Post boxes – learning together

Yesterday I did a post box activity with my Yr 10 class to start our genetics topic. We spent about half the class making the letter boxes, the girls made theirs pretty and the boys made theirs with as much tape as was humanly possible. Our first use was to vote on a movie with a genetics theme to watch (we chose X-men which will link into mutations and ethics) and the second was to ask some questions they want to know the answers to throughout the topic.

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A post box activity (as I do it) is where you set up post boxes/letter boxes around the room. We made some (my class love building stuff from cardboard boxes and work together really well on this type of task) but you could easily use shoe boxes or even icecream containers. You can assign different letter boxes different questions and students can ‘post’ their answers. I always have an I don’t know post box as a safety net. I find this can be a good way to assess prior knowledge for a topic, or to measure students progress as we go through a topic.

The post box activity allowed the students to ask question without showing the rest of the class who they were. I guess there are ways to do this electronically also via a survey or google quiz, but there was something about the students writing there questions on pieces of paper and getting up to move about the room to post them in the various post boxes. This is a class that does struggle to stay still at times and loves practicals, so the post box activity is great to get them moving in a reasonable, meaningful way during class time.

I was amazed by some of the questions I got in response to what they would like to learn about. So much better than if they had to put their name or face to it. I have also learned about some of the my students and their lives outside of school – genuine questions from students wondering why they look different to the rest of their family. Or if because their grandparents have cancer, will they get it? Or why did their family member or even themselves get a genetic disease when others didn’t. Other questions relate to topics around world war II they have been doing in Social Studies or books they have read in English and give a great opportunity for some cross curricular learning.

So it was a really good reminder about how teaching isn’t always about the content. It is about the students lives, and how we need to show respect and compassion to everyone. A reminder for me that inside my class are some students who are genuinely concerned for their families and their future. A reminder that no matter what we are teaching we need to ensure that our students feel safe in our class rooms to ask difficult questions, know how to be respectful while asking them, and that I need to be truthful but careful with my answers to keep them safe and help them make informed choices about their world.

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