Learn By Doing

learn by doing

|  By Mitchell Leggo  |

Now in my 20th year involved with the scouting movement, I stop to reflect upon how this period has impacted upon me as a person. In doing so, I have found that scouting, particularly my time as a leader, has significantly influenced my approach to the classroom and interaction with students. The design of activities, approach to assessment and my interpretation of the syllabus returns to the key tenet of modern scouting – youth led, adult supported. Taking this attitude has improved the quality of my science teaching.

At its core, scouting takes the educational approach of learn, do, teach. Initially, scouts are challenged to learn a new skill, be it a new knot, the use of a compass or how to change the mantle on a gas lantern. Once this skill has been developed, scouts are then asked to demonstrate this skill for their leader. Having now validated their learning, scouts, to achieve their final award, must pass this knowledge onto younger scouts beginning their journeys, teaching them the skill. It is here that lies the genius of the method. Youth are empowered to take control of their own learning. They are in the driver’s seat.

How does this aid in the learning process? This takes three forms:

• A student (scout) that sees the relevance of the learning is more likely to engage with the task.

• A student that is in control of the learning has ownership of it and is more likely to access the learning, internalising the skill or outcome.

• A student that teaches another is challenged to review his learning, self-assessing as he goes, modifying and reworking his knowledge to communicate its components.

Take a look at this process in action. The final challenge to a scout is his adventurer expedition, a three-day unassisted hike in unfamiliar terrain; quite a task for a 14-year-old. The journey to this point is one of learning. A pioneer scout plans his first overnight hike with his patrol leader, a mentor who is most likely finalising his own award scheme. Through this process, the patrol leader is refining his own expedition skills while imparting knowledge to his pioneer. Having passed pioneer, the now explorer scout demonstrates his skills to his scout leader, independently planning their second overnight hike and leading a patrol through the expedition. Having now reached the end of his journey, the scout is now in the position to pass on his skills to others while undertaking his final unassisted expedition.

The process of learn, do, teach guides the scout through his journey, gradually progressing the level of skills in targeted areas, but also expanding upon the independence of the developing young person. This model generates young leaders and fosters a maturity that cannot be achieved through rote, guided learning.

Transferring this philosophy initially to a school setting, I undertook to adjust the delivery of the school’s Duke of Edinburgh program. Students conducted their expeditions on replanned routes, were given lists of required equipment and guided by staff members during the expeditions. This model left little room for student independence or exploratory learning. Students effectively moved through the motions of the expedition, following the recipe of the award. When questioned why they were doing things the way they were, many students replied, “We were told to do it.” No understanding had been gained and minimal skills had been developed.

Opening the program to include a series of checkpoints, to which the students were required to plan their route between points, introduced student ownership of the expedition. Furthermore, students were divided back into patrols from which to plan their menus, camping and equipment, learning from each other’s mistakes and effectively teaching each other their campcraft skills. Of course, staff continue to supervise these walks, but have now moved into the mentoring role, asking questions of the students to foster problem solving rather than giving direct instruction.

The core business of teachers, however, remains in the classroom, where the ideals of student-led, adult-assisted learning still apply. Attending Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, I was shown the importance of context in classrooms. Learning outside a context has little relevance or meaning. It is simple to teach the theory behind heat transfer in materials, perform a series of experiments to illustrate conduction, convection and radiation, and have students recall these again. Although, in six months’ time or so, when students are asked again, many will not be able to apply these concepts to an unseen problem.

If concepts such as these are taught in a real-world context, that students take ownership of, they are able to work their learning into a form that takes meaning for them, are more likely to engage in the learning process and, as a result, retain the key elements of the skill or mechanism. Reworking the above example into a context of developing a heat shield for the space shuttle or developing the Dragon capsule of the Space Launch System, students are provided with a purpose for their learning. Once again, they are in the driver’s seat of the project, experimenting and applying the set of working scientific skills through a common problem. The teacher’s role takes the form of mentor, asking guided questions to promote problem solving instead of providing students with the answer when issues arise.

The idea of a completely student-centred curriculum is nice; however, the realities of a classroom, assessment requirements and constraints of a school environment will always remain a challenge. However, it is not a challenge worth abandoning, it is simply a problem to work through. It is for this reason that we have developed our STEAM group within the school. Through curriculum integration, science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics (STEAM) come together to be taught in a real-world context. Through this extracurricular group, we have been able to trial projects between our faculties and look forward to integrating them into the mainstream delivery of lessons.

The STEAM program focuses upon the skills of each key learning area rather than their targeted content. This has allowed for students to develop their own context of interest in which learning is to occur. Within each project, students are provided a brief, move to plan their response in groups and are finally challenged to communicate their findings to an audience. Groups are formed with a range of student abilities, with students from years nine and ten mentoring younger students. This allows our juniors to learn their content while older students self-assess their understanding as they teach. As a whole, through their final communication of the project, students demonstrate the level of their learning.

In the two years of the STEAM program, students have designed and launched rockets from the school oval, programmed robots and developed mazes for them to navigate, engineered a glove to replace the functions of a keyboard, built bridges and towers from household items and explored various applications of light in a display reflecting a miniature Vivid exhibition. All project briefs were student-developed based upon individual interests, current events or media articles. Initially beginning with six students, the STEAM group has grown by word of mouth to include 54 students from years seven to eleven, all working together in a coherent team in a completely student-led program. I can say my greatest pleasure as a teacher was being informed by one of our STEAM year ten leaders I had not completed my homework of permission forms for their excursion to a local STEM competition. At this point I knew the program was working as intended – student directed, adult assisted.

Having achieved a functional, extracurricular student program in STEAM, our challenge now stands as how to integrate this model into the mainstream delivery of classes. It will take the coordination of faculties across the school in order to achieve this effectively and an alignment of our individual teaching programs to address the required skills and content in each field. These are challenges, but the value and richness of the learning that successful results will bring is worth pursuing – developing independent, mature students that have a love of learning and move on to serve as productive leaders and citizens of our community.

Mitchell Leggo has been a teacher for five years and is the District Scout Leader for Yanagin in the Sydney North Region. Applying his passion for the outdoors, Mitchell has begun to explore the power behind immersive education, prompting students to learn by doing. He has instigated a STEAM group at his current school, led by students on real-world projects. He coordinates the Duke of Edinburgh program that has over 120 participants in this year’s cohort.

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