In November, Yonit, a Google Certified Teacher put out a request for info from any teacher who has done some project based learning. Completely unexpectedly, this led to a group of our Year 6's, who had done some project based work in my class over the last two years, taking part in a hangout at a conference for the Ministry of Education in Israel who are interested in making this part of the curricular approach in Israel!
I have also been very fortunate to have met many amazing educators through the Google Teacher Academy in London this month. One of these is the inspiring Rachel Jones @rlj1981 who invited me to contribute to an Top Tips iBook she's putting together with @chocotzar. Can't wait to read tips from others but in the meantime I thought I could combine my top tips with this blog entry & will update with a link to the full ibook when it's published. So here they are:
Top Tip Number 1
What's in a name...
At the beginning of the year, give children the opportunity to name their class. If you like, you can ask them to follow a theme that goes with a topic you'll be studying. For example, when my year group studied the rainforests, my pupils could choose any rainforest animal - this led to the Year 4 Monkey Mandrills, the Year 4 Mountain Lions and the Year 4 Bengal Tigers. This year I'm the Year 5 teacher and our theme is water so pupils chose The Year 5 Dolphins as their name.
If you want to take it a step further, ask your pupils to choose cryptonyms based on the rainforest (or for us this year, the ocean). Whenever the class go on-line, instead of using their real names, they use their cryptonyms. That way our class all know who is posting but they safe because no one else has this information. It's also a fun way for children to explore a topic more deeply. Pupils have populated lots of Google class maps using their cryptonyms. Here's an example: http://bit.ly/17bqaEv
Top Tip Number 2
An invisible pupil
I got this tip from the inspirational Ros Wilson on one of her improving children's writing courses. The idea is
In recent years, each brother of the 'Allbright' family has left us with a rainforest mascot. Among the many we've had are Zingo, the Toucan, Humphrey the Tapir and this year King Kong the Chimpanzee. My pupils give the mascot a name and take him home and on their travels and share his diary with the class. Sometimes our mascot goes further afield - one mascot, Zingo the toucan made it to the Himalayas with a Local Authority adviser and blogged throughout his trip. Later that year, he went to the Members' Dining Room (& received his own security pass!) at the Houses of Parliament with a group of the Year 4 Mountain Lions to explain how we'd helped our community to get on line!
Top Tip Number 3
Develop your class as a 'Community of Enquiry'
Develop your class as a 'Community of Enquiry'
Build in opportunities for pupils to explore and develop their thinking skills through enquiries and you'll see why I cannot recommend this highly enough. Based on the ideas behind Philosophy for Children (P4C), enquiries give children opportunities to respond to a range of prompts from a story, to a newspaper article, an artefact, a piece of music or a picture - anything really - with their own questions and then their own discussion. The prompts can be related to something you're studying or real flights of fancy - you will be amazed at the quality of discussion and thinking that emerges. If you'd like to take things a step further, Sapere run courses (http://www.sapere.org.uk/) and you might like to check out the Gallions School in East London who've seen some remarkable outcomes through P4C (http://bit.ly/1bvEfue).
For just a taster of enquiries try 'Thunks' which are collections of questions to get your pupils thinking like 'can a fly see a skyscraper?' ; 'Can you turn a sound upside down?' and 'If you could take a pill that meant you'd never fail, would you?'. These will lead to discussions that surprise, if not amaze you! http://amzn.to/1inFlRi
There are many fantastic websites and tools out there but one which I've found invaluable time and again over the last few years is Voicethread (Voicethread.com). Each Voicethread you create is based on a picture or photo which pupils respond to using a choice of doodle pen, typing, voice recording or camcorder. You can create individual identities for each class member (mine are based on their rainforest or ocean animal cryptonym). We've used them for many things from responding to Maths questions, contributing information they'd found for topics and often for evaluating Art and D&T projects. There's a free edu version available if you contact Voicethread using a school email address.
Top Tip Number 5
Create a named lollipop stick for each member of your class. They can be useful in lots of ways. Often
Top Tip Number 6
Movies feel real in a way that just reading about something or just writing about something really doesn't. Children have used film to make news broadcasts about Hurricane Sandy, the St. Jude's Day Storm and the deaths of Henry VIII's wives (in costume!), they've created videos about their Polar Bear Project Action Plans and most recently they've used them to film their Maths Casts explaining calculation methods to post on YouTube. There's just something about a film project that invariably brings together and develops all sorts of skills from planning, researching, scripting and acting to ICT, working to a tight deadline and collaborating in teams.
All you need for the above is something you and/or your pupils can film with. If you have access to iPodtouches or iPads think about using iMovies which enables pupils to top and tail their films for a bit of a professional finishing touch.
Here are two ideas for rewards that have proved popular with my pupils. The first one is for tidying the class - something everyone, including children, can feel reluctant about at one time or another! Each table of children work together as a team to tidy their table and the 'peripheral' class room area (why not squeeze a bit of Maths vocab in while we're there!). The tidiest table wins the cushions which they can sit on throughout the next day of lessons.
Treasure Tokens are the other popular reward. Children are given a raffle ticket or treasure token for all sorts of things. Usually it's unexpected and for their being kind and doing something for someone else. The tokens they like best are the ones they given to each other and where they write the reason on the back and choose whether they wish to put their own name to it. At the end of each half term we have a draw and the first person chooses the main activity for an afternoon and the first 8 can use the iPodtouches. The first 20 receive a small prize from the Treasure Token Chest (usually pound shop stuff). If someone's name comes out twice or more, they given the additional token to a friend in class. Very popular!
Top Tip Number 8
My pupils love opportunities to bring the real world into the classroom. This is possible with pretty much
We've had a rainforest project that led to pupils campaigning for better labelling of palm oil in products - a major cause of deforestation. My pupils now watch over an area of endangered rainforest land in Borneo with the agreement that they'll flag it if they spot any signs of fire or logging (Check out Earthwatchers for more info: http://earthwatchers.cloudapp.net/)
This year, my class have created polar bear action teams to try to tackle some of the causes of loss of Arctic habitat.
You really don't need a detailed roadmap for bringing the outside world in, just a willingness to given children opportunities to pursue their interests a bit further a field and encourage them to believe in their ability to make a difference. Small changes can lead to a big impact.
Top Tip Number 9
Developing good learning skills is at the heart of good learning outcomes. As a school, we've identified the key areas as: independence, curiosity, learning relationships, staying power, changing, meaning making and creativity. Children have come up with their own definition for these: (http://bit.ly/Rgeu8c). Pupils in my class think about their learning skills and set themselves targets which they review later in the year. Children also give their reasons for areas they've identified as strengths and weaknesses and this is always a valuable perspective for me as their teacher.
Top Tip Number 10
Class storiesThere's absolutely nothing new about this one but it's right up there in my top ten anyway! Children just LOVE sharing a good story and as primary teachers we're in a privileged position to ensure that it's part of children's experience in primary schools. This term we've shared ancient Greek myths and legends, stories from George Layton's 'The Fib' and, thanks to Axelle, my French born PGCE student, Le Petit Prince - a French children's story by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry that is also steeped in philosophy.