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Monday, March 29, 2010

A Fish Bowl Discussion in Physics? - Jake B.

On Thursday, March 25, I visited Jake's physics class.  As I entered the room, I noticed a sign posted on the door, " This is no longer a physics classroom, this is a general classroom."  I wondered what was going on - Jake often surprises me:) - pushed the door open and entered.  The room was completely rearranged!  The whole middle section had been replaced by a circular table.  Two signs hung overhead - "fish bowl" and "hot seat".

 Students and Jake explained they were working on a discussion format and the topic of the day was, "Are industrial wind turbine projects good for Maine?"

The framework for the discussion is as follows.
  1. The first 10 minutes are spent as an introduction to outline the process. Students are reminded the purpose of a discussion is to come up with a better understanding of subject and then make a go or no go decision.

  2. The next 15 minutes are spent doing 5 chalk talks.

Informational readings are posted around the room.


Important passages are highlighted for students to review.

Students are to  read and comment - as well as meta-comment - on the brain boards provided.  No talking - looking and writing.

These comments and reflections are to be used later to provide a basis for discussion.

   3.  The final 30 minutes are spent participating - through talk or listening - in a  discussion of the topic.  

 The fish bowl format consists of 8 students at the table:
  • 6 for discussion
  • 1 as facilitator to keep the flow going and bring back the discussion to the topic through prompts
  • 1 as a book keeper, tracking the conversation by using a list of names and tallying do's (+) and don'ts (-)   
  • the" hot seat" is at the head of the table and is available for those who have important information to add at the moment (meta-commenting) 
  • the fact checker checks the accuracy of statements at request using the computer and sitting outside of the circle.
  • The rest of the class sits outside of the circle and monitors the discussion (people are listening and formulating ideas) - joining in through the "hot seat" or tapping someone who has been in there for a while and swapping places.
Jake reminded the students to keep up the flow of the conversation in order to move their thinking along.

The process moved along smoothly with high student engagement.  Jake stepped in only when some clarification was needed.  The level of conversation was high.  The thinking reflected by the statements were impressive.  Students had clear rationales for their statements.  

What impressed me the most, was the level of meta-cognition and collaboration.  They followed other's thoughts and agreed, disagreed, clarified, and built on statements fluidly.  The language was purposeful and the information accurate and appropriate.  This is exactly what students need for the 21st century.  Kudos to all for a great job!
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Lee Shin said...

spot on with this write-up, i like the way you discuss the things. i'm impressed, i must say. i'll probably be back again to read more. thanks for sharing this with us.

Lee Shin

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