Return to the “Sandbox”

Return to the “Sandbox”

Monika Schloder
1996 3M Teaching Fellow

uring my childhood in Germany, ten or fifteen of us would meet daily after school at the neighborhood sandbox where we collectively created a variety of projects from castles to zoos. We shared and discussed different ideas, agreed and disagreed and decided which ideas to build on. Sometimes we worked silently. Sometimes the process was very dynamic and sometimes it was competitive as we voted for the best solutions. One of my favourite games was “add on” where we took an idea and everyone built on it to see what was going to be the final outcome. This process encourages creative and innovative thinking as well as critical analysis, all of which we children called play.

It is not surprising then, that I see education as a cooperative art in a setting where teachers and students develop a symbiotic and reciprocal relationship based on mutual respect and trust. The question is how do we achieve such a learning environment today? Given the “numbers game” affecting current classrooms, how can we ensure that all students are given an opportunity to express their thoughts in a critical and logical manner and to demonstrate the ability to seek creative solutions? In the course of my thirty-five years of university teaching, I have found the “Sandbox” approach to be an excellent teaching and management tool and one that enhances these goals.

I created a course at the University of Calgary called Peer Tutor Facilitation. Senior students, having passed a senior course in International Sport Perspectives with an A or B grade, act as facilitators and peer tutor/mentors for first-year students in Sport Sociology. They meet with me to plan the week’s lecture sessions and attend the classes.

The students in the first-year course (with an enrollment of about 150) work in small groups and are assigned issues and encouraged to think creatively. Plastic charts are attached to the classroom walls on which the group discussions are summarized. The peer tutors and I rotate among the groups, assisting and providing probing questions. I follow up with lectures and Power Point presentations on the issues. Peer tutors present a series of mini-lectures and videos on selected topics. Presenting lectures, leading debates and producing videos are skills acquired in the course.

The students and peer tutors are very stimulated to learn, eager to discuss and to solve problems. They are engaged in more than just sitting and taking notes. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. The “Sandbox” approach works for me.