Introducing a new topic to your students can be the perfect opportunity to ask them to share what they are thinking and get a glimpse into their preconceived notions about that topic. Knowing what students know, don’t know, and misunderstand about a subject or an idea can be a helpful guide for shaping your teaching to be responsive to your student’s level of prior knowledge. When I have placed my students in small groups and given them a prompt to discuss, this has occasionally resulted in not much talking. I have however, had better results when I’ve asked students to search for an image that would answer the prompt. Solstice, a wireless sharing software, has allowed me to make this change in the way I manage small group discussions. In asking students to find images with Solstice, I’m able to encourage more quality discussions among student groups.
In my physics courses, when I introduce the concept of newtonian motion, I ask my students to get into small groups and share about an experience where newtonian motion may not seem logical to a 6-year-old. The goal of the discussion is to bring out unseen forces such as friction, drag, etc. Often times these conversations start and stop with “pushing (an object) across a flat surface.” They could come up with some basic concepts, but I knew my students had more to offer, I just had to figure out how to get it out of them.
Rather than asking students to share an experience, I started asking students to work as a group to find an image that demonstrates the experience. Instead of sharing the first thought that came to their minds, students worked in their groups to discuss what to search, which image to choose, and if the image was the best representation of what they were looking for; the deeper thinking I was aiming to get. Once students found and agreed upon the image(s) they want to use, they then shared them with the class via Solstice.
Using Solstice helped students facilitate an even more engaging discussion. For example, consider my “newtonian motion” small group discussion prompt; students were able to identify and hide duplicate images to narrow down the images that best supported the discussion topic. Without prompting them, students started making stacks of images that had the same “hidden” force and were able to categorize the images into three categories. Going through this process helped students identify the common “hidden” forces many students forget about when working problems within this unit.
With Solstice available in the classroom, there is the capability for anyone in my classroom to wirelessly connect any device they have to the front of the room and share their content. Solstice can be a powerful tool for any number of active learning activities. If you are unsure if the classrooms you teach in have Solstice installed, check the Solstice list to see where it is available on your campus. And, if you are interested in more active learning classroom resources, visit https://mosaic.iu.edu/resources. Finally, if you have ever taught with Solstice and want to share your own experiences, please comment below or contact us if interested in sharing that experience in your own blog post.