I used the PEEL database to search science in years 9-12, and using the principle “build a classroom environment that supports risk-taking.” I found an interesting article entitled “Challenge the right answer.” In this article, the teacher gave students a very basic skeleton of a note, that did not include errors, but did not give all the information students needed to know. It was about states of matter – solid, liquid, and gas, and particle motion. Based on what was given, students were encouraged to use the information to challenge the principles and ask questions, like “why doesn’t water leak out between the particles in a cup” to eventually come up with a better understanding of the states. This lesson would work for any intermediate science course, but best for grade nine science, when learning about the particle theory and states of matter, and then again in grade eleven chemistry, as an introduction to the course, as the various states of matter are examined throughout each unit.
This practice promotes risk taking, because often students are worried about challenging what a teacher says – thinking that they know all and that they will be made fun of for asking a question – they may think the question is stupid. Applied classes are the best for challenging the teacher – the students tend to not be as afraid to ask questions and some of the questions, although may be ones that we think they should know, are still asked, explained, and often further questioning ensues. Academic students do not always ask as many questions and are more shy when it comes to challenging what is being taught. Having students come up with questions against your teaching is another method – this can be done orally or written down and collected, and then reviewed. Teachers could also ask a few of these “confusing” questions to start to get other questions flowing. Whatever method, students should learn that it is okay to challenge the answers to questions or data. This method would also work with the principle “Promote exploratory, tentative and hypothetical talk.”
Another article entitled “Reach Consensus” is another way to promote risk-taking. Students work in groups to brainstorm and ultimately come up with a solution to a question or problem. Students must work together to come up with a consensus of the answer – it should not be a simple plug in and solve question, but one that they have not seen directly before, where they can use their background knowledge from the course and from personal experience to brainstorm ideas. This could be as simple as asking “why are we learning this concept” – they would put down multiple answers and decide on the best one as a group to present to the class. This encourages risk taking in a group and peer setting, rather than directed at the teacher. This activity could again work with the states of matter and particle theory, or any individual science lesson for that matter. I am going to try this activity as an introduction to the next grade ten science unit I start.
Learning Point Associates. (2004). Reach Consensus. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/educatrs/profdevl/pd2reach.htm. Accessed 9 February 2011
Peel Publications. (1995). Challenge the Right Answer. Learning from the PEEL Experience (pp. 229). Accessed 9 Febuary 2011