How do we learn? How do we demonstrate our learning?

These are the two questions I posed to my grade 11 students at the beginning of the week. As part of my new course design, I am trying to gradually develop their independence as learners. In the first two units, each learning cycle was differentiated to a degree.

Students could choose from the resources provided such as iPad apps, websites, videos, podcasts, textbooks, MOODLE lessons etc…and complete the notes that were also provided. Although they were required to demonstrate their knowledge and comprehension through quizzes, tests and other formative practice, they could choose from the options for their A layer activities. These are the assignments that require students to evaluate information or create something new, while making connections to other disciplines. Some of the ideas I had given the students included making infographics, animations, videos, evaluating case studies, journals etc…

In this unit I am asking the students to do more of the designing and decision making. For the first cycle there will be no worksheets, no notes, no carefully designed activities. We started the unit with a round of QFT described in my last blog post. I have tried to structure the unit more around THEIR questions as an attempt to make it even more student centered and interesting for them. In some cases their questions align nicely with the content standards, which makes it easy. For the rest of their questions I have incorporated them into the “Engage” and “Extend” learning opportunities.

The next period we started the class with a brainstorm. I asked the students to think back to all the activities they had done so far and tell me the different opportunities that I had modeled for them to learn about the material. Then I had them identify the different ways they could have demonstrated their learning. This is what they came up with.


After that I posted one of the students’ questions on the board:

“Are the mother and father’s genes equal in the child?”  

And then I let them at it. With a few guidelines of course.

meiosis1. I want them to work more collaboratively this unit. For the past two I noticed that some students deliberately avoid any form of collaboration. I fully understand this. I was this kid in high school too. While I respect those who are introverted or who are less distracted working alone, in reality you have to learn to get along with other people and share ideas. Thus I made some heterogenous groups based on what I had observed previously. I hope this will also help the students that seem to be unable to get their work done on time. If they have their peers helping them to move along, they may be more productive with their class time. Thus I had each group set up a Google doc and taught them about the Research tool and Advanced search functions.

2. I gave them some guiding questions. In order to come to an answer to the bigger question, I wanted to scaffold their journey a little bit. Also it helps me to ensure they are covering those oh so important IB assessment statements!

3. I asked them each to choose TWO learning methods – ex. reading a webpage and watching an animation. I made sure to spend some time discussing their learning styles and encouraging them to evaluate what had worked for them in the past. I am using the acronym S.O.D which stands for self-oriented differentiation from Tait Coles’ Punk Learning blog (yeah I know I’m obsessed) to highlight activities in the unit where students must come up with their own ways of learning and create their own notes.

4. I required them to consult at least THREE sources ex. two webpages and an animation. After showing them how to find better resources, I also asked them to choose one to evaluate.

5. I asked them to pick ONE method of demonstrating their learning. Here I was a bit more lax about working with a group. They could do something with their group, with a partner or on their own. I told them to be creative and take risks. I showed them an example I had done as well. Being a visual learner I created a concept map of all the ideas in the topic to show how they are connected. With this task, however, I have to be a little bit careful. I noticed that some students were being excluded and were working individually as they weren’t as good friends as the other three people in their group. I’ll have to consider this a bit better for next time.

I saw a lot of creativity and community in the classroom which was great. There was lots of discussion and Q&A. Some of the techniques they decided on include making presentations, posters, a computer game, and writing songs.


The students to the right are working together on a concept map:

I did some review with them today as they were meant to have all the research done. It was mostly socrative questioning using the whiteboard to animate the chromosomes etc… Next period I have another review activity for them – biology speed dating!

What I’m really trying to accomplish here is have the students become the creators of the content through inquiry rather than the consumers.  We’ll see how it goes!


One thought on “How do we learn? How do we demonstrate our learning?

  1. Daun Yorke

    Brilliant post. What a dynamic learning environment you have co-created with your students. I love how you are pushing the students to create the content. Inspiring.

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