way to support their revision.


I liked the outcome of this as it highlighted a common problem that students struggle to break in real exam situations. Both flipbook examples that I looked at, to my eye, showed a process. I could make out in one glacial advance, then retreat, resulting in a terminal moraine. I could make out in the other, a glacier retreating to leave a moraine dammed lake and a Kame. However, I only knew this by guessing. There was nothing to tell me this. We related this back to exam technique. How many times do people offer a supporting diagram which really doesn't tell the examiner anything, or anything new? This highlighted the importance of labelling a process properly. In one of the classes, we then illustrated this perfectly by taking a five minute window to do a question in pairs, back to back. One student was writing a response and the other showing the same process by diagram. In a couple of cases, the diagram included information which wasn't in the other person's response, and which would have gained marks in an exam. So, even with the flipbook having parts missing, there was a lesson in this.


Only one group was 'brave' enough to try a recipe. I say 'brave' as I thought this might be one of the easiest ways to represent landscape formation. I asked a very reluctant Cameron to share some of his, Scott's and Benjamins recipe for Kames. They started off with ' Add sand and gravel (any amount you like), use meltwater to mix all the ingredients, and spread unevenly' or words to those effect. We discussed the response and reasoned that Kames will be different sizes according to the size of glacier, hence the first statement. The boys picked up on the composition of Kames, the fact they were fluvioglacial and that deposition could be uneven. After they had shared the start of their recipe, I suggested to the class that all the boys were doing was representing a stage by stage process, something which students do formulaically all the time in exam questions, but this had shown a real understanding of what was going on rather than just memorising lines. So, does this not prepare a student better for a question wuith an unfamiliar look or wording?

In summary, I think the hardest thing about this lesson is having the will to do it and persevere with it. I mean that both for student and teacher. If it's not managed properly, the fun part becomes frustration, boredom or idleness as students don't see the purpose. I think it's important as a teacher not only to take the risk and allow the room for this, but it's vitally important that either beforehand or in recap, the students see the benefit to themselves of thinking out of the box. I think I managed this succesfully with one of the classes, but not so well with the other, but it was worth taking the risk and worth taking again for the outcomes, even the ones that might initially have been viewed as a negative.


At 1:15 pm, Anonymous Hilery Williams said...

What a fascinating exposition of how the generator works in a real classroom. Brilliant. Thanks

At 3:21 pm, Blogger maninmoon said...

Many thanks Kenny it struck a real chord with me reading some of the points you make about having to be brave when the challenge is tough. Some great analysis too - You've inspired me to push on with some more developments - and in your free too :)
Best Wishes
John Davitt

At 11:02 pm, Blogger Kenny O'Donnell said...

Thank you both for the comments, much appreciated.

At 11:02 pm, Blogger Kenny O'Donnell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.


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