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Switching kids on…
October 15, 2014
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Image by flickr.com/photos/mybloodyselfImage by flickr.com/photos/mybloodyself

Earlier this year I shared the outcomes of approaching a new topic with my S1 class differently. Basically, rather than starting the topic with the title, learning outcomes etc., we started with a discussion which generated questions…

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 19.07.04

Once we have the students’ questions, we add in the experiences and outcomes and begin to bring together a topic together as a class. They then name the topic. This year it’s called ‘The Wonderful Wizard of Life’ - a fantastic title which I would never have come up with myself. What has really blown me away this year however has been their questions. The following questions are the ones they came up with which we were able to easily align to our experiences and outcomes:

  • What species are there?
  • Is there life only on Earth? How and why was life on Earth formed?
  • How was life on Earth found?
  • Why did humans evolve on Earth and not on Mars?
  • How did we change from monkeys to humans?
  • Could there have been life on Mars because there was water?
  • How does life continue every day?

However, for some reason we had a much greater variety of questions this year which left us with the following to answer…

  • Why do hammer head sharks have a hammer head?
  • What made the countries split up?
  • How do natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes and tornadoes occur?
  • How was the Earth made?
  • Could humans survive a meteorite hitting Earth?
  • How can animals survive in Chernobyl (Ukraine) and we can’t?
  • Where do deadly viruses come from?
  • Why were the dinosaurs killed through meteors?
  • How do viruses transfer to humans?
  • Will there ever be WWIII? What will happen if it does?
  • How does gravity work?
  • How do volcanoes erupt?
  • How far away is space?
  • What did space look like before Earth was created?
  • How does Earth stay together?
  • What will happen if meteors hit the Earth?
  • How did the Earth’s core get made?
  • What are the planets made from?
  • How big are all the planets?
  • How was the sun made?
  • What did space look like before the big bang?
  • Why is there no ozone layer in Australia?
  • Is there anything which could destroy Earth?
  • What if the hole in the ozone layer gets too big?

Wow! Remember, these students are in S1…which means they’re about 12 years old. Our curriculum will perhaps attempt to answer some of these over the next six years, but not all. How did we answer all these I hear you ask…well they each chose one to research at home and share back to the class as a homework project which they did brilliantly on Friday of last week. Not a perfect solution, but at least they had the chance of exploring at least one of these big questions and hearing from others about their questions too.

This whole process has really made me think…if that’s the questions they are arriving to us with, why is it so hard for us to make the space to answer them? Also, if we make no attempt to try and answer their own amazing questions is it little wonder that many of them eventually switch off to schooling? Imagine instead of being so obsessed with content in S1-3, we instead focused on those skills and attributes which we so wished our students possessed in S4 onwards? I’m not saying knowledge doesn’t matter, but I don’t think everything necessarily needs to be taught to everyone at the same time.

One of my favourite papers contains a much more complex version of the table below. Harris suggests that to get learners to see the purpose in, and even ‘own’, their own learning they need to be collaborators in the learning process:

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

Continuum of Learner Engagement (What) and how teachers
can achieve these levels of engagement (How). Adapted from Harris (2010).

I love this idea and have been striving to find a way to make it a reality in my classroom for some time now. It really shouldn’t be that hard given that there is significant overlap between this idea and the capacities we are tasked with developing as part of the curriculum.

FourCapacitiesDiagram530_tcm4-715823

So, for me there seems to be a contradiction here. If we want our learners to own their own learning and develop the capacities we want them to have, we need to be able to allow them to be collaborators in the learning process. If they are to be collaborators in the learning process then we need to make the space to take their complex and challenging questions seriously as part of their curriculum.

Ultimately, if we want our kids to be switched on we have to somehow find a way of decluttering the curriculum and making the space for it to happen…

Cross-posted from fkelly.co.uk

Take your class on an Online Field Trip
August 19, 2014
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Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.57.20

I have been a primary school teacher for more than 12 years, with the majority of my career being in the one school. I have always been a keen cook myself and take an interest in where food comes from and how it is grown. In my current post I have also been the technologies co-ordinator – part of that role is being responsible for increasing the education of food technologies throughout the school. Throughout the years I have always found that some children’s knowledge of where their food comes from is lacking. For example (taken from a lesson I conducted about healthy eating):

Me: Where do carrots come from?

Pupil: From a tin, Miss

Pupil: My mum gets them from the supermarket

Me: Who likes potatoes?

Pupil: Not me, Miss

Me: Do you like chips?

Pupil: Yes, of course

Me: They are made from potatoes

Pupil: Really, I thought the supermarket made them

Some children are unaware that fruit and vegetables are grown on farms and think that they just appear on the supermarket shelves – and they have no other experience or knowledge to contradict that belief. These children are unlikely to go and visit a farm or farmers’ market, unless it is on a school trip, so will continue to have this belief.

Due to there being less money for trips in school, and also parents can’t afford to subsidise the trips, classes are less likely to be able to go and visit farms etc.

V3_F2F_lockup

However Tesco have launched their Eat Happy Project, and part of the resource is Farm to Fork Online Field Trips. These field trips are free and a great way for pupils to see how different foods are produced and supplied without leaving the classroom, while still giving them the real-life context of a visit and interacting with the people involved in the process.

The resources and activities before the event allow the children to gain some prior knowledge and background about the food they are learning about, changing any misconceptions about where the food comes from, and as they are already prepared, it isn’t any extra work for the teacher. They are fun activities that build up the children’s enthusiasm for the certain foods. I also created a homework task, where the children researched about the food, so they were also learning facts independently.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 13.00.56

The Online Field Trips themselves are interactive, using different methods of technology to keep the children interested and also engaging the children by allowing them to speak to the food producer. They also get to see other schoolchildren from different parts of the country.

The children get to pass round the food being discussed, as Tesco send a delivery to the school, they get to grow their own or make their own and then they get to take the food home, so they can share the experience with their parents and create a recipe.

My class took part in an Online Field Trip to a pasta factory in Naples, Italy. The children loved learning about Italy in the quiz prior to the event and then enjoyed seeing Guiseppe and Sam discussing the production of the different pastas – they were amazed at how many there were! This Online Field Trip was something that the children would never have experienced otherwise, as Scotland isn’t renowned for its pasta-making. The children took pasta and pesto home and we got to make our own fresh pasta as a class, as Tesco had provided us with all the ingredients. One of my pupils even made it with his mum at home from scratch! The children loved the experience of making it, just like Guiseppe!

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 12.57.20

Prior to the Online Field Trip, we looked at the preparation activities; these fully engaged the children and built on their minimal prior knowledge, as they knew what Giuseppe was talking about when he discussed the different types of pasta.

The pupils loved interacting with Sam the presenter and Giuseppe, seeing the other schools and learning about pasta in such a fun and interactive way. We also took part in an Online Field Trip about mushrooms. The class took the mushrooms home and cooked recipes with them, some even brought back the mushroom dish for the class to taste. We also got sent ‘Grow our own mushroom’ kits.

I’d recommend this great project to any class who wish to learn more about healthy food and where it comes from. It’s free for schools and will ensure the children experience an engaging lesson whilst making great use of technology in the classroom.

Take a look behind the scenes at the Perfect Pasta Online Field Trip


The Eat Happy Project is:

  • a cross-curricular resource that fits into the experiences and outcomes of the curriculum and allows for children to gain a greater and more accurate knowledge of where food comes from and how it goes from farm to fork
  • fully inclusive for all pupils, whatever their learning abilities are, and can be adapted to different year groups and differentiated where needed
  • completely free, so doesn’t cost the pupils, schools or parents anything
  • suitable for all learning styles
  • a resource that encourages pupils’ interest in food, the health benefits and nutritional values that certain foods have, in a real-life context.
  • a resource that allows children to visit places they wouldn’t normally be able to visit, albeit virtually.
  • an easy-to-use resource for teachers that doesn’t involve time-consuming preparation time.

 

There are lots more Online Field Trips coming up in the autumn term:

Honey – 11 September 1.30pm

Sweetcorn – 18 September 1.30pm

Rice – 25 September (time TBC)

Broccoli – 2 October 1.30pm

Pumpkin & squash – 9 October 1.30pm

Baked beans – 6 November 1.30pm

Bread – 13 November 1.30pm

Potatoes – 20 November 1.30pm

Tea – 27 November (time TBC)

Clementines – 4 December 1.30pm

For more information about joining an Online Field Trip with your class or to use their fantastic free resources visit the Eat Happy Project website or follow them on Twitter @EatHappyProject

Cheryl Miller, P4/5 Class Teacher at Niddrie Mill Primary School, Edinburgh

A New Approach for those in Danger of Failure?
image

As a teacher, how does this grab you as a challenge? You are to be part of a team working with 30 pupils from the south side of Glasgow? They are identified as being at risk of disengagement, but with the potential to become successful apprentices and good citizens. You must remain true to the principles of Curriculum for Excellence. What might be different for you is that your organisation is ready to wipe the slate with your experience in the classroom. You are going to look at the pedagogies of what works and use them in your practice every day – with only three other colleagues.

“Three?” I hear you ask. Correct. The curriculum will be delivered by four teachers – Science, IT, Maths and English, but also by partner organisations, made up of the private businesses who are not only investing in the venture, but who are guaranteeing apprenticeships to those young people who complete the course and FE colleges which are guaranteeing places for the NJC leavers.

This is the plan for Newlands Junior College, the brainchild of Jim McColl, Scottish entrepreneur. His vision is to take young people who are heading for failure and give them a real prospect of success.

Scotland’s schools are very good. I don’t think that’s in question here. But there is – and always has been – a group of young people who just don’t get a good deal. They are not academically driven, have perhaps a challenging background or a family whose experience of education is entirely negative, but who nonetheless have some kind of talent or ability. They are not heading for university, but exist in a system which is designed to make them feel that the only achievement that really counts is getting in to university. Yet business is crying out for people with good practical skills and the right attitude to work.

These are exactly the people that McColl’s Newlands Junior College appears to be designed to cater for. If only they could be prevented from disengaging, as they often do.

The college has started to engage staff.  They will be working in a very special environment, with the best technology and with unrivalled opportunities to develop their pedagogical skills.

Iain White, Principal of the College and former Head Teacher of Govan High, which serves one of the most deprived areas of Scotland, makes no secret of the formula “This will be an organisation built on relationships – there will be no room for messing around, but we intend to be like a family, where – like every family – we will have our moments, but we are all here for the same reason. We will all be motivated towards what we want to achieve together. That togetherness will be based on mutual respect and a mutual understanding of what we are here for.”

And for the young people who, through the selection process, get a place, that achievement will be quite something. With resources available to equip every pupil with a handheld computer, cutting edge IT provision and links with future employers who will not only provide curriculum input, but mentoring relationships and guidance, the prospects for these otherwise potentially-failing pupils are suddenly looking dramatically brighter.

Of course schools try very hard to prevent young people dropping out. But Newlands will have some crucial advantages. It will be able to guarantee the outcomes (apprenticeships and college places for every successful leaver) . Also, it is not school. Whatever Hollywood tells us about inspirational teachers and innovative and ground-breaking approaches to learning, sometimes the problem is simply that school is the wrong place for disenchanted teenagers. Newlands Junior College, based in real place of work, with its top quality adult environment is clearly not a school. So many things are different from the quality of design to the close involvement of students in everything including the preparation of meals. At Newlands, they not only know what works, but (more importantly) for these students they know what doesn’t.

An education for the 21st century has to very different from the classroom of the past. It has to be suited to each individual in a way that is unique and inspiring. It has to connect to adult life and the real world in ways that every student can understand. Every day, every student has to feel valued and believe in the possibility of success.

I look forward to schools and indeed, colleges, of all descriptions providing a wide and varied menu of education, utilising top technology, demanding top professionals and producing top quality graduates upon whom employers can rely, as they have had an input to their education and training. The destinations are guaranteed – not as some kind of social responsibility policy – but as a real engagement between young people, their parents, teachers, employers and trainers. I look forward to more initiatives like this and not only that, but I look forward to them being supported as complementary to the current school system.

Newlands Junior College is still looking for a Science teacher and a Maths teacher, so if you think you might enjoy this kind of opportunity, check out the website and application form here.

Let Battle Commence
July 3, 2014
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Playing the game

My year 10s and I recently waved goodbye to their Core science exams for this year. After much celebration and relief we began to knuckle down to the year 11 topics which we were due to commence in the remaining days before they were to leave for work experience and, finally, the summer.

I was down to teach topic 1 of the Edexcel C2 syllabus during this period. For those who are not acquainted with this syllabus, the topic covers the ideas of atomic structure, electronic configuration and atom diagrams. It is my personal belief, which I’m sure others share also, that chemistry is much easier once the fundamental principles of atomic theory and organisation of the periodic table are second nature to the students. As such, I spent a fair bit of time covering this topic to ensure it was concreted into my students minds.

Teaching the periodic table and helping students understand it’s layout is so paramount to their understanding. However, teaching it can become a very monotonous and laborious task. Therefore,  I decided to tackle this in a more game like approach. I had gone over the ideas of the nucleus and it’s structure, and wanted students to apply this to the periodic table and generally familiarise themselves with it. So, we decided to play ‘Periodic Table Battle Ships’.

I simply printed off several copies of the Periodic table, two identical images placed one above another on a piece of A4 paper. Each student had one of these copies for themselves. These were to be turned into our battleship boards.

How To Play:

  • Students can place 3 ships: one 5 elements long, one 4 elements long and the final 3 elements long.
  • Ships can be placed vertically or horizontally on the top copy of the table
  • Students then take it in turns to ask questions about the elements to find where their opponents ships are placed.
  • I asked my class to ask questions based on the elements instead of saying “Is it on Sodium?” for example. I asked them to use atomic number, or atomic mass to identify elements. Sometimes, students took it a step further and asked based on the number of neutrons.

Exposing them to the table in this way gave them the chance to identify trends and patterns for themselves as they looked and posed questions.

There are many ways you could change this task. They could pose questions based on properties, first ionisation energy (for A-level), reactivity with certain substances, states at different temperatures. However and whatever you want your students to get from this task, it can be adapted.

Enjoy!

Acronym Attack: AfL and ZPD through SOLO #PedagooGlasgow
June 20, 2014
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solooutcomes

I’ll let you into a little secret…come closer…promise not to tell anyone…before last week, I’d never actually done a workshop at a Pedagoo event! Having come up with the whole idea and organised the first ever one, that’s quite a shocking revelation to many – but there you have it. So, I was actually quite nervous on Saturday morning when I realised that I was actually going to practice what I’ve been preaching all these years!

And as if that wasn’t enough pressure, the night before this workshop on how we’ve been trying SOLO Taxonomy…there was a massive stooshie on twitter about this very subject! The main objection from those who are ‘against’ SOLO [since when did we become so either/or and argumentative on twitter :( ] seems to be that there is no ‘evidence’ to support it. I have two problems with this view of the world…

  1. This assumes at all ‘evidence’ has to come from large-scale randomised controlled trials that results in an increase in attainment. I don’t particularly buy into this positivist view of educational research. At our school we have been engaging with SOLO Taxonomy as enquiring practitioners and evidencing impact (or otherwise) in our own context based on the outcomes we are interested in achieving and whilst our evidence is also surely flawed, I’m actually a lot happier about its validity than many of the ‘respected’ sources of evidence.
  2. And secondly. This view also assumes that SOLO is a ‘thing’ in its own right. Perhaps others see it that way, but we don’t. We’ve been using SOLO as a way of supporting metacognition and formative feedback. So if you’re really wanting to base everything you do on metaanalyses, then this would be my response. SOLO is just a language, it’s not the actual pedagogy.

Anyway. Thought I ought to get that out of the way first. So, SOLO then. How have we been using it? I’m not going to start by boring you with what SOLO is. If you don’t already know that there’s loads out there already which will do this much better than I can. Instead, I’m going to start by telling you what led us to try using SOLO. The diagram below summarises the learning and teaching model at our school, the important bit here being that we’re trying to introduce a six-part lesson cycle approach to planning most of our lessons – with thanks as always to Cramlington Learning Village.

PLLearningDiagram

One of the hardest issues presented by this approach is trying to properly reflect on learning, as well as reviewing it. Both students and teachers find this difficult, and part of the reason would appear to be a lack of a common language to discuss the learning process. It is for this reason that we first attempted to use SOLO in our Biology lessons. We added SOLO outcomes to our National 5 lesson cycles at the review and reflect stage of the cycle. Although this improved things a little, it wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. In particular, I felt as though we are constantly ending lessons leaving students feeling as failures as they had inevitably not yet reached the top of the scale and we were having to move on with the course due to time pressures.

So, I had a brainwave. If the SOLO outcomes were introduced at the discuss learning outcomes stage of the cycle, this could support students to identify where they currently are in their learning of the topic and what their target would be. This I felt was in some way akin to setting a zone of proximal development for the lesson. We also began to try and write the SOLO scales in a consistent format, with unistructural being the expected prior knowledge, multisctructural being the ‘C’ level content, relational being a ‘B’ level understanding of the topic  and extended abstract being equivalent of an ‘A’ grade candidate’s ability to apply their understanding of the topic.

In addition, we also made a much greater effort to plan demonstrate tasks which would allow us and the students to assess their progress in the cycle against the SOLO outcomes [such as using the hexagons from Pam Hook's fab website]. The hope was that this would more effectively support learning in our lessons, and also improve the level of reflection occurring throughout and at the end of cycles. Having observed each other’s lessons and interviewed the students we did indeed find this to be the case. We also found that the students were more able to articulate their progress and their next steps, and more likely to act independently to progress these next steps. They weren’t all positive though. They want printed versions of the SOLO grids and they want each one to last for longer than one cycle, both of which we’re going to take on board for next session.

So, that’s what we’ve been trying. We’re by no means experts in SOLO at all. We’ve just been giving it a go and are willing to share. Perhaps you’ve used SOLO too? Why not tell us how, why and what you found out as a comment below.

All the handouts we gave out on the day can be downloaded here.

Learning Currency
Hints for Sale

I recently tweeted about an activity which I ran with one of my Year 10 groups and it was suggested that I shared the idea, so here goes.

I wanted the students to develop some independent inquiry skills during our lesson on the Periodic Table and its arrangement. It would have been easy enough for me to sit them down in the classroom and give them a well researched youtube video, some card sorts and a bunch of information to learn about Mendeleev, yet I decided against that.

I took the class to our rather wonderful E-Learning Centre which is a technological hub of the school with fantastic resources such as iPads, Macs, PCs, interactive whiteboard wall, cameras etc. One of our installed apps is called “The Elements” which you can find on the iTunes store. I wanted the students to try and work out how the periodic table was arranged from first principles. The app includes loads of excellent information about the elements but very little about the arrangement of the table.

I tasked the students with the challenge of creating a theory about how the periodic table was arranged. I split them into pairs who then gave themselves team names. Each team was given 10 points to start with during the lesson. The aim of the lesson was to explore the periodic table and construct a theory about its arrangement, the team who constructed the best written theory, with the most points remaining by the end of the lesson, won a prize.

There was a catch however. I had created five “Hints” on a powerpoint which were hyperlinked to some clues to guide their research. These hints came at a cost, two points apiece. The teams now had to decide was it worth researching independently without help, to establish a firm theory without spending points; or, could they risk spending a few points to get an even better theory which might mean they would still win, even though they had less points than they started with.

The result was a fast-paced, highly independent lesson where the teams battled it out against one another. Having spoken to the students after the lesson, they mentioned how much they had enjoyed it. The said how hard it was to decide whether or not to spend points to do better, or could they rely on their own analytical skills to develop their theories without help.

There are so many ways in which this lesson could be adapted to suit any topic in any subject. If you would like any resources, do let me know by dropping me a tweet. Enjoy!

Oranges are not the Only Fruit…
Image by flickr.com/photos/wgyuriImage by flickr.com/photos/wgyuri

Orange BatteryLike a number of Heads of School that I know, my personal experience of school as a student scarred (and maybe even scared) me. We all draw on our personal histories: demonic Physics teachers, psychotic Woodwork teachers and – of course – vindictive, sadistic PE teachers. Whilst these histories get added to and increasingly fictionalised over time (come on, it can’t have been THAT bad?), some scars remain. For me, one major scar was Science. Well, not Science per se but how we were lead by the nose through the world of Science.

It was akin to what I imagine it is like becoming a Freemason, or a Rosicrucian, or maybe working for Google. A series of initiations into hallowed mysteries that, one by one, will be revealed to you if you are deemed worthy. Mix together the potions, write out the magical incantation (underline the title, Winnard!) and write down the conclusions. No, not your conclusions, these conclusions. do it again until you get the experiment right! Then we will reveal more unto you and ye shall be bathed in our scientific magnificence… Ok, maybe that’s getting a little carried away.

Yesterday we had our school Science Fair. an anarchic, messy and very enjoyable gathering of young people sharing ideas they’ve explored. Lots of gunk and goo and whizz bang pop. They all shared what they had done (method) and what they found out (conclusions). Some tried to extract power from the acid in oranges, some explored refraction and some explored the effects of sleep deprivation. So far so good. Where things got ‘brain sticky’ was when we got to “So what?” and “Why is this important?”. I asked a few of the students what they thought they could now do with what they’d learnt. What could they apply their new knowledge to?

Clearly I was off script. ‘Er’ and ‘Um’ became the stock response, along with “Because we had to do it for the Science Fair”. And  so (very much unlike me) I shut up, congratulated them all and moved on.

I then found myself going back to something I’d read recently in a book (big papery thing with writing). Ian Gilbert’s new(ish) volumeIndependent Thinking punched me in the brain around page 102:

“If all you do is concentrate on the learning… at the end all you will have is the learning. Nothing has changed. What was once learned elsewhere has been learned again here. Like a rapidly multiplying virus, you have simply infected more people with ‘stuff’ which, under the microscope, is a carbon-copy replica of the same stuff in the heads of thousands of children up and down the country and which will be extracted during a ‘routine examination’ and sent away to the exam board for analysis like sputum in a phial”.

How different – and how much more meaningful – would that Science Fair have been if it had encouraged innovation and making? I’m a big fan of making. I think making is a good thing and we do too little of it in schools. We learn about making, we watch people make stuff (field trips) and we sometimes write about what we would make if we could. But actually building, moulding, constructing andmaking stuff? Not so much. there was so much energy in those young people and clearly a lot of excitement about exploring the natural world. What was missing was change. Nothing had changed.

So what’s stopping us (apart from excuses)? What’s stopping us from developing young people as innovators, problem solvers and makers of solutions. Am I missing something? Yes there are extraneous forces at work and yes that sucks, but if change doesnt come from innovative teachers in classrooms where will it come from?

What is it that Buddha is supposed to have said? “To know but not to do is not to know”. Let’s make sure we inspire a generation of active do-ers and not just passive knowers.

The Cultivation Game
March 4, 2014
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Image by flickr.com/photos/eddgrantImage by flickr.com/photos/eddgrant

One of the key areas within National 4 Biology is ‘The Commercial use of Plants’. This requires learners to investigate the yields of crops. My colleague and I were unsure of how to approach this but spent a full afternoon creating ‘The Cultivation Game’. We were worried we had spent far too much time on this one specific lesson but after having delivered it we both reaped the same reward.

The point of the game is for learners to understand how farmers can increase their crop yields using different ways and describe the advantages and disadvantages of these. The learners had a budget of £15000 to spend on increasing the yield of their crop. This game was set over 5 years and each year learners could change what they bought. Each year there were different ‘unexpected events’ which could affect their yield depending on what they had bought that year. For example, a flood or frost.

The learners were at first a little unsure of the game and not as engaged as we had hoped. As soon as they started the game and understood the concept, they loved it. They worked well in pairs and became proud of the profit they had made. This game helped to develop their problem solving and numeracy skills as well as cover this key area in biology. By the end of the lesson they could give examples of ways the yield of crops can be increased; state the advantages and disadvantages of the different methods of increasing crop yield and relate increasing crop yield to the limiting factors of photosynthesis.

Click here if you’d like to download the cultivation game.

Mind The Gap: Is your lesson worth behaving for?
January 24, 2014
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Mind the Gap! by flickr.com/photos/buhsnarfMind the Gap! by flickr.com/photos/buhsnarf

In a collegiate professional discussion last week around the findings outlined in one of the TLRP publications, I was reminded once again of the idea of the pratice-values gap. This concept is perhaps best described by the following quote from the paper we were discussing:

The current performance-orientated climate in schools in England seems to make it difficult for teachers to practise what they value.
Learning how to learn – in classrooms, schools and networks

This is not a new concept to me…but it’s stuck with me all week in a way which told me something was up, but I wasn’t entirely sure what. And then I sat down to plan my S1 Science lesson for Friday and it hit me…things needed to change.

I have this S1 class for one period per week last thing on a Friday morning. They’re lovely really, but as the year as gone on a fair number of them have been struggling to behave in the way I’d like and things have been becoming a little fractious. As we often tend to do, I’ve been blaming them mainly…until this week.

Last week we’d finished a topic which I’d taught following the departmental plan, using the departmental resources. The resources aren’t perfect, and I’ve been trying to improve them as I go…and things seemed fine. However, I’ve not been looking forward to my lesson with them and judging by the behaviour of some, and the frustration on the faces of others, nor have they. When I looked at the resources for the next topic this week it dawned on me…my practice-values gap had become too great. Sometime ago now I began to experiment with involving students in planning their learning and assessment…whilst I found it to be a fantastic approach I haven’t been able to develop this practice as much as I would’ve liked to due to leaving the classroom for 18 months, changing schools, long-term absence and mainly teaching qualification courses in my new school. However, I realised this week that I could be doing what I think is right with my S1 class now and so I decided to go for it.

I planned a stimulus and planning lesson which involved discussing big questions eliciting previous knowledge and encouraging them to come up with their own burning questions which will then form part of our planning for the topic – which they’ll help plan out and name.


I did this with them this morning, and the results? Astounding. They were all so fired up and engaged…even the students who have struggled to stay in the room for the last couple of months! The questions they came up with are fascinating, and I’m looking forward to working out how to incorporate these into the curriculum over the coming weeks:

    What if all humans die?
    How many animals/species live on the planet?
    Does bigfoot/yeti/nessie exist?
    What will happen to the planet in the future?
    Will we be able to live on another planet?
    Where is the densest forest?
    How does natural selection work?
    How did we come from apes?
    Is there life on other planets?
    What is the worst pollution?
    What is continental drift?
    If the water level keeps rising what will happen to Venice?
    How does Chernobyl harm the world?
    What if the world’s biggest super volcano erupted?
    Could the water levels rise so much it would flood the whole world?
    What happens if we don’t look after the world?
    What is the worst thing that could happen to the planet?

As delighted as I was with the success of the lesson, another thought went through my head. It’s a challenging question which we’ve picked up from our friends at Cramlington Learning Village…it’s “Is your lesson worth behaving for?” The difference in the students between the previous weeks and today has really made me doubt whether they have been up to now…but I’m going to to do my best to make sure they are from now on. Both for their sake, and my own.

Cross-posted from Fearghal’s Blog

#PedagooWonderland

0530 on a Saturday morning is difficult, cold and after another long night of the ashes, very miserable. However, I was off to a Pedagoo event, packed with exciting speakers, thoughtful teachers, inspiring individuals and I was pretty confident that my chosen Saturday CPD event was going to be brilliant. It was…

The first thing that blew me away (after registering with the very welcoming pupils of the school) was the amazing building. It was bright, clean, tidy and very much the type of modern building I come to expect when I go ‘somewhere nice’. Just as our children know when they are being shortchanged as regards use of windows XP on old PC’s, they know it when they walk into a dingy building which is in desperate need of a paint job. Michael Gove said that the building and environment of a school makes no difference. I drive past these buildings at Fettes and Stewart’s Melville on the way to my school every day. Clearly, environment makes a difference.

The other thing about the building I loved was the use of images of Joseph Swan children working, often with ideas about how they work, or slogans/quotations about respect, reading etc behind them. That is something I will try and create in the next couple of weeks if energies allow as it looks so good and inspires.

Whilst having my complimentary tea and danish pastry (which would contravene the bring your own tea and biscuits policy of many councils) I set about reading my welcome pack. I loved the Happy Mondays leaflet which contained loads of great, ready to use, ideas for enhancing and reinforcing learning in the classroom. The Happy Mondays reference is because the teachers at Joseph Swan receive and e-mail every Monday, with a new idea or resource in it from their SMT. I love that idea!

MY first session of the day was in the Reading Room (and what an amazing space that is…) with David Hodgson. David talked about how we learn and how we can use techniques in the classroom to help children learn and remember how they learned things. As a primary teacher I get asked lots of questions from the children and my most frequent answer to them is good question. I don’t believe in throwing the knowledge confetti about for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not convinced the children will remember it whilst they walk back to their desks and secondly I (or A.N.Other teacher) will not always be there for them when they have a question or want to learn something. The things we did in his session were all practical examples of an NLP approach, and I was so impressed I bought his book for my Kindle this morning. He used this pupil feelings graphic in his session too which I find a useful tool to have by my desk in the class room. Something David said which rang a bell was that we should ensure our children ‘Have a get out clause for children when they don’t learn’. This is vital, so often our children get way more stressed than we ever do about a wrong answer. We need them to take risks, get it wrong, change it and get it wrong again, smiling all the time! That is a successful learner right there.

The next session was with Rachel Orr who is HT at Holy Trinity Rosehill Her workshop was about developing writing through Primary Learning and specifically using Pie Corbett’s talk for writing work. I had worked on a Pie Corbett workshop for writing day before (January 2007??) and it was amazing. I’ve bought a few of his books and love his approach to writing. There is a lot of material on the internet too to supplement his written work. I also liked the punctuation sounds and actions which children are to use when they are talking and can then reinforce the assessment process in class. Rachel has used Pie’s work in two differing schools now and shared with us examples of the successes her young writers had, and these examples cal be seen on her school blogs. Rachel gave us a disk with loads of fantastic resources on, many her own work (the learning keys are a great idea!).

During lunch I met some great folk including @spiceweasel77 who is doing some brilliantly exciting things with his class!

After lunch it was on to Hywel Roberts session. Hywel spoke passionately and humourously about creating contexts in the curriculum, allowing the children to view the learning they are given through their own filters and engaging children in their learning. I made loads of notes during Hywel’s session and later tweeted many of them. Here’s the quotations I tweeted:

‘It’s our job to get the World thinking.’

‘We need to dig learning holes for our children to fall into.’

‘we are the people who make sense of the curriculum we are given. ‘

‘Have a what’s great 2 mins at the start of staff meetings’

‘we need to induct our kids into learning’

‘all of these things are just doing the job we’ve been asked to do. That we’re paid for. ‘

I’ve got Hywel’s book and it’s a great read. I need to do more of this in my classes. It’s great stuff. I was incredibly impressed with Hywel and the way he works in schools.

Finally, my last session was about using enquiry based learning in maths. Stephanie Thirtle took this session, she is a maths teacher at Joseph Swan. (I’d love The Girl to have her as a maths teacher, lessons would be so interesting!)
We did some enquiry based openers which really got us thinking and she talked about the approach of letting the children work things out for themselves, rather than an I teach then you do model. I love the work things out idea and think the way she’s bringing it to maths in a high school works really well. Much of the rationale for enquiry based learning was on her presentation and clearly showed examples of enquiry based learning which we could use as one-off lessons or develop for a maths topic. Such things investigating square numbers, straight line graphs using algebra, and one which P7 will be seeing soon – 12 Days of Christmas maths.
Her room displays were wonderful and I snapped many of them on my phone and you can see them here. I particularly liked that ways she put maths into context making it real for the children.
That chimed so well with the session from Hywel previously.

I came away with my head full of wonderful ideas and a bag full of goodies!
So, what next…well before Christmas I will make some posters of children and their ideas about learning to go up in school and I will also make some musical posters for the music room.

After Christmas I will take loads more of these ideas and run with them. It’ll be different, fun and learning will happen.