Let the mouse decide on its trappings

14th March 2008 at 00:00
"Mousetraps," I cried. "That was it," agreed the young teacher as we tucked into our evening meal at the residential continuing professional development course.

He had been trying to recall the subject of an article I had written. All he could remember was that it involved a moral decision I had to make, a decision that he himself had been faced with.

When the quandary arose as to whether to buy a lethal rodent-catcher or one that caught the mouse but left it unharmed, I plumped for the former.

My fellow diner had taken a different approach. He bought one of each kind and gave the mouse a choice. Now, why didn't I think of that?

I have long said that children not only come up with ideas that teachers don't think of. They come up with ideas that teachers can't think of. My most recent example of this was a project with which I was involved. A team of West Lothian schoolchildren worked with architects and the staff of Glasgow's Lighthouse to design a science lab for the new millennium.

Now I have seen the power of other teachers coming up with ideas that I can't think of, and not just in the field of vermin control. Our latest courses have been two-parters with a gap-task in between.

A substantial part of the second stage involves participants presenting on what they have done in class as a result of attending the first two days. This is not homework. It is a way of multiplying ideas, and I felt its power the moment the first presenter began to speak and the rest began avidly to take notes.

There is more. I have now been out of classroom teaching for a year. I feel I can still talk with credibility on teaching approaches, but for how much longer? One thing I intend to do is to go into schools to try things out. Hey, why don't I come to yours?

Getting direct feedback from people who have been to a course is probably an even more powerful way of ensuring that what is being proposed is actually workable. I do not want to fall into the trap - humane or otherwise - of being a proponent of groovy-looking, but ultimately unworkable, science teaching activities.

Gregor Steele caught more mice than his young colleague.

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