Tuesday, May 08, 2007

When a Question becomes a Challenge

I like the idea of learning challenges. We used to do technology challenges - things like create a sequence of events which will result in a mouse trap being triggered and a balloon bursting or firing table tennis ball as below. I remember that small groups of children spent lots of time discussing, planning and executing their process.

I guess we don't tend to do this stuff any more because of "curriculum pressure" but I have been thinking about challenges and learning lately. Children often respond well to challenges. Often when I do some work with a class on Logo - a simple maths programming program - I find them in the ICT room at lunch time trying things out ....playing ...experimenting. This is in preference to more sophisticated bells and whistles type games which they could be using at lunch time. What is it about Logo which captures them?
I once set a challenge to design one click Logo bicycle using simple logo commands. Here is one boy's response:

How much time would this code have taken to think about, experiment with and check? Believe me, a lot of time!
Here's the result:

It's the same with something like Google SketchUp. Show children the basics and they will always take it further. Go into the ICT room at lunchtime at the moment end you will find half a dozen children experimenting with SketchUp.

Perhaps we need to include more challenges in everyday learning. Jamie McKenzie encourages questions which set up a challenge with the very nature of the question.

  • What did James Cook get wrong?
  • Was James Cook a good leader?
  • Which is the better city - Wellington or San Francisco?
  • What is the best thing about living in Wellington?
  • How will Helen Clarke be remembered?
  • What makes a good leader?
  • Why do people live at Castlepoint?
  • Should all endangered species be preserved?
  • What is the price of progress?
  • How is a hero different from a celebrity?
  • Why does the rain fall?

Or the challenge of "decoding" an image. Look for an image you can use on Flickr:

What is this all about?
How was it created?
Is there a story behind it?
What does it say?

Creative Commons Originally uploaded by ocean.flynn.

Or a riddle:
What is so fragile that when you say its name you break it?

It amounts to persuading children to leap off the scaffolding - both that provided by teacher support and the "scaffolding" of raw information. Any learner can copy and paste but can any learner use the information to answer a challenging question or resolve a challenge?

In the next few weeks I want to reinforce the ways in which ICT especially can help create think inducing challenges.

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