Pop-up museum

A member of staff said to me at INSET last Friday that all they wanted from INSET was to take away at least one idea to make their teaching better or their lessons more exciting. I agree and this was my favourite idea: a pop-up museum. This came from an inspirational talk from Mandie Haywood, a headteacher from a primary school in Telford. Not only did her school sound like a great place to work – always reinventing the curriculum to make it relevant to today’s learners – but their lessons and activities sounded like so much fun and reminded me why it was that I had chosen to become a primary school teacher. Also they make incredibly good music videos, like they did with this one to celebrate Tim Peake’s space adventure.

I will certainly be using this idea in the future. So here it is:

The pop-up museum

For a lesson with some element of investigation and research, where pupils are being asked to learn about something they haven’t previously had experience of, this is ideal.

  1. Create small groups within the class, who will create their museum exhibits together.
  2. Provide each group with an envelope with a few key ideas, pieces of information, maybe a website or an image to investigate further.
  3. Each group are given a tablecloth and have access to tools and resources to create museum exhibits based around their topic.
  4. Time is provided for pupils to research – maybe using tablets or the web to gather more information. Alternatively books or pre-printed information from the web can give groups a head-start.
  5. Once pupils have become ‘experts’ at their topic and they have made any exhibits they want to, they arrange their items on their table.
  6. As each table has a different set of exhibits, you have in no time at all, created a pop-up museum.
  7. Pupils are then free to browse the museum, reading the information and looking at the exhibits at each table.

Ideas to extend this:

  • Maybe QR codes could be used to link to additional information about the topic.
  • Use homework or projects to provide additional time for this project.
  • Write recounts of their ‘visit’ to the museum. Perhaps even open it up to different year groups or classes.
  • Other year groups could also create their own pop-up museums at the same time so that the entire school are able to experience a wide range of topics.
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Using apps to improve writing and increase engagement

Epic Citadel
Epic Citadel
Riven
The sunners in Riven

Tim Ryland’s blog contains so many links to wonderful websites and apps. From here I learnt of the fantastic apps, Epic Citadel and Machinarium, in addition to Riven. These are fantastic ways of boosting writing skills and engagement. Pupils love to explore the worlds and are then able to use this inspiration to significantly improve the quality of their writing.

For children who spend so much of their time playing computer games and are able to relate easily to them, I would recommend the use of apps and games as a way of encouraging normally disengaged pupils. If you have a group of boys, whose writing is a concern, you may find (as I did) that their increased engagement has a major impact on their writing quality.

Epic Citadel

epic citadel appI built upon Tim’s ideas from his blog, and we used this app to focus on narrative writing. Pupils loved to walk around the empty city. It provoked questions about where the people had gone and it certainly stirred pupils’ imaginations.

This was a fantastic app to develop vocabulary and write descriptions of settings. I took screenshots from different places around Epic Citadel and pupils used thesauruses and word banks to gather language to use in their writing. We also developed our sentence structure using some of Alan Peat’s exciting sentences, so that we not only had a bank of great vocabulary to use but a bank of sentences to adapt and include in our writing. This was a fantastic way of scaffolding their writing and enabling all pupils to work towards improving their writing.

Riven

I built upon @GnuBee’s unit of work that had originally been used in a writing booster class to boost pupils from a Level 4 to a Level 5. We focused on different text types and included the following:

  • A description based on initial exploration of the islands.
  • An advert for a pod house.
  • A mystery story based around going through a gate on Jungle Island.
  • Instructions informing visitors how to operate the transportation system, the MagLev.
  • A non-chronological report based around the history and features of the MagLev.
  • A non-chronological report about the creatures on the island, known as sunners.
  • A complaint letter sent to the island after visiting and standards were not up to scratch.
  • Diary entries (before and after) about moving to Riven

All tasks were adapted from past SATs writing tasks. As the SATs writing test is no more, I decided to elevate the status of this writing topic to make it more of a project and I gave each pupil a brand new book to complete their work in. Here is my tube map learning journey that I created (Riven Learning Journey to map our way through our Riven project

Example of a learning journey
Riven Learning Journey

The quality of the work that was produced was fantastic.

Machinarium

machinarium-wallpaper-cover-1280x1024This is a lovely app with great artwork, based around a little robot in a steampunk world. We explored the start of the game together so that we were able to gather ideas and vocabulary about how the robot moved.

I used this app with a mixed Year 5 and Year 6 group of children as part of a blogging story writing project.

We began by looking at images of the landscapes within the game (I had a series of screenshots). I had A3 sheets of paper around the room with different images in the centre of each page. The class moved between the different images to gather vocabulary and phrases for each of the images that they wrote around the images. We kept all of their ideas for future lessons so that they could use any that they wanted to. We later did the same with images of the robots features in the game. I provided word banks with adjectives and adverbs, as well as thesauruses for pupils to refer to.

Firstly pupils wrote a setting description. The second writing project was a character description. We next used Talk4Writing story mapping techniques to plan out the quest narrative. The final part of the writing project was to write the story on the blog. We promoted the writing on our school Twitter account and encouraged other classes to read their writing and post comments. The group of bloggers also self-assessed and peer-assessed their writing on the blog.

How I structure writing projects, built upon Talk 4 Writing principles:

  • Explore the app
  • Gather vocabulary, phrases and sentences in pairs or groups
  • ‘Magpie’ ideas individually to ensure all pupils have a bank of ideas
  • ‘Cold writing’ of a specific text type
  • Look at examples of the text type and explore features
  • Story mapping including annotations of ideas already gathered
  • ‘Red hot writing’ (writing after having explored the text type) alongside a checklist of the features of the text type
  • Self-assess and peer-assess (use checklists)
  • Self-assess and peer-assess using WWW, EBI and Next Steps

Using QR code to increase engagement

The children we teach are constantly surrounded by technology. They are used to finding out instantly what they want to know at the touch of a button, as most of them will have a smart phone or tablet to hand. QR (quick response) codes can be used effectively to engage pupils, who may prefer to engage with their phones and social media as opposed to their work, especially for homework.qrcode

Some teachers may find the idea of introducing QR codes into their teaching as daunting, or perhaps even unnecessary, but when you consider how easy they are to generate, combined with the high interest from pupils that they generate, I would recommend their implementation as a fantastic way of increasing engagement in learning.

What are QR codes?

A QR code is like a bar code and it contains information. You can easily generate your own to show information you want them to see. When they are scanned by someone (a pupil) that information will be displayed to them.

How QR codes can be used:

There are plenty of websites that allow you to create your own QR codes. I use http://goqr.me/ but there are many other alternatives.

I tend to use QR codes in two ways: to take a pupil to a website and to display a piece of text.

You can add printed QR codes to your displays to link to class blogs or additional information. Additionally, they can be used as a way of increasing engagement and communication with parents by displaying QR links to topics being studied in class. You could send home printed QR codes of these topics to parents if your classroom environment or school routines (e.g. maybe parents don’t wait by the classroom to collect their child) prevent you being able to display the QR codes in a place easily accessible to parents.

QR codes in lessons:

If you are fortunate enough to have access to a class set of iPads or tablets, or your school allows pupils to use their own devices, then a simple QR scanner app would mean that you could introduce QR codes into your lessons, instantly making them seem more appealing to pupils. You could be setting what could be seen by many as a fairly mundane task, e.g. answering questions, but the technology element would elevate its interest to your pupils.

You may have heard of QR treasure hunts, where pupils answer questions from QR codes around the school. Websites like this: http://www.classtools.net/QR/ make a QR treasure hunt an easy lesson to organise. The most time-consuming element would probably be putting the QR codes up around the school! Adding a small incentive for completing the task first, (e.g. house points, raffle tickets or something that fits in with your own school’s behaviour system) you may find that pupils who would normally struggle to complete tasks, will be more successful in this activity due to its competitive nature and the added element of moving around the school.

QR codes for homework:

You can use QR codes in a similar way to how you would in a lesson. One way would be to give them a sheet with printed QR codes that lead to questions being displayed. They then bring their answers back to school or write them on an answer sheet that you provide them with.

I find that pupils are much more likely to visit a website that I provide to them in the form of a QR code, than as a URL. You avoid typos this way and the time spent in accessing the homework is reduced (something that will also appeal to your pupils!).

Sometimes I produce a sheet of QR codes that lead to additional websites that aren’t necessary to complete the task but are related to the topic we are learning about. I find pupils are more likely to engage with this additional information when they can scan it on their smart phone and browse at their leisure than if I give them a list of websites. If you provide a list of websites, pupils will have an idea from the URL what it is you are asking them to access. However, if you provide a sheet of QR codes with no additional information about where they lead, they will be far more likely to visit all of them, therefore engaging with far more material than they might initially choose to.

Flipped or blended learning

If you are in an environment where you are able ‘flip the classroom’ (supportive parents, engaged children, home access to internet etc.), you may find the use of QR codes a useful tool.

You could generate QR codes that link to videos, photographs, websites or texts and if not providing a hard copy of these to your pupils, you could always add the QR codes to your school’s VLE (if you have one) so that they are stored for future use.

More exciting than learning from text books!

text bookI recently read an article by Doug Belshaw (5 ways to make’ textbook lessons’ more interesting) which made me think about what I do in my classroom.

Text books contain a wealth of information that shouldn’t be overlooked. A more ‘old-style’ way of learning (‘turn to page 27 and answer all the questions’) can be turned into a far more exciting experience with a competitive element.

You can do this type of activity with any subject. I have used it in Science, History, Geography, RE and reading comprehension (making answering mock SATs reading questions more interesting).

To make this activity more competitive, provide the questions one at a time and reinforce the idea that they can’t have the next question until the first is correct.

How I do this in my classroom:

I take questions (perhaps from text books; perhaps some of my own) and have a set of them for each group cut up so that each question can be handed out individually. I also tend to have the questions on brightly coloured card (partly because I am a primary teacher; partly because it makes it easier to track which question each group is on).

I have a range of information that I arrange around the room. The information contains the answers for the questions, so there is no reason why all pupils can’t achieve. I have information on tables (maybe text books) and other information (from the internet) on walls, doors, and any other space I can find around the room.

I provide all groups with the first question. They then need to answer this and either tell me or write it on an answer grid before showing me. If correct, I then hand over the next question. There are obviously many ways of doing this, but one way I like to engage the lower ability pupils in mixed ability groups is to assign them the job of telling me the answer. I normally give them some kind of title (e.g. ‘the question collector’), as this elevates their importance within the group, and seems to increase their competitiveness.

Bizarrely, pupils don’t seem to realise that all they are doing is reading through information and answering questions, and instead become really engaged and extremely competitive. They really want to ‘win’ and beat all the other groups. They improve their skimming and scanning skills when it comes to finding the information; they learn what they need to know and are more likely to remember it as they will remember the activity. This activity allows them to take more responsibility for their own learning, increases independence and it is easy and quick for me to organise and facilitate.

This is an example of a style of lesson that easily adapts to a range of topics and subjects and doesn’t take days of planning to arrange.

With this type of activity, where I am trying to encourage effective teamwork, I will very often use a reflective activity at the end to evaluate how well they have individually participated, such as using raffle tickets, where I assign each group a number of raffle tickets or house points (more than children in each group) and they have to discuss who deserves them. I find pupils to be very honest and realistic when doing this, but obviously this takes some training.

Use of computers / tablets for research in lessons

SurfaceA few years ago, I attended an INSET with Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse) about independent learning. One of the things I took from it was the use of computers for research within lessons (I think pupils had been asked to find specific answers to questions). In the scenario given, pupils had to find answers to a range of questions in the context of a Science lesson and given the opportunity, pupils would go straight to the computer instead of accessing the other resources provided to find answers. Their skills when it came to the effective use of a search engine were slightly lacking and as a result, pupils who had opted to use the other resources provided (printed information and books) were far more successful in the task.

A great focus in my teaching is in creating an environment that benefits and encourages independent learning, and in facilitating learning, without me constantly standing at the front talking at pupils.

I am fortunate in that I have access to tablet computers for use in class, without having to relocate to a computer room. Bearing in mind what I learnt from Chris, in research-based lessons, I provide a range of resources (books, printed information, sometimes a list of websites etc.) but I also provide access to a few (2 or 3) tablet computers. Whilst sometimes I find that it is beneficial to provide each group with one or more tablets, in the type of lesson I refer to, I limit the time pupils can access the tablets for to a 5 minute period. (I provide stopwatches for timing, and if the IWB isn’t needed for other uses, I have the number of interactive stopwatches that I have tablet computers displayed on the board). This means that all pupils in the class are aware when they can access the internet if they choose to. They write their names down on the board so there is an obvious order to the computer time, and groups can decide whether or not the use of the computer is beneficial to them. I often find that pupils initially opt for the internet, but soon find that their time is more effectively spent finding out the information in other ways.

Last Man Standing

whiteboard 2This is an activity that can be used at any point of a lesson, in any subject, to check understanding of a topic. I find it particularly useful in Science.

  1. Pupils work in groups within a short time period to write down everything they know about a specific topic on one whiteboard (you could use paper).
  2. After the time is up, one member of each group stands up.
  3. Go around each group and they must say one thing from their list. They cannot hesitate or repeat anything already said. (If they do, they are out). Emphasise the importance of excellent listening skills (to avoid repetition).
  4. The last group with a person standing wins.

This is a very simple and very speedy activity that allows you to ascertain where pupils’ understanding is and how to move it on. It also focuses on listening skills and encourages effective group work.

If you encounter problems with participation, you could combine the activity with the ‘String web group work’ activity as an immediate visual clue as to who is struggling to fully participate in the activity.

Pupils are engaged as they want to win. I often provide house points or raffle tickets to the winning team.

Mini Whiteboards

whiteboardUsing mini whiteboards isn’t a revolutionary idea but I find that sometimes teachers forget that they have this resource to hand.

They are great for AfL in that you can immediately work out who understands a concept and who needs support, especially if you introduce basic rules, such as not showing the teacher the board until you say “Show me!” or count for them to show you. Encouraging pupils to do this will give you a more accurate understanding of who needs more help, as in a larger class, it can be easy for pupils to copy the correct answer from a fellow pupil without you seeing.

I use whiteboards constantly in Maths lessons, but I also encourage the use of them constantly in other subjects. Giving pupils the opportunity to draft ideas, mindmap or use them to support other pupils (consolidating their own understanding) will create good habits and should help pupils to produce a higher quality of work.

Learning Journeys Displayed As Tube Maps

Example of a learning journey
Example of a learning journey

http://beno.org.uk/metromapcreator/

This is a great website that has allowed me to create learning journeys displayed as tube maps. I create one for the start of each topic. Pupils like them as they know which direction their learning is taking and there is a clear structure that they are aware of. I encourage pupils to tick the tube stop after we have covered that part of the topic.

I have used them in English and History but I would also like to use them in Science and for other Humanities topics in the future. The only negative I find with the website is that it isn’t that user-friendly so I tend to draw out my learning journeys beforehand. Here are two examples I have created and used with my class: Beowulf Learning Journey and Riven Learning Journey (based around the iPad app, Riven, inspired by the work of Tim Rylands adapted into a scheme of work by BeeGnuEd @GnuBee.

This is a website that I found in a great book called Teaching Backwards by Andy Griffith and Mark Burns and is part of Osiris Education’s ‘Outstanding Teaching’ range of books. I also recommend their previous book, Engaging Learners.

Real Life Maths: Potions Lesson

PotionsThis is a really good way of testing out practical measuring skills in Maths lessons.

I always teach measuring by incorporating a Harry Potter themed Potions lesson. Pupils follow potion recipes to create potions from the Harry Potter universe, e.g. Polyjuice Potion or Skele-gro. I have a mixture of powders (cornflour), plants (herbs) and potions (water with food colouring). I then have pipettes, a range of different containers with different scales for measuring liquids, scales for measuring the plants and powders, in addition to gloves for handling the ‘poisonous’ plants, a pestle and mMagical Plantsortar for the plants and stopwatches for timing. This lesson incorporates so many areas of measuring and could be extended for higher ability (maybe include conversions) and differentiated for lower ability easily. Fortunately we have a great Science department at our school, who are always able to provide me with an interesting collection of glass containers. Additionally, I have test tubes in a test tube rack, a bowl and a wooden spoon per pair.

Pupils follow the instructions in the recipes, choosing appropriate equipment. They then pour their final potion into a test tube to be judged. Teachers and teaching assistants always dress up in their Hogwarts robes for this lesson and pupils’ potions are then judged on ‘appearance’ and ‘aroma’. To continue the Harry Potter theme, we judge them as if they are O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) where pass grades are O (Outstanding), E (Exceeds Expectations), and A (Acceptable) with fail grades being P (Poor), D (Dreadful), and T (Troll). This continues the theme and provides the lesson with a clear structure. In the past I have also ‘sorted’ pupils into houses and then awarded house points, so there are many ways in which this can be extended.

The advantage of this kind of activity is that not only does it allow pupils the opportunity to test out skills they need to be able to apply, but it provides a memorable activity that engages even the most disengaged children and leaves them with an experience they will remember.

Contribution tokens

CountersUsing counters or some other type of token, pupils should collect a token when they contribute in a discussion or group activity.

Each token could equate to some kind of reward.

This is particularly effective if you have pupils who are engaged with the school or class reward system but often choose not to participate in group discussions or activities.

You could develop it so that other members of the group decide whether the contribution was worthy of a token.