“Okay, class… everybody… I’m not going to teach you about power stations. You need to know all the features but you’re going to be teaching each other. In groups of three you’re going to be putting together a presentation on one of the energy resources…”
Hands up if this sounds familiar? I’ve used variations on this theme for years, partly because I’m lazy but mainly because it works. I’ve fine-tuned it, of course; I now start off with two example presentations, one reasonable and one awful, and have the students tell me what they need to avoid.
If you can’t be a good example then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.
But it doesn’t always work very well, even if you give them a energy resources blank table to complete as they listen. This year I’ve ended up trying out some different approaches and thought it might be worth sharing them.
For chatty groups, how about having the presentations put together in the same way, but then present as part of a circus or marketplace activity? Students only need to speak to a handful of classmates at a time, and they get to rehearse it too. They can complete the same blank template as they work and ask questions they might not check if in a larger group. The downside is that you can’t listen in to correct misconceptions; I had students email their presentations first, then gave feedback before they shared with each other. Afterwards, of course, the powerpoints can be added to a shared drive through school. If you’ve the resources, kids could be videoed presenting for long term storage.
In small groups, students could identify viewpoints for and against different power stations. This risks being more about emotion than explanations, but doesn’t have to take a long time in the classroom. Choose good roles and after each discussion they can add + and – points to a whiteboard; this can be photographed for later recall. Offer bonus points for students able to identify bigger patterns such as ‘fossil fuels all contribute to climate change’ or ‘renewable resources are often unreliable’.
Some groups love the idea of choosing four or five categories then scoring each power station from 10 (fantastic) to 1 (awful). Some kids struggle with the arbitrary nature of the scores, while others get bogged down in irrelevant squabbles. I found that using the category definitions as a starter got them more or less focussed. Dissuading them from spending the majority of the time drawing pictures was an issue! This led me to a slightly different approach, which I tweeted.
— Ian (@teachingofsci) January 31, 2014
Effectively I gave the students a power station scorecard listing the main ways in which two power stations could be compared. In pairs they had to choose one each, then discuss which ‘won’ each round. Finally they had to choose an overall winner. To make life more complicated, simply give the class a new location every five minutes. More able swtudents will recognise that these factors do not have equal weighting – you could discuss with them that a long-term view might award double points for ‘winning’ some of the rounds.
The cards ideas above are both good for reviewing content – you could also allow more time but provide resources like textbooks or laptops (or BYOD). To quickly review the content, it’s easy to produce a simple card sort which students can arrange into renewable/non, thermal/kinetic, carbon contributors/neutral and so on.
Hope some of these ideas are useful – please let me know if so!