My activity focused around a debate held at the Grant Museum of Zoology, aimed at ten, level three students studying Philosophy and Ethics. I based my activity on an article by Brown and Wilson, who advised students to read related materials before the activity, to hold the debate in a fishbowl layout and to make the students consider both sides of the argument. Brown and Wilson (2016) write ‘In considering differing perspectives, some students mentioned a greater awareness of their own perspective’. The aim of my activity was to achieve the same effect.
Before we went to the museum, the students were expected to have read Philosophy of Religion a guide and anthology by Brain Davies, p253-259, covering William Paley’s teleological argument. Initially, the students would complete a worksheet which consisted of four questions aimed at getting the student to form an argument through the PEAL acronym: point, evidence, analyse, link. After this, I constructed a debate using a modified fishbowl layout. Before the task, 10 students were paired with the intention that they would watch each other and provide feedback. After the feedback and a class discussion, the students would swap sides and the activity would repeat. In the end, I would have a 5-minute wrap up to discuss the learning experience and any thoughts.
The value of learning outside the classroom for my activity is that a change of behaviour can be inspired by a change of space. Martin writes ‘Physical and spatial aspects of a learning environment communicate a symbolic message of what is expected to happen in a particular place’ (Martin, 2009). My hope is that by placing the students in a museum, with what is being debated as a centrepiece, a symbolic implication that they are philosophers debating rather than students preparing for an exam will be achieved. If the arrangement of a classroom space can create expectations of behaviour based on institutional policies as Martin claims, then moving a debating activity into a museum will hopefully create an expectation of behaviour that reflects the ethos of the museum, which I believe to be free and independent learning. The activity should also serve to signpost museums to my students as another optional learning resource.
An important consideration would be safeguarding, as members of the public will also be present. As I have a fixed time at the museum with my students, and a timed lesson plan to follow, if an incident were to occur it should be simple to record the time, date, and subsequently report it. It would be wise to bring writing materials to record a possible incident and to bring another member of staff to the location with me. Other than safeguarding issues other visitors are still a consideration, as I need to be able to use the space to set up a fishbowl debate and to allow my students to speak without causing a disturbance. To combat this, I will ask the museum to advertise the fact the debate will be taking place at that time, so other visitors are aware that we have permission to facilitate learning.
In order to make the task successful, I have followed the structure of Brown and Wilson, aiming to engage my students in pre-task reading materials before the debate, planning to follow the fishbowl layout and planning to make all students debate both sides of the argument. The learning experience increases in value due to the symbolic implication of the new space, aimed to inspire further engagement within my students. Lastly, due to the precise nature of my plan, I will be better prepared to record safeguarding issues accurately if they are to arise, and communication with the museum should prevent the disturbance of any other visitors.
Brown, Z, and Wilson, M. (2016) ‘The complexity of in-class debates in Higher Education: student perspectives on differing designs’, Educational Futures, 7(2), pp.14-28
Martin, H. (2009) Environment-Behaviour Studies in the Classroom. Journal of Design & Technology Education, [S.l.], v. 9, n. 2, aug. 2009. ISSN 1360-1431