The design of classroom activities

The FaSMEd partners have an excellent track record of designing activities for the classroom.

However, we in FaSMEd could make explicit reference to the literature in order to develop our own principles. For example, a paper about designing learning environments to promote conceptual change in science, Vosnaidou et al (2001), provide some guiding principles in this respect. They suggest that:

  • Learning environments should support active learning and guide the students towards the acquisition of self-regulated processes
  • Schools should encourage children to work with other children and learn from them in ways that take into consideration their individual differences.
  • Curricula should allow deep exploration and understanding of a few key concepts in one subject-matter area
  • Designers should take into account the relational structure in which the concepts of a domain are acquired
  • The design of instruction should consider how students see the physical world and provide support for students as they reorganize their existing knowledge
  • Learning environments should allow students to express their representations and beliefs, perhaps in group discussions
  • Teachers should be aware of the differences between new information that is consistent with prior knowledge and new information that runs contrary to prior knowledge.
  • Learning environments should provide motivation for students to put time and effort into persuading students to re-examine their preconceptions by exposing them to meaningful experiences.
  • Cognitive conflict should be used carefully.
  • Instruction should be model-based, rather than only linguistically and/or mathematically based.

Malcolm Swan (2008) suggests that design principles for learning experiences (tools in FaSMEd’s case) should be drawn from an analysis of the purposes of the learning experience and the learning theories related to these purposes. He cautions that principles guide, rather than determine, the way a product/tool/learning experience is designed. For him, the following principles are key:

  • building collaborative discussion into experiences
  • focusing directly on significant conceptual obstacles
  • building on the knowledge students already have
  • creating tension and cognitive conflict that may be resolved through discussion
  • using tasks that are ‘accessible, extendable, encourage decision-making, creativity and higher order questioning’
  • using multiple representations to create connections and
  • using tasks that allow students to shift roles and explain and teach one another.

For Primas and Mascil, some of the principles underpinning the design of classroom activities were written into the Description of Work: for both Inquiry Learning was key, and for Mascil, connecting classroom learning to the World of Work was also important.

Other designers will have their own principles and FaSMEd will need to agree on the principles they adopt. Our view is that it is important to be explicit about such principles and to be clear about why and how they are used to guide the design of our toolkit.

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