Lesson plans/creative ideas for stretching intelligent students?
February 15, 2018 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I am teaching students at one of the most prestigious schools in a capital European city. Three months before the end of term I am running out of steam and some of the kids are bored. Help?!

First off I have been put in an awkward position since the beginning of my contract as a 'teaching assistant'. Although I had one year of teaching experience, I wanted to assist in order to shadow teachers before returning to education to get a proper teaching degree. However, I have been teaching children alone in the classroom since day one. Because the pros outweighed the cons, I stayed.

I have been given three main topics to cover throughout the year: Environment (tackling vegetarianism/veganism, ocean plastics); Technology (social media, new technologies like robots and the Alexa); and ethical issues in general. Last week a few kids told me they are sick of these topics, as they do them every year and one kid in particular has not been attending class at all, which is something of a separate issue. Sometimes it is the luck of the draw: one class will truly engage with a lesson I plan and the next will barely engage.

These kids, aged 16-18, are applying to Harvard, Oxford and those top kinds of institutions. While as an assistant I am only meant to facilitate their learning, I have been put n the position of being a teacher and I am running out of ideas 5 months in. Can you help kickstart my brain and creativity? I am open to trying the occasional lesson that covers topics not strictly inside the themes I mentioned.
posted by Willow251 to Education (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Odyssey of the Mind presents a new set of interesting problems each year. Perhaps something there would spark an idea?
posted by soelo at 3:00 PM on February 15, 2018

Perhaps run a mini Ethics Bowl competition in your classes? Find three or four cases that you think would interest the students and align with your topics, split the classes into teams, and have them figure out where they stand on the cases, and the ethical principles/thinking that can support their thinking. Note that the cases don't have direct questions in them - there are a number of questions that could be asked about each case, and it's up to the students to think through these in their teams and determine their stance, and then think on their feet when you actually ask the questions you've developed during the debate.

Did this in college, absolutely loved it.
posted by Jaclyn at 3:27 PM on February 15, 2018

Here are a few ideas

A film that may spark discussion:

This Changes Everything it may even lean toward service work.

A series on Assistive technology for people with disabilities- Aimee Mullins has a Ted Talk or two. Stella Young and Maysoon Zayid are engaging on that platform, as is deep-sea diving in a wheelchair. Susan Robinson speaks about how she fails at being disabled. Wanda Diaz Merced is a blind astronomer.

Ray Kurzweil is an engineer that provides deep thought on technology, biology and humanity.
posted by childofTethys at 3:45 PM on February 15, 2018

Can you set up a self directed study module where they pick one topic of interest to them within the specified categories, become a subject matter expert, and present to the class/“teach” their fellow students about their chosen topic?
posted by nathaole at 4:11 PM on February 15, 2018

Can you ask them to teach you what they understand about these topics? Can they come up with new questions? Do they have opinions that take you beyond the points covered in the curriculum? What do they agree or disagree with about what they've been taught previously? How would they debate these topics with one another?

I ask because the topics you've mentioned are all rapidly evolving and there may be some new angle to mine there on how we assemble 'knowledge' and 'practice' in fields that change constantly.
posted by freya_lamb at 5:51 PM on February 15, 2018

The Skype A Scientist program can put you in touch with folks looking to do video chats with students about specific areas of expertise.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:31 PM on February 15, 2018

Here are some random topics and resources relevant to ethics that could maybe jumpstart your thoughts, even if they're not directly usable:
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:54 AM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Assuming they're going off to higher education, it would be invaluable for them to learn to do independent research with minimal support. Your role would be to provide scaffolded check-ins and guidance, but the bulk of the hands-on learning and production will be done by them. As they're older students, this is an excellent time to put all their skills into place by pursuing something of interest. This is some info about how independent studies can work--there's tons of online stuff so you will not be creating the check ins and structure.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 4:17 AM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about tackling ethics in history with historical "reacting to the past" games? They were originally developed for use at the college level and the students I know who have participated have really, really enjoyed them. Here's a summary:
Reacting to the Past (RTTP) consists of elaborate games, set in the past, in which students are assigned roles informed by classic texts in the history of ideas. Class sessions are run entirely by students; instructors advise and guide students and grade their oral and written work. It seeks to draw students into the past, promote engagement with big ideas, and improve intellectual and academic skills. Reacting roles, unlike those in a play, do not have a fixed script and outcome, so while students will be obliged to adhere to the philosophical and intellectual beliefs of the historical figures they have been assigned to play, they must devise their own means of expressing those ideas persuasively, in papers, speeches, or other public presentations; and students must also pursue a course of action they think will help them win the game.
posted by mosst at 7:32 AM on February 16, 2018

Yea, nthing independent research project. I did the IB program and one thing I really liked was that we had to do an extended research project where you had a teacher as an adviser to guide you through (mine was terrible, probably didn't understand the topic, didn't tell me that doing a literature review for a biology paper was a fast track to nearly failing). But despite all that, I really enjoyed learning about a really random topic that interested me (viral vectors for gene therapy). Along the way, I learned not only how to navigate databases but also how to teach myself enough basics in immunology, virology, and genetics to understand how to interpret said scientific articles. Learning all that definitely put me ahead of the curve for college (and infinitely ahead of the curve in my current graduate program).

While kiddos are doing their own research, would it be feasible for you to bring in professionals who work in those fields to talk to the kids? It could give them more ideas about various fields they could pursue in the future. For example, you can bring in a speech pathologist who works with nonverbal kids who use various assistive speech devices. Or someone who works in the municipal water treatment plant. Or even a local professor who just has interesting sounding research. Or even a grad student who just finished a cool environmental project in another part of the world.
posted by astapasta24 at 11:13 AM on February 16, 2018

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