An aha! moment

When educators are new to LTT, we often encourage them to “just give it a go”. As a team, we have worked hard to create and develop a wide variety of resources, examples and guidance for everything from learning experience strategies to whole-school curriculum development. We are very serious about world changing learning, but we also know that for individual teachers, with all the pressures of running a classroom, there needs to be a real aha! moment to embrace this shift. Sometimes this comes from an inspirational LTT keynote or webinar or podcast, sometimes it comes from flicking through the Learning That Transfers book; usually it is the impact on students. For me, this moment came when I heard my student responses to the conceptual questions I was experimenting with around 5 years ago. When I saw the change in their thinking I knew I couldn’t go back. 


Last week I shared an example from my class of students in their final year of high school, the strategies I used were focusing on the Acquire Phase of learning – the ACT model is how we organise learning for transfer (see Chapter 1 of Learning That Transfers). Today I am rewinding to the very beginning of secondary (in my school that means Grade 5) and we are looking at the Connect Phase of learning. This is the first year these students have experienced formal Science lessons so the focus has been on what it means to be a scientist. For those of you who aren’t Science teachers and are one sentence away from clicking off this blog, don’t worry – there is something for everyone here. 

An LTT staple is the conceptual relationship question stems, the very same questions that caught my attention half a decade ago: 

Questions that Reveal How the World is Organized

What is the relationship or connection between _________ (concept) and ____________ (concept)?

How does ___________ (concept) impact/affect/influence __________ (concept)?

What effect do ____________ and ____________ have on ___________?

How do  ________ (concept) and  ____________ (concept) interact?

What is the role/purpose of __________(concept) in ________________ (concept)?

Find more conceptual question stems in the Chapter 4 resources (also in Spanish and French), greater detail about them on P15 of Learning That transfers, and a ‘Next-Day Strategy walk through on P41.  

Whatever your discipline, try plugging in concepts that are important for the learning focus of your lesson, series of lessons or whole unit and pose the questions to your students to see what ideas they express. I would love you to take some photos of student work or share your experiences. You might also like to make a note and compare how you and your students grow throughout the year. Contact details at the end. 

Lesson walk through

Below I will walk you through the 5th Grade lesson. I think this is a great example to start with; I have only just met these students so this way of thinking is new to them and their answers are far from mind blowing. What I like about this example, though, is that it shows you that you need somewhere to start. You’ll see in the three pictures of student work that there are mistakes, misconceptions and misunderstandings, but I want you to see this so you can see how they improve over the year. I also want to be real with you and not just show you the very best all the time – vulnerability is important. Right, Brené?!

So how did the lesson go down? First, the concepts. This group is learning about what it means to be a scientist. We have already had a lesson on what they think a scientist is, what they look like, what they do. The concept of ‘scientific investigation’ is a key characteristic of what it means to be a scientist, and in this lesson I want to focus on the concept of ‘observation’ in relation to scientific investigation. So the question I posed was what is the relationship between observation and scientific investigation? 

I knew the students needed to think more deeply about what it means to make observations, so we started the lesson with a See Think Wonder activity, looking at images of various phenomena (see example below). This Visible Thinking strategy helps students to differentiate between an observation and an inference. 

After students had the chance to reflect on the meaning of ‘observation’ I then asked the conceptual question: what is the relationship between observation and scientific investigation? When asking these questions, students need a context to apply it to. The context I used was ‘mystery boxes’ – a classic ‘black box’ learning experience used to introduce the scientific method to young students. If you don’t know this type of activity, the idea is that you have a number of boxes containing objects, but the boxes cannot be opened (and they never will be). The students can feel them, shake them, listen to them and record observations to try and make a decision about the contents. 

After each box had been investigated, I presented the question again and students recorded their thinking. Under each of the pictures I have typed out what the students wrote as it is not super clear what some of the words are, I also corrected or clarified some of what they wrote and corrected some grammar – English is these student’s second language. 

I think they have a lot to do with each other (observation and scientific investigation) because when you’re making a scientific investigation you need to make observations to see the characteristics and behaviours of what you’re investigating. 

Well I think there are a couple of differences. Let’s say I have a box. I don’t know what is in the box and I can’t open it. Well I will of course shake it and feel it and hear it. But what scientists would do apart from feeling them and shaking them, they would make observations like grabbing a magnet to get more information. So the difference is that scientists’ experiments are more specific compared to our observations. 

Here, the student has mistaken the question and he is responding to ‘what is the difference between observations that are scientific versus observations that are not for a scientific investigation?’. Although he is answering a different question he has still understood the concept of observation in relation to scientific investigation and provided a specific example. The specific example is why we plan a context to accompany the conceptual relationship question. The example allows me to see how accurately and precisely students understand the nature of the relationship between the concepts. 

We need to make observations to actually make an experiment because if you want to figure out something with the observations you can eventually get into a conclusion and make tests to completely figure it out. From the example of the mystery boxes with different materials like a magnet to know if you guessed with the conclusion. 

This student has understood that once you make initial observations you can design additional investigations to test your conclusion. Beautiful. 

The focus of this lesson was to elicit conceptual understanding by posing a conceptual question. The concepts are significant because they underpin what it means to be a scientist. The key thing to remember is that this is a starting point, I will continue to ask this same question as we move through the unit and explore new contexts (that is Transfer). Wherever your discipline, once you have identified your concepts, plug them into the conceptual relationship stems and pose them to your students. You just need to start somewhere and this is a great place. When you start listening to, and reading, the responses of your students you will start to realise the potential of teaching for transfer. 

If you use this in your class and would like to share your experience with me then please do! Next week’s blog will be about wellbeing and social and emotional learning and the Try Together I introduced in the first blog. Get in touch here:

Take care and see you next time.