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  • Malvina ARTHEAU

How to teach the unusual way

Or : How to conduct a Living Lab workshop without speaking the same language as the participants.

Picture : © Centrum Nauki Kopernik

It all started with an invitation to implement a workshop about LivingLab for teachers at the Copernicus Science Center in Poland. Sounded nice and easy at first, I’ve done it before, I love working with teachers, there are many things we can learn from each other.

What I hadn’t realized was, well, most of teachers in poland (just like in France) are not very comfortable in english. And, hum, I don’t speak any polish at all. Of course, people from the Copernikus Nauki Centrum had anticipated that issue and had arranged for translators to come and help.

Yet, I started to worry a bit about how to conduct such a workshop: how to keep spontaneous interactions with participants? How to behave while translator translate back and forth? How to keep up with schedule when everything will take twice as much time as it would normally would ?

Whenever I feel I’m in a complicated situation, I try to get back to my fundamentals and remember the very same advice I give all the time to my colleagues and people I teach to : use your constraints, see them as challenges, stop pitying yourself and be creative for whoever’s sake!

Let’s settle for a minute and look at the situation : 3 hours workshop

20 participants : speak polish

2 translators : speak polish & english

1 facilitator (myself) : speak french & english

Participants are teachers : I don’t know about those people, but I remember my own days at school. Sitting a full day, most of the time listening to somebody speaking. I’m not taking a big risk at assuming that for this specific group of people, speaking in front of a group of other people could be called a their comfort zone.

The topic is LivingLab and innovative ways of teaching such as project based learning. Innovation is a lot about stepping out one’s comfort zone. A part of the Living Lab approach is about stepping in other peoples’ shoes. Teaching is about speaking. I’ll be the teacher, I’ll be the one speaking. But if I speak French, my audience is likely to not understand a word of what I’m saying, pretty much like some pupils must feel towards math, or grammar or any topic they’re not comfortable with. Living Lab and project based learning is also about setting the conditions for people to be able to learn by themselves and from each other, through experiment and debriefing.

After a while (with much more convolutions) I ended up with those three main ideas :

  • 1 > I would have exercises were neither I or the participants would not be allowed to speak

  • 2 > I would presents important things in French, with no one being able to translate

  • 3 > The debriefing of exercises would have to be conducted by the participants in their own language

Expected outcomes could then be declined as such:

1 > Feel the frustration of having to perform a task that you don’t fully understand without being able to ask questions and then realize that it leads to initiative taking and sometimes unexpected interesting outcomes

2 > Feel and realize that there are many other ways that words to share knowledge (body language, drawing, experimentation etc…)

3 > You don’t always need a teacher to tell you what you are supposed to have learnt from a given exercise

Of course, I also had to share ideas about the benefits of collaboration, what are the Living Lab and project based learning approaches and how to use them in class and some hints about creativity as well.

Constrains are also a go trigger to realize you might need help sometimes. So since Matteo Merzagora was giving a keynote at that same event, I asked if he would be ok to design and facilitate that workshop with me. Together we came up with a series of exercises that met all those requirements. We had the participants play with a collaborative pencil, experiment the fact that creativity requires time and realize how interesting open-ended questions are.

Picture : © Centrum Nauki Kopernik

Each exercise has been debriefed through post-it boards where participants would write down their answers to 5 questions (translated into polish) :

  • How do I feel ?

  • What I have learnt about myself ?

  • What I have learnt about others ?

  • How could I use this exercise in class ?

  • Which skills does the exercise foster ?

Picture : © Centrum Nauki Kopernik : The person with the white shirt is actually one of the translators, they told us that, thys too, enjoyed a workshop where they could also participate even though they manage to also do a tremendous translating job, couldn't have done it without their comprehensive and smart invovlment !!!

Eventually participants had to design (in sub-group) their own future project based learning project. An adaptation of the project accelerator method allowed groups of participants to debrief amongst themselves in their native language.

In the end, participants did engage in all the activities, a lot of laughter could be heard from our room, and they mentioned how interesting this experience had been from them. Apart’ from that, well, I don’t know. I could read what they wrote on the post-its. I couldn’t understand what their projects was about or what feed back they got on it. Yet I can tell that the exercises triggered many reactions and that some were convergent, and other divergent as they led to discussion between participants. I can tell that one project was just the average, consensual one, one was not triggering much enthusiasm and one was generated strong reactions, both pros and cons (probably a project worth experimenting, from my experience). I realized that, not being able to understand, my attention grew on all other sources of information I could get : how peoples talked, to whom, at what speed, with what intensity, how people engaged more with each other as the workshop went on, how they trusted and listened to each other, who was agreeing, who was disturbed and interrogating. And how, I, was so more present with the participants, than if we would have shared the same language.

Of course I had to let a lot of my curiosity unsatisfied : what did their really took away from the workshop? how did their expressed their feelings about the exercises, what will they be using in class …

But I also realized that, truth is, I didn’t need that information to know whether I had achieved my goals. And not knowing was also about trusting the participants to come to the conclusions that where best for them, without me. The exact lesson I wanted to share with the participants happened to be the one I also had to learn ;-)

From a participant "I used to consider myself as rather aware of new ways of doing things, now I realize there it still a lot to learn and experiment, it was great, thanks !

27 Août 2016 : Atelier "How to teach in the unusual way" , sur la démarche Living Lab et l'enseignement par projet (Project Based Learning) pour des enseignants participants à la conférence "Lay out - let out" organisée par le Centre de Science Copernic - Varsovie, Pologne.