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Preparing learners to face the future with a SMILE
Smart kids

“Our task is to educate their (our students) whole being so they can face the future. We may not see the future, but they will and our job is to help them make something of it.” ~ Sir Ken Robinson

Smart kidsIf you agree with Sir Ken Robinson, then you’ll also agree that education serves a purpose bigger than a suite of academic outcomes that only capture part of a person’s ability at the end of the schooling process.  If you agree with that statement, you might also be inclined to agree that our learners need to know how to find their purpose in life, how to be successful but in a manner which ensures their happiness and gratitude.  But how do you squeeze these positive psychology messages into a curriculum that is already overburdened and where teachers lack the time to develop resources that focus on the learners’ well-being?

Gratitude trees are a visual representation of recognising acts of kindness.  They are easily implemented into a classroom environment and can be the first step in a process where our learners embark on a journey of well-being and self-discovery.

On episode 25 of the Inspiration 4 Teachers Podcast Show, Ashley Manuel, Head of PE & Sport at Immanuel Primary School, Adelaide, Australia and founder of Growing with Gratitude has developed a new revolutionary approach to help teachers and learners build positive habits.

Together Ashley and I discuss simple and effective strategies to implement positive habits of well-being into your classroom.

Episode take-aways:

  • Benefits of introducing habits of well-being, happiness and gratitude into your classroom
  • Classroom activities for promoting happiness, gratitude, mindfulness and service
  • How to develop positive and engaging habits
  • Modelling behaviours of service at school and in the community

If you enjoyed this article please tweet the knowledge forward and share with your community!

INSPIRATION 4 TEACHERS

BRINGING YOU INTERVIEWS WITH INSPIRING PEOPLE WHO ARE CHANGING THE FACE OF EDUCATION!

The Best Lesson I Never Taught
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As part of lesson study in my school (Soham Village College) I decided to try and develop a one off lesson which involved no teacher participation at all! Obviously careful preparation was paramount to success and the lesson did take several hours to put together. The activities were not as rigorous as I would usually plan for in a GCSE history lesson (some were pretty much there for fun) but it was a fascinating experiment and experience and demonstrated just how well students can work in collaboration (and independently) if we give them the opportunity.

Students came in – creepy music playing – tables set out with mixed ability group names on and an A4 envelope which stated – ‘Do not open until told to do so’. Groups were carefully selected in advance.

I handed a scroll to a quiet but able student which said – ‘You are the only person allowed to touch the computer this lesson – get up and open the folder called ‘start here’ – after the video has played ensure the screen with all of the folders on is visible’. Handing this student the note was the one and only teacher interaction for the whole lesson.

1

The student opened the intro video and I appeared on screen dressed as a creepy clown – this set the ‘mystery/horror’ mood of the lesson – the clown tells the class that if they are ever to leave they need to solve the mysteries and riddles during the lesson.

2

The clown tells the students to open the envelopes on the table. Inside they find a selection of sources, an A3 grid and an instruction sheet. Very quickly and efficiently the students worked out what to do. An interesting observation at this point was how natural leaders developed in groups and how groups took different approaches. Some choose to split the work amongst the group to speed up time. Others choose to work as one group with one member reading the sources to the rest. From my observations all students were involved in this first task.

3This task took them about 13 minutes and involved them trying to decide if the sources (9 in total) were for or against the statement on 19th century policing – at this point I was interested (and slightly nervous) as to what would happen next. They had no further instructions – all the clown had said was that the code would be revealed if they got it right. It was fascinating to watch as one student got up and started checking what other groups had got – the class worked together sharing thoughts until eventually they released that there were 5 sources for the statement and 4 against – this matched one of the folders on the screen ‘5F4A’ – the student chosen at the start moved to the PC opened the folder and this revealed the second clown video.

This video congratulated them and then told them to look under their chairs – which caused great excitement! Under selected chairs I had stuck words. There was no further instruction. The students who had words removed them – some students then took a lead and it was fascinating to see them organise themselves. They decided to use sellotape to pin the words onto the board – then they started rearranging them to make sense – it took no time at all for them to work out the message – ‘Look between the black and blue book on the shelf’. This then gave them the next batch of A4 envelopes.

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5These A4 envelopes contained an article on the police and a sheet with another statement – this time on the failure of the police to catch Jack the Ripper. They had to read the article and identify reasons as to why the murderer was never caught and how far this was the fault of the police force. They worked out fairly quickly that this would reveal another code. Again they worked well and shared their findings across groups. One problem was that they only completed one side of the table as they quickly realised there was only one folder with 4 agree (4A 5D). Although this showed good initiative it meant they did not fully consider the arguments against the statement. Once solved the allocated student opened the folder and the clown appeared again. He is getting more erratic and evil by this point! The clown tells them to look under the recycling bin where they find the envelopes for the next task.

6The penultimate task involved the class trying to break 4 different codes – some involved replacing numbers with letters others involved changing letters – they were given no instruction as to what the code might be. It was interesting to observe how groups worked again. Some groups worked as a four – one code at a time. Other groups split and took a code each. The natural leaders worked out that working as a class was the most efficient method some students starting asking the whole class if any were solved yet. They were looking for factors as to why the crime rate fell in the late 1800s. Once they solved all 4 riddles they worked out they needed to open the folder called – Police, living, prisons, tax.

On opening the final video the clown presented the class with a riddle to solve. They were told that once they had solved it they should open the cupboard at the back of the class. They played the video a couple of times and then one student solved it. This was a special moment as the person who solved the riddle is an FFT E grade prediction – for a moment there she became the class hero!

When they opening the cupboard they were presented with 5 envelopes – ‘The Maid’ – ‘The Gardener’ – ‘The Butler’ – ‘The Wife’ – ‘The Cook’. The answer to the riddle was the maid. On opening this envelope they got the final code.

The final video gave them the end silly message from the clown and concluded the lesson. The whole thing had lasted 55 minutes – timings could not have been more perfect! I had not spoken to the class for the whole lesson (just sat at the back largely ignored by the students) and the only action taken during the whole lesson was handing the note to the student at the very beginning!

 

Using citizen science in the classroom
July 2, 2015
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Learners taking photos for their citizen science projectLearners taking photos for their citizen science project

Citizen science is science that involves amateur or non-professional scientists. It may involve online tagging of photos taken by field scientists, drones or camera traps, for example Zooniverse’s PenguinWatch. Other citizen science may be game-based, for example the protein-folding game Foldit, which led gamers to solve the structure of a retrovirus enzyme in a matter of weeks – professional scientists had been trying to solve the puzzle of its structure for over a decade!

I am very interested in using citizen science in the classroom. Science education researchers Wolff-Michael Roth and Stuart Lee (not that one!) have long advocated incorporating citizen science into the school curriculum as a way to increase science literacy, leverage lifelong learning, and foster participation in community issues. It also helps to break down the barriers between learning in the classroom and the real world. I have recently started introducing my Year 11 students to a website called  Project Noah. This is an online tool for documenting biodiversity around the world. It is specifically aimed at citizen scientists, with an active community of enthusiasts and experts ready to offer suggestions and advice for identifying species.

Last year I had my students go out into the school grounds to take photos of the different organisms they found. They then returned to the classroom and uploaded their spottings to the Project Noah website. Student feedback was positive following the activity, with one student remarking that it was their favourite biology activity all year!

Based on my reflections following last year’s activity, this year I developed the project further. Instead of going out into the school grounds, I asked learners to work in small groups and to take photos of any wildlife from anywhere around Bangkok. The following week I explained the Project Noah guidelines and had them upload their wildlife photos. Then we took the work a step further – my school uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and we have access to Google Sites, a web site development platform. So the next step was for the students to create their own website in order to display their photos of the biodiversity to be found in and around Bangkok. This gives learners opportunities to be creative, and to produce a genuine product that will have an external audience: once complete, the website will be viewable by everyone in my school’s GAFE domain. Each group has created their own subpage within the website, and given their page a name, although I’m still unsure as to why one of the pages has been called JeffreyBio!

The work is ongoing at the moment, but the website my learners are developing is starting to take shape nicely.

A Deeper Approach to Planning Learning Experiences
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Engineering effective learning experiences: Motivated by a recent chat with the ever stimulating Carl Gombrich (@carlgomb) I wanted to take an earlier article where I discussed a form of Curriculum which synthesises Challenge Based and Collaborative Group Learning a little further.

In this article I wish to outline and extend an approach I and a number of colleagues apply when designing long term (curriculum) and short term sequences of learning experiences. The approach, presented here as steps and in diagrammatic form, acts as a learning driven planning framework which provides a foundation for a range of pedagogies, especially those aligned with a Group, Cooperative or Collaborative Group Learning Process, to be applied.

Step 1, the opening move: Before any other step the concept/theme/topic to be explored should be chosen, an aligned Driving Question designed and the time available (in and out of ‘class’) for the learning experience established.

The concept being explored is Justice. This concept will be explored through the Driving Question: How could you make your world more Just? 6 weeks are available for this concept to be explored.

Step 2, establish the Core: Decide what subject/domain specific Knowledge, Understanding and Skills you wish learners to develop. Due to longer term planning such decisions about KUS should be shaped by where the learning is coming from and where it is going to; what has been learnt, what needs to be developed. The chosen K & U act as a Case Study to be investigated and to be used to model later Collaborative and/or Individual activity. It should be these three aspects which will be assessed and progress within them recorded and measured thus providing the learning experience with an academic core.

In this sequence of learning experiences (a unit of work) learners will have an opportunity to develop knowledge about The Holocaust. They will have an opportunity to develop an understanding of The Holocaust in particular the Political Social Economic factors that contributed to The Holocaust and the role People Ideas and Events played within its development. Through this Case Study Learners will be provided with opportunities to develop the skill of Historical Interpretation through Collaborative Enquiry and teacher led Master Classes and enhance the skill of Research & Record through application supported by targeted Master Classes. The development of knowledge will be assessed through a factual test (at the start and end of the sequence to measure K development), understanding assessed through a piece of extended writing about the causes of The Holocaust using agreed criteria (I can statements) and the skill of Research & Record will be assessed through the accurate application of the R&R criteria during preparation for the final artefact; a collaboratively written 5 minute speech.

Step 3, once the subject Core of KUS has been chosen: Decide what Personalised Learning Choices students can make to shape their own learning experiences. The nature of these choices should be informed, but not limited, by the Core. The semi permeable PLC’s can also offer opportunities to connect subject areas. Learners may be given opportunities to find, establish, explore connections between subject areas in terms of KUS relevant to the guiding topic/concept/theme or the Core. Master Classes may be planned to provide personalised support for KUS development.

Learners will have the opportunity to choose an injustice present in their world which they find interesting, they have a passion for, applying R&R to explore the causes of, the nature of and possible solutions to this injustice. Opportunities to explore the injustice along the lines of differing perspectives, for example connecting to Theology, Law, Philosophy, Sociology, Media, Politics, Biology to explore more deeply their chosen injustice. Master Classes will be provided in class and online to support learners to enhance their R&R skills and to attend to emerging deficits in knowledge related to their chosen injustice.

Step 4, rest it all on 6 pillars: These pillars have been chosen as they represent what I believe to be fundamental facets of an affective-effective learning process. Others may feel this selection does not align with their own philosophical, theoretical or ideological beliefs. Many hardcore Constructivists would switch out most of these pillars while Behaviourists would choose a wholly different complement of pillars (perhaps bells and electric shocks).

  • Pillar 1: Metacognition. What opportunities will be provided for learners to reflect upon and act upon their own and others approaches to learning?
  • Pillar 2: Feedback. What opportunities will be provided for self, peer and expert feedback and feedforward? How will feedback be acted upon?
  • Pillar 3: Collaboration. What opportunities will learners have to apply and develop the skills of and processes of collaborative group learning?
  • Pillar 4: Enquiry: What opportunities will be provided to investigate and explore challenges and problems? What opportunities will be provided for learners to construct their own questions and investigations?
  • Pillar 5: Authentic Challenge: What opportunities will be provided for personalisation, in terms of choice and support? How will the learning experience be made authentic? Can the assessment of learning be made authentic?
  • Pillar 6: Pragmatic Rehearsal: What opportunities will be provided for learners to practice exam specific skills?

Pillar 1: Regular opportunities will be provided within learning sessions for students to reflect upon there own learning (WWW & EBI approach). At least two opportunities will be given for the Learning Set to reflect upon their group learning processes. This will in part be stimulated by peer and teacher feedback.

Pillar 2: Peer and teacher feedback will be provided with Warm and Cold forms. Follow Up Time will be built into Learning Sessions enabling learners to act upon the feedback, planning the next steps in their own or the Learning Sets learning. Feedback will be verbal and written, provided for in and out of class learning and following on from each assessment. The assessment of understanding will be followed by feedback and a planned opportunity for learners to respond to feedback. Feedback will also guide which Master Classes should be attended during the injustice investigation.

Pillar 3: The Learning Set will provide for ongoing collaboration, in particular through discussion. Collaborative processes will be activated during The Holocaust interpretations activity following on from The Holocaust Master Class. In particular collaboration will be undertaken through the planning of and undertaking of the injustice investigation (planning for and sharing research) and through the co-authoring of the final 5 minute script for the presentation script.

Pillar 4: The collaborative investigation will require question construction, both driving and research in nature. R&R will facilitate collaborative and individual enquiry into the chosen injustice.

Pillar 5: Authenticity through Learning Set choice of investigation. They will own this investigation, its topic and the questions designed to enact the enquiry. Learners will be encouraged to choose a topic they are passionate about or directly effects them. The final assessed speech will be delivered to a real audience made up of experts, staff, peers and parents.

Pillar 6: GCSE criteria will be applied to the extended paragraph on the causes of The Holocaust giving students a flavour of GCSE expectations.

An additional step could be implemented at this stage to add further sophistication to this planning process. A promotion of Learner Attributes or, as seems very popular with the establishment right now, Character through learning experiences may lead to planning for how each attribute is covertly-overtly developed. Similar to the pillar approach above one may consider how each and every or selected attributes are developed. For example how will I provide opportunities for learners to develop the attribute internationalism through this sequence of learning experiences? How will I recognise it when that attribute is developed? How can I measure the development of that attribute? (My next article ‘Facilitating and Measuring the development of Learner Attributes’ will address each of these questions).

In summary, within much ‘lesson planning’ the process seems to stop at Step 2. Such shallow planning for teaching rather than learning, if I may be so bold, is a hallmark of many classroom. The approach outlined here takes planning, informed by learning, deeper, creating a truer framework for learning and a guide for curriculum as well as ‘lesson’ planning.

I have provided the table below as a structure to guide the planning of sequences, a table which perhaps could replace the somewhat pointless lesson planning proforma many teachers endure while knowing it serves little purpose.

learning experience planning framework

Eyes Down for Bingo!
June 18, 2015
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Using bingo cards is something I’ve done since I was an NQT and I’ve always found it to be a useful way to test pupil knowledge of characters or quotes. It’s simple enough to include a group of either on the cards and then call out a clue which the class have to decipher in order to cross off enough to get a line or full house. It’s fun and as a simple knowledge test, reliable but it can take up a lot of time both during the lesson and in the planning stages.

Recently I’ve been thinking about developing the quality of the content as well as making it more focused on pupils taking ownership of the game. Most recently with Year 9, I was hoping to embed their knowledge of the characters at the beginning of a unit on Romeo and Juliet (particularly now that they need to have a much greater depth of knowledge with the new GCSE assessment approach) and ensure that they were able to link these with key quotes in preparation for a scene analysis of theme.

Each board had a slightly different layout to ensure that the whole class didn’t match everything at once but in order to foster a more independent approach; the pupils worked in pairs with a set of coloured character cards each turning over the cards and matching them to an appropriate quote or analysis point. As you can see in the pictures, cards can be laminated and two coloured highlighters can be used too. Wipe clean and reusable!

This format is so versatile that it can be developed from Bingo to Connect Four according to the rules that you set as a teacher. It can be used as an indicator of gaps in knowledge or as a springboard to prompt further and more detailed discussion. Rather than having simply characters and quotes, the boards can be developed to include analytical statements about characters and events which pupils must discuss before ‘marking’ or blank squares can be left in order for pupils to add their own thoughts. Used as an individual or paired task, for a quick warm up, plenary or as a revision tool before the exam, it never gets old. Let’s face it, the novelty factors will always be there. After all, who doesn’t love a good game?

Cross-posted from The Ramblings of an Enthusiastic Teacher

Using a short, silent film to stimulate independent learning, discussion and writing
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I was really delighted to be asked by Pedagoo to explain how I would use this short film to enliven learning in my classroom. In this post I am mindful of how to harness the abilities of our visual learners. By using this visual text my aim is to generate extended thinking and learning and to encourage engagement with the writing process. I was inspired by David Didau’s hexagonal learning (Solo taxonomy) strategy to create genuine pupil-led independent learning and to find some evidence that this, often alchemical aspect of teaching has taken place.

Activity One
1.Watch this short film prior to showing it to your class. It lasts for 7 minutes.

2. In the classroom you might PAUSE the film mid-way when the little girl is resolute that she won’t accept the boy’s charity. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT ?– cue class writing activity… Five minutes of writing

Join in with this activity teachers !

The whole class including you writes the story. Write frantically, announcing an amnesty on spelling (just for this activity). What really matters here is that ideas are being blasted onto paper. After a strict five minutes, (set a timer) everyone must stop. Then enjoy reading all of the weird and wonderful responses this writing generates. Don’t be precious, read yours out too and accept the fact your pupils may be a little ahem… underwhelmed !

Leave it there fizzing with potential for next time. Your pupils will love this unrestricted burst of writing. Deliberately don’t be too prescriptive about using certain vocabulary banks in advance, see what your students will try, what might flow.

3. Don’t forget to read lots out even if it’s only a paragraph or two – then watch the film to see who the future script writers might be in your class !

Activity Two
Hexagonal Learning – Independent Learning using this visible thinking strategy and discussion tool.

  1. In groups of 4-5 pupils list the narrative moments in the film on hexagonal post-it notes. One event/word per post-it note. Ideally you would use lots of different colours and link the colours to the content.
  2. The pupils then list some of the themes they think may be emerging in the film.
  3. Together the group joins the hexagons up and discusses why they are placing them in a particular order.
  4. The hexagons are photographed and then using Bluetooth or other alternatives are linked to the classroom white board for all to see. Two members from each group go to the board and explain the connections they have made collectively, their decisions and the group thinking to the rest of the class. See below for an example:

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Figure 1 Hexagonal Learning using Hexagonal Post-it Notes

This activity ensures that pupils, come up with ideas, lead the discussion and make decisions and links independently.

You could also use a template, depending on your class and the ability ranges, where you direct the learning and the pupils develop the initial ideas. I would use this sort of template below, which is a PowerPoint that can be tweaked according to whatever you are teaching. I would have at least 20 prompts on the hexagons. Print and cut the hexagons out, for longevity you may also wish to laminate them. (Do this while they are still in sheet form and use the school, paper guillotine for cutting out.)

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Figure 2 Hexagon Generator Pam Hook
pamhook.com/solo-apps/hexagon-generator

Cards of Significance
poker-686981_640

A very simple ideas which uses the values of playing cards to order parts of an event, those involved or certain factors.

Example posted here shows the power gained by certain leaders/ countries after World War Two. I split the card into two areas to give an example of how they gained their power and what this new power meant for their position in the world/ Europe.

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These were then displayed at the front of the classroom from lowest to higest. These were then left there for the remainder of the lesson as we continued our learning into the same topic so students were able to re-visit the information and even change their minds on who gained more power.

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An iPad is ‘just’ another tool for learning
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There has always been plenty of attention given to the Apple iPad, especially when it is mentioned in the same breath as education. But what we must always remember is it is just another tool for learning, like a dictionary, or a calculator.  We must always remember that if we can achieve better outcomes using something else, then use it!

We must not lose site of the end product, force ourselves to use the technology because you feel that you must; when actually the technology is slowing the process and is detrimental to the outcome.  Technology is great for engaging children, but if they don’t see a point in using it, the outcome will usually suffer.

We introduced 1:1 iPads in my classroom just after February half term with the idea being that we wanted them to be unnoticeable in the classroom. The children could choose when and how they used them to enhance their learning and outcomes. After the initial set up period and ensuring the workflow was understood by the children we set off on our journey. So what have we done so far?

Cricket:  Finding my own next steps

During our cricket sessions we use our iPads to review our performances. I allow the children to film a modelled example of a shot I perform and then use it to compare to their own performances.

If they need to check a certain part of the shot, the children can then watch it back to see were they need to improve.  They also filmed each other and reviewed their shots during the lesson, each time referring back to the example I’d given them.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.35.50

Here you can see one of the children have used Pic Collage to make a note of their next steps at the end of the week.  A great starting point for the next lesson – pick up from where they left off completely independently.  I really have seen the benefits of having 1:1 iPads for this as they have a record of their own performance.   I plan to use it for assessment purposes to track progress throughout PE sessions. The children have also uploaded them to Edmodo to share with parents. 

Blogging using Edmodo on the iPads

I’ve tried blogging before with children for years and now it finally makes sense when they have their own device. The freedom to write when they want to has enabled the children to write their blogs on the go, whenever they have a spare minute.

I chose to use Edmodo as a start to blogging with my current class. It gives them an instant audience, something we all crave as bloggers – someone to actually read what you’ve written!  The children have started to write comments and feedback for each other and improve their blogs. I’ve asked them to write at least one a week to keep the interest up.

One interesting thing is watching the children typing on the iPads.  Most use their thumbs or single finger in portrait mode. Very few actually type like you traditionally would on a keyboard using the iPads landscape view.  Something to watch and think about? Touch typing lessons on the iPads? It’s not as if they’re slow at typing, far from it, but is it something to develop?

Children Creating Maths Calculation Video Guides

We’ve been using video as part of our flipped classroom but I’ve always produced the videos for the children. I’ll certainly keep doing this as I’ve found it incredibly useful as it allows children to find their next steps and to know which challenge they are attempting each day.

The children have been using Edmodo recently to save and collect work and information and then store it in their online ‘backpack,’ Edmodo’s version of the cloud.

They have found this incredibly useful as they are not losing documents and can post work simply from their backpack without searching for it.  It also allows you to link your Google Drive account, which I have found incredibly useful. Easily share work from my library/backpack with the children.

So why ask the children to start creating their own videos and how did we do it? 

I asked the children if they could prove to me that they could use the four written methods of calculation for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Their response was – it’s in our books. True, but I wonder if they can verbalise their calculations and show a real understanding, using the correct mathematical language?  

Through discussion we also decided that it could be useful to create a video when we got stuck. Basically, “this is the bit where I got stuck, help me!”  I liked that idea and set the children to work.

I use Vittle FREE A LOT when creating my short maths video guides. I find limiting my explanations to a minute enables me to get to the point. Its simplicity also stops me from spending ages ‘beautifying’ the presentation.

I simply speak alongside my screen drawings and then upload them to Edmodo to share with the children.  There is plenty of information on my past posts about how we use videos to help us learn.

How do you create the video in one go? You make it look so easy! 

This was a common comment during the sessions – they’re right, I have mastered the skill.  

This got me thinking during the session – this could be a great assessment tool as well! Can the children subtract competently using a written method? Their explanation would tell me – I’ve only watched a handful so far, but from what I’ve seen has been priceless.  I am watching 30 children calculating in real time, I’m not waiting to mark an end product and then trying to work out where they’ve gone wrong.  I can actually see and hear them!

In the future I can see children beginning to use this to build up a portfolio of evidence to support assessment without levels. Pictures of writing with annotations analysing what was good using explain everything; mathematical videos modelling understanding of a skill and a collection of videos and pictures created by me and other children in the class or school.

Area and Perimeter – Helpful resources
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Kids struggle with this topic.  They find the area by adding all the sides and multiply to find the perimeter… Or worse they add then multiply in a complex calculation!  Now I’m not saying i’ve cracked it using the resource below my kids have spent the week wrestling with challenging questions that has had them deeply engaged and discussing the two to an extent that I hope will mean long term gain.

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Blank 100 grid game

I’m finding more and more uses for a blank 100 number grid and this wee game is fast becoming my S1′s favourite.  In pairs, pupils are given a blank 100 grid, two different coloured pencils and two dice.  They take turns to roll and what ever numbers they are given they have to draw a rectangle with those dimensions on the grid e.g. if they roll a 4 and a 3 they’d draw a four by three (or three by four) rectangle. Play until grid is complete – winner has most squares coloured in or for a twist – whoever draws the last rectangle.

What do the pupils learn from this?

  • Simple motor skills of using a ruler
  • Simple counting – it’s amazing how the really poor kids will draw a five by three instead of four by three because they don’t count the first box as “it belongs to the three boxes”
  • Timestables – kinesthetic practice of 4 x 3 etc.
  • Strategy – where to put the rectangles on the grids
  • Probability – some numbers come up more than others – so they say – investigations to be pursued!
  • Area of a rectangle – by default and without mentioning it for the first few weeks of playing the game… Bonus!!!

Extensions I have been mulling over and will look to introduce this week are:

  • Add the numbers instead of multiply to give area and pupils will have to decide the rectangle dimensions
  • Use of half squares
  • Don’t need to draw rectangles
  • The number from the dice (added or multiplied) has to be the perimeter

Here is a blank 100 grid sheet if you fancy giving this a go.

 

NRich Worksheet

With all the kids practice of area of a rectangle within the game it seemed appropriate not to get them doing a simple textbook exercise so I had a look on my hard drive and found this beauty of a worksheet:

NRich Website – Area and Perimeter

The kids worked in pairs trying to come up with rectangles and other shapes which would meet the criteria asked of them which resulted in far more practice of area and perimeter calculations than would’ve been carried out if they were doing a straightforward ‘find the area/perimeter’ type worksheet/exercise. More than that though; my kids showed great resilience and the ‘have-a-go’ attitude that I’ve been wanting to see for months!

They drew lots of shapes and started to think about half squares (I could’ve jumped on this, went off on a tangent and talked about Pythagoras’ Theorem but instead I just told them the length of diagonal was 1.4 and built the suspense of “we’ll learn how to work this out for ourselves next year”) and some kids got very creative with their shapes e.g. one pupil drew a robot where squares were removed from rectangle head to make area less without effecting perimeter.

They might not have twigged onto logical processes that some of their peers in higher sets would have; they were mostly using blind luck and trial and error but they were thinking about what they were doing and noticing some patterns and that’s all I ever want from my kids :-)

All in all, they’ll probably still get mixed up between working out area and perimeter but they’ve had more practice using these two resources with not a bored sigh heard all week.  I’m calling that a success.

Encouraging and developing questioning skills
Learners writing their questions on the board.Learners writing their questions on the board.

Whilst looking online for new approaches to encourage learner questioning, I found the Right Question Institute. They suggest that questioning is not a skill that learners are routinely encouraged to undertake, and is one that is often not explicitly taught. A strategy that they have developed to address this is the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), which encourages learners to formulate and articulate their own questions.

In this post I will briefly outline the steps involved in the QFT, full details of which can be downloaded from the Right Question Institute (it is free to sign up). I will then describe my first attempt at using this approach in class, which produced some good questions, along with a few amusing ones!

Summary of the QFT

1. The question focus – this can be anything that is used to stimulate learners’ questions, for example an image, a video, or an article.

2. Produce questions – based on the question focus, learners are instructed to:

  • Ask as many questions as they can
  • Don’t stop to answer, judge, or discuss
  • Write down every question exactly as stated
  • Change any statements into questions

Once questions have been generated, learners could write them up on flipchart paper, on the board, on Post-It notes etc.

3. Improve questions – Learners are encouraged to improve the questions. This could include, for example, a discussion around closed versus open questions, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

4. Prioritize questions

Learners review the question list and choose the three questions that in their opinion are most important.

5. Reflect

Have learners reflect on the original question focus, what has been learned so far, and discuss how this relates to the topic at hand.

The QFT involves a shift in practice, where learners ask questions instead of the teacher. Three key thinking abilities are encouraged with this approach:

  • Divergent thinking, which may be broader, go off on a tangent, incorporate other topics, or make links beyond the classroom.
  • Convergent thinking, which allows learners to focus and prioritize.
  • Metacognitive skills, encouraging learners to think about thinking, how to ask questions, which questions are important and why.

The learner-generated questions can be used for a variety of purposes, including to:

  • Guide lesson planning
  • Increase engagement and ownership
  • Demonstrate inquiry in the classroom
  • Stimulate a fun introduction to a topic
  • Be a driving question for project-based learning
  • Make the classroom more democratic, and give learners more of a voice
  • Encourage study skills, rather than simply ‘delivering’ content

Using the QFT

I recently tried out the QFT with some of my Year 13s – they are Thai students who receive the majority of their lessons in English. This term we are taking an in-depth look at evolution. I begin this topic with a peer-teaching assignment based around the evidence for evolution. Learners work in small groups, with each group focusing on a particular strand of the evidence for evolution: fossil evidence, morphological evidence, molecular evidence and so on. I decided to try out the QFT as an engagement activity at the start of this assignment.

The question focus was simply a pair of images: photos of a platypus, and of a ‘crocoduck’ – a Photoshopped image of a duck with a crocodile’s head. The aim was for students to formulate questions based on their thoughts about these two images, and how they may relate to questions around the evidence for evolution.

There were some good questions that came up, for example:

  • If these two have the same ancestor, why do they evolve to adapt to environment differently?
  • Can crocodiles fertilize with ducks?
  • Are these two animals related to one another?
  • Is there a crocoduck in real-life, and will it be carnivore or herbivore?
  • How can (the crocoduck) balance its body.
  • Does the platypus live in water?
  • Does the crocoduck fly?

There were also a few amusing questions:

  • What software was used to Photoshop the picture (of the crocoduck)
  • What the hell do they eat?
  • Is this the creation of an evil organization?
  • Has science gone too far? Illuminati confirmed!

On reflection, this was a fun and engaging activity, which did produce some good questions. Due to time constraints I was unable to spend much time with the students in terms of refining and improving their questions. However, when asked to prioritize the questions that they considered most interesting or useful, they chose the questions I would have also chosen, such as the first one in the top list above.

Another thought that has occurred to me since doing this activity is to repeat it towards the end of the course, possibly with a different artifact as the question focus. Hopefully the questions asked will be somewhat more sophisticated and the students will gain an appreciation of just how much they have learned.

I would definitely use this approach again, although I would use this particular example slightly differently, such as an engagement device prior to an assignment based around natural selection, adaptation, and environmental selective pressure, given the questions it elicited. In general though I found the QFT to be engaging for learners and very useful for generating questions.