When Children Are left Alone

Following my last post on Active Learning I thought I’d blog an example from my own experience.

Investigate the effects on the environment from the generation of electricity, that’s the challenge our new CfE S1 Technological Inquiry sets the pupils. They are instructed to do this collaboratively in groups of 2, 3 or 4 and to present their findings in a form that suits their group.

As a class we spend a few minutes chatting about their options (recalling what they did in Primary to present findings and what might be possible in my class) I also introduce them to Prezi as one option. In demonstrating Prezi to the class I simply showed them one I had made and one that was on the website. I then suggested that they sign-up and practice at home (flipping the classroom). Of my three classes about a third (5 groups) has chosen to use Prezi,  about half of those pupils have chosen to learn this new software by build their own at home. In most cases they chose a hobby or personal interest, the results were very encouraging.

One group of girls (Joanna, Alice, Dawn and Lois) overcame a particular problem by creating their own facebook group, this is their story in their own words.

“The investigation was about the effects on the environment from fossil fuels and the pros and cons of renewable energy.  We had to do it in groups of 3 or 4 and we had to present our findings in a media presentation of some sort.”

“We used a number of different websites, one of which where you had to build a town which was eco friendly. The other websites gave you lots of facts about renewable energy and fossil fuels.”

“We had used PowerPoint in primary schools and Mr Surgey introduced us to Prezi as one of the options we could use.  Our group chose Prezi.”

“To make the Prezi together, you can invite the rest of your group into the ‘edit together’ feature by sending them an invite then you can all work together on it.  We also phoned each other and we used Facebook.”

“We chose to use Facebook because you can communicate at the time that something isreally happening, if you are both, or if the people that you want to communicate with, are on.   So, we managed to discuss it over Facebook and it does not cost us anything.”

“Since Prezi didn’t allow you to have a ‘chat box’ to write in, to communicate, we went on Facebook so you could create a ‘group’ for the Prezi to talk to.  All of your members could talk with it, and me and Lois managed to chat on Facebook while doing the Prezi. On Prezi there was a little icon for the other person who was on Prezi so that showed you that they were editing.”

There are a number of challenges to collaborating with the limited ITC in school. This did not deter one group who, having decided to do most of the work from home, found the solution to the problem was to create a Facebook group. I was very impressed with their solution as it showed a degree of creative thinking and problem solving, something that probably would not have happened in the classroom environment.

So, here’s the Prezi in question, unedited by their teacher (there are one or two errors:

I picked this group because they stood out, but the rest have done remarkable well too. I’ve been very impressed with my S1 classes this year, more so than in any other. They seem more engaged, switched on and willing to have a go. They are certainly not passive. There is a maturity, in many cases, beyond their years and I can only thank their Primary School teachers!

So it saddens me when I hear comments about our youth, like – “You know what they’re like? If you take your eye off them for a minute…”. Yes, I know what ‘they’ are like and as ‘their’ teacher I would (do) trust them to behave when my back is turned. I would not punish the well behaved majority for the odd indiscretion of one or two, so I would allow them to use Social Media in class – if only I were permitted! You see, the vast majority of the children I teach are well mannered and well behaved and can be trusted. And who, if not me, is going to teach them how to use this tool responsibly, effectively, confidently and successfully?

When children are left alone they can behave, so trust them … they may just surprise you!


The lighting of a fire

I saw this the other day and can only surmise that the individual concerned was quite happy with ‘5-to-14’. When I was in industry if something was not Fit-For-Purpose it was changed or discarded and ‘5-to-14’ was not Fit-For-Purpose, it was decades old, a 20th Century concept being clung to by 20th Century teachers. I remember being given a piece of ‘advice’ by one such individual “…you tell them (pupils) what they need to know, they write it down …that’s it”.

Whether we like it or not CfE is here to stay. It’s really not that new or radical, John Dewey wrote a similar curricular review at the turn of the 20th Century. But for us it is the foundation on which we are to build a 21st Century education in Scotland. From what I can see (and read) CfE is an initiative to improve education from a pedagogical and professionalization viewpoint. There are many facets to it, but ultimately it comes down to making education child centred.What strikes me is that it’s not about resources or budget, nor is it about what we teach, but about an educational philosophy – a new paradigm, a new way of thinking about how we educate our young. I say “new”, but judging from some famous educational quotes maybe it should be “rediscovered”:

“I cannot teach anybody anything; I can only make them think.” – Socrates.

“You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself” –Galileo.

Finally, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” – William Butler Yeats.

So much for the advice given earlier!

So what is the problem? Within the text of parts 1 & 2 of the Journey to Excellence the narrative states for teachers that, “…each should contribute to the highest quality outcomes for all learners… It is up to you to decide which ones you focus on and in what order.” (HMIe, 2006: 21). This last sentence appears to be handing “professional” responsibility to the educationalists and appears to be veering away from the past’s oversubscribed methods emanating from government. Could this be what scares them?

The expressed intention of CfE, as stated in building the curriculum 3 (2008),  is to “…avoid driving young people through the levels as fast as possible…is intended to give teachers and other staff the flexibility and scope to follow issues through…” (CfE, 2008: 5). Here the professionalism of the teacher is being recognised, giving a legitimate mandate to transform the educational experience of the pupils and change our teaching to enable the pupils to construct their own learning. Surely no professional would argue against this? Would they?

The documentation goes on to encourage us to be creative in planning pupils’ learning, providing activities that will take our pupils to the next level or “ZPD”. To facilitate this we will have to engage them in self and peer-assessment to enable them to identify “next steps”. For good teachers there’s nothing very radical here, just a mandate to lighting a fire (metaphorically) that will hopefully burst into an inferno of enthusiasm for education.

So, to answer my question – there is no problem. Maybe its best that the individual anonymously mentioned at the start has retired, now perhaps we can “rediscover” the truths of Socrates’ and Galileo’s observations and follow Butler Yeats and light some fires.