Teaching & Learning Lab


Patterns show us the way! Looking back at the inspiration café with Christian Köppe

christian köppeWorldwide, scientists in many disciplines are investigating the pattern underlying success, in the expectation to be able to learn from it. On February 14, Christian Köppe, computer science teacher and researcher at Utrecht University, showed in the TLL inspiration café how patterns can be used to learn from educational practices.

The idea originated in architecture, where people started to describe design elements that were successful, a way to ensure that this tacit knowledge would not be forgotten. By saving and publishing the knowledge gained, it can then be used by others. This patterns method has been around for half a century.

Pattern research

Patterns researchers examine how they can abstract patterns from existing situations. They then ask whether these patterns are valid and represent the essence of a mechanism that is also effective in another situation. Köppe sees patterns as a way to fill the gap between educational theory and practice. What do educational researchers come up with in their office and what actually happens in the classroom? In fact, any educational model can be described as a configuration of patterns. Such a pattern can be any size from Flipped Classroom to Question Boomerang.

Patterns do not automatically receive a pattern stamp. A description of a pattern must first go be approved by other researchers and practitioners within the worldwide patterns community. This usually happens during workshops at international conferences. Patterns that have been approved in a review are published, for example in conference proceedings or via europlop.net.
inspiratiecafé Patronen

Applications in education

Patterns have also been used in education since the 1990s. This has already yielded practically applicable educational elements. Consider the Question Boomerang: a teacher who receives a question may decide not to answer it himself, but to “throw it back”, perhaps after reformulating the question or with the counter question “What do you think?” In this way, students’ knowledge is activated, and they are encouraged to think for themselves.

Christian Köppe applied a second pattern during the inspiration café: the Surprise Beginning. Start with something unexpected before the lesson: show an intriguing picture or play a piece of music that makes the students wonder what it has to do with the lesson. The effect is that they cannot wait until the lesson starts. This way, the teacher spends less energy getting attention. The condition is that he or she must have a good story for the surprise element.

Teachers can also apply patterns for using ICT in their teaching. For a teacher who is not used to teaching online, a Flipped Classroom is quite an undertaking. On the other hand, he can also make a start with some elements (read: patterns) that work well, such as screen casting and using homework from the past week in class: giving feedback. By confronting pupils and students in advance with their misconceptions or problems, the explanation in the lesson thus becomes more meaningful.

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Author: Frans van Dam (Freudenthal Instituut)