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What makes wikid tick

The 'secret formula' behind the new wikid course from upd8, is a curriculum design called ‘cracking science’. It is a combination of a manifesto, and a set of 8 design principles which the upd8 team now lives and breathes. It sprang from a NESTA Fellowship where Tony Sherborne put together what the engagement experts know – in everything from movies to marketing, along with the most contemporary ideas in learning.

The cracking science manifesto says

  • Our first job as educators is to instil the right kind of motivation in pupils. The best way to describe this is 'motivation to Learn' (MTL). The other half of the battle is giving students a reasonable opportunity to learn.
  • MTL is not the same kind of motivation as 'having fun', nor is it about providing clear objectives. MTL expresses a choice that students make about engaging in meaningful learning strategies. This is the road less travelled and takes effort.
  • We have achieved MTL when students want to grapple with the concepts and make connections between things they learn. It is clear from research into conceptual change that we often do not achieve this. Instead students take the low road, memorising content that that is disconnected, 'inert', and soon fades
  • We have achieved MTL when students find meaning and purpose in science. Unfortunately, it is clear from research into students' attitudes (as well as low uptake of science subjects) that too many view science as 'important, but not for me'.
  • An MTL curriculum needs a clear set of design principles that are rigorously applied. Too many curricula use the right language but are simply old wine in new bottles.

The 8 cracking science principles for a curriculum

'cracking' is an acronym of 8 design principles distilled from theory, research and practice. Some relate to adapting the content so it’s more meaningful and accessible to students. Others focus on equipping the students so they can successfully understand the material.

Stage 1: shape the unit

1 Goals What do you really want students to understand and do? Our learning priorities need to be the 'Big Ideas' of science, and 'how science works' (concepts and skills). This principle expresses the notion of 'backwards design' - being clear about the end before the means. Only when we know the results (and evidence of students’ capabilities) can we work out what to teach. It's why the 8 principles spelling 'cracking' are applied in reverse order.

2 Narrative Science isn't content. It's the product of real people's hopes, passions and fears. Now 'characters' + 'events' = 'story'. Yet, somehow school science has neglected this most powerful way for students to make sense of experience. Research says that story structure makes ideas easier to remember, more accessible and more interesting. So we construct units around themes and missions, so student see more purpose to learning. Ideally they will experience each unit as a kind of an adventure story, not as a 'difficult or dull' topic.

In stage 2: map out the teaching sequences

3 Inquiry (or enquiry). Scientists all use this structured process to ask and answer questions. School science is often back-to-front, answering questions before students have ever asked them. Inquiry is the way to teach science if you want students to really understand how science works. Research suggests that students who experience inquiry-based teaching are more motivated in science. We use a powerful tool to promote the spirit of inquiry - the 'Essential Question'. This is a short, provocative question that automatically leads students to uncover the Big Idea. Sharing learning objectives using essential questions can paradoxically be more powerful for achieving your objectives than displaying a list of outcomes! Why? Because it helps students to take ownership of their learning.

4 Know-how If our aim is for pupils to transfer what they have learned to the real world, then 'knowhow' should be as big a part of assessment and teaching as 'know that'. The best test of understanding is what students can do in an authentic situation - either what a scientist has to do - or someone that uses science like a ‘citizen’. What this 'Performance based' assessment does is enable students to bring together not just facts but concepts, science skills and personal, learning and thinking skills. They’re not easy to construct well, but they provide greater validity than standard test assessments.

5 Constructivism One of the most important factors in learning is what pupils already know - or often - misunderstand. Much science teaching is done by what's called 'direct instruction'. It works for some purposes, but it doesn't give students a lasting understanding they can apply in the future. We need to activate previous knowledge, elicit misconceptions and most importantly, devote sufficient time to the difficult business of convincing pupils to accept counter-intuitive ideas. This is the constructivist approach. Students actively build ideas through experience and reflection. We use the 7E's learning framework to make this teaching style easy to implement. It provides ample opportunity for formative assessment.

In stage 3: create the activities

Science concepts require mental effort. We need all the techniques at our disposal.

6 Affect Emotions are as important to learning as rational thinking. Students need to care, if they're going to do the mental work of 'reconstructing' their ideas. There are a whole range of emotions and mental states we can create that to propel students forward, such as surprise, suspense, conflict, curiosity, empathy and disgust.

7 Relevance Another way to answer the 'why do I care?' question is through self-interest. We can hook students by approaching the content from an angle that is meaningful to their interests, concerns and stage of psycho-social development. This is different to saying that 'science in your everyday life' is relevant. Often familiar things are less interesting – you need to take a different angle.

8 Challenge Human beings naturally like to rise to a challenge, when it's pitched at a level that tests their current capability. Activities designed in this way can secure pupils' motivation, and push them to achieve beyond what they might with more routine tasks. They think more deeply and gain a greater sense of achievement. We also make tasks arise naturally from the context, so that students feel it is a real challenge.

Cracking science © Tony Sherborne. Contact [email protected] for more details

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