The Educational Landscape of the Twenty-first Century

Browsing Twitter recently I read a tweet by Mike Herrity (@mikeherrity), “The educational landscape of the 21st Century. Moving towards a new paradigm in learning.” Intrigued, I hit the link, and watched this RSA Animate based on a speech by Sir Ken Robinson in which he shared his thoughts on the challenges facing the public education system.

Although his comments about ADHD have attracted some negative responses it seems to me that Sir Ken otherwise presented an absolutely razor sharp analysis of past and present educational systems. A system that starts off with anything up to 98% of its primary school children judged to be extraordinarily good at divergent thinking and which then over the space of ten years causes this skill to be depleted is one that is broken. Current trends in educational reform don’t appear to be shaping up to change the paradigm. Some would argue that even now we are not seriously looking towards the future and are still chained to the past.

I don’t know about you but I find it irritating when problems are highlighted but no solution is suggested. Well, as luck would have it, just before half term I came across another link tweeted by Damien McHugh (@dmchugh675) and it struck me that what I was seeing was one way of seriously shifting the paradigm. Have a look and see what you think….

Active History

Active Learning – Favourite History Board Games

I took over my current history department from Ian Luff who has written and spoken regularly about the power of role plays and simulations in the history classroom. I was a convert from the first time I heard him speak. I’m sure I’m not alone either in having being inspired by the work of the likes of Ian Dawson and Dan Moorhouse.  Suffice to say that I now have a very fat file of activities of varying complexity which always go down well with classes from Y7 to Y13. There are also some engaging on-line history games at sites like SchoolHistory and even the game console is starting to make its way into the classroom. I like all of these. Well, ok, I haven’t moved the X-Box into school yet but you know what I really do like is a good old fashioned board game every now and then.

I love finding the opportunity to play a game as part of a lesson and the kids get a lot out of it as well. Used as either a ‘hook’ at the start of a unit (see below – Life in the Trenches) or as the culmination of a detailed investigation to consolidate understanding (Germanopoly) games can be a really powerful teaching method. Getting the children to design their own games is also a real winner. Sadly it is often the case that our time constraints….”I still have three units to finish with 10B before the exam so I can’t waste time”….mean we push things like games aside and plough on with the content. We should resist this pressure. Games do have a place in even GCSE and GCE schemes of work and invariably engage the students so effectively that some really deep learning takes place and, dare I say it, this is probably more effective than ploughing on with the content! So go on Sir/Miss let’s play a game…….
Active History

Reputations – Year 8 get to grips with Oliver Cromwell

Investigating the topic ‘When and why did King’s lose control?’ using Hodder’s SHP Y8 text we dispatched Charles I (by a majority decision!) and plunged onwards to make our Royal Rollercoaster. Things got interesting when we got to Cromwell.  The first activity in the text alerted the pupils to the different views of Cromwell through the ages but to be honest it wasn’t that difficult for them to figure out what went where. The following discussion was lively and once we’d agreed on some factors that shaped reputations over time the next challenge was unveiled.

Each pupil was allocated a factor at random which they had to keep secret from their partner. They were tasked with writing a new biography/obituary for the Lord Protector. The challenge was that they could not make it too obvious what their angle was but had to provide enough clues to alert a careful historian. After some thought and a bit of revision from the double page on Cromwell from the earlier section (‘Put your ruler in the Hot Seat!’) they set to work.

When they had finished they swapped cards with their partners and each pair had to try and work out what their partner’s factor had been. In most cases the clues were sufficient and the secret factor uncovered. However there were some tricky examples which even foxed me!

The challenge of writing a very subtle biased description was fun but more importantly helped the pupils really see how and why reputations can change throughout history.

Active History Creative history

Getting Creative – Puppet Theatres in the History Classroom

I’m not sure if this is in any way a new idea but I’ve had some really fun lessons using this idea. The pupils love it and other teachers are starting to use the same approach in other subjects. When you think about it its only a simple development of the tried and tested “create a story board to tell the story of…..” but more flexible. The pupils are hooked from the start as they have to research the detail so that they can put their character’s point of view across and of course they get the chance to create their puppet. The added twist of having to make the ‘scenery’ makes them think about the historical context and working with their team ensures they consider the inter-relationships. In this example we were looking at comparative experiences under dictatorships during the 1930s.
Active History

Magic Hands and Rope Connectives – Y9 Study the Vietnam War

‘Magic’ PEEL Hand

I really enjoyed planning and teaching this lesson with one of my Y9 classes this week. The group recently completed a written assignment about the role that military leaders played in the casualty rates on the Western Front between 1915-18 and their answers showed they were struggling (again) with structuring their work and linking ideas.
The ‘magic PEEL hands’ are something I made earlier in the year and are about 60cm long. They are made of cushion foam from the local market and can be worn like gloves so that you look a bit like a cross between Kenny Everett and a Smurf.
The idea is to provide a 3D reminder of a simple essay structure. It’s amazing that although we really stress this from very early on pupils still find it tricky when it comes to writing up work. Quite often this is down to the fact that many of them try to write their answers without planning or drafting them out first so any physical reminder is useful. Pupils like the ‘hands’ which normally stand prominently on a shelf at the side of my classroom. They, together with various ‘flash cards’ dotted around the room, act as crucial reminders for many pupils. I refer to them frequently when teaching groups from Y7 through to Y13 and  I’ve even seen pupils writing the template on their own hands!