Learning dispositions

Building disposition
The purpose is to get students to ask questions and explore things which they don’t understand. I am writing this document on a Saturday night. It was my intention to go play soccer at an oval which is near both my home and the school at which I teach, but the rain has continued (which doesn’t really bother me) and the oval is muddy (which also doesn’t really bother me, but I just got a new car, this would be the first time I would be driving it, and I don’t want to get it messy yet).

This led me to wonder about rain. I know how rain works. Water evaporates, the air becomes saturated, when the air is at full saturation the water condenses and falls back to the ground. 

I also wondered about mud. I know what mud is – it is dirt suspended in water. And it’s messy.

This led me to wonder how I could explain this to someone who didn’t know what these things were, and what might happen if we had awesome, coloured rain. How could I show someone what a cloud is like? How could I show water falling through the air? How could I show the mess it makes on the ground? Most importantly, how could I do it all without making a massive mess?

That’s the stuff I need to explore.

It occurred to me that I could simply get a transparent container, fill it with water (simulating “air”), put cotton wool on the top and pour a more dense liquid through it. This of course did not work, as the cotton wool became sodden and sank into the water, which is not what clouds do. It occurred to me the clouds would need to disappear as the ‘rain’ fell, as that is what clouds do.

I tried again, this time with shaving cream as clouds. It worked, except the ‘rain’ was invisible. I needed something more dense, and visible against the water, so I used food colouring – and it worked! It modelled the process I wanted to show.

But what value is there in this? If I showed this to a learner without any context, what possible benefit would they get from it? It’s just a funny, colourful, messy show.

What I was missing
The problem and the explanation. It occurred to me as I did this that actually seeing the process wasn’t the important bit – it was understanding the steps which led me to try it. Why was I mixing these ingredients? What was my goal? Even if I was unsuccessful in showing anything or explaining a concept or process, the act of going from a problem to a response was what I needed students to see and learn.

Second attempt
This time, I decided to repeat the process and record it as a video, narrating what I was doing. I then used that video as a background while explaining to students the steps which led to me doing that process.
It spontaneously occurred to me that I could also ask follow-up questions and describe how I could investigate (explore) them.

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