2 Developing a cognitive space

As a teacher, you need to consider the cognitive space necessary for an effective learning environment. This space will be determined by your expectations of what your students can do intellectually within the classroom. Developing an atmosphere that is encouraging and motivating will give your students more responsibility for their learning. Being more aware of your students particular learning needs will help you match your teaching and activities to them and aid their progress more effectively.

Video: Planning lessons

You may want to read key resource ‘Planning lessons’ to gain more insight to the importance of good planning and then read Resource 2 about investigations to help you think how and when you could involve your students in planning their investigations.

Activity 2: Making space for thinking

In studying germination, it is important to investigate what conditions support good germination. You are going to set up an investigation with your students to explore what seeds need in order to germinate. You will involve all your students in as many aspects of this investigation as possible. To do this, there is a list of questions below that guide you through the main things you need to think about. You need to read this and then plan what you have to do before the first lesson when you plant the seeds. Think also about how you will follow up the growth (or not) of the seeds over time.

Then, consider these questions:

  1. What do you want your students to learn about germination?
  2. How will you start the topic with them?
  3. How will you organise them during the lesson? In groups?
  4. How will you introduce them to the idea of developing the classroom learning environment with each topic you study?
  5. What resources do you need? How can you get these?
  6. How could your students help you?
  7. How will you ask them to help in a way that will give them responsibility and ownership of the project?
  8. How long will it take to gather the resources?
  9. When can you set the date for the first lesson?
  10. How will you introduce the investigation?
  11. How will you organise distribution of resources?
  12. How will you involve your students in the design of the investigation and controlling variables?

Write out your plans and set a date to start the investigation. Explain how you want to develop the classroom by gathering more resources and making it more interesting and colourful.

Pause for thought

  • Have you a clear idea in your mind about what you are going to do now?
  • Are you prepared to be open to your students’ ideas?

It is important to set realistic goals when developing your classroom with your students. Do not try to do too much at once. If you have a large class, you can still make small changes that will make a big difference to the learning environment and the outcomes for your students. The germination investigation is a good starting point because it impacts on the physical and educational ambiance of the classroom, as well as developing a stronger supportive learning environment. It is also part of the science curriculum, and the new strategies will support the science learning.

Activity 3: Gathering resources and ideas

Before you do this activity, read the Resource 3, ‘Using local resources’, to help you understand more about the various ways you could develop and extend your classroom environment for the benefit of your students.

Set aside about 15 minutes to have the discussion with your class about how they think you could improve the classroom. You may want to refer to your responses to Activity 1 here, to remind you what you thought about what you would like to do.

After introducing your ideas about improving the classroom environment, give your groups time to talk before gathering their ideas from each group spokesperson. List these on the blackboard and then ask the students to prioritise which ones are most important. For example, they may say that gathering resources such as pots for the seeds and some seeds are the first priority and then paper and card for displays. Or if your classroom is better resourced, you may be working at making more advanced displays including models. Alternatively, you may want to arrange your room differently. You could ask your students to help you plan how to change things around, so that if you have a computer, for example, students can use it more easily to write up their work or search the internet and even print out their findings to share with others.

Give the students clear guidance about how to collect resources so that they do not annoy or anger local people. Stress that they must ask and obtain permission to take any resources. Set up some way of storing the resources in your classroom that will keep them safe. Discuss with your students ways to arrange the seating in your classroom so that everyone can see the blackboard and be involved in any discussion or activities.

Pause for thought

  • How did your class respond to the project of developing the classroom?
  • Were you surprised by their responses? In what way? How successful have you been with collecting extra resources and changing your classroom environment?
  • Were all the students engaged in this task?

1 Developing an inclusive environment

3 Developing classroom routines to help students feel secure