Play, Question, Learn

The final Grade 10 topic is the Cold War. I had thought before how play and experimentation could be guiding philosophies for this unit. I built upon an earlier post about creating mashups by assigning the students a unit project in which they create either  a mashup or remix to tell part of the Cold War story. I wrote the rubric and assignment sheet based in part on the work of Andrew Churches. I will post student samples when they are complete.
I made a sample mashup using Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl which I have embedded at the beginning of this post. So far it has gone well. Partners are exploring cartoon archives for public domain material while cross referencing what they find with what they know, and need to find out, about the Cold War topics they have chosen to illustrate. It is an opportunity for them to explore, experiment, and be creative with content and media in a new way. As a flipped assignment, I provide coaching or guidance when I am asked and, occasionally, when I see that a word of encouragement might be good. The students are playing constructively for these three weeks in a setting in which content is the vehicle for practicing questioning, self-directed understanding, and communicating effectively with video. As this New York Times article points out, trying can sometimes be more valuable than extensive planning and history teaching can sometimes be more valuable as a compass than a map.
 This American Revolution role-playing game is the type of activity that I enjoy running in my classes. With a flipped approach, students can use the activity to better understand what the factors were which may have changed an outcome in history. Sometimes I am divided on what I think of the flipped philosophy. I wonder; was assigning textbook readings a flipped approach we used in the past? It was. However, teachers always had to choose from four or five major textbooks and try to adapt our dynamic lessons, and students, to the static readings. Now, I can create resources with my students in mind.  I am familiar with what they have already learned this school year and in a previous year. I know some of their common references, and can refer to those. That I think is the real advancement.
A friend says that the best PD workshops do not teach you something new, but instead remind us of what we know we should be working toward. Like ESL in the Mainstream, planning instruction using a video game model fits that description. I will be trying to include their graphic structure to teaching and learning. One area that I would like to be teaching better is multiple choice for external exams, like Advanced Placement  (AP). The College Board advocates an open enrollment approach to AP classes; if a student wants to be in class and will work hard, he or she should be permitted to take the course. I agree with this approach. My AP European History and AP United States History courses should be designed to work with students for whom English might be a second or third language, this content is relatively new, and are balancing a busy schedule and class load. I found something I could use using video games as a structure.
Perhaps a student could take the first diagnostic MC test and that score out of 40 or 50 possible could be the “starting point” from which we track progress. Incremental goals could be set. For example, for Unit 2 we could agree on a 10% improvement over the Unit 1 score. Further, each student could agree with me on what would constitute an A, B, and C with this approach. With the way that I weigh the essay portion of AP tests, the writing could take a similar approach but would be more holistic and identifiable skills, rather than content, could be the focus.
One thing that I appreciate about teaching at ISSH is that the admin team supports experimentation by the teachers. I work with many teachers who are accomplished in their fields. The admin team encourages teachers to innovate and experiment. That can help make the school an exciting place to teach.
If you matched Flipped Classroom with New Culture of Learning, you would have video links or video lectures for homework with the class time dedicated to simulations, writing, or the creation of new research questions that students could then pursue with the teachers’ resources or online materials. In my Grade 10 class, the current unit is China:  Opium Wars to Cultural Revolution. I keep materials linked to my wikipage for students to explore and during class I answer questions or provide other support, if needed. Otherwise, students are teaching themselves and each other, the content. I have been short writing tasks to help them better understand important changes with Mao. Students do ask very good questions. Lately, these are a few of the questions I have been asked:
–Was it true that Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalist army was exhausted from fighting the Japanese Army (1939-1945), so that it was too weak to fight Mao’s Red Army when the civil war resumed in 1945?
–Why did Mao pick Hua Guafang as his successor if Hua was associated with the Liu Shiaxi’s anti-Mao moderates during the Cultural Revolution?
–Was Emperor Puyi the son of Emerpeor Guangxu?
These were all questions that I had not heard before and could only suggest answers. I keep two good China books on hand, Spence’s Search for Modern China and Chang and Halliday’s Mao: The unknown story.
It was summed up well by Thomas and Brown in their interview with Forbes:
Part of the point we try to make in the book is that inquiry is not about asking a “right” question, but it is a process of asking increasingly better questions. And I think we would say that the best questions are the one that ignites a student’s passion and cultivates their imagination. And it is very easy to tell when that is happening. When students have passion and enthusiasm, it is infectious and impossible to hide.
This is an approach worth developing.
Garry Leroy Baker

5 thoughts on “Play, Question, Learn

  1. Great post, Garry. It’s interesting to read about the different approaches that you are implementing with your students. The mashup/remix Cold War assignment sounds incredible and I look forward to seeing your student examples. It sounds as if you have been doing quite a lot with a flipped model in your classes…cool things happening there! I was struck by your friend’s comment regarding how “PD doesn’t teach us new things but reminds us of the things we know we should be working towards.” I agree, but I have to admit that I believe I’ve learned quite a few “new things” in CoETaIL as well as being reminded of what I know I should be working towards. ☺ As you point out, your students are asking good questions. Your reference to Thomas and Brown framed my thinking about questioning with a different perspective. The Question Formulation Technique: 6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions, an article by Sherrelle Walker, M.A., from The Science of Learning Blog (link to is an interesting short read offering suggestions for improving our students’ ability to ask questions. I’m sure that “enthusiasm and passion” are abundantly evident in your classes! Thanks again for your post. Awesome ideas!

    • Thanks for writing, Jamie. You are right. I have learned much more in COETAIL since January than I thought I would when I started. I will check out the article by Sherrelle Walker that you suggested. As a teacher, I should continue to strive to give students more room to reflect and work things out for themselves. Making room for, and teaching how to make, good questions helps. Based on your experiences, how do you suggest effectively teaching good questioning?

  2. I think we need to ignite student and teacher passions. I don’t think we can down play the power of imagination and creativity.I think we need people who are prepared to to step outside the comfort zone and make this happen. Seems like this is you! Go to it and keep sharing because sometimes people just need to see it done in a different way.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Zoe. I have learned a lot from my COETAIL colleagues. From what I have learned in discussions and your posts, I could learn a lot from a visiting your class for a day. You made a point recently that I am still considering. Correct me if I misunderstood, but, in summary, you asked if we were really respecting students and their work/ideas if we bend those ideas to fit our curricular goals. I had not thought of teaching in that way before. Now I am trying to watch to see if I do that and if it includes the element of disrespect, or inauthentic respect, that you suggested.

  3. Like Jamie, I was struck by this comment “the best PD doesn’t teach us new things but reminds us of the things we know we should be working towards.” I know this isn’t your statement, but I do find it curious. Of course, consolidation, and going deeper with things we already know about is important, but if we never learned anything new, we’d just be doing the same things again and again (although I would imagine they would get better with time). Maybe this fits well with teaching because the curriculum doesn’t change all that often, but the approach to delivery does? I like the idea of studying big concepts that can be viewed through a variety of lenses, where the concepts don’t change, but the way you access them can change every year. To me, it sounds like this is what you’re already doing.

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