dinsdag 11 oktober 2011

Everly’s bad day on simSchool

Last Tuesday, our class was introduced to a program called ‘simSchool’ , which can be a very useful tool for teacher development. In short, simSchool is a ‘ flight simulator’  for teachers. That is, it is a virtual classroom in which teachers can interact with virtual students. The teacher can assign several tasks to the students and also say things to them or ask something. This way the teacher can try out new instructional approaches, sequencing of his lesson and classroom management techniques. Since the simSchool classroom does not contain real students, the teacher can try out a lot of different things, without harming any students. That way he can examine which strategies, activities etc. work, before he puts it into practice. The program also offers insight in the individual needs and characteristics of the learner, so the teacher can practice building a relationship with his students and analyzing differences between them.

All this can be done in a timely fashion, since the simSchool simulation time passes faster than actual time. About every 10 seconds, 1 minute of class time goes by.  Therefore the teacher can learn and do a lot more, than if he would actually had to try it out in a classroom.

simSchool has actually been used by a lot of teachers already and an analysis of their experiences led to the following results;
·    improvement in general teaching skill
·    improved confidence in using technology
·    increased belief that the teacher has the skills and ability to make a difference in a child's life
·    improvement in pre-service teachers' performance in teacher preparation courses and attitudes toward inclusion of special needs students
·    significant positive impact on the mastery of deeper learning capacities that comprise the readiness to teach
·    increased "staying power" on the path to the field of teaching acquired through rapid development of strong self-efficacy and resilience
source: http://www.simschool.org/about

Everly's lesson plan:
Luckily, I was able to try the simSchool program out myself! The lesson Everly was given in the simulation consisted of three different tasks;
  • Going over last weeks lessons (15 minutes of simulated time)
  • Take notes during lecture (15 minutes of simulated time)
  • Do on oral quiz (15 minutes of simulated time)
This is a somewhat traditional, but also quite convencional way of teaching, which we all have experienced in the classroom. After assigning these three tasks to Everly, the simulation was stopped.

The results in the screen that automatically appears after stopping the simulation show that this lesson was not that effective at all! Everly's motivation, academic prestations and hapiness are not increasing during this lesson. In fact the lesson made a lot of these factors decrease.

So what to do? Luckily the simSchool also provides the teacher with some information about Everly's interests, learning styles and other characteristics. We can see that Everly;
"talks a lot, likes variety and interaction, learns best by "doing", likes to work with others; is generally positive and enthusiastic; likes to plan and have structure, needs closure, completes every task, wants everything "to count" toward the grade; creative, makes up hypotheses, improvises answers, takes risks."

Based on these characteristics of Everly, me and a few of my fellow students came up with another lesson plan, that would probably be more effective. Since Everly learns best by doing, we first let him play a game for the first 15 minutes of simulation time. Then, because he likes to plan and have structure, we made him develop a project plan for the next 15 simulation time minutes. Finally, we made Everly engage in a student-lead class discussion to offer some variety and have him collaborate with others.

Unfortunately, we were not able to retrieve the results of this simulation at the time. I tried to perform the same lesson again at home, but again the results were not shown. However, some classmates who did similar simulations confirmed that these type of tasks indeed increase Everly's attitude and prestations.

Reflection on simSchool:
This simulation program seems to be a useful tool for teachers to experiment with different ways of teaching; regarding both the pedagogical approach as the tasks that are given. This way teachers can gain insight in teaching practice in a relatively fast manner, without disturbing or annoying actual students.

On the other hand however, it is in no way comparable with a real classroom. Although you can "say" something to the students, it is the actual interaction with real students that is the most difficult and probably also the most scary task of a teacher. Although teachers can certainly use the knowledge they gain from simSchool, it is my opinion that most learning and insight comes with experience.

Actually, the comparison with a flight simulator is really accurate in this regard too; although flying a simulator is very helpful and applicable, you do not experience reality. However life-like it may be, you can crash your plane, without any risk (besides maybe failing on your simulatorexam). The real fear and excitement can only be experienced when flying a real aircraft....


3 opmerkingen:

  1. Hi Suzan!
    Great to see that you liked trying out simSchool! I was wondering if you think the simulation is not comparable with a real classroom only because there is no actual interaction. Or do you think there are more characteristics missing? And I was also wondering if you think the simulation can be used in teacher training and for which purposes?


  2. Thanks for your reflection. I hope that your future games with simSchool allow you to see your results. One issue to remember (which your blog post reminded me) is that the student you think you know at the beginning of class, actually changes during the class as the tasks and talk impact the student. So the best choice of task for a student at the beginning of class will work differently if given in the middle or end of class, making it important to constantly monitor how the student is both doing and how they are changing as a result of your decisions. This is so because we treat all of the variables as "states" instead of constant "traits."

  3. Hi Suzan,
    Thank you for your post on simSchool and your experiences with it. Too bad that you couldn't see the results in the second run. By now these problems should be fixed, so if you want to play again... ;-) Your reflection is a bit short, but I do like your final paragraph, I think that is very true!