Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Peer Learning: With A Little Help From My Friends

Connor remains purposely "hands off" and coaches the younger learners to figure it out as they learn together.

I found the different ways that younger kids approach problems and projects interesting. It was often different from how I would look at things.
They often question the process more than I would and are a lot more fluid in how they learn and approach things.

Connor Aguilar

Thinking back to High School, I don't recall tutoring or volunteering to help kids.  Perhaps, I was too consumed in my own life: sports, friends and school work.  In defense, I don't even remember hearing about these opportunities. In college, there were a handful of times I volunteered, when asked or expected to because of my sorority or college courses  I certainly wasn't asking about volunteering, and didn't even know about service learning projects. How embarrassing as I was seeking a future in education...

It's embarrassing and yet enlightening. Enlightening because as I observe this current generation of millennials and now digital natives, I see them volunteering and doing more service than my generation talked about, let alone participated in.   The media can often portray our younger generation as corrupt and consumed with themselves and their technology; yet, if you look closely enough you will see a completely different side. And if you don't, let them show you. Offer them ways to show you the side of serving others and what that looks like.

While peer teaching is not exactly a new way of teaching or learning, it certainly has been picking up popularity. But I prefer to support activities which involve peer learning. Why? Because when we teach others there is an instant role assignment. I'm the teacher, you are the student. When there is  peer learning, we BOTH learn TOGETHER. Right away the stigma of an authoritative role is taken away and lines are blurred and crossed to see both sides of the learning taking place. According to a web article from Stanford,  "It is not a substitute for teaching and activities designed and conducted by staff members, but an important addition to the repertoire of teaching and learning activities that can enhance the quality of education" (Boud, 2002).  

Since little has been researched among K-12 students, last summer, Rockhurst High School and the STEAM Studio  teamed up. Greg Owsley (Rockhurst High School STEAM Director), JW Clark (Rockhurst High School STEAM Coordinator) and I developed and conducted a research project involving RHS students and STEAM Studio K-8 participants to see what they could learn from each other. 

In summary, the 16 RHS "coaches" (participants in the research project) chose this project as their service learning hours and came to the STEAM Studio twice a week to share knowledge they gained from their RHS classes (robotics and other classes) with almost a 100 (98 to be exact!) K-8 youth in the after school programs.

The RHS coaches approached every activity using this model with the K-8 youth at the STEAM Studio.

We were invited to share our findings at the international conference, ISTE this past month. Connor, Krishon, and Brion (Rockhurst High School students) along with a few STEAM Studio youth, our STEAM Studio Coordinator, Laine Eichenlaub, Greg, and myself spent two hours presenting and sharing the interesting and effective strategies we found from the 12 week research project. Here are some of those findings...

 Unlike other service projects in which the affect was direct and right now, STEAM Studio was about giving kids skills that they could use for the rest of their lives

Krishon Harris

"I found this to be a really cool idea for teaching high schoolers how to teach and explain things like teachers.
I also found that the kids seemed to be really interested in the topics provided and wanted to learn more."

Ethan Fetters
  • Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song. Motivation. How do we motivate humans to learn, to work, to do anything? There has to be an interest! One of the questions on the post-survey (at the end of the project) given to the RHS coaches was "how do you think you will made a difference?"  Over 50% of them said they felt they made the most difference by raising interest in the areas of STEAM. What is interesting is that none of them thought this would happen when we asked them in the pre-survey (beginning of the project). This goes to show that they felt after they worked with the youth they definitely observed some sparks flying!

I found this project interesting because it provided an environment in which I could both learn from the kids and help them.
It was cool to see all of the different projects come to life with the resources in the STEAM Studio.

Mitchell Roberts
  • Gonna try with a little help from my friends. I'm happy to report that our RHS boys are coming back to try more activities and continue this research project for the 2016-2017 school year!  This next time around we will be focusing on what the K-8 youth are learning and how they feel about learning from older peers as we also continue to track data from the high school students.  This will enable us to find interesting and creative ways to motivate learners to not only learn STEAM content, but learn from each other.

 We do know that peer learning can facilitate friendships.

Friendships that increase confidence in both parties and motivation to learn...together.

Let's get by with a little help from our friends.


  • The ISTE presenters: Greg Owsley: Teacher, Rockhurst High School, Laine Eichelaub: STEAM Studio director, Connor Aguilar, Brion Dennis, Krishon Harris, Rockhurst High School Students & Research participants

Our crew who represented the Rockhurst High School/ STEAM Studio research project at the international technology in education conference in Denver, CO in June, 2016.
  • To our 16 new friends, the "young men for others" Rockhurst High School service learning/research project participants who worked with 98 STEAM Studio youth: 

Brendan Odrowski
Brian  Medina
Brion Dennis
Connor  Aguilar
Ethan Fetters
Jacob Bamesberger 
Keaton Schieffer
Krishon Harris
Mitchell Roberts
Sam Lee
Sam Keitges
Seth Harper
Sherlock Gong
Steven Madigan
Thomas Leggio 
Ting Gong