12 techniques of the holidays - Day 8

Day 1: Ellen Field's Affinity mapping to initiate action

 Erin Field

Name: Dr. Ellen Field

Area/Discipline: Faculty of Education

Twitter handle: @ellengfield

The Technique

While trying a variety of techniques to help learners develop a detailed perspective on climate inquiry, one thing I’ve found is that, to move away from a traditional science focus, students need to connect to their own lived experiences and future-focused concerns and hopes. This has also allowed me to enhance the student-centered aspect of the course experience.

What worries you about climate change?

I use this initiating question to connect the course content and readings to the affective aspect of each learner. It also acts as a pre-assessment about the issue that learners are aware of already. It helps me tap into the most relevant and current student-focused concerns so I can customize course activity that supports these particular climate concerns. 

I deliver courses both on-campus and online. This initiating question works in both spaces. In class, sticky notes are used to build a wall of climate anxiety. We can move the notes around to group responses and then do coding of sticky note groupings. This goes a long way in identifying and organizing the complex thoughts of the whole group. 

In my online classroom, we use Mentimeter to see the groupings in the summaries presented, and we talk about the similarity (affinity maps) that result from students' responses to the question.* 

What gives you hope?

This is the next question posted. We then repeat the cycle of building a wall of responses and cluster these into groupings -- or analyze the Mentimeter results in conversation.

We now have enough “data” for students to “take action” through project work. I ask learners to pick a topic that is meaningful to them on which to do some research** that will further their learning in this area. 

This affinity mapping technique initiates action research but also has the students develop a communication strategy to share their learning beyond our classroom walls. By the end of the course, the group will have developed methods to mobilize knowledge from course learning!

* These groupings become a curated short list of “research starters” so that they can “take next steps.”

** I suggest that they start with Project Drawdown and, next year, will suggest Regeneration as well as starting points for their research project.

How I use It *

For this activity in an on-campus classroom, you need large board spaces cleared off and two sets of different colored sticky notes. In an online course, you need to have both questions set up in Mentimeter. 

  • To begin the first stage of discussion, write the initiating question at the top of the board where you will collect your concern statements.

  • As learners write responses to the question “What causes you the most concern?” on their sticky notes, ask for response volunteers, and place their sticky notes on the board. 

  • Then, collect a few more responses from volunteers with different answers so that you can start mapping/clustering by placing the sticky notes far apart (if the responses are at a distance from each other).

  • Encourage those with similar answers to add their sticky notes to the appropriate “cluster.” 

  • Keep this up with new/varied replies, and get the students to help locate similar and disparate replies.

  • By now, you should be able to code -- or mark -- these clusters with some kind of code (solicit learner input for this).

  • Once this is complete, move on to the next board area, and ask learners (with the second colored sticky note) to answer the question “What gives you hope?” (written at the top of the board).

  • Repeat the mapping/clustering for this question.

  • You now have two sides of the same (climate action) issue and can begin to work with learners to identify topics of interest for them to research/respond to.

  • Learners then choose their sticky note/cluster and begin working on their knowledge development and mobilization project.** 

* For more detailed notations and activities, see “What Is Climate Change and Why Care?

** I find this most effective as a group project.

Feedback from Learners

“I enjoyed learning about climate change in this way ​​as it taught me to continue staying up to date with information that is coming out about climate change, to get involved in what is happening in my community, and to just DO whatever feels accessible to me from moment to moment.”

“I learned that it is important to do what I can to incorporate environmental awareness into everything I do. I have realized that, like myself, not many are informed or aware of how they are impacting the environment.”

Supporting Goal 13 

Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

This technique can support change or development in this area by starting with the climate concerns that students already have in our classes. Using a student-centered inquiry approach allows students to increase their understanding of climate challenges (on the wall of worry/climate anxiety) as well as of actions and solutions (on the wall of hope). This process ensures that learning is relevant and authentic to student interests and concerns within the trans-disciplinary boundaries of climate change … so, really, this lesson can be used by anyone in any faculty. 

A short task to challenge you!

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One Final Task

Is this something you can use in your classroom? How might you utilize it? If you share your results somewhere on social media, please let us know by using the hashtag #12tech21LUDay1.

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12 Techniques of the Holidays 2021 by Teaching Commons@LU is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.