The Apollo Launch

Around July 1st 2017 I was in Myanmar sat in a cafe on Inle Lake trying to set up everything I needed to start the COETAIL course. Nearly 10 months later and this is the final hurdle. The year has been tough, but there are no regrets. I took on this course because everybody I know who has done it has told me its a really valuable piece of professional development, and they were right. I have learned so much along the way, and been able to actually apply it as I go, something I rarely get a chance to do on other PD courses.

For my final project therefore I wanted to go out strong, and decided to tackle the issue of changing the classroom from a traditional sage-on-the-stage to an entirely student lead learning experience, with me as the director rather than the teacher. This is something that keynote and lightning speakers have been telling me about for years, but with never what I felt to be a solution that worked for me.

The 21st Century classroom doesnt require a teacher – it just requires direction, a tool [laptop/tablet] and collaboration (Img courtesy of Education Rickshaw)

This picture exemplifies what I was trying to do – how could I make it so students were all working on different material depending upon how fast they were going, but also make it so they were collaborating with each other, learning in a way they wanted, and allowing me to work with small groups? A big ask, but being a one-one laptop school it is possible. Normally I teach them things, then I give them activities to do such as a discussion, experiment, problem etc. All they needed to make the change was for something else engaging to tell them to do this stuff when they were ready. So I designed that person, and named them Apollo.


(Or better yet, go to http://20ct.sweeto.co.uk/ and sign up (or use the fake account) to play with the website yourself)

Video Credits

  • Music credit: ‘2001: A Space Odyssey Theme’ (1968, Alex North). Original ‘Also sprach Zarathustra’ (1896, Strauss)
  • SAMR Image Credit: Showbie, https://www.showbie.com/using-showbie-with-the-samr-model/
  • RocketShip Image Credit: WorldArtsMe, http://worldartsme.com/

 

The project aims

To reiterate, my goals for this project were:

  • To create a greater level or learning autonomy with students – sage on the stage down to a fraction of class time with little direction from me. 
  • To allow students to work at their own pace and earn a grade which is representative of what they DO know as opposed to how well they can write a test.
  • To allow high achieving students the chance to really extend their learning.
  • To allow me a greater amount of time to work with the students who really need my help understanding the material.
  • To give students a choice in how and what they learn.

As is detailed in the video, many of these aims were successfully met. Sage on the stage type instruction was only done once in order  to introduce the topic, and then to organise students at the start of the lessons. Student autonomy by the end of the topic was notably changed from previous topics, with students first relying on themselves and then other students for help- by the time I was required there would be a small group working on the problem, who then I could work with.

 

Student Engagement and Learning

Students worked well throughout the topic, and although it was slower than the topic would normally have taken (6 lessons as opposed to 4) the experience was much better from the students perspective. Its also worth noting on the time issue, that this particular implementation required students learning new skills on the website, and also practising how to work together and on their own to learn new material in this specific way. Thus it was expected to have greater time requirements than might usually be the case.

Students feeling about using Apollo in comparison to normal lessons.

As can be seen from the data collected at the end of the unit, students tended towards liking the use of apollo. This was observed throughout the unit, where it was clear from the feedback I was taking every lesson, students in general were very happy with how the lessons were going and wanted to continue. Statistically the students didn’t necessarily feel like they were learning any more or less, but they felt like they had a better idea of what to do, and relished the opportunity to choose how it was they learned. Collaboration was also significantly improved throughout the unit, although the method of collaboration had to change early on as students were not keen on using the built in collaboration tools. Some student comments on collaboration were:

I didn’t really use any of the features given since that I have people sitting next to me that I can talk about the subject
I didn’t really look at other students work, I just mainly focused on mine so I couldn’t see what they did or offer help. Although I sometimes ask for help or help the ones beside me or around me.
The help button wasn’t helpful for me, so I just went up to people who have already completed the topic that I was on to get some of their help.
So students helped one another and worked together, but the site did not build in collaboration well enough for students to use it well. This is fine, and as some of the student said in the interviews, maybe more of a blend of traditional and apollo style lessons would be best.

Student Motivation

Students were motivated by the enjoyment they had using apollo and getting to choose their tasks. They were also heavily motivated by points (which incidentally caused the first few lessons to be a bit difficult due to point accumulation issues in the code!) which was nice as gamification of the learning is something I want to push more as the site continues to develop. The leaderboards provided little to no motivation effect on the students however, and the overwhelming majority of students were still most heavily motivated by getting good grades. This final point was to the extent that some students were a bit perturbed when I started turning the site off every night to ensure that they weren’t spending all night on it. I would turn it off at about 6pm and back on at 8am. This was both to help them not spend all night studying, but also to emphasise the importance of sleep, and how far I will go to ensure they get it.

The other interesting thing which did not motivate students, was peer assessment. Despite what we learned earlier in COETAIL about the impact of blog posts on writing quality, students felt little extra motivation to do good work despite the fact their peers might have been looking at it. How this would change over time would be an interesting follow up to the topic. Partly this could have been down to the difficulty of finding feedback (in interviews one student commented that a console would be good to see all recent feedback), but perhaps there could have been other reasons such as not caring because there was no system to ensure they DID get their work peer assessed. Perhaps if its not mandatory, there is no motivation to do it well.

 

Conclusion

Whilst the project I feel was widely successful there were elements which worked noway near as well as I had hoped, such as how the collaboration was going to work, or that lack of formal assessment was an issue for some students. The unit evolved as it went however, and by the end students were teaching one another, engaging in experiments to help them learn and redesigning those experiments as they saw fit. The learning element of the classes was fantastic for the most part, and it was the logistics of this new classroom model that was harder. Whilst the test has not yet been able to be administered (due to scheduling and the deadline date!), I am confident at least that the bottom end of the class is going to be pulled up, and those students who normally sit in the middle of the grade scale will see some extra benefit. This at least can be derived from students’ own analysis of their learning in this topic (stats produced from a pivot table on the end of unit questionnaire) and my observation of those students during the lessons.

Unit planner

Find the unit planner for the topic below.

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