Piloting educational capsules in Mexico

November 30, 2015 mexico_featured

Testing Node’s educational tool in high schools

Last November Node travelled to Mexico to test a pilot educational tool for teachers, designed to strengthen lateral and creative thinking in their classrooms while at the same time teach their programmed class topics. We received great support from the Colegio México de Tehuacán, especially the teacher Salvador Arias and school coordinator Susana Wuotto who believe that education must be refreshed and that to do this we must look to new methodologies. 

But where did this educational tool came from? Over two months from mid-August to October 2015, Node Center gathered a group of 7 ‘innovators’ from the fields of art, education, neuroscience, physics and psychology to work together with the Node team to develop a prototype of a tool for teachers aimed at training intuition and lateral thinking in their classes.  

After the program ended, it was time to get to a real life scenario to test this prototype and take it to the next stage. I traveled to my hometown in Mexico to work with my friend and high school teacher Salvador Arias. Together, we shaped the format and contents of this tool according to the needs of the teacher and students in high school.

Through this process I had very good insights into how to change the tool, discovering its problems that potentially could be converted to opportunities:

Internet connection and technology: Originally the tool was web-based and relied on streaming videos. Not all high schools have a fast internet connection, I needed to change to an offline format familiar to everyone: the universal powerpoint.

Rigid curriculum: In Mexico as well as in other countries, schools need to follow a program and goals dictated by the government’s public education department. There are rules on WHAT you need to teach but (here comes the window of opportunity) there are no rules on HOW you need to teach the content, instead teachers have relative freedom on this.

No time for extra curricular activities: “Yes, teaching creativity and all that sounds good but we don’t have much time for extra curricular activities, we need to follow a program”. Insights like these brought the eureka moment: we needed to focus the tool on specific topics within the given curriculum, for example, ‘functions of language’, a topic outlined in the official program for the writing class.

 

These and other insights were gathered and we had a few more days to adapt the existing prototype to the real life scenario: a high school class with students aged 15-16. Based on the teacher’s text book Reading and Writing Class (Taller de lectura y redacción), the next topic of the class was ‘functions of language’. The Node team developed an educational capsule* for this topic designed to simultaneously strengthen lateral and creative thinking.

The school coordinator liked the activity so much that the school created a video about this cut-up exercise. Students made poems, drawings and even songs!

*The capsule is a powerpoint that contains:

1. First warm-up: an ice breaker activity to get students moving. In this case a 7 minute game called ‘human alphabet soup’, related to the topic of language: making words with the first letters of the names of participants before you get caught by the spoon.

Node at Colegio Mexico

 

2. Theory and cultural references: from the same topic we added slides exploring the history of the written language . These were used to fulfil the curriculum of the class.*

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Some of the slides containing the theory needed to cover the class program.

 

3. Second warm up: a 5 minute game related to gestural language. Participants needed to communicate using only two noises, relying entirely on gestures to pass their message on. 

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4. More theory and cultural references: Slides with examples of languages and codes developed by artists that work with the topic of language and codes such as Yoonhee Kim. The aim was to show how the same topic of the text book can be approached very differently by artists.

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Left: After a stroke that resulted in total paralysis, writer Jean Dominique Bauby wrote his last book by blinking his left eyelid. Right: Elvish language by J. R. R. Tolkien.

ref3

Works by the artist Yoonhee Kim, related to language and codes.

 

5. Hands-on exercise: Based on what the students saw before – theory, history,  warm-ups and art references – they now needed to work in groups to create their own language codes. We provided some basic prototyping materials to encourage handling materials.

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Students developing a 3D language system

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Students having fun with their brand new gestural language coding :)

 

So whats the point of this? Basically: giving the same contents mandatory to the class curriculum but in a different way that involves exercises for group bonding, hands-on and physical activities, lateral thinking and opening up perspectives on how a topic can be approached in many different ways (from science to arts and culture) and not only as a text book definition. Since we don’t learn and understand purely by memorising but also by experiencing and exploring, we want students to make and do rather than sit and listen.

The feedback:

  • The atmosphere of the classroom totally changed, the mood of the students was much better as they like to be active makers of the class, not listeners.
  • Some people who usually participate less in class (like answering questions) were more confident when it comes to hands-on activities.
  • The teacher felt enthusiastic about providing a more engaging fun class for the students and felt encouraged to add his own interests in each capsule.

From the students:

  • They really enjoyed the activities
  • They wanted more time for the capsule as they enjoyed it (we did it in 50 min) 
  • The alphabet soup game was not fun for people with names starting with X or difficult letters.
  • They enjoyed standing up and going out
  • “This expands my cultural horizons”, as a student said. 
  • Most of them said “this way of learning relaxes me”, as they were not anxious from just listening passively but they instead had the chance to move and make things.
  • They were happy to have an opportunity to interact more with the other students

 

Second capsule

Due the success of this first trial, we were on board to keep producing capsules for this specific class: Reading and Writing (Taller de lectura y redacción). Armed with the original text book, the Node team rolled up our sleeves and created a second capsule for the topic of writing.

With the feedback in mind, we made some changes and extended the activity to a 2 hour class instead of a 50 minute one, we added more audiovisual material that students seemed to like and we kept the structure:

1. First warm-up: A game based on a “seeing competition” artwork by Yoonhee Kim.

2. Theory and cultural references: Different types of writing in different languages, history of writing from right to left, mirror writing.

3. Second warm-up:word game called ‘word chain’ in which players come up with words that begin with the letter that the previous word ended with.

4. More theory plus art references: We talked about the Oulipo group of experimental writing, showed artists such as Tom Phillips and Tristan Tzara, viewed examples of cut-up writing techniques and how it was used  by David Bowie, Kurt Cobain, Radiohead to compose songs, and finished with a ‘cool’ video of Baracksdubs.

5. Hands-on activity: To re-invent the meaning of a given text using the cut-up techniques and other references that were in the theory sections. This exercise is also good for reflecting differences between plagiarism (apparently abundant when writing homework) and creation.

 

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*Thanks so much to the students for providing the pictures of their exercises.

Whats next?

We will continue to create capsules for this specific class and follow the development of the students of three classes at Colegio México, as long as we get authorisation from the school of course. Our goal is to be able to track if there’s concrete changes in terms of class performance, creative and lateral thinking, assimilation of concepts and group dynamics. We would also like to test the program in different schools and contexts, so if you are involved in high school education and would like to test this pilot program, please contact us. 

We want to thank again the support of Colegio México de Tehuacán, especially Salvador Arias and Susana Wuotto for their engagement in this pilot program, and of course to all the students from 1ºA, 1ºB who were awesome! It was a pleasure working with you.

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