Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hockey as a Metaphor for Learning

As I played intramural hockey with some teachers and students this week I couldn't help but think how the learning process on the ice seemed to be the ideal way to learn. I wondered how that process could be transferred to the classroom.
The intramural hockey program was started by a teacher at the school five years ago as a way to improve the skill level of staff and students. The goal was to really develop a love of the game. The group of players is extremely diverse. There are boys and girls from grades 9 to 12 as well as teachers, all with varying abilities. When the program started I was a complete novice. I had never played hockey before and really wasn't a good skater. Some of my team mates (and opponent) play very high levels of competitive hockey.
The goal of the program is to help all of us become better players. The atmosphere is always very positive and all players are very supportive of their team mates as well as their opponents. The better players often setup the weaker players and provide suggestions and feedback. Your better opponents will often give you an opportunity to try a shot, a pass or a move, while your weaker opponents will work hard to prevent you from doing any of the above. As the weaker players try to outdo each other, their skills improve. Improvement also happens as the weak go up against the strong. The strong seem to provide just enough support, but will also challenge you so that things aren't too easy. Finally, the strong players will challenge each other so that they will improve as well.
Wouldn't it be great if our classrooms allowed for the type of collaboration that is happening on the ice. The strong students would be able to provide the weaker students not with an answer to a question, but just enough support so that the weaker students could be successful in understanding the content.  The weaker students could work hard in an attempt to outdo each other, while the strong could continually challenge each other. Perhaps the most important part of this setup would be that the teacher is a learner as much as the students, learning and trying new things and benefiting from the knowledge and expertise of the students.