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Teaching and Learning Toolkit
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My toolkit contains tips, tricks, ideas, strategies, suggestions, resources and information for teachers across all subjects, ages and phases of education!

The toolkit is a central location for teaching and learning related posts laid out in a simple to use and interpret fashion. The information is short and snappy and links to what is needed are always provided.

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You can search for a post using a particular keyword or you can filter the posts based on their tags. Such as literacy, group work, independent learning and so on.

The toolkit is designed to allow teachers to become more creative, more inventive and most importantly allows them to save time by using some of the effective ideas that have been shared. The posts usually contain images showing the activity in action and provide links to further reading if relevant.

Currently the toolkit contains over 215 activities that have been tried and tested by teachers. I know they are effective because the activities I post are ones that are being used in classrooms. Ones that have been used and been successful with the students I teach.

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To date the toolkit has had over 550,000 views and is used worldwide! Many posts are currently being edited/updated to include the variations educators have made having seen the original idea from the toolkit.

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The principle behind the toolkit is to create more agile teachers who want to liven up the learning of their students. The toolkit is also a central hub to share important information such as the changes in Special Needs provision in the UK and so on. Some ideas you will love, some you will think about, others you may not agree with at all. That’s the beauty of the toolkit- it is guaranteed to cater for some of everybody’s teaching methods. If an activity doesn’t sit well with you, simply ignore it and try another? :)

If you would like to guest post and share an activity that you have used in your lessons on the toolkit then please email me on aal@cheney.oxon.sch.uk over 30 teachers have written a guest post to date.

Get in touch… @ASTSupportAAli

P.S-

The toolkit was recently featured on BBC News show BBC Click in the #Webscape section as a fantastic tool for educators worldwide.

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The toolkit is also linked to many websites/blogs.

You can help spread the world by sharing posts on twitter, facebook and google +.

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www.cheneyagilitytoolkit.blogspot.com

or

www.bit.ly/agilitytoolkit

Grid(un)locked-inspiring creative poetry analysis
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After 18 months in Special Measures and being constantly under scrutiny (a particularly devastating blow to our department – we’d just attained 81% A*-C against a target of 69% when it happened) we’re always looking for new and interesting ways to bring engaging ideas into our classrooms. This idea came about in February as we were bracing ourselves for another Ofsted visit and has been a massive success with Year 10 and Year 11.

Here’s how it works:

1. Students work in pairs/groups with a poetry grid and two dice (tip-use foam dice!)
2. Take it in turns to roll the dice and answer the question. Others can add to/ expand an answer to raise to overall level of response once they’ve exhausted their ideas
3. If a double is rolled, talk on the topic area for 30 secs without hesitation, deviation… (you get the gist)

It’s simple, effective and fun but there’s more to it than just being a grid with pretty colours. Firstly, the questions are all linked to the mark scheme descriptors for the exam. The one in the picture is designed for the AQA unseen question and I’ve also created an adapted version for the Anthology poetry. This allows students to respond to the poems in a way that is directly beneficial to the exam skills they have to demonstrate.

Secondly, The colours aren’t random. Each colour is linked to a different area: pink=structure, purple=feelings and attitudes/mood and tone, yellow=language, blue=themes and ideas, orange=talk for 30secs, green (without doubt the favourite with students)=creative connections and ideas (not directly linked to a specific mark scheme area but to access the poem in a different way and just maybe come up with something that unlocks the poem in a way they wouldn’t have considered).

Thirdly, the way they choose the question to answer is differentiated. Say they roll a two and a four. If they take the larger number horizontally across the grid and the smaller number vertically, the question will be more challenging than if they do it vice versa. All the questions require thinking about but I think that to access discussion and ideas at the highest levels students often need to ‘warm up’ and this is one way they can do it.

You’ll see in the picture I also made a vocabulary grid to use alongside the game. Eight of the boxes link to the question areas, one includes the tentative language (could, may, might, possibly) we’d encourage students to use when exploring Literature. Whilst the words on the vocabulary grid are pretty comprehensive, I also made sure they fully covered anything students might need for the ‘Relationships’ cluster in the AQA Anthology.

For Year 11 who have studied all the poems and are preparing from the exam, they have used the grid in a few ways. Sometimes we focus on two specific poems. This is particularly useful prior to writing a ‘powergraph’ (more on this another time but it’s transformed the approach for our more able students). I mentioned creativity earlier. Combining the questions with a pick-a-poem style (ie pick two poems randomly from a bag/spinner) has generated all sorts of links and connections that students might never have thought about otherwise.

In whole class feedback, there a couple of ways it can been taken further. I usually ask what the most perceptive point is that someone in a group has made so everyone can benefit from different ideas. I’ll also ask which question has promoted the best discussion in the group-it can vary for different poems. I’ll then give students extra time to continue discussions, possibly looking at questions mentioned in the feedback part but they can also look at questions of a certain colour if the dice have missed out any areas or even just choose a question they fancy.

One of the other benefits that my less confident students have found is that certain questions really help them unlock ideas. These are the questions they revise and when going into an exam they can consider them if they are stuck. Many of my Year 10s reported this was the technique that helped them the most in their recent Unseen Poetry mock.

It’s interactive, fun and relevant. The responses are genuinely worth it and encourage students to think in a way that isn’t gimmicky but genuinely higher level. That’s been my experience anyway!

I’m happy to email the resources via DM.

Aimee

Educating for Character
April 3, 2014
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What is Character?

There are many schools of thought on this but let’s not get too bogged down with stuff like Aristotelian Virtue Ethics!

For the sake of argument let’s say that character refers to our dispositions to think, feel, and act in ways which reflect our values, virtues, capabilities and strengths. Evidence suggests that while there are genetics at play, character is largely ‘caught’ through experience and role modelling. It also suggests that parents, family and teachers are the primary educators of character for children and young people.

Watch the Science of Character video on our homepage for more details – Character Scotland

Can we educate for character?

Yes, but it shouldn’t be taught in a top-down, didactic, ‘transmitting knowledge’ style of teaching, or in a way which simply tells children and young people who they should be. Character can be effectively taught using open and exploratory dialogue e.g. giving young people opportunities to focus on their own character and that of others and asking them ‘what do you think?’. Character Education as Critical Pedagogy perhaps?

In 1998, UNESCO offered a set of aims for schooling world-wide:

Learning to know - Learning to do - Learning to live together - Learning to be

Character is relevant in all of the areas above. Arguably we are getting quite good at teaching for knowledge, doing and living together (tongue firmly in cheek). But what about teaching how to be? This is where character can really come into its own.

How can character be taught?

Let’s focus on a maths lesson as an example.

  • Stop teaching maths for a moment and start teaching people. Instead of teaching pupils how to DO maths, teach them how to BE a mathematician. How would you do that? Perhaps you might start by exploring the relationship between maths and curiosity. A discussion starter could be something like the following:

Maths and science are manifestations of curiosity: a quest to figure things out. Discuss.

  • Discuss role models – Try focussing on Einstein. Show a clip about his life story and ask pupils which character qualities he demonstrated: his sense of curiosity, creativity, imagination, determination etc. Better yet – ask the pupils to choose their own mathematician, learn about his/her life and get a sense of the person’s character qualities.
  • Discuss quotations - for example:

“Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”

Albert Einstein

  •  Discuss self-awareness and perceptions - ask pupils in groups to discuss who is the most curious person in this group? Or the most creative? Or the least creative for that matter? What are our perceptions of ourselves and others and what do they tell us? What is the character of the group as a whole? Can a group have a character?
  • Bring the language of character into your professional practice  - one tool you can use is to complete the VIA Survey (www.character-scotland.org.uk/resources/via-survey) and learn the VIA Classification of Character Strengths. It takes 15 minutes and it’s free. Once you’ve done that you can become a “character strengths spotter”. When you spot a pupil demonstrating a particular strength, tell them about it. Name the character quality they have shown and ask them if they agree or if they see it differently. Ask them if they can see a link between the creative thing they just did and “that lesson on Einstein 6 months ago”.
  • Encourage your pupils to talk about character – they can do the VIA Survey too – there is a Youth version depending on what they prefer. Pepper your lessons with references to character using the common language you and your pupils now share. Encourage your pupils to become ‘strengths spotters’ for each other.

Other examples for different subjects might be teaching empathy during a history lesson, teaching scepticism in modern studies or politics (showing some liberal bias here…), teaching determination and focus during PE etc. The general point is that you can explicitly link disposition with learning by bringing the concept of character to the forefront of thinking and practice in your classroom.

Before you know it, you will realise that in fact you teach character all day and you always have.

 

What do you think about this post?

Let me know by leaving a comment or you can contact me directly by using the form below.

Thanks :)

Gary Walsh – Character Scotland

#TeachCharacter

LEGpO (or Po-Lego) – Genius Idea
LEGpO

Like nearly all of my recent great ideas this one was magpied from twitter.  The genius (no inverted commas) behind the idea is Rachael Stevens @murphiegirl whose very clear explanation for it all can be found here.

I can, however, take ALL the credit for renaming it LEGpO or LEG-PO if you prefer, as opposed to PO-LEGO.  I know, I’m clutching at straws.  The simple fact of the matter is whatever you want to call it – it works.  It works brilliantly in fact.

LEGO is engaging – everyone likes it (and those of us who’ve received a tweet from @LEGOBennylike it just that little bit more).  If you’ve piqued interest in kids then you’ve already won – or at least you haven’t lost..yet.

Start off with two LEGO structures you made earlier (I know I should reference Blue Peter  here, but I was always more of a Children’s Ward/Press Gang kid) and from there on it’s straight forward.  You suggest what the structures could represent, and at this stage it is all very abstract – you’re talking about themes and ideas as opposed to specific poems.  ”If these represent two love poems what do we expect from them?” Students’ prior knowledge, suddenly flows back to them, “the perfect one is like a sonnet ’cause the form is rigid”, “yeah, but the other one is like ‘Hour’.  You think that’s gonna be a sonnet because it’s fourteen lines, but the rhyme scheme is off.” “That’s because they’re lesbians!” Like i said – straight forward.

Then the fun really starts.  You need enough LEGO to go around – I don’t suggest you leave it until the morning of your lesson to negotiate with your own children if you plan on borrowing it.  I had a very upset seven year old on my hands when I tried to help myself to his, he actually wanted to count out the number of pieces I was taking in case they needed replacing!

Armed with a copy of the GCSE Anthology and free rein to choose any poem they had studied, pupils created their own structures.  We did have to stop after a few minutes, in order to explain that building “the most awesome spaceship ever” was not on-task behaviour, despite the very strong argument that in ‘The Manhunt’ there are couplets and “this is a two seater!”.

Eventually, every group stood and presented their creations – justifying the reasons for their choices.  And that element of the feedback was probably the most useful.  By now they all considered themselves ‘Master Builders’ as well as ‘Poetry Experts’ and they grilled each other.  Each time a group presented the questions got tougher – as they tried to trip each other up.  Each time a group presented the reasoning became stronger and more closely matched to the requirements of a Band 5 response.

I noticed a tweet that described LEGpO as ‘genius’ (complete with the inverted commas of the skeptic).  Well, I really do think it is genius. I think anything that engages twenty-five Year 11 students who’ve already spent the whole day studying English, when the rest of the school have a day off, really is genius.  But then I would think that. I did , after all, build the most awesome two seater spaceship ever!

Top Ten Tips: Questioning
March 27, 2014
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Image by flickr.com/photos/audiolucistoreImage by flickr.com/photos/audiolucistore

Following a Teachmeet in December (#teach412) I’ve been asked for the notes that accompanied my presentation quite a few times so I decided it would be easier to store them on-line here in case they were useful to anyone else.

Questioning Top Tips:

Ask Open Questions.

If they can give a short answer; they often will.  Ask a question which has a wide range of possible answers or one which needs to be developed to make sense.  A closed question is one which allows for short, often single word answers.   It’s the difference between:

i) Was the assassination of Archduke FF a cause of the First World War? (Closed.)

ii) Which was the most important cause of the First World War and why? (Open; lots of space for a student to formulate some thinking in their answer.)

Don’t answer your own questions.

It teaches the students to just sit and wait for you to do the thinking.  They will just sit as you pour out masterpiece questions, glazed over waiting for you to give the answer.  Worse still, it can really frustrate students who would love to answer your questions.  It doesn’t matter how good a question is if no-one answers it.

Don’t play the guess what’s in my head game.

It seems obvious but it can be easy to have an answer that is too specific and keep pushing until someone gets it right.  If a line of questioning is hitting a wall because they can’t guess the answer you want you can develop on ideas they come up with which are linked, or just tell them the piece of information you want them to know (totally ignoring the above piece of advice.)

Listen carefully to their answers.

Showing that you are listening has a powerful impact on classroom climate and puts you in a position to ask quality follow up questions to deepen students learning.  It’s also essential for playing Devil’s advocate.

Play Devil’s Advocate.

If someone has an answer, starting playing the other side.  It gets them thinking harder to counter your points, which is great, as well as giving them another side to the argument which is useful in many exams.  Even better if you can get students to do this.

Praise.

If someone answers a question in a way you like, using great reasons, giving examples or just clearly and politely thank them for it and explain why you like it.  This models what you are expecting from other students.

Persevere.

Students might not get to where you want them answering the first question, use follow up questions to dig deep and push their explanations.  Ask for clarity and development – a simple way to do this is to use the 6 easy question starters – What? Who? Why? When? Where? How?

An excellent method shared by @thembarrett is the Elvis technique.  They speak; you go ‘Uh-huh’ and wait for them to develop their answer. Repeat.

Train students to ask questions.

This allows them to think about their own learning and things they would like to know.  It also helps them seek assistance if needed and develops their capacity to think critically about information they are presented with.  It’s a great way to develop independent learners.

Some of my favourite techniques for this are: Philosophy for Children, Silent Questions, Stupid Question Time and the old favourite question ‘What would you like to know about…?’

Thinking Time

Let them mull it over.  A few seconds (count in your head or get a student to count for you if you want to promote numeracy;)), before students are allowed to answer has shown in to increase number and quality of answers in numerous studies.

Random Selection.

If they don’t know who is going to have to answer they all have to think in case it’s them.  It keeps the less inclined focused as it could be them, gives the knowledgeable but shy a reason to speak and teaches the over enthused patience.  If a class has a few who always answer some of the others may not be thinking about your wonderful questions.

Entry and Exit Slips
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This week I tried Entry and Exit Slips.

I’ll come clean from the beginning: this was for an interview. I didn’t get the job. But it’s a strategy I would definitely use to get students to reflect on and articulate their progress and their learning. I’d definitely use it for an observed lesson again.

The slips themselves were simple. They had two columns, the ‘Entry’ part slightly smaller than the ‘Exit’ part, and they had a question related to the learning objective repeated in both columns. For this lesson, it was ‘What do you know about how to identify the meaning, ideas and emotions in a poem you have never seen before?’ (I’d been asked to teach Year 10 Unseen Poetry.) I’ve seen several templates which just use ‘Exit’ slips, getting students to write down what they’ve learned, but I wanted them one the same piece of paper, so students could compare what they knew at the beginning to what they knew at the end.

As the students were entering the classroom, I gave them the slips. This was a useful ‘Bellwork’ task, as it got the students doing something as soon as they came in. It also got them immediately thinking about the topic and objective of the lesson.

I gave students permission to write ‘I don’t know,’ and most of the students did that. Some wrote down things like ‘Pick out key words’ and one or two wrote ‘PEE.’ One wrote ‘Read it through,’ which I thought was a good start!

Then I taught the lesson, based around ‘Funeral Blues’ by WH Auden. As they were an able group, I challenged them to look for alternative interpretations and to engage with the emotions of the poet.

In the last 5 minutes, I asked the students to complete their Exit Slips. There was absolute silence as 28 students tried to articulate the strategies they had learned in the last hour. Across the room, the exit slips were filled. I read a few (chosen at random) out at the very end of the lesson, to celebrate achievement, but I have read them all since coming home. They are packed with strategies they used during the lesson, and, interestingly, each is slightly different.

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It’s a strategy I’ll definitely be using again, and an easily adaptable resource. Just what I like.

How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?
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“It is not what the man of science believes that distinguishes him, but how and why he believes it. His beliefs are tentative, not dogmatic; they are based on evidence, not on authority or intuition.”

Russell, 1945

I posted my Critical Thinking in Psychology essay recently where I discuss in depth critical (or rational) thinking in the context of A Level psychology. Here I want to share one of my favourite lessons of the year where I encourage my students to start thinking critically (find the lesson powerpoint at the bottom of the post or here).

One approach to increase students critical thinking skills is to get them considering methodological issues outside of the narrow framework of each subject specification and bring these issues to life. The use of activities such as ‘More cat owners have degrees’ demonstrating the dangers of misinterpreting correlational research and the possible bias caused by funding, and ‘The dangers of bread’ again illustrating issues of inferring causation from correlation act as excellent points for discussion about causation and correlation. Articles such as these teach students to be ‘savvy consumers and producers of research’ and develop the abilities needed to analyse, synthesise and applied learned information.

A key element of critical thinking is not taking results and conclusions at face value and questioning the methods that were used and any biases that these could have introduced when making inferences from results.  I have designed several activities  to make learners aware of  ’blind acceptance of conclusions’conclusions’ and the fallibility of accepting results  without question. I have pulled all of these activities into one lesson with the aim of engaging students and creating an enthusiasm about evaluation.

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 16.38.14Initially, I start with abstract questions to get the learners considering critical thinking outside of psychology and allow them to develop their own awareness. This starts from the moment they enter the room when the starter is the question ‘How many uses can you think of for a paper clip‘. After giggles, head scratching and some quite lateral thinking we move on to discuss what ‘critical thinking’ is.

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Before moving into discussion explicitly linked to psychology studies I ask them to write some instructions as to how to make a piece of toast. The students are a little suspicious at this point but after a few minutes you get the usual: get the bread, put in the toaster … and of course the debate on Nutella vs Marmite! Then I pose the question ‘but where did you get the toaster from …‘ and show the excellent TED video ‘Thomas Thwaites: How I built a toaster — from scratch

From here is time to turn my new ‘questioning‘ students back to psychology …

The first activity is based on hindsight bias, or the “I knew that all along” attitude, helping students become aware of the fact that anything can seem commonplace once explained if you are not aware of the underlying methodology.

This was the rationale for the ‘Lazarfield task’ that starts with the class being divided into two groups with each half receiving conclusions from a study (adapted from Lazarsfeld, 1949). However, unaware of this, the two groups received the opposite findings. For example group one would receive:

“Better educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Whereas the second group would have:

Better educated soldiers suffered fewer adjustment problems than less educated soldiers.”

Each group have to make inferences about ‘why’ the conclusions might be true. Following on from the task students were asked to “did the findings make sense?” and to feedback their reasons. Only at this point will the class be made aware that they had the opposite findings and how easily it is to justify a finding after the fact. A discussion about the fallibility of the “I knew that already” attitude follows in relation to the students that the students have completed. This allows for the learner to review conclusions made and consider alternative arguments, confounding variables and biases in generalisations made.

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To then scaffold students’ analysis and evaluation skills a set of critical thinking questions to frame evaluation of research was adapted. These critical thinking questions provide students with important questions that they can use to establish the credibility of a research method. It also allows differentiation across learners providing the opportunity for those with low ability to give limited responses and the more able students to expand and demonstrate their synoptic awareness of research methods and the surrounding issues and concepts.

This is one of my favourite sessions of the year – you can actually see the students thinking, discussing and debating issues. They are staring to think like psychologists, like scientists. Not accepting what is in front of them but asking important questions. What is great to see is the reaction following the session – how the students often refer back to the session.

My only warning – I asked my students to keep asking ‘but why?‘ – they do!

How do you develop critical thinking skills in your learners? Could you adapt this session to your subject? If you do – please share it in the comments.

Destroy Homework!
A selection of Y8 Destroy Homework from Braunton Academy on the development of anaesthetics.A selection of Y8 Destroy Homework from Braunton Academy on the development of anaesthetics.

As one of my brightest Y11s said just the other day, ‘History is so hard. There’s so much to think about.’

We all like to think that our subject is hard, I suppose. But what can make or break any future deeper learning is conceptual understanding. In the history classroom these concepts are often in flux and development across time, usually translated in various ways by stakeholders from different communities, classes and countries.

For example, when Y9 at Braunton Academy studied a brief overview of the key ideas, actions and events of the suffrage movement of the early C20 I wanted them to have a conceptual understanding of the government’s ‘Temporary Discharge Bill’. This bill effectively gave the police and local authorities license to arrest and re-arrest suffragettes. Why? The WSPU’s members would more often than not go on hunger-strike when arrested. Quite horrible force-feeding then took place which the group used to its advantage with many a derogatory poster. The government allowed the re-arrest of suffragettes to in part ensure that the women did not die in their hands.

Now, I used to follow the mantra that empathy is the Queen of the History Classroom, and that I am its King. That sounds great, doesn’t it? But having taught the holocaust however many times I’ve come to the conclusion that I rarely want an emotional response to a shocking subject because this can drown out actual facts. If students want to be shocked by something they can use Google – my job is to present facts to be analysed and applied.

But how, then, to demonstrate conceptual understanding of something that might be shocking, or strange?

A few months ago I came across the always-excellent Rachel Jones’s (@rlj1981) post on DESTROY homework. You can read more about it on her blog, but the two central tenets were to encourage a demonstration of conceptual understanding and to get students to actually do some homework in the first place!

So, having created a few examples myself as well as a video using the fab ShowMe app, I asked Y9 to destroy the WSPU’s anti-government poster regarding the Temporary Discharge Bill, popularly known as the Cat & Mouse Act. We did not analyse the poster in class, nor did I explain the act to them. They had two weeks to fret, create and destroy.

A selection of destroyed homework on the Cat and Mouse Act

A selection of destroyed homework on the Cat and Mouse Act

The results were far more than I’d hoped. Some had taken the poster and rearranged it into a completely new conceptual take on the process of force feeding, whist others created 3D models of suffragettes, made out of the poster to highlight the green, white and purple of the movement, running around plates with government knives chasing them. Two students created mobiles; two covered their posters in food; one simply placed a huge voting X in blood-red over the top. Three students who weren’t in when set asked if they could still do the homework. Only five out of sixty handed nothing in on the deadline – in my school that’s a miracle.

Having then decided to present the idea at #TMNorthDevon I set about creating another opportunity. I wanted to try a younger year group to show how it could work and so asked my only Y8 class – very bright but very reluctant to work at home without the threat of my glare – to destroy a choice of three images about C19 anaesthetic-free surgery. This time, considering how poor their homework record has been over the year, we did go through the main developments of ether and chloroform. I showed them the Y9 examples (now plastering the walls) and asked them to destroy just one of the three using their new knowledge. This time the purpose for me was probably more to raise the hand-in rate than to encourage a conceptual understanding.

The responses were again fantastic. One student had made an actual chloroform inhaler, a la John Snow, with the development of anaesthetics written around the canister. Another placed a 3D gravestone at the head of a dissected body, with the heart sticking out and declaring that it had sped up too fast, as James Simpson’s early use of chloroform often did to the young, fit and fearful. Many chose to represent the image of the operating theatre in flames, as ether was particularly flammable and thus particularly dangerous in a gas-lit environment. This time the hand-in rate was 100%.

So far I’ve marked these using SOLO. For example, if the concept has been completely misunderstood then they’re at prestructural, though I haven’t seen this yet. If the student has demonstrated links between various aspects of their study then they’re at relational. I’d reserve the extended abstract for those who make links to the historical context, or other necessary developments (such as Simpson’s use of the media, or Snow’s use of technology) across time.

‘Destroy homework’ isn’t a panacea for poor completion rates. Neither will it stop those hardened to years of frantic scribbling on a planner note page on the bus from continuing to do so. But find the right concept and I bet they’ll fly with it. Maybe they won’t even notice that they’ve done some work!

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.

Mapping the Learning Journey
March 10, 2014
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Image by flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04Image by flickr.com/photos/31246066@N04

This week, I tried mapping a learning journey, as described by The Learning Spy. I did it with my Year 11 class, who were studying The Yellow Palm from the GCSE English Literature Anthology. They are half-way through studying the cluster, and I’ve taught them (on and off) for a long time. They are also my most able and best behaved class. I really like them, and I;m confident trying new things with them.

Showing them a visual representation of their Learning Journey gives them an outline of the lesson. This gets them to link where they have been with what they are doing and where they are going.

Mine looked like this:

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 14.36.39

I had it on the board when they came in. Although they are used to having a starter or some bellwork on the board when they come in, it needed some explanation, but they were soon able to join in: “So, then we’ll annotate the poem?” and “Why’s the same picture at the start and the end?” “Because we’ll answer the questions at the end that we had at the start.”

One of the most useful features of this technique is that it gives your students a sense of direction. They like knowing where they’re up to, and what’s going to happen next. It also gave them a sense of purpose: we used the Question Matrix at the beginning, knowing they were going to answer the questions at the end. Incidentally, I hadn’t used the Question Matrix before, but I’ll definitely be using it again, especially for the Unseen Poetry – their questions were excellent.

Yes, preparing the slide did take a bit of time, particularly finding the images, but I do think it was time well spent. Many of the images can be generic, like the ‘Activity Stations’ one, so that’s an easy thing to do.

I’ll definitely be doing the Learning Journey again.