Author Archives: Jamie Wilson

tmSLFringe12: Games-based learning

What a happy time- Friday afternoon! Particularly this week after the fun and excitement of Glasgow last Saturday. The learners in my class have worked like troopers this week with all the inspired ideas I took from the brilliant professionals I met.

Finally I have managed to finish typing up a little something to accompany the talk I gave. It is not a comprehensive guide and I do not consider myself in anyway an expert but it might help to start some one out there on the path to something new.

Any questions, queries, thoughts or ideas then do not hesitate to get in touch. Games based Learning- pedagoo notes

Multi-composite a challenge? Not when you’re magic!

Last week I was talking to a parent who’s child was embarking upon the adventure of primary 1. We spoke about her natural concerns and I was doing what I could to put her mind at rest (the pupil in question was not coming to our school). That was until the issue of multi-composite classes came up!

For any readers who haven’t explored my previous ponderings I am one of two teachers in a rural school in a picturesque corner of the Scottish Borders. Currently we have a primary 1-3 class and a 4-7 class. Despite this only being my 3rd year here I have had pleasure of teaching both classes. And learning from both classes. The parent mentioned could not get her head around the thought of the pupils all being together: “How can you teach them all at the same time?!” This has indeed led us here, so please sit back, make yourself comfortable and prepare to be blown away with the magic that we who have multi-composite classes perform (please read that with all the love it was intended to be read with. We are of course all magic).

The key to understanding this puzzle is the outlook that this parent showed from the outset. Why on earth would I do such an injustice as to teach my class the same thing without any consideration for their age, stage, prior learning or experience? I love teaching in a multi composite class, particularly with Curriculum for Excellence and the experiences and outcomes, because I CAN take a lesson for the whole class and guide my learners to the outcome that I have planned for them. Take a recent writing lesson I had with my P4-7’s. The lesson itself was our first piece back from the summer so I was looking for a baseline- if I leave them to write independently what can they produce without me. Looking at my primary 4’s during the lesson was illuminating: they were watching the older pupils taking dictionaries and the thesaurus and they, with very tentative steps, crossed the room and lifted one off the shelf as if it were going to evaporate stright out of their hands! These pupils were striving to be like their peers, to feel like they fitted in. They worked like troopers, putting in all the aspects I worked and worked at last year when they were in P3 without needing to be reminded.

Let us take another lesson that is perhaps not so independent. Maths. When it comes to teaching maths I get an instant sense of excitement- it is right up my street. There are rules and guidelines that makes it all work and a certain sense of organisation. There is (hopefully) an instant sense of achievement. Teaching maths to a multi composite class however is more similar to teaching a straight class set then most people consider. Who, is any class they have taught has not been able to divige the learners into 3 groups? We all come across learners who soak up learning and need little more than instruction before they can take out of the experience as we intended. Then we have those who normally need more support, who find applying the rules hard when they don’t have someone to act as a sound-board as they talk themselves through the steps. Then we have everyone in the middle. Being in a multi composite allows for this effectively as I am in no way limited to letting an eager and able group of P5/6 pupils work with my P7’s, and those in P4 who need support feel like they are doing “extra hard maths” because they may have pupils from P5/6 in with them too!

Teaching in this sense is simply a case of well thought out differentiation…but what about learning in multi composite classes I hear you cry? This is the bit that I really do feel is magical. Pupils are all too often better teachers that we care to admid after our years of training and nights after school on CPD courses! Social constructivism, scaffolding or any other fancy words that fly around the staffroom all apply so clearly in a multi composite class. The pupils often have a clear understanding of the task and indeed what their learning might “look like” and they in turn know how to explain it to others going through the motions that they went to (where as Mr Wilson just waffles). Take a recent ICT lesson where we were formally talking about emailing. I say formally as I know from  2 years ago that some of the older pupils have experience in the field. Rather than setting them a challenge at the outset I asked them to share 5 top tips with another pupil…some of there tips were brilliant! Displaying these on the SMART Board allowed all the pupils to strike up an understanding of what they could do before we evenbegan getting the netbooks out.

I find that teaching in this setting really does turn your learners into educators.  Having spent time at an in-service being shown reciprocal reading my first thought was how I was doing it, just without the title. It also brought me full circle with my planning where I went to the 4 capacities and tried to link our learning journey to these…I couldn’t because there really were so many links I could make. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you were in a room full of people that were all the same age as you? Or who were expected to be the same ability as you?  I haven’t had it since I was at school and even then we all knew that there was a massive range within us. Innovative learning with pupils often creating there own destiny. Seeing this spark in the pupils, the future shining through from their potential is again magical. Involving pupils in a multi composite class is the next pivotal key to success.

I would love to know what other professionals out there have found? What do you think is the key to making your composite class work? I would love to find out what others are doing too so any lessons that have ignited the passion and creativity in your pupils please comment back and we can share for the benefit of all learners, child and adult alike!

Explaining this all to the parent in my story was a fantasitc opportunity to dispell the opinion of one. I am hoping that this may go some way to convincing some others out there that multi composite classes are by no means a bad thing- it is the opposite! Unlock the potential and reap the rewards.

My saw doesn’t cut- (trying) to develop creativity in Technology

“Mr Wilson, my saw won’t cut!”

I was somewhat shocked when I was met with this last year from one of my pupils. At the point of this happening the pupil was holding the saw against the cutting block with the wood underneath it, running it back and forth…the other hand was busy ellaborating the story of what she had been up to the night before! This is going to be my next hurdle I thought and straight away set about changing up my classroom.

Sitting down that night with the technology experiences and outcomes in front of me was an interesting starting point. In the first level many of the experiences I could inbed in the room without too much time and expence: I brought the beebots down from the shelf, the hand tools and wood blocks where given a specialist area (with appropriate safety equipment!) and my PC/SMART Board was given specific task cards. When the pupils walked in the next day there was very evident excitement from the boys in my class and my heart fluttered a little as I saw a world of opportunity open up. They all ran to their free-choice bases before starting work for a look, and then went back to work like troopers to get done so they could get back to them.

However, when I took the time to go around the room to see what we had I felt a bit of a mixed reaction. Although the class had “engaged” with the learning opportunities they hadn’t developed anything into any great depth or detail- the beebot was moving forward but then being picked up and moved back to the start. This was not what I had wanted. How can I develop skills as well as creativity into these contexts…this hurdle may indeed require a little higher jump to clear!

What I wish I had done was take time to sit down with the class and ask them what way we could develop this and take it forward but that I suppose is the power of hind-sight. I will remember that for next time! I was hoping for creativity but had not provided anywhere near as much stimulus as I could have and could have done more to lead them through formulating a plan for what they were doing.

Instead I went about organising more cross-curricular tasks involving the technology, and thinking through problem solving opportunities. This was a huge success straight away. Here are some of the ideas we tried were:

  1. using the beebot to find as many paths through the woods to get the Gradma’s house (yes- it was dressed like red riding hood).
  2. working with a partner to build a shaduf that was as close to 20cm tall as possible (we were studying Egypt).
  3. making a pyramid den for us to fit inside.
  4. using plaster of paris to recreate sections of wall (possibly more art than technology but it was a wonderfully messy activity!)
  5. creating models using K-Nex, Lego and polydron- this is ongoing as it proved very popular.

At the end of last term the pupils were asked in their PLP’s which subjects they enjoyed and a greater number selected technology. I don’t know whether this was down to the tasks but they certainly helped!

I was wondering if any of you guys out there had other activities for early years/ first stage learners that you have had success with? I would love to continue building on this now and would welcome any suggestions.

Opening doors and opening minds: learning from each other!

Collaborative learning is one of those occurring “buzzwords” at the minute which most teachers can tag on to almost any learning opportunity set up in their classrooms. It is a wonderful way to see children engaging in learning conversations with their peers and allows you a brilliant stance by which to listen in and evaluate how well they are doing. But to end this term I tried something different for my pupils and I literally opened the doors to the classroom and invited the parents in.

Parents being involved in school has been an area that I wanted to develop this term and we have sought out fresh ways of doing this. We set up a reading for enjoyment session where parents came in and took small groups of pupils so that everyone was reading at the same time. What became apparent straight away was the sharing of thoughts, feelings and ideas that a teacher cannot get effectively when reading a class novel. I should point out here that I have a multi-composite (primary 1-3) class so even choosing a book can cause us a big debate!

We have tried to set up our classroom practice to include aspects of collaboration and sharing in all lessons with jigsaw learning, group challenges, elbow partners, working groups, table groups and active learning rotation groups…at times the pupils really do make me proud with their ability to make choices about their learning!

Yesterday was a different kettle of fish- they had the chance to show first hand what “successful learners” they had become. Our topic this term has been the Ancient Egyptians. The pupils engaged in ever lesson and particularly loved the gory bits of mummification. We made canopic jars, plaster casts of mummies, created death masks, made model shadufs and tried our hand at heiroglyphics to name just a few lessons. Yesterday allowed me to see just how much they had taken in and my heart fluttered to hear one of my youngest pupils (5 years old) explaining to their mum,

 “this is my canopic jar but you don’t put the brain in cos it gets pulled out your nose. This is just for your lungs or liver or stomach or guts!”

The engagement in each little face was incredible!

Some pupils did not have a parent there but what I also liked to see was them asking their friends if they could show their parents some of their learning (the embodiment of confident individuals in my opinion). They were literally seeking out people to tell about the weighing of the heart ceremony!

Sharing between pupils allows them all to learn from each other.

Organising this came as the result of having done something similar for the other class in school and again we saw brilliant collaborative learning. This way we could ensure that everyone had someone to talk with. The photos of this are now up on display and the pupils were still going to the pictures and telling others about what was happening.

This child-lead teaching has really seen a difference and a number of pupils told me that this has been their favourite topic so far. What was a little more prominent was the number of parents who told me that their children have been coming home to tell them about life in Ancient Egypt- one told me

“I feel she’s come on more this term because she wanted to come home and teach me because I just don’t know anything about it!”

 To end the whole afternoon off we presented our “Walk Like An Egyptian” dance festival entry- a fantastic way to engage all learners, young and older! Confidence was over flowing- the four capacities certainly seem to be at work. We would not have had these opportunities without the collaboration between my pupils, between them and their peers, and between them and their parents.