In one of my earlier posts, I observed that despite working with big and powerful Tetrix robots, I felt that many of my learning activities were boring. This is because the challenges that students engage in are designed to be very convergent in their nature and are essential practical tests to assess the student’s understanding of a set range of programming concepts.
In an attempt to increase student motivation and engage students in more divergent learning activities, next year we are going to be designing and building VEX robots to compete in an in-house VEX competition. My hope is that I will replace a lot of boring test like challenges, which are designed to asses a prescribed set of skills and knowledge, with an exciting open ended competition that will encourage students to seek out knowledge the substance of which will be shaped by their own imagination, creativity and motivation.
What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?
My biggest concern is time. My elective only runs for one quarter, the lessons are 45 minutes long and I only see the students four times in a six day cycle. I know that if I run a teacher directed class all students will have a functioning and competitive robot at the end of the quarter. I am concerned that by turning the design process over to the students that some groups may end the quarter without producing a functioning robot. Although they may still have learnt a lot in this process I want to ensure that every student leaves with a positive experience and a sense of achievement and mastery.
What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?
To successfully run an inquiry based class I will have to work hard to balance the amount of support and guidance that I give to students. On the one hand I am tempted to divide the quarter up into a series of deadlines. For example if students have not built a working sub-structure by the third week then I will provide them with a sub-structure template to follow. The problems with this approach are that it could effectively turn a inquiry based course into a teacher directed course and secondly it may give students an easy out to sit and wait for. The bottom line is I need to do more research and reading regarding effective inquiry based pedagogy.
What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?
In my current course which allows students to work at their own pace, my biggest problems are students who are happy to let their partner do their work for them and groups that do not make good use of class time. I’m hoping that the motivation of a competition and the freedom to design and build their own robot will help to eliminate these student behaviours.