Bottom’s Up!

After my post about my MoE journey with my Year 9s (http://debrakidd.wordpress.com/2013/09/30/bottoms-on-fire/ ) lots of people asked me to let them know what happened next. You see that’s what a good story is – a hook – and it’s much easier to get children to learn once they’re hooked. Of course there were also those with questions – What did they learn? – was one. So here’s the next instalment of the Snoop family holiday.

You may remember that Mrs Snoop wanted adventure, that money was no object and that she didn’t want to fly. At the end of the first session, the children had settled on India, Nepal and the Maldives but they had forgotten an important detail. The daughter was in Year 11 – the holiday would have to take place in the Summer.

In terms of ‘English’ we were learning to write in order ‘to inform’ – the kids were writing an itinerary and designing a brochure, but I have a lot of sympathy with the Hirsch/Christodoulou position that knowledge is vital in equipping children with the skills of the future. It doesn’t seem enough to me to say ‘here are the features of informative writing – off you go…’ Instead I think, how can this be an opportunity to learn more about the world? Hence the two constraints. Not flying means they have to look carefully at a map. In doing so, they discovered that travelling overland to India meant going through either Afghanistan or the northern parts of Pakistan. A quick look at advice for travellers on the Foreign Office web site showed that this was a dangerous area. The children, before we did this, had no idea where Afghanistan was on a map. Now they do. They also know what the Foreign Office is and how to check for information about travel.

- Never mind, they said, we can take them to Oman and sail them across. So I got out some weather charts. 

“She’s coming in soon – do you think we should check the weather in India in July – she might ask.”

They found it quite tricky to read the information on the chart – in PISA tests, the OECD reports that UK children find interpreting visual data more difficult than those in other countries so the practice can’t hurt, right? Eventually they realised that it was going to be very wet. Very wet indeed. They didn’t know what a monsoon was before the lesson. They do now.

So when she came in, they quickly needed an alternative. We had a quick recap. What did she want?

- sky diving

- animals

- adventure

- rainforest walks

- water sports/beach

- Maybe we could try Africa?

It turned out that most of them thought that Africa was a country so it was a revelation for them to discover not only that it was a continent made up of many countries, but that there was such a variety of experience to be had. Among other things, in planning their route, they found out that there were more ancient pyramids in the Sudan than there were in Egypt and got really interested in the history of a country that none of them had ever heard of before.

So a holiday was planned and the Snoops set off and they wrote many postcards on their journey. They were having a fantastic time – seeing Europe first of all and the famous landmarks of Paris, Rome and Athens; sailing across to Alexandria and crossing overland to Cairo then down the Nile right through to The Sudan. Camping in the desert by ancient sites before passing into Uganda for forest treks and gorilla spotting. And finally into Kenya with a spectacular safari trip ending with a parachute jump over the Masai Mara. But then we got an email. There had been an accident and Mrs Snoop was dead.

The boy who gathered the team together to deliver the news was brilliant in his serious and low key delivery of the news.

- We need to fly them home

- We should pay for the funeral

- Was it our fault?

There was a silence. Was it our fault? Who had checked out the safety record of the parachute company? Hands went up.

- They had a safety certificate

-The parachutes were new

- We’ve used them before

But who is liable? None of them have ever heard the word liable before. We need to unpick it. If we offer to pay for the funeral, are we admitting liability?

- It’s the right thing to do.

- Maybe we should just pay to get them home?

- Don’t they have insurance?

- We should write and offer help, but not say sorry.

They rush off to write carefully worded letters of condolence (another new word).

When the Health and Safety people come round for a visit, the children are quite confident that they’ve followed procedure and are in the clear. But they’ve forgotten one thing – that we had photographs of previous accidents stored away in our filing cabinet. Do they shred or hand them over…..

Mantle of the Expert is loaded with knowledge. But it is also loaded with ethical dilemma, rich language and notions of responsibility. It is more than a gimmick; more than a fad. But it is also difficult, time consuming and complex. It is not for everyone, but for this group, and this teacher, it worked a treat.

About these ads

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

4 responses to “Bottom’s Up!

  1. Couple of questions:

    What had you planned for them to learn ahead of starting?

    When you talk about ‘learning,’ are you giving thought to long-term memory? For example they saw where Afghanistan was on a map. If we ask them next year where Afghanistan is, do you think they would still be say? Would they know what countries border Afghanistan?

    • Hi Kris,

      Interesting question. In the scheme we have, the only requirement is that children ‘write to inform’ and create a travel brochure. But I wanted them to be able to read a map, look at climate charts, and plan a route, thinking about modes of transport. Where they ended up going was up to them so I had to be flexible depending on where we ended up. They might not have learned where Afghanistan was – they might have learned where Argentina was instead – that’s part of the flexibility.

      As for countries bordering Afghanistan, because they were desperate to find a way of avoiding sending the family through there, they looked very closely at the alternatives, and found that there were no good options. Will it stick? I don’t know. We’d have to see in a year, but I would rather have looked than not bothered. I think they’re far more likely to remember the African route because we ‘spent’ more time there, and we created and sent postcards back – that makes the work more stickable, and we did activities like still images creating photos for the family photo album – again, movement and narrative forming modes of memorisation.

      • I suppose there is a contrast re: learning of knowledge: how much should be fixed & how much should be flexible? Could there be a control group learning same through direct instruction? Probably not because of the idea of student led inquiry would make if difficult to learn the ‘same’ information. The skills learnt are different too I expect?

        Question to ask does MofE work for a fixed knowledge based curriculum?

      • It’s tricky, but the nearest I’ve come to a controlled test of this was at Salendine Nook school in Huddersfield. Usually the kids did a data handling unit in Maths, writing to persuade in English and water borne diseases in Science. We took one year 8 mixed ability class and set up a mantle. Basically the premise was to become an Aid Agency in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake as there were still over 1,000,000 refugees and the rainy season meant that the risk of water borne disease was higher. All the content was ‘delivered’ through the mantle but at the end the children sat the same tests as the rest of the year group. They outperformed the year group in every subject (factoring in VA starting points). We just did it as an internal action research project but I think we were all surprised by the results. We knew they’d enjoyed it more and had hoped that it would do no harm.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s