Monthly Archives: October 2010

Skin Deep

A big worry about the curriculum in our schools currently is that it isn’t  promoting real, deep learning.   That it only supports shallow learning, a recall of facts, memorisation.   We seem to be stalling at the lower end of Bloom’s taxonomy.  The ability to remember a range of unconnected chunks of information beyond the tests they were originally presented for might be useful in a pub quiz but it won’t be particularly helpful in the workplace of the future.   We live in an age where access to knowledge is more immediate than ever.   Children can find out what they need to know at the touch of a button or screen, from an early age they know how to search for information.   We need to develop their ability to think critically about the answers they are presented with, to help them understand that everything they read isn’t from a trusted and reliable source.  We ned to encourage them to challenge and question, put simply we need to teach them to think.

In school we need to go beyond the skin deep learning experience, as this doesn’t help develop children as thinkers.   The skin deep curriculum, where presentation and recall of facts and passive acceptance of truths hold sway offers only a shallow learning experience unlikely to appeal to the masses.   We want our learners to be inspired, excited by possibilities, actively engaged in challenges that prepare them for the uncertain future.  Guy Claxton surveyed a number of teachers for his book ‘What’s the Point of School?’ They thought a curriculum to prepare learners for the future should include a range of qualities, traits, values and habits of mind – things that have previously been pretty much left to chance, something to be picked up by osmosis perhaps, or learned from families and friends outside of school.  Our approach to the curriculum has to encompass such ‘learning experiences‘ if it is to be relevant and meet the needs of tomorrow’s society. We have to make this ‘stealth learning’ conspicuous, visible to all and a necessary part of education.

It seems obvious that today’s learners need more than a shallow pedagogical experience and we would be failing them if we let them leave school armed with no more than this, for as Eric Hoffer said:

‘In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.’


Exercising together

As part of our ongoing drive to engage with the wider school community we recently introduced a morning exercise session for parents and children in the school hall for 20 minutes before the school day starts.   We’re blessed with a large, well equipped hall with a good AV system which means we can make use of a data projector and a huge screen.   Julie, one of our PE team sets up a programme called ‘cybercoach’ to run a series of exercises on the screen and parents and children join in.   We use the programme around school as it’s great for getting everyone exercising.   The morning sessions are great fun and families are beginning to attend in increasing numbers.   Like lots of ideas, it started small with just a few coming along but they told their friends, and hopefully they’ll tell theirs and then maybe we’ll see the hall resembling one of those great photos you can see of schools in China where everyone is taking part in a tai chi session!

Lessons with twitter

Engaging  learners – one tweet at a time

I’ve been thinking recently about the opportunities twitter provides for engagement in the classroom and beyond.   Our teaching and learning group are currently looking at questioning as a powerful tool to support learning and the following ideas are something I am looking to try out with them over the next term.

Who am I?

Using twitter to recount historical facts, tweeting as a figure from history for the children to follow, to work out who you are and learn more about your historical alter ego and the times you lived in.  Fictional and factual characters could also be ‘twitterised’ to develop and unfold tweet after tweet with children following each one to gain an understanding of ‘who you are’.   A fantastic example of this can be seen in @simonhaughton’s Scrooge from last Christmas This year Simon is tweeting a Gunpowder Tweeting & Plot with @chrisleach78.   Other great examples can be found by following @ukwarcabinet and @BBCCov1940 both bringing WWII to life through tweets.

Where am I?

Tweeting descriptions from places from around the globe as if you’re there.   Children follow your clues to work out from the facts you give them, whereabouts you are.

What I am?

A cat, a dog, and inanimate object?   Using twitter to develop children’s thinking skills and powers of deduction.   This could develop into a game (as could the others!)   My original thought was a hashtag entitled ‘petsthattweet’ but this limited the idea and would be exhausted quite quickly!

When I started thinking about these questions a world of opportunities presented itself.   Our infants have postcards sent to school from Barnaby Bear (for the topic ‘Where in the World is Barnaby Bear?) why not have Barnaby tweet the children? I know some of these ideas are probably already being used, and I’m sure people have their own ideas and approaches similar to mine.  It would be great to hear from you about what you’re doing and what has been successful with the children as you engage learners one tweet at a time!

The IT project

We recently held an event in school to stimulate the children’s writing. It consisted of some green slime, a heavy dose of role play and a carefully conceived and cunning plan.

The idea came about when one of our teachers met with our local library service to put together a project about a mysterious alien landing on earth. The actors involved were all given loosely scripted parts and a green slimy jelly was strategically smeared around school. In classes, on the playground, down the corridors. When the children arrived in school they were immediately puzzled and excited. An emergency assembly was called to talk about what this might be. I was given my role by staff and I would like to think, I convinced the assembled mass of some extraordinary happening on our school field.  I would like to think many of those watching staff  believed my method approach-but maybe  they just stayed to laugh. The children though were suitably filled with wonder and when our ‘new crossing patrol lady’ ran in full of panic and vivid description of a swooping bird like creature covered in green feathers and slime, many were already thinking they might have seen something similar on the way to school!

Next, the school secretary ran in with some police photographs to confirm our suspicions. They showed cordoned off areas and locations of sightings. All of this served to build the children to a level of near frenzy about what could possibly be happening. Was it an alien? What did it want? What was ‘IT’?

The staff took the children back to class and seized the moment, encouraging the children to get their thoughts and ideas down. At break and lunchtime the children, still engrossed, stalked the playground with clipboards and binoculars looking for clues.

Other schools in the area were also involved which only served to further the mystery. The use of a few simple props, some willing actors and a great gem of an idea gave us a level of engagement we strive for everyday. The children have a memory that will last a long time and that stimulated some of their best writing. It didn’t cost the earth and required only a small amount of people’s time but it’s impact will be lasting.