Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Authentic Learning Revisited

A conversation I had with Clay Burell over the last few days has encouraged him to write is latest Blog posting.  My question to Clay related to school assessment in authentic learning projects and how this could be done effectively and efficiently.  While Clay suggested that summative assessment should only occur when the students are ready for this to occur, the formative process should be ongoing.  While I was thinking perhaps self and peer assessment as an important part of the mix.  Clay then digressed into a description of presentations by gifted and talented students and how their talents could be better appreciated and shared in a public way by having them develop their own Blogs--no arguments here.

Anyway, I've been contemplating this Blog posting for a while and it came to me this morning on my way to work.  In second term /semester this year my wife and I are taking a 3 month break and traveling up into the Australian Wilderness of Cape York Peninsular.  We plan to work and holiday during this time, Sue as a nurse and me as a relief/contract teacher. 
           Image Courtesy of Flickr
Cape York is wild wilderness country with most of its residents indigenous Australians.  Many of the communities are remote and isolated and have some of the worst school student performance statistics in Australia.
A recent conversation I had a human resource person in our education department suggested that I might like to consider designing and developing a 3 or 4 week project for some of the older school students who are disengaged and disinterested in their learning.  I teach my pre-service teachers authentic project based learning so I thought that it would be a good idea to operationalise what I teach and develop a project, so here's what I've thought of so far today:

The community is called Aurukun and is located a 100km or so south of Weipa which is a mining town and the only place in  "the Cape" {a Queenslander way of referring to towns--Mt Isa (the Isa)--Cloncurry (the Curry)} that has significant numbers of "whitefellas".  In Aurukun English is often a third language for school aged students with "Wik Mungkan" the first language and an aboriginal "Creole" the second.  While school attendance has improved recently with the introduction of a strict alcohol and income management programs, many of the older kids have missed a great deal of schooling through absenteeism.  Many of the Aurukun kids also suffer from Otitis Media, often referred to as "Glue Ear".
Disengaged kids call for an engaging project with real and authentic outcomes.
First I thought about making short community stories using digital storytelling, because it's been done before and these students like using the technology and seeing themselves on tape, but I'm not one to necessarily do what has been done before.  So I thought of taking a more holistic approach and have each activity follow on from the last.
In Aurukun everyone fishes. 
The estuary where the community are located has some of the best fishing in Australia with many of the prized eating species can be easily caught.  So the project will be begin with fishing and end with a meal.  The authentic trigger will go something like this:

"In a world where fish stocks are dramatically declining, the Wik people are world leaders in the management of their marine resources in ways that demonstrate sustainability of fish stocks in numbers that existed when Aurukun was formed by the missionaries in 1904.  The Australian government in recognising this exceptional example of "Responsible Custodianship" have asked if the community could prepare a learning package that could be used across all of Australia's schools and be a part of the implementation of the new Australian National School Curriculum.
Your job is to work together in small teams to design and develop learning packages that will teach Australian children :
  • how to fish
  • the biology of healthy fish
  • how indigenous people manage their fishing resources
  • how to clean fish
  • how to cook fish
  • what it means to have a tribal and personal totem
  • how fishing fits into the land, language and culture of indigenous Australians.
Your learning packages will need to be delivered electronically so that all Australian schools can easily access.

Your packages will be reviewed by a team of pre-service teachers from CQ University students undertaking eLearning studies and they will provide valuable feedback to you before the learning package submission to the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the honorable Jenny Macklin MP and the Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the honorable Julia Gillard."

 Project Duration: 4 weeks

Learning Areas: English, Media, Technology,  Science, SOSE

Thanks to Clay for stirring  me into a posting.


CB said...

There's beauty in that project on so many levels--especially that of the pleasure in the challenge it will bring the students to share what's good and special in their lives--that I'll take the mid-wife's credit any day. Nice.

As for peer- and self-assessing, depending on how they're done and on the quality of the student being asked to do them, I can see your point. I think what you may be seeing (and it's something I'm seeing across the b-sphere from teachers creaking under the assessment burden) in me right now is a self-preservation instinct toward sustainability.

Wikis are dangerous because they have so many features begging a teacher to assess them all. In the analog world, it's like deciding to assess each erasure of a student draft. Blech, you know?

But periodical self-assessment and/or peer-, sure. Especially if viewed as a "check or minus" type completion task, instead of turned into something agonizing.

Enjoyed your post. Have fun on your trip.


Johanna said...

Wow Scot,
This feels rather like a hands on Real-life learning experience for me too as a GDLT student. Is this an ever increasing spiral of learning on a global scale!

I would love to get involved. Learning about peer assessment is important to me as I would like to spend time planning cool lessons, not marking.
Primary (P/T) FLEX

Scot said...

Hi Clay,

Thankyou for your words of encouragement and elaborations around your views on assessment.

With regard to self and peer assessment, I'm currently trialling SPARK PLUS ( which is an updated (beefed up) version of the old product developed by a couple of my colleagues at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). I've used the old version previously to provide formative and final summative feedback in group/team projects and it has worked very well in terms of developing what are often called generic skills and attributes, or "soft skills" in students.
SPARK makes the team members responsible for making their team work and discriminating between team members in terms of performance for the final project outcome.
Most importantly, it makes team work fairer in terms of assessment and this is a real plus for students and teachers. A by-product can also be a lighter marking load by marking one product as apposed to 6 or 7. Quality is invariably higher as well and student teams regularly exceed my expectations which are already quite high.
If after you have read about SPARK PLUS you are interested in trialling the product let me know and I'll refer you to the project manager who is keen to collaborate and achieve joint research outcomes.

Once again many thanks for taking the time to provide some feedback on my posting.



Scot said...

Hi Johanna,

Many thanks for your kind comments.
Follow the link in my response to Clay and perhaps we could chat about this on one of our ICTs4LD forums.



LJMRocky said...

Hi Scot
Great idea on embracing local culture and using indigenous perspectives. I would love to be involved in the project on any level. I have a real passion for this area of Australia and have been involved in many programs with AFL Cape york (
The program with AFL Cape York focused on developing positive role models in the community and future leaders. I have also been involved in developing AFL programs in Woorabinda and in particular the AFL kickstart program that is based on indigenous youth focusing on excelling in thier eductaion.

Look forward to hearing from you.



Natalie Arthur - GDLT Student (Primary; part-time) said...

Hi Scot - I like your idea for this project and you are really leading by example.

I am now just contemplating my Assessment 3 Action Plan and trying to come up with an authentic Learning situation for my year 6/7 students that incorporates Alternative Energy and Sustainability.

Reading your post has given me an idea. I may ask my students, as part of their learning about use of energy, energy sources etc., to find ways to use less energy in their classroom. My MT has told me that she wants a sky light installed in her room and so this could also be part of the lesson, where students design an 'environmentally friendly classroom' and research the costs etc. involved in installing a sky light. Lots of ICT's involved of course, and then they could donate their research to the school and perhaps other interested parties further afield.

Mmmm - you've got me thinking - thanks for that! :-)

Natalie Arthur

Scot said...

Hi Natalie,

I like your idea for a project--authentic, neat and real-world.



Caro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolyne Thornton said...

Hi Scot, I hope you get to implement your idea for Cape York students. I think it is excellent and would definitely engage the students, being so relevant to their lives. I hope I can be involved in similar learning designs in my future teaching career. From what you have said about SPARK,it sounds like an effective and efficient method of assessment.