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The Silent Challenge

Tuesday, Jan 09, 2018

Science, Character Education, Middle School, Students, robotics, Programming

Group work time in nearly every Middle School Science class is likely depicted with a lot of talking, boundless ideas, and maybe even a little bit of chaos. But in Evan Jones' '86 fifth grade science class, group work looks a little bit different.

On one December day, pairs of fifth graders were programming a robot to perform specific tasks - in complete silence. Groups were given an abundant supply of paper but only one pencil. Their mission: to program the robot while really listening to one another.

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"For these students, being forced to be in a situation where somebody else has to write something down and then have to react to what they wrote down puts a pause in and allows the learning to happen," remarks Jones. "It teaches them the importance of being a good listener."

Sometimes when students get excited about a project they are working on, they have a tendency of talking over another person who might have the right answer, adds Jones. This exercise demands students to slow down and exchange ideas.

"As a teacher, I want to teach new material but I also think life skills, particularly when they are in fifth grade, are important lessons for them to be learning," says Jones. "Learning to listen to somebody else is huge."

Jones does this exercise with his students occasionally throughout the year, recognizing that if done too much, it loses its effectiveness.

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"It's important to balance doing it enough so that it makes an impact but not too much that it becomes burdensome," says Jones. "It isn't necessarily the most effective way to get something done but in reality, they sometimes get more done when they are forced to listen than when they talk over each other."

His goal is to both challenge the students academically while also teaching them important life lessons.

"What they are doing is really hard," says Jones. "The easy answer is for them to ask the teacher and for me to give them the answer but that's not the kind of class they want to be in. They might get frustrated as they struggle to find the answer but that appropriate frustration is a great indication of learning."

Through the struggle, Jones' hopes the exercise also teaches the students to care for one another.

"In order to be successful in a lot of things in my class," adds Jones, "you have to listen to somebody else. Two brains are stronger than one. If you're not doing that well - using two brains to problem solve - it's going to be more difficult."

Jones also incorporates similar exercises into his classroom throughout the year in order to challenge students academically and personally. He has been teaching at Breck since 1998. Read more about him here.