Getting out of the classroom (and into another)

Today I’m involved with various activities for schools and colleges: our School of Politics is organising a day of events on “Have we learnt the lessons of Afghanistan?” and  a bit later, I’m taking part in a webinar with the IES in Brussels on “Teaching the EU.”  In both cases, the aim is very much to get out of our HE classrooms and think about how we can make both familiar and new topics engaging and accessible for those completing their secondary education.

In the webinar, one of the techniques I’m going to discuss is timelines.  This is a very kinesthetic approach, allowing both large and small group work, as well as creating a very strong visual representation of what can be a confusing subject.

As you can see from the illustration, the group is charged with identifying key events and features, before then bringing them all together, so that they can see (literally) the bigger picture.

The idea is pretty self-explanatory, but it is worth dwelling here on why it’s a useful technique for pre-university students.  Firstly, it can cope with very different levels of knowledge and preparation, as well as group size (the small groups can cover just some of the elements listed).  Secondly, it integrates different elements and the work of different people very smoothly, so reinforcing the group dynamic.  Thirdly, because it requires movement and an unusual representation of the knowledge there is a clear focus to the session, to help keep their attention.

This is a technique I’ve tried with students up to Masters level, precisely for these reasons.  There is a lot to be said for using techniques from wherever we find them, rather than simply thinking that we know best.  School students are not intrinsically different from university students, so we gain nothing by treating them as such.