Change the story…

Photo Credit: Republic of Stories
Photo Credit: Republic of Stories

As is so often the case with many things in life, not everything you plan for becomes reality. As a teacher, you work towards a weekly set of plans that focus on key areas of the curriculum – something which I have always believed, and still believe for the most part, to be the right approach to maintaining high teaching and learning standards! Personally, I need organization! I am somebody who likes the idea of planning ahead and knowing exactly what is being taught and when it needs to be taught. Throughout my relatively young life in education, I think it is fair to say that I have come to rely heavily on this framework of structure and rigidity.

Then, the last two years came along and…

Oh how things changed! Nowadays, I find myself becoming more appreciative of having a balance between flexibility and structure. Take the final project for my COETAIL course as an example of this. The original idea for my final project was to revamp and upgrade a science unit on Magnetism that allowed me to incorporate many of the different ideas and concepts that we had used throughout our time on the COETAIL course.

However, for a variety of reasons including time constraints, lack of originality, other science units needing to be taught first and an upcoming school inspection I have decided against using this unit as my COETAIL coup de grace. Instead I have gone for a completely new digital literacy unit that isn’t being taught by anyone else in my year group but is something I strongly believe needs to be shared with the children.

So my brand new final project will be based on (start the drum roll)… STORY TELLING! Now you may well ask “Why?” and “That’s not original considering we have a COETAIL course four unit based on this very same subject!”

And you would be correct! However, my answer to you would also include the following reasons for my choice:

  1. I recently heard a fellow COETAILer (who is based at our school) talk about the students at our school lacking storytelling skills.
  2. It is also has a lot to do with the fact that the new National Curriculum for History in England and Wales has placed a heavier emphasis on StoryTelling as a method for delivering historical content.
  3. I am really keen to encourage the students at our school to become more adept at creating, making and editing iMovie videos.

However, none of these are the main reason for my change of heart; the actual reason I have decided to change direction is because I started something and I liked it so much I thought I would use it as a final project.

The Organic Tale of a slightly Anal Teacher

Once upon a time a thirty-something, slightly overweight teacher decided that the children in his class would really benefit from having more time to mess around with the ipad App ‘iMovie’. After taking some time to ponder this issue, the rigid and slightly anal educator hit upon an idea that might just work. He would combine the student’s current English unit on quest myths with the ipad App ‘iMovie’ to create a storytelling unit that would provide the students with the perfect platform for retelling their own stories. And so after many days of pondering a plan was formed and this was what it looked like…

Footsteps in a new land…

Photo credit: Greenmangaming

Before the coming

Across fierce seas, that battered and broke our small boats, we came. It took us many months of travel to arrive here – many did not make it! Now we have set foot in our new land. We are tired from the long journey but we look forward to putting down roots and settling in this new world. We will establish a mighty nation in this place. We will carve our names upon the walls of history…But first we need to decide where we will settle?

After the coming

We know that we need water for drinking and crops! Perhaps we should build our city near a river or lake? After all the river and lake would also provide us with fish and a means to travel from one part of this new land to another!

But what about crocodiles and flooding?

Ah but flooding is a good thing – it replenishes the crops and leaves behind a thick black mud that will allow the crops to grow strong and healthy.

What about our houses?

We will build them from wood.

That means we need to be near a forest or woodland area.

But how do we get the wood to make our new houses?

Why don’t we cut down the trees? We could build tools like axes or swords to cut down the trees?

We would need durable materials to make theses tools. The tools would have to be sharp and strong!

What about wooden axes and swords? We could use sharpened wood to cut the trees down.

No wood isn’t durable enough. They would break! We need rocks, stone and metal to cut down the trees!

Where do we get these materials from?

Mountains – we need Mountains. They will have these materials! We need to build mines in the mountains so that we can get the rocks from the earth. But remember that the rocks should be igneous or metamorphic rocks because they are more durable.

We could also build roads with the stone we mine. This means we could get to places quicker and faster.

If we move to new areas, we could also build new towns and cities so our population could increase.

leaders must be chosen

Who will decide where we should live? It should be those people who know the best place for us to settle!

And how will we know who they are?

Those people will use there problem solving skills to work out the best place for us to live.

And how will they do that?

Simple, they will use their understanding of the rocks (Rock Cycle unit in Science) and they will use their knowledge of Rivers and crops (History unit on Ancient Egypt) to help us understand the best place for us to live. They will also know what materials we should use to build our tools from (Science unit on materials).

These great people will also demonstrate that they understand what great leadership should be (Religious Education lesson on Guru Nanak and great leaders).

Very well. Let each group present their claim for knowing the best location for settlement. After each group has given us their reasons, we will decide as a whole people, who will be our leaders and where we will settle…

What was that all about?

I recently used the final lesson of our Ancient Egyptian unit as a PBL (problem based learning) lesson. The idea was to really get the children to reflect, use and apply their learning to decide on the best location for a new settlement in a brand new world. The students were split into groups of three and given a copy of the map at the top of the page. They were then asked, towards the end of the session, to present their choices to the whole class explaining their reasons for choosing that location (I have included the lesson plan in a previous post as lesson 6 if you are interested in using it).

Conclusions

I think it is fair to say that PBL is a wonderful tool for wrapping up a unit and really finding out exactly what the students have learned. More importantly, it is a great method for getting students to use and apply previous knowledge to a real world problem that actually needs solving. I used elements of PBL in this history lesson but I have also used it for Science, Maths and Geography lessons. For me, the most important aspect of PBL is the hook. If the children are interested and motivated there will be a 100% buy in to your suggestions and ideas.

Once again, as I have said with all of the learning theories in COETAIL course four, I think that PBL is an absolute must for student learning; particularly in a world where problems, dilemmas and difficulties seem to become more prevalent on a daily basis.

 

We live? We die? You decide!

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Photo credit: History Crushes

You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts; and then, when all her greatness shall break upon you, you must reflect that it was by courage, sense of duty, and a keen feeling of honour in action that men were enabled to win all this, and that no personal failure in an enterprise could make them consent to deprive their country of their valour, but they laid it at her feet as the most glorious contribution that they could offer – Taken from Pericles funeral oration

It really is difficult to appreciate the impact that great historical people had on the world they lived in (and is some cases the world we live in today). The choices they made directly affected thousands (or millions) of people who lived under their rule. The consequences of their actions could be catastrophic for the people they governed; or they could bring untold wealth, power and renown to the citizens of that state.

So what does any of this have to do with teaching and learning?

Well, after a recent talk with a small group of my peers, I realised that we don’t really give the children an opportunity to take on the roles of these great leaders and figures from history. No instead we get them to watch a video on Boudicca, Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Henry VIII…etc. And then we expect them to write about the motives, rational and reasons these people had for making the decisions they made.

So after much deliberation, I think the ideas below might just present students with a small understanding of what it was like to be responsible for thousands of lives!

I have decided to adapt a decision making game (from a book called ‘Creative teaching in the classroom’ by Rosie Turner-Bisset) to truly give the children an opportunity to walk in the shoes of great historical leaders. The game in this book is based on the arrival of the conquistadores in the New World. Firstly the children have to take the role of either the Aztecs or the Spanish. Then they make decisions based on the actual events from that time. Ultimately, the decisions they make will/won’t affect what happened over 500 years ago.

Adapting the game for my purposes:

At the moment I am in the middle of altering our Year 5 (Grade 4) history topic on Ancient Greece. As you may have guessed , I have decided to use Pericles (Statesman and first citizen of ancient Athens) as a test subject for this prototype lesson. My aim is to combine an adaptation of the ‘Aztec vs Spanish game’ with a digital slideshow presentation (this is included below with the lesson plan and the game script). The slideshow uses high impact images and key words to really drive home the difficult choices that Pericles and the Athenians had to make. The slideshow also provides an opportunity for the teacher to see whether the children are unduly influenced by visual images when making decisions.

It must be said that the decision making story is heavily adapted and altered from the original; however, it does use actual events from the war to reinforce the historical accuracy and realism of the lesson.

I also think that it would be a good idea for the teacher to role-play the part of Pericles. This isn’t an essential part of the lesson but I do think it will give it more impact and believability.

My aim is to teach the lesson to one of the Year 5 classes while the Year 5 teachers watch. I don’t know whether this will be successful but I hope it will give them a better idea of the skills I am trying to impart to the children. If it is successful I really do believe that there is scope to add it to other history units in the upper year groups of our primary (elementary) school.

Finally, Caesar said ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ but I wonder what the students will say after they have had a small taste of what it truly means to rule?

Lesson plan:

Slideshow for the game:

Consequences game:

 

Bike-to-chart

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Photo credit: LA county bike association

Infographics? Data visualization? Digital notetaking? What do these words mean?  Me – No idea!

Actually, this isn’t exactly true! I did know what infographics were but I didn’t know that they were called infographics. The first time I had actually come across these type of images was when I had teamed up with Palvinder Thurman for our course 2 final project. Palvinder suggested using Piktochart as a method for delivering our RUA’s message in a more visual and understandable way to children at a primary school level. She also talked about how useful and easy this program/application was to use. So, on a late Saturday evening, I briefly powered up the laptop and had a look at the application. However, I soon turned back to the football (soccer) match I had been watching on the television – and that was where I left it…until now!

I really should have listened more carefully to Palvinder because I now realise the potential this application has! I guess that we don’t really notice the merits of a particular program or application until we are actually faced with a situation where we are given an opportunity to experiment with it; this is one of the reasons why I have really enjoyed the COETAIL program so far.

I have decided to use Piktochart in an upcoming PSHE (Personal, Social, Health, Education) lesson from a unit on safety that we are currently doing in class this term. I haven’t actually altered the lesson plan that much as the original material is relevant and engaging to the students. The only alteration I have made is to the lesson’s independent task section where I have switched the original poster making activity to a Piktochart-infographic focus. Now I am aware that it isn’t a massive change but it does allow the children to add their infographics directly to our class blog which would give it more meaning and exposure to those out there in Cyber-Space. It also gives the children an application which is easy-to-use when it comes to the creation and presentation of ideas and learning.

I have included the lesson plan and my own Bicycle infographic (which I am particularly proud of) for you to use/adapt as you see fit. I am looking forward to seeing how the children cope with the task. Personally I think they will love it because it involves visual images – and that is always a winning ingredient with children!

Bike Safety
Bike Safety through traffic lights