As part of lesson study in my school (Soham Village College) I decided to try and develop a one off lesson which involved no teacher participation at all! Obviously careful preparation was paramount to success and the lesson did take several hours to put together. The activities were not as rigorous as I would usually plan for in a GCSE history lesson (some were pretty much there for fun) but it was a fascinating experiment and experience and demonstrated just how well students can work in collaboration (and independently) if we give them the opportunity.
Students came in – creepy music playing – tables set out with mixed ability group names on and an A4 envelope which stated – ‘Do not open until told to do so’. Groups were carefully selected in advance.
I handed a scroll to a quiet but able student which said – ‘You are the only person allowed to touch the computer this lesson – get up and open the folder called ‘start here’ – after the video has played ensure the screen with all of the folders on is visible’. Handing this student the note was the one and only teacher interaction for the whole lesson.
The student opened the intro video and I appeared on screen dressed as a creepy clown – this set the ‘mystery/horror’ mood of the lesson – the clown tells the class that if they are ever to leave they need to solve the mysteries and riddles during the lesson.
The clown tells the students to open the envelopes on the table. Inside they find a selection of sources, an A3 grid and an instruction sheet. Very quickly and efficiently the students worked out what to do. An interesting observation at this point was how natural leaders developed in groups and how groups took different approaches. Some choose to split the work amongst the group to speed up time. Others choose to work as one group with one member reading the sources to the rest. From my observations all students were involved in this first task.
This task took them about 13 minutes and involved them trying to decide if the sources (9 in total) were for or against the statement on 19th century policing – at this point I was interested (and slightly nervous) as to what would happen next. They had no further instructions – all the clown had said was that the code would be revealed if they got it right. It was fascinating to watch as one student got up and started checking what other groups had got – the class worked together sharing thoughts until eventually they released that there were 5 sources for the statement and 4 against – this matched one of the folders on the screen ‘5F4A’ – the student chosen at the start moved to the PC opened the folder and this revealed the second clown video.
This video congratulated them and then told them to look under their chairs – which caused great excitement! Under selected chairs I had stuck words. There was no further instruction. The students who had words removed them – some students then took a lead and it was fascinating to see them organise themselves. They decided to use sellotape to pin the words onto the board – then they started rearranging them to make sense – it took no time at all for them to work out the message – ‘Look between the black and blue book on the shelf’. This then gave them the next batch of A4 envelopes.
These A4 envelopes contained an article on the police and a sheet with another statement – this time on the failure of the police to catch Jack the Ripper. They had to read the article and identify reasons as to why the murderer was never caught and how far this was the fault of the police force. They worked out fairly quickly that this would reveal another code. Again they worked well and shared their findings across groups. One problem was that they only completed one side of the table as they quickly realised there was only one folder with 4 agree (4A 5D). Although this showed good initiative it meant they did not fully consider the arguments against the statement. Once solved the allocated student opened the folder and the clown appeared again. He is getting more erratic and evil by this point! The clown tells them to look under the recycling bin where they find the envelopes for the next task.
The penultimate task involved the class trying to break 4 different codes – some involved replacing numbers with letters others involved changing letters – they were given no instruction as to what the code might be. It was interesting to observe how groups worked again. Some groups worked as a four – one code at a time. Other groups split and took a code each. The natural leaders worked out that working as a class was the most efficient method some students starting asking the whole class if any were solved yet. They were looking for factors as to why the crime rate fell in the late 1800s. Once they solved all 4 riddles they worked out they needed to open the folder called – Police, living, prisons, tax.
On opening the final video the clown presented the class with a riddle to solve. They were told that once they had solved it they should open the cupboard at the back of the class. They played the video a couple of times and then one student solved it. This was a special moment as the person who solved the riddle is an FFT E grade prediction – for a moment there she became the class hero!
When they opening the cupboard they were presented with 5 envelopes – ‘The Maid’ – ‘The Gardener’ – ‘The Butler’ – ‘The Wife’ – ‘The Cook’. The answer to the riddle was the maid. On opening this envelope they got the final code.
The final video gave them the end silly message from the clown and concluded the lesson. The whole thing had lasted 55 minutes – timings could not have been more perfect! I had not spoken to the class for the whole lesson (just sat at the back largely ignored by the students) and the only action taken during the whole lesson was handing the note to the student at the very beginning!