Authors: Mario De Mauro, Milva Antonelli, Daniela Fiorentini, Massimiliano Loroni
Our learning scenario (LS) is centred on an existing topic, Climate Change and Sustainable Development. Bearing in mind that learning engagement is a good predictor of success, we are convinced that a real-life topic can stimulate students’ commitment around school subjects. If pupils have interests related to the topic, that is both tangible and related to their lives, school activities could also be more appealing for them to participate and gain new awareness and comprehension that go beyond notional knowledge.
Why did we choose this topic? There are more than one reason. First of all, it is a relevant part of our curriculum since it has been introduced by Italian Ministry Guidelines on Civics published according to the law n. 92 promulgated on 20th August 2019, titled “Introduzione dell’insegnamento scolastico dell’educazione civica”. Accordingly, Italian schools have had to organize a cross curricular course focused on three core subjects: Italian Constitution, Sustainability and Digital Citizenship.
Secondly, our point of view has changed since the pandemic has occurred. Now, we are aware that we may not be able to control the consequences, which are trigger by man-made forcing. Science is telling us that our lives cannot continue this way, changes have to be made. As adults we find the current situation quite challenging due to sudden modification of our habits, needless to say for a child or an adolescent. As teachers we are in charge to lead young people to cope with these challenges. We must stimulate and promote their agency, let them know that they have the ability and the will to positively influence their own lives and the environment around them! The way to do this is to build a safe and stimulating school community, to help them to actively explore their resources, to invest energy in STEM learning, to use their creativity, and to encourage them to maximise their potential.
Where should we start to enter our story? First, the design of the activity was a great opportunity to work as a team with colleagues and to put into practice all the knowledge gained during the online course. Yes, we are talking about the MOOCs provided by European Schoolnet Academy, it all started from there and the need to come up with a different approach to teaching. Even if lockdown has represented a new milestone in the teaching habits of all teachers, we were even more motivated to promote Active Learning in the classrooms.
We took several courses, but “STEM Is Everywhere! Rerun” & “Integrated STEM Teaching for Secondary Schools” in particular, were MOOCs both challenging and intrinsically satisfying. Finally, it was during the workshop organized by Future Classroom Lab, namely “Active Learning in Hybrid Classroom”, that we found the last piece of the missing puzzle: the use of virtual rooms for teamwork in small groups, the use of tools for instant polling and gamification. We would keep our words: to give students a say and a role even in online classes. The design of activities and tasks are therefore important to create educative interactions involving also the timid and reluctant students to participate. Without further ado, undo, we shall move on to the next step.
Materials and methods
The main idea is to provide students with opportunities to learn and discuss the meaningful aspects of the topic and then, to design an effective climate action that they are to require to carry out. We started introducing information and material such as charts, videos, and infographic, available in the UN websites related to the Paris Agreement, the action programme Agenda2030 and the Sustainable Development Goal 13. Then we moved on to explore the evidence of global warming, of which the IPCC web site provides informative and comprehensible charts. The subsequent step was to explore the correlation between technological progresses, growth of global population, exploitation of natural resources over time and in different continents. To achieve this, OurWorldinData web site is a useful source with comparable charts and data. Finally, we deepened the understanding of the scientific principle behind the greenhouse effect by using a free simulation on the PHET online platform.
Our activities involved 62 students of the last year of the upper secondary school and took place between the 1st of March 2021 and the 26th of April 2021 during the lockdown, so they were held online using the Learning Management System that provided each member of our school community with tools for online learning.
According to Laurillard Conversational Frameworks, we tried to plan well balanced activities and tasks to train different abilities and to address different learning styles. Each Teaching Learning Activities (TLA) was designed giving students the opportunity to receive feedback on their products, to acquire new information through different kinds of tasks, to work and discuss with classmates and teachers. In particular, virtual rooms were used to allow students to work in small groups. Each group activity was designed with the aim to create opportunity for teamwork.
At the end of each lesson, an “End Lesson Survey” was conducted. Usually, it was divided into two sections; the first containing open questions which help students to reflect on their comprehension and knowledge gained. Questions could vary according to the type of activity. The second section was structured to allow students to provide feedback on the materials given and on the teacher’s explanation. It also allowed the opportunity for the students to give suggestions to improve the whole activity.
But now let’s have a look at our experience!
In the first meeting digital questionnaires were delivered to the students to test their current knowledge; then the teacher explained the objectives of the project and the task to be accomplished, which was to design a manifesto to attract interest of other students/citizens on Climate Change and tips to save carbon budget.
The second meeting was a brainstorming session: students watched videos introducing causes and effects of global warming and answered questions aimed to link previous knowledge gained, to information shown on the video. The questions were answered individually first and then within the groups. By discussing the answers, the main ideas on the topics were collected and teachers would guide the students by correcting misconceptions or integrating information. The teacher provided materials for asynchronous detailed study on Climate Change, Greenhouse Effect, Agenda 2030 and Paris Agreement.
The third meeting was a Team-based Learning Activity: students took individual Readiness Assurance Tests. The test provided automatic feedback containing instructions and links to guide the student. Then, they repeated the test in groups. They dealt with peers to answer the questions by pooling their knowledge. To engage group discussion, the test was carried out on Quizziz platform. This tool created an opportunity to participate in a team challenge. The test was split into four different quiz sessions, one for each subject: Agenda 2030 and SDG13, Paris Agreement, Greenhouse effect and climate change. In this way it was possible to retain a high level of students’ participation.
The fourth meeting tasks was based on contents of Prof. Jeffrey D. Sachs’s talk: students watched the video at home, and they took note of the most important notions. The class activity got the students to answer ten open-ended questions based on the video content, which pupils answered in groups. Secondly, each member was asked to elaborate the answers individually by filling in his/her own Google Form. This way, the teacher could identify misconceptions and provide timely feedback or explain further to confute wrong ideas.
The fifth meeting implied the use of an online Greenhouse Effect Simulation – sensemaking by observing photons: this is a guided Inquiry Based Activity where students discovered interaction of photons with molecules in earth’s atmosphere and surface using a simulator model on Phet Active Simulation platform. Teachers guided the students in the activity, inviting them to follow instructions. These were initially designed by Amy Rouinfar and then reassessed by the teachers to match all the planned learning goals. The results in terms of summary and conclusions were corrected by the teachers and a final, detailed explanation was given to the students together with text and videos for a better comprehension.
Skype an expert: This activity was made possible thanks to the University of Camerino in collaboration with University of Turin. The students participated in a meeting with a UN Climate Change Expert, Dr. Andrea Camponagara whose speech was aimed to highlight the main aspects of his career as a Programme Officer at UNFCCC Secretariat. Students were encouraged to ask questions on the topic.
Infographic design (teachers set an agreement with pupils to establish a deadline): Each group has been asked to design a poster or an infographic summarizing all the information gathered. Students were aware of the criteria used to evaluate their work. They were also provided with materials to get information on how to design an infographic. The assignment has been provided with all information needed, criteria for self-assessment and peer assessment, with regards to commitment and preparation on the design of the activity. In addition, students were required to learn how to use images and citations to avoid plagiarism.
Peer review activity (teachers set an agreement with pupils to establish a deadline): Each member of the group was in charge of evaluating their peers’ infographics according to the rubric criteria. The aim was to deepen comprehension of both contents and assessment criteria, so they were better equipped in completing the task. Students were asked to leave constructive feedback for their peers. To achieve this aim, instructions were provided to improve pupils’ ability to objectively highlight the strengths and weaknesses to their peers, offering suggestions to improve the infographic.
Infographic evaluation: Taking into consideration the feedback received during the peer review activity, students could make any changes to their work before presenting it to the teachers. Teachers then evaluated the posters/infographics according to the rubric criteria. We evaluated also the students’ ability to self-assess and peer-assess. Each student was also asked to assess his/her own and their group mates’ commitment, according to the criteria provided.
We used formative assessment as the main type of assessment and it was quite useful in evidencing misconception from pupils. Thanks to the use of LMS, it was also possible to check if each student has fulfilled the asynchronous task properly and within the deadline. In the light of results, it was possible to have a profile of all students’ needs with regards to the project and to provide both personal feedback and materials to acquire deeper competence on subjects. In this way it was possible to focus on those that appear as relevant gaps to learning goals.
The use of “end lesson surveys” was extremely useful to understand students’ comprehension. Students expressed their perceptions obtained from the materials given to them and from the teachers’ explanation. They were also capable of pointing out areas which they did not understand completely. To achieve this aim, they needed to reflect on the activities being carried out. This process was useful for fostering their metacognitive skills and for aiding students to orientate their efforts toward academic success. Survey responses were also helpful to identify any students who express further interest in the topic.
In conclusion, according to Partnership for the 21st Century framework (P21) we tried to develop creativity, life and career skills, information e media literacy, soft and hard skills, by mixing one of the most important topics of our century to the core of the subjects we teach. It goes without saying that this is just a start to innovate teaching. Collaboration among teachers must be systematic and the frequency of such learning scenarios should be significant during the whole period of training of students, with the aim of growing benefits and results. Both students and teachers need time to fine tune their effort to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
On the other hand, it is clear that even if demanding, this pedagogical approach can stimulate the whole school community. Teachers must design engaging, meaningful and feasible activities and tasks for the students, avoiding too challenging stimuli. Accordingly, Formative Assessment is fundamental to design a personalized learning pattern. In this way, pupils have the chance to develop competencies enthusiastically, due to the engaging activities which are both intrinsically rewarding and interactive. As mentioned earlier on, as teachers we were implicitly stimulated, the teamwork and the eagerness to see our efforts being acknowledged in the community to which we are tied to, have given us a further will to improve our results.