Durban High School is using new teaching methods for its Cambridge Academy classes. Picture: Duncan Guy
Durban - It's geography for a group of Grade 9 boys at Durban High School but it’s not going to be the kind of lesson where they fidget and lose focus with thoughts of the weekend or the sports field as they listen to their teacher rambling on.

Rather, they are about to give, and listen to each other’s, presentations on different aspects of the section of their syllabus on sustainable resources that teacher Carolyn Dickinson has issued them.

She is the director of studies at DHS’s Cambridge Academy, where this form of teaching is common practice. Select students following the mainstream curriculum also get to participate.

The Cambridge curriculum qualifies pupils for entry to many overseas universities.

It’s the second time these Grade 9 pupils have done such presentations.

Dickinson reminds them: “This is not a test, it’s just a presentation and a new way of trying to learn from each other rather than from the teacher.”

One after the other, they present in groups of twos and threes.

A presenter poses the question, “What exactly are resources?”

Hands go up. The pupil he chooses to give the opportunity to answer replies, “Something that can be used to make another thing”.

The presenter replies: “You’re on the right track....”

During a presentation on “sustainable use for grazing”, a pupil from a rural area sheds light on how folk back home manage livestock, which sparks discussion.

“It all leads to more advanced and critical thinking,” says Dickinson. “They evaluate research. They are not just thrown information. They analyse. Boys, especially, need to be active while learning. You don’t need to tell them everything. They need to find things out. Then they’ll remember.

“They like to find things out that way, then there’s a challenge. If you give the easy way out, they don’t engage.”

She says that jibes and humour all play a part in the interaction.

Dickinson sits on the sidelines, more of a facilitator than a teacher, throwing in bits of information during presentations. Such as an anecdote about air monitoring on the Bluff when she was a student to a little nudge like “be more specific” to a presenter whose definition of genetically modified foods is only “they are made stronger”.

Then, like a referee blowing the whistle at the end of a rugby match, Dickinson announces they’ve now reached “information overload” and it’s time for a quick analysis. The two remaining presentations will be given when they next meet for geography.

“Previously you were just reading off your presentations. Now you understand,” she tells the class, and the boys agree.

“Power points are also clearer this time. You definitely all spoke better.”

Dickinson says public speaking is becoming more and more important. “At universities there is more and more presenting. If you start doing it now, their confidence grows.”

The presentations are also time-efficient, she says, sometimes fitting in as much as four weeks’ work in two lessons.

DHS principal Tony Pinheiro says radical changes are coming to education. “Only 30% of boys are engaged in the traditional classroom environment, which is non pupil-centric. This (system) allows the development of boys working at their levels and it also develops a lot of the skills they require, such as research and presentation, critical thinking and discussion.

“It also speeds up the process of getting through the syllabus and they remember what they learn for so much longer. It’s not like writing an exam and forgetting what you wrote.”

The Independent on Saturday