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A Panoply of Paper Planes

Updated: Mar 18

Guest Author - Shane Hill

I’m going to write a musical about learning at school. Given the multitude of characters and personalities that populate the school environment and the shenanigans that students can get up to, my musical will be highly entertaining. There’ll be a colourful dialogue contrasting the rows of desks and blandly uniformed pupils, with a big clock on the wall for the all-important end of the day count-down. I’m considering three options for the backdrop - a giant book, a floor-to-ceiling wall of books or half a wall of book alongside a giant computer screen. It’s an inescapable fact that information stored in books or on the internet continue to be the go-to places for research. Neatly stacked piles of textbooks in the classroom are still a common sight.

So when, in the subject of history (HT2) students investigate the traditional Aboriginal way of life, out comes the pile of textbooks. The students similar to me, those who love reading and researching, those who learn well from the pages of a textbook, will get on with the work of investigating. The others will do it begrudgingly as the life-force drains from their soul and one student will take the opportunity to surreptitiously illustrate the pages of the textbook with their own special images.

Yikes! It’s time to bust out some sheaves of A4 and get some paperplanes in the air!

Ahead of this game, prepare some paper planes yourself using a sheet of A4 paper for each plane. Write one topic of research on the wings or body of the plane. In this example the topics, as stated in the N.S.W. history syllabus, are: people and their role in the community, beliefs/religion/mythology, food, shelter, tools and weapons, customs and ceremonies, art works, dance, music, and relationship to Country. You should also indicate the specific information the students are to look for, such as ‘Name 3 tools or weapons and the function of each one’.

To prepare for the game, have the students work in pairs and give each pair a textbook and several sheets of paper. Tell the students that today’s research will be done in a game with paperplanes and that they will now practice making a paperplane while you demonstrate how to fold the paper. Most students will already know how to make a paperplane but you do want to ensure that everyone has this essential ability. Tell the students they will win points in this game but they will also lose points if paperplanes are launched without flight clearance from the control tower... because they will, of course, want to fly their planes as soon as possible but that way doth lead to chaos.

Tell the students to write their initials on the nose of each plane they make. This is critical as it’s the only identifier of each pair and a plane without identifying initials cannot be awarded points.

Students should determine who in their pair is person A and who is person B. Tell the students that for the first question student A in the pair folds the paperplane, student B locates the answers in the textbook and student A writes the answers on the plane as spoken by student B. For the next question the roles are reversed. Switching back and forth in this way ensures both students in the pair have multiple opportunities to make the planes, do the research and listen while they write the answers.

Make a list of the pairs down the side of the board at the front of the room and you’re ready to play! Take your first pre-prepared plane and send it flying. The student who catches the plane is to read out the topic and the required information/answers. The race is now on for the students to locate the information in the textbook, write it on a plane and send the plane flying in to your fixed position at the front and centre of the room. Your job is to catch the first airborne plane within reach and read aloud what the pair has written on it. Points are awarded for every correct answer and if an answer is missing or insufficient, pick up off the floor the paperplane closest to you, sent from another pair, bearing in mind that paperplanes will land anywhere and everywhere. If the plane contains the needed answer, that pair wins the points. Write the points on the board, throw your next pre-prepared paperplane and the game continues.

Despite appearances, this game is very structured and moves the group as a whole through the research, ensuring all students are researching and learning at much the same pace. Answers are read, spoken, heard, written and then heard again when read aloud by you, thereby engaging the three ‘learning styles’ commonly known as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic and maximising the learning potential.

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