Yesterday there was a bit of a commotion in the corridor. Four Yr 4 children were discovering that their careful measurements might be out by a couple of centimetres. They couldn’t decide whether to check again or get back to class – it was nearly dinner time after all, and there was clearing up to do. But having come this far, they really wanted to get it right, so they decided to check, one last time. As one explained, it might be alright in centimetres, but it’s a lot more in miles.
They had with them two circles they had cut out of paper, one much larger than the other.
“We found out the radius of the moon and of the earth,” they explained “and then we drew them to scale.”
They told me the exact measurements and the ratio they had used, but I can’t remember – my memory is not as good as theirs was. Then, their task completed, they decided they’d like to do something else – to use their knowledge of ratio and scale to work out the distance between them, relative to their size, and place them in the corridor. Just to see. So they did. Because in this school, children keen to go the extra mile, can.
Along the corridor, in the Year 6 classroom, a teacher showed us some snowflakes the children had designed.
“We’ve been exploring rotational symmetry” one child explained, “and the uniqueness of nature.”
Their inquiry question was “Is Antarctica Worth Protecting?” and under the principles of a Harmony curriculum, the children are exploring the idea of interdependence in nature. In fact every inquiry topic is underpinned by a Harmony principle, devised (to my surprise) by the Prince of Wales. Interdependence is one, along with Health, Beauty, Cycles, Diversity and Oneness. The children’s topics link to one of these concepts and the overarching aim of the curriculum is to produce agentive, responsible children who understand their place in the world, their connections to others and their responsibility to each other and the planet.
Before you sneer about knitting yoghurt, consider the impact that these ideas are having on the children’s mathematical and wider language. It’s highly unusual to walk into a classroom, ask a child what they are doing and to receive an answer like “we’re exploring rotational symmetry and the uniqueness of nature.” Most children would answer the question what are you doing with “making a snowflake.” The connectedness of mathematical and natural knowledge is not usually the first response of a child, unless they really GET what they are doing.
In Year 5, the children are looking at the rich imagery of India – the patterns and colours and festivals. Under the principle of Beauty, they are creating their own kites in response to the kite flying season there. But when I ask the children what they are doing, one says
“Well I’m creating a tetrahedron first of all….”
Mathematical language is internalised within these kids. Not because they have to learn it for SATs, but because they have learned that Maths is everywhere. They examine the golden ratio in Year One, looking for patterns in flowers and in fruit. They grow their own food. They monitor the energy the school is using and how much is being recycled. They look at cycles of nature through daily geometry sessions. And in the hall, I see a small group of Year 4 children dragging bins to weighing scales and making careful notes of their weight in a notebook.
“We weigh the waste every day before it goes to the compost heap.”
“We’re trying to keep it under 15kg per day.”
The head, Richard Dunne, explains that the children then discuss the waste with catering staff to see if adjustments to the menus or portion sizes might help to cut down food waste even more. Maths is everywhere.
These are children who are fully aware of their place in the world and their interconnectedness with others. They are agentive and full of vim and vigour about how to make things better. They speak of Year 6 about being a year in which their learning is about developing the leadership skills they’ll need for the future. They go to Chamonix and explore, first hand, the impact of climate change on The Alps. And they speak of sustainability being the most important element of their learning in Year 6. Not a word about SATs. And yet they pass the SATs with flying colours. No wonder. They are flying.
This is Slow Education. Education that allows children the time and independence to thrive, to think, to synthesis their knowledge and their experiences. The Slow Education network doesn’t tell schools that one method is better than another, but it seeks to link schools who are minded to allow children to grow – to stretch them to be active, engaged learners in a complex world, together. If you’d like to see these children and their teachers from Ashley school talk about their work in more detail, you can find the link here. I was blown away.