My best lesson - Collaborative learning is only a marker pen away

10th January 2014 at 00:00

I have recently started using a new learning strategy for my chemistry classes that I picked up on Twitter via the hashtag #modchem. (I highly recommend checking out the conversations that use this hashtag as they are always really helpful.)

The strategy is called "whiteboarding". Essentially it involves students writing on whiteboards while working in groups - solving problems or drawing graphs and diagrams together. It is a fantastic way of engineering collaborative learning and I have adapted it slightly for my own classroom.

First, set up groups of students and get them to sit at lab tables. If you can, give a whiteboard to each group. If you don't have the resources for this, hand out neon whiteboard markers so that the students can instead draw directly on the table.

One student takes the marker pen and begins working on the problem assigned with the help of his or her peers. The students are encouraged to work together and discuss the right answer or process while the "scribe" notes everything down on the desk.

Once the students are finished, check their work - providing instant feedback - and snap a photo of the lab table if they are correct. If they need help getting the right answer, make quick suggestions and get the students to correct their calculations.

When everybody is done, each lab table gets a wipe down with a wet towel and the process starts again. I generally change the groups so that the students have a new mix of people to work with.

The students really engage with the task and the group dynamic means that they gain additional skills instead of just learning the content. The photographed work also makes for a great revision tool. Once the lesson is over, I post the pictures to a shared folder on my SkyDrive online storage space and students can go back to it later if they need a refresher.

Lowell Thomson teaches chemistry at the American International School of Bucharest, Romania

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