Friday, November 24, 2006

Design of webquest lesson

Webquest ... … is it another one of those ICT assignments that we submitted for our ICT module? Well in a way, I would think they are similar especially for a non-IT savvy person like me.

The reading up of the topic of Rivers as well as coming up with the tasks that the students have to do is rather fun. I just realized that I have a sudden liking for physical geo topics now since most of my assignments re on physical geo topics. I didn’t use to like physical geo at all when I was in sec school.

We decided to do a case study on the Nile River and reading up on the Nile River was interesting. I learnt that the Nile is the world’s longest river. So basically the scenario was for the students to cruise down the Nile River and discover sights along the way. I then came chanced upon this video called the “Mystery of the Nile” and saw the trailer. The movie sure looked interesting but too bad I was not able to find the whole movie online. Think I’ll go check out the DVD shop when I’m done with all my assignments. Coming up the scenario and the whole flow of the webquest was relatively easy. The biggest hurdle of all was the doing up of the webquest. Due to unfamiliarity with the whole webquest thing, it took us a while before we got it done. Now tat it is done, it sure feels great as well as a sense of relief that it’s done.

Well, I feel that doing a webquest gave me the opportunity to learn some IT skills like how to host a website etc but seeing how time consuming it is, I foresee that I won’t be designing another one in future. If given a choice, I would rather do another fieldwork package. To me, I feel that going for a field trip is lots more fun and hands-on as compared to doing a webquest. It also allows for the opportunity to go out into the field instead of being an arm-chair geographer.

View webquest at the following link:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Design of field-based lesson

One of the reasons why I like geo so much is because there are fieldtrips to go for. Always am real excited when there are fieldtrips. I always feel that it makes a great deal of difference when you go to the places on your own and when a teacher brings you for one. It is not only more fun to go with the whole class but also more educational as the teacher will point out interesting things that you will not have thought about or knew about. I really enjoyed all the fieldtrips that Mr Yee has taken us on. The very first one to Bt Timah Nature Reserve then the next few to Pasir Ris Park and Labrador Park were so insightful and I really benefited from them. It inspired me to want to be conceptually sound so that I can also impart my geo knowledge to my students in future. Thus I was looking forward to the designing of a fieldwork package as it meant the chance to go and recee out a location and plan some interesting activities.

At first we were all planning to do a fieldwork package out of Singapore. Some of the locations that we had in mind were Sarawak, Kota Tinggi, Desaru etc. However, due to many constraints, the idea was dropped and we settled for a local-based one. We decided to do a fieldwork package by coast and our two fieldwork sites were East Coast Park and Labrador Park.

We did some background research on the possible activities that we can carry out at both locations. Possible activities that can be carried out included wave studies, sediment studies as well as beach profile. I learnt many things when doing the research like how to go about calculating the wave length and wav energy mathematically. These cannot be found in the school textbooks and I’m sure students will benefit by going on a fieldtrip. It was also suggested that we can use an orange to determine the direction of the longshore drift. How interesting!

When we did our recee, we went down to see whether the activities that we have suggested can be carried out. Most of our activities worked and that was a relief. The only one that didn’t turn out so well was the use of the orange to determine the direction of the longshore drift. The results were not very obvious and hence we decided to modify the activity. Instead of using an orange, we decided to use pebbles that are found along the beach. This produced better results as compared to the orange. We were also aware that coast is a a physical geo topic and we did not want the fieldwork package to be skewed too much to the physical geo aspect. Hence we included a section on human activities at the beach. This was done so that students can also try their hands at doing surveys and realize that the physical cannot be detached from the human as a physical feature like the coast can be degraded as a result of human interventions.

The writing up of the report and the coming up with comprehensive worksheet was another major part of the package. Lots of administrative issues like transportation and how the activities should spread out throughout the day had to be considered. The class had to also be divided into groups of equal sizes and there are to be sufficient activities for them to do. The level of difficulty at each station should also be about the same and take up the same amount of time so that movement between stations can be facilitated.

The pre and post fieldtrip lesson will also have to be tailored with much thought. The pre fieldtrip should be designed in such a way that students are equipped with the content knowledge so that they will know what to do at the site. The teacher will also have to brief them about the activities and details of when and where the field trip will take place needs to be conveyed to the students; on the other hand, the post fieldtrip is also essential as it serves as a consolidation phrase to whatever has been done at the site. Results collected from the field will have to be consolidated in class and discussed and correlations can be drawn which will reflect students’ ability to make connections.

To sum up, the fieldwork package has allowed me to be aware of all the administrative issues that the teacher has to plan and think through before carrying out a field trip in the pre-fieldtrip phrase, facilitate the activities at the field site itself as well as wrapping up the whole field trip effectively so that students will have knowledge that they can bring home with them.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Post-Micro teaching

Yippie micro-teaching is over. Yes, I tried to imagine that my peers were my students and it turned out quite ok. So let’s start from the beginning of the lesson. The class was generally quite cooperative although I had some funny answers from them. So in general, I think the class was quite mild as I thought I will be getting more misbehaviour from them.

Room for Improvement

I thought my highlight of the lesson which is my class activity went quite well. However, one thing that I thought I could have improved on was to familiarize myself with the use of the visualizer and how to zoom in and out. This happened when I was doing the demo. When I placed the Petri dish on the visualizer and realized that it was not projecting well on the screen, I had difficulty trying how to zoom. It took quite a while and that disrupted the flow of the lesson slightly. I’ll make sure I am familiar with the equipments in class in future. The consolation was that the class was quite patient and did not become rowdy while waiting for me. During the class activity, the class actually did try to attempt the scenarios using the beans given to them. However, it was pointed out later in the debriefing session that I should have grouped the class instead of letting them form the groups on their own as it turned out that instead of 4 in a group, I had a group of only 2 members.

Also, I tried to elicit answers from the students but when they contributed responses, I did not note them down on the whiteboard. After my peers mentioned that, it then made me realize that putting the points on the whiteboard is a way of validating the contributions made by the students as well as makes it easier for students to take notes as everything is presented nicely for them on the board. They are after all Sec 1 kids so I should not have assumed that they are able to take down notes like how we are able to do so.

Mr Yee also pointed out that there wasn’t enough wait time when I asked students questions. I guess this is something that new teachers are very uncomfortable with. I mean, I get a little uneasy when I pose a question and then there is silence. However, the rationale behind having the wait time is to allow students to really think through the question. If insufficient wait time is given, it not only does not allow the students to think through but also sends the message that they need to think because the teacher herself will provide the answer if no one answers.

It was also pointed out that my lesson was skewed more towards population density (where I had the group activity) and less emphasis was given to teaching population distribution. Well, maybe it was because I was so excited about the group activity and neglected the part on population distribution. But then again, I did reinforce the concept of population distribution wherever appropriate when we were doing the group activity.

Plus points

Some of the good points that were pointed out were that I had my instructions for the group activity on the slide instead of depending on verbal instructions. This was a tip I picked up during the Classroom Management module. In a class of 40 students, there are different kinds of learners and as teachers, we should always keep in mind that we have to cater to their different needs. Hence the projection of instructions on the slide as well as the verbal delivery of the instructions will benefit all the students. It will also allow for students to refer back to the instructions half way through the activity to see if there are on the right track.

Another compliment that was given was the fact that I tried to make linkages across different subjects as well as across different topics. For example, in the calculation of population density, I emphasized the importance of units and linked it up to Maths. Also, I tried to link population which is a human geo topic to the previous physical geo topics that have been taught. For example, when I talked about the factors affecting population distribution, I made references to fertile land on floodplains which was taught in the topic on rivers.

I felt that I really benefited lots from this 1-period micro teaching session. It allowed me to be aware of how to maintain students’ attention before making any announcement. It also taught me how I can monitor student progress by giving questions after every teaching provide them with imperative feedback and the possibility of choosing both volunteers and non volunteers to answer questions. It also made me realize the importance of summarizing main points before transition and linking the subject being taught to other disciplines.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pre-Micro Teaching

The topic that I will attempt to micro-teach is the topic on Population. It is in the Sec 1 syllabus but it is no longer in the ‘O’ Level syllabus. How sad. I used to enjoy this topic when I was in secondary school. It just makes me wonder why this topic is taken out of the ‘O’ kevel syllabus. How can Geography be complete without the topic on Population? Anyway, I should be contented that it is still in the Sec 1 syllabus. Ok so my target group will be a Sec 1 Express class.

Saw a few classmates’ micro teaching already and am kind of excited about my own. Spent the past few weeks trying to think of which sun-topic to cover as well as the accompanying activities that I’m going to attempt to carry out in class. I finally decided on the sub-topic on population density and distribution. My initial idea was to weave in the concept of population pyramids (which students are introduced to before the concepts of population density and distribution) with what I plan to do. I wanted to discuss how population density and distribution are not even and that they change over time. For example, in times of a war, population density may go down because people die or they flee from the country. Then I wanted to link it up to the population pyramid whereby as men go out to war and only the females and the old and young are left behind, the population pyramid is skewed. This was an attempt to link previous knowledge with new ones. But horrors of horrors, population pyramid is out of the syllabus. What to do? Ok think of an alternative plan. Teachers are supposed to be very flexible people yah?

Hmm… . how about a hands-on activity that illustrates the concept of population distribution and density. Sounds good. So what I did was to make use of red and green beans as well as Petri dishes. I wanted to show students two empty Petri dishes and tell them that each represents a country with a land area of about 500 km2. Then ask them to imagine that each bean represents 1000 people and green beans represent males and red beans represent females. I will then put less beans in Country A (about 10) and more beans in Country B (about 30). Get them to describe the population density. Then I will change the land area of Country B, saying that the land area has increased to 5000 km2 as a result of land reclamation.
Ask them what they can say about the population density now. The whole demo will be shown on the visualizer.

After the demo, I will give the class a chance to have a hands-on experience by breaking them into groups where they will also have a chance to play around with the beans and the Petri dishes. A list of scenarios will be given to them and they are supposed to represent the scenarios using the beans. Think this allows the students to explore on their own and see for themselves that population density is not constant and changes over time and place. This is the highlight of my lesson and I hope all goes well during the micro-teaching.

Aside from how I plan to execute my micro-teaching, I feel that the preparations prior to micro-teaching was a very important and worthwhile thought process that I went through. Planning is a thought process that reflects the teacher’s comprehension of the whole curriculum as well as the teacher’s action at any particular moment in the classroom. . Joyce and Showers (1988) coined the process of planning as the ‘invisible skills of teaching’. I feel that successful lesson planning will help me establish clear, directed objectives that are suitable for my students’ needs, interests, and abilities. I play the role of both the planner as well as the mediator of learning. Wow, it sure isn’t easy being a teacher.

Actually, my real concern with regards to micro-teaching is that its my peers whom I will be teaching. I’ve always had problems with doing presentations in front of my peers. It somehow feels intimidating. However, I had no problem teaching in front of a class of 40 students. In fact, I had a great 5 months when I was doing relief teaching at Yusof Ishak Sec Sch. I guess it’s the target audience. Well, I think I’ll just have to pretend that my peers are my students. Hope that will work =)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Use of big ideas/concepts in teaching geography

What is the use of ‘big ideas’ in the teaching of Geography? Does it mean the use of big words and ‘chim’ content that simply packages the subject to make it look substantial but simply puts the students off? I seriously hope not. Well, according to Meyer and Land (2003), ‘big ideas’ can also be known as ‘threshold concepts’. The use of ‘big ideas’ allows for levels of understanding in a subject to take place and this kind of understanding at levels can be used in assessment for learning. Ah, now I think I’m seeing something. Ok so it’s something like a big picture where everything else falls in place. This then set me thinking of what kinds of chemistry ‘big ideas’ and my teaching will have in future:

How Big Ideas Shape My Teaching: The outsider’s view

I think I’ll use ‘big ideas’ to structure my content so as to assist in the broader understanding of the concepts. I’ll have to link up the ‘big ideas’ in geography with the ability to think geographically’. There is perhaps one overriding idea, which is: ‘understanding place and space through making connections between them’. Through the use of ‘big ideas’, many subsidiary ideas could be derived from this one ‘overriding idea’ for example places, space and scale (mapping out physically or mentally), connections, interdependence, environment, people and nature, process and system etc. By being able to come up with subsidiary ideas, it aids both the teachers and students to think about a framework that is more flexible and encompassing than a purely content led framework.

Take for instance the concept of uneven development. This concept is concerned with the uneven distribution of geographical phenomena in space and time. Through the ‘big idea’ of uneven development, students can then think of the many linkages that it has to other ideas such as physical and human features accounting for differences and unevenness, the consequences that these differences will have on the people living there. It also can lead students to the study of resource allocation.
However, in so doing, comprehension may exist but I’m sure meaning has definitely not been created. In order to make students be able to relate to whatever they are studying, their emotional commitments need to be tapped on. This then leads me to the next idea of how my teaching is going to shape ‘big ideas’.

How My Teaching Shapes Big Ideas: Experiences from an insider

I think it is important for the concepts taught to be both meaningful to the students as well as myself. So what if they know that there is the uneven resource allocation happening in some parts of the world and hence is the cause of the whole ‘big idea’ of uneven development? Are they able to relate to the people in these countries? Hence in order for them to see the relevance of what they are learning, perhaps a project of some sort should be incorporated into the topic of uneven development. So how about getting the students to ‘build’ their own countries from scratch? They get to pre-determine the assets that their country has. Along with development, we will then see which are the countries that are striving well and which are struggling for survival. In so doing, the ‘big idea’ concept of uneven development is not directly taught but rather, students work with knowledge over time. They get to learn from mistakes and improve, get the feel of the positive and negative consequences of their decisions.

Hence all in all, I’m attempting to teach through two perspectives: one is from the outside where students are introduced to the subsidiary ideas of the ‘big idea’ and how they see the linkages between the big and the subsidiary ideas; on the other hand, I would also wish for them to partake from the inside so as to get an insider view of the whole idea of uneven development through their involvement of building their own country.
No doubt the use of ‘big ideas’ are good and should be the basis for planning schemes of work and units of study, I still have some reservations. One of the problems that I foresee is associated with identifying which are the most important ideas. Will the use of ‘big ideas’ oversimplifies the nature of understanding? I don’t think I have an answer for that now so I hope that through experience, I’ll be able to answer my own question.