We wrapped up the Chemistry unit of Grade 9 Science recently, and I was looking for an activity for review that might be a bit different, a bit more engaging, and intellectually stimulating at the same time. Since I had been reading Eric Mazur recently, I decided to do something vaguely peer-instructionish. I had the students each come up with 4 good questions on the material from the unit and submit them through a Google form. The questions could be ones they genuinely wanted to know the answer to, or ones they did know, but thought would make good test questions. I then went through all the questions, and selected a handful that a) were excellent questions about the underpinnings of chemistry that they would not be able to figure out themselves and b) were great questions that, collectively, they should be able to work through. The former I addressed briefly for the whole class, and the latter I presented to the class using Socrative (which I wrote about previously).
For each question, I first put the question up on the screen, then activated the short answer response. Students submitted answers (anonymously), and as a group we went through them on the screen, removing duplicate answers and those that clearly did not address the question. I gave them a few minutes to discuss the remaining answers, and then I hit the vote button, and students voted for which they thought was the best answer. We then further discussed and clarified, so that everyone was on the same page.
For my second period class, this worked really well. They had fun, they were engaged, and they left feeling smarter. We had, after all, spent eighty minutes addressing their questions, and they asked if we could do the activity again. I was pleased as punch that it had worked out so well, and even more pleased that the kids left feeling pumped about learning.
Until my fourth period class.
In Fourth period, the kids behaved entirely different. They were distracted, they wrote silly answers to the questions, they voted for the silly answers, and basically blew off the entire activity. It was immensely frustrating, particularly for the few who actually wanted to learn.
It was a useful reminder that not only are individual students unique, individual classes have their own unique dynamic as well. And that just because an activity works brilliantly with one class, doesn’t mean it will with another.