Jig Saw

This week I’ve been in Leeds visiting my good friend Lorna Jane. We’re collaborating on a new workshop this fall and it was great to get some face time to work on the project. While I was here, I also spent some time reviewing some of Lorna’s curriculum. The goal was to get some alternate ways of presenting dry, but necessary content that is typically delivered in a workshop as chalk-and-talk or demo-and-do.

One of the first problems we tackled was a grocery list of concepts that people need to know. In this case it was a list of design patterns for programming. Normally this would be presented as a sequence of slides, maybe with a few screenshots thrown in, and a demo if possible. Unfortunately it gets incredibly boring for the learner to sit through the same structure of information over and over again for each different pattern. Here are a few new ways to approach “teaching” this information:

Use Jigsaw: break the group into smaller teams (or even individuals) and have them read through their student resources about one of the topics. Allocate no more than 10 minutes for the research. (Make sure you have the same student handouts that everyone is using. You don’t want people to not have access to the full information after the workshop.) Then have each group present to the whole class what they learned about their specific topic. You’ve covered the same material and now each group has its own “experts” for the rest of the workshop.

Within this concept there are a few tricks to making the experience even more engaging. Their relevance will depend on the topic you’re teaching, the size of the group, and the number of concepts you need the participants to review.

  • Post flip chart paper around the room with the names of the concepts listed. Have the groups fill in their notes about each of the concepts. this allows people to review the concepts as they start the class and prepares them for a non-lecture activity.
  • Instead of asking the groups to simply summarize the material, have them make up a fictitious planet that represents the concept. They could describe the landscape, the main industries, the characteristics of the people, the leisure activities, etc. This allows a concept to be assigned a story, and for many people a story will be easier to remember than a strict set of facts. Each of the groups must also analyze the information more closely and extend the description in a creative manner. Caution: if the activity takes you too far away from the core content, the participants may remember the story but not the core concepts you need them to remember.
  • Use the participant presentations as an opportunity to clarify and/or correct common misunderstandings about the concept. The participants are more likely to ask their peers questions than if you were to simply rush through a series of slides.

This activity isn’t great with very small groups of people, but it can be done as a solo activity if you need to (e.g. 1 person x 4 topics or 3-5 people x 4 topics). The more people in the group, the more they’ll get talking and the longer it will take them to complete the activity, so make sure you are strict about time. Not that it’s a bad thing to have people engaged in the material. ;)