Friday, January 26, 2007

We want our marbles back

Elgin marbles 8, original image uploaded to Flickr by mharrsch.

This news story has caught my eye over the past few days. It describes the sale by Christie's of a collection of paintings once owned by King George I of Greece. Greek officials had asked the auction house to stop the sale as they suggested that buyers would face legal action if the paintings had been illegally exported from Greece.

This story is reminiscent of the Elgin Marbles debate. This is used as a topic in Key stage 3 ICT in which 'Reliability, Validity and Bias' are taught. This specific instance is an emotive topic that students can easily identify with, given a little explanation, as opposed to other more controversial topics such as abortion, fox-hunting and vegetarianism. It also means that research on this topic, whilst resulting in a wealth of information from 2 polarised viewpoints, is less likely to be offensive than the other topics mentioned earlier - this makes it perfectly suited for study within school. Add to the mix stories like this recent one, where a Swedish lady returned a piece of marble to Greece, that some say weaken the case for the Elgin Marbles to stay in Britain and you have an excellent discussion point for students.

My means of covering this topic makes use of the Elgin Marbles, but is taught using a Webquest. First devised by Bernie Dodge, a professor at San Diego University, Webquests are powerful tools to aid learning. Students are made to work collaboratively to solve problems where their corporate actions are monitored and affect the grading of the whole group. A typical Webquest sees students working in groups of 4 each of them taking on specific and different roles. The highly structured format of a Webquest presents the user with all the information they need in the form of:
  • Introduction
  • Task
  • Process
  • Evaluation
  • Conclusion
  • Teacher Page

This uses constructivist teaching theory in which students are virtually set loose to explore the topic, giving rise to constantly unique end products.

I use this Webquest to cover the 'Reliability' topic and many other similar Webquests can be found here (and UK ones here). Bernie has set up a utility to allow you to create your own Webquests here at Questgarden. The Webquest I use is extremely engaging and the students especially identify with the Dr Doug N. Deep archeologist as Indiana Jones's classroom is situated within our ICT department - oh yes it is!

Students carry out research in their allocated area and all research the way in which the Elgin marbles debate has unfolded and then try to apply that knowledge to the Webquest scenario which is set in Egypt and concerns the discovery of a pharoah's remains.

Webquests are always the most engrossing and engaging tool I use when teaching. I have never seen pupils work as hard as they do when carrying out Webquests. I urge you all to give them a go.

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