“Classes should be designed for students to experiment and be critical”

Image: Marco Woldt
Image: Marco Woldt

As a scientist, physics teacher Philippe Kobel values experimentation. By trying out an online lab platform with his students, he opened the door to more active learning and collaboration.

Caroline Smrstik Gentner: How did you discover the Go-Lab platform as a teaching aid?

Philippe Kobel: I’m a physicist, but not someone who is naturally inclined to technology. When Denis Gillet (professor at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne) talked to me three years ago about using the European Go-Lab platform, I wasn’t sure this could have an impact on teaching. And as a scientist, I can never believe in a tool without testing it thoroughly myself. But once I saw how easy it was to put things together on the platform, and how my students responded to a complete online activity scenario, I was convinced.

 

We live in a world where online resources and tools are scattered everywhere. Pushing students into many different online tools results in them getting a bit lost, to be honest. The idea of Go-Lab is that you can combine various online resources that you might already use into a single platform that even looks cool. Teachers can put videos, simulations, quizzes, and other apps all in one place, and integrate them into a single activity that students can access easily and repeatedly: in the classroom, at home, from everywhere.

CSG: What do your students think about using the platform in their physics class?

PK: They feel like they can learn at their own pace, it is playful, they can repeat activities as often as they want, and it helps them understand concepts better. For me, that’s the bottom line: we want students to understand. It’s the 21stcentury and we don’t care about memorizing content anymore. Why remember facts when you can just google?

If you don’t exactly remember Newton’s Laws, but you know that they allow you to predict how a planet changes its motion under the influence of gravitational forces because you’ve done some experimenting, then you’ve learned something. Understanding these relationships is what allows people to understand climate, space, everything.

“With this platform, students end up learning a lot in a far more student-centered, interactive, collaborative way.”

More and more, we talk about 21st century skills: we want students to be critical, to collaborate, to produce some content, to be able to search online effectively, to experiment. With Go-Lab activities, students have the chance to develop those skills by learning in an active way.

CSG: How has your role as a teacher changed since introducing the platform?

PK: Not a great deal: Even in conventional lab work, students work independently and I act more as a guide when they need me. But as we use Go-Lab more often, students get to work in pairs and experiment online. They end up learning a lot in a far more student-centered, interactive, collaborative way. In this way, we are moving towards what is needed in terms of 21st century skills.

As a Go-Lab ambassador for Switzerland, I’ve met teachers from all over Europe, including primary school teachers who use Go-Lab. It works for every age group: primary school pupils can watch a short movie to introduce a concept, do a small experiment, then have quiz questions. It’s playful – and kids love to do experiments.

CSG: How could this kind of teaching and learning become more widespread?

PK: There is always some resistance to anything new. People think it’s complicated, as I did at the beginning, or they don’t want to change what they’re doing – inertia is human! But my experience shows that it isn’t complicated and is worth trying. By getting involved with Go-Lab, you meet people from outside the country and gain in creativity and inspiration. We can always find a way to connect new ideas with our curriculum, so there’s no excuse not to try something new.

Philippe Kobel is a physics teacher at the Gymnase du Bugnon in Lausanne, Switzerland. His project is one of the Spotlight Switzerland 2019 award winners.

The Gymnase du Bugnon is a public high school in Lausanne, Switzerland, that prepares students aged 15 to 18 for further, post-secondary study.

Active learning with Go-Lab is a student-centered departure from traditional frontal teaching methods. Students learn, experiment and work using Go-Lab activities, progressing at their own pace. The increased autonomy creates more room for group discussion, experimentation with online data and simulations, and fosters scientific and critical thinking.

Active learning with Go-Lab was one of the ten Spotlight Switzerland projects presented at the HundrED Campus Seminar on 30 October 2019 in Zurich. The prizewinning projects highlight emerging best practices for digital transformation in the schools. The initiative is a collaboration between We Are Play Lab Foundation, Gebert Rüf Stiftung, Jacobs Foundation, Stiftung Mercator Schweiz, Beisheim Stiftung, digitalswitzerland next generation, and the Zurich University of Teacher Education.

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