Carla's blog

Goldilocks and the three Tenors

Me singing a Goldilocks story song in a round with the team. Putting the stories that the children are already familiar with into music makes the music more accessible and getting everybody singing really brings the classroom to life and puts a big break in the session which can be useful when it comes to keeping the class focussed. Singing also lets the children use their voices for something positive and constructive.

Music may be just one area of learning and development in the EYFS but it can be employed in every area one way or another. In Communication and Language, for example, children will be listening carefully to songs, understanding their meaning and being able to retell the story of the song and to make up their own. Whilst children are moving to songs they are engaged in physical development. Giving a child a chance to be a leader is confidence building which fits into Personal, Social and Emotional development. For Literacy, you might ask the children to write or read their favourite songs. For Mathematics there are numerous counting songs or songs that might have the children working in a sequence. (as shown here by ninjas:)

Finally by videoing and audio recording children (as I was recorded in the above video) (not the ninja one) music can be linked to technology, which is a part of Understanding the World.

A lot has been written about the pedagogy of music, and I was surprised to learn of the prominent role of Carl Orff, who I was familiar with as a composer, in developing a method of bringing music into the classroom in an instinctive way.

(Whilst we are here, I feel I should mention I uploaded the video to YouTube from my phone after it got sent via WhatsApp without ever touching a desktop computer. Get me.)

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I am not really batty. Not very. Well, maybe a little. However, even if I wasn’t, these are the letter type objects I took photos of so…

This photographic exercise was a much truncated version of a design school staple – finding emergent letters and numbers in the environment and capturing them on film in ‘found alphabets’ is an age old exercise used to help students to see the world differently. It trains the eye to both understand the forms of letters and what features makes each letter unique, recognisable and easily differentiated from others, and it also teaches the mind to see the world around it with a different context. You can look at a stool a thousand times and see just a seat to sit on, but with the right prodding your brain can just as easily see it as a flat topped uppercase A (as I did!). Perhaps the most remarkable example of this (fairly overdone) artform is the unique and powerful work of Kjell Sandved who has found the complete alphabet on the fragile wings of butterflies around the world.

Digital photography makes this exercise much more immediate than the olden days version with film – framing on a screen instead of with a viewfinder and instantly being able to see if the photo has captured the letter correctly makes the project far easier and more accessible to pupils (and in this case, teachers). Cheap and simple digital technology has made the camera a realistic part of every classroom and capturing pupils’ work with a camera is fast and easy, whereas once it would have been a cumbersome and expensive undertaking. The low cost of photography means that the camera can be given to the children too, putting the creativity into their hands and letting them create a record of their own unique viewpoint.

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Some more art

“Is this a painting…?”, asked Pollock.  This is the question Lee Krasner, the artist’s wife recalled Pollock asking her about his famous drip paintings. You see, she said, he never asked if it was a good painting, but whether it was a painting at all.

Working together to create a swirly masterpiece, using tone to make it leap off the page.

Working in a group to produce a single piece of work was an interesting experience – everyone involved came to the table with a different set of skills and a different idea about how the project should come together. We talked about what was needed, we decided on an approach that would work for everyone and allocate different jobs and roles and keep checking back to see if everything was coming together right and if we needed to change anything. Creative group work is notoriously difficult – there is a reason why history’s greatest artists worked alone!

The National Curriculum in Art and Design specifies that KS1 children should be taught to develop a wide range of art and design techniques in using colour, pattern, texture, line, shape, form and space – we certainly tried to use all of those! The curriculum also encourages teachers to show children the works of great artists and their most famous pieces. Our work (for example) was inspired by such luminaries as Jackson Pollock, whose dynamic dripping ‘action paintings’ became icons of American post-war art.

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Presenting: Presentations

Since the advent of Microsoft’s Office software, PowerPoint presentations have become one of the most common communication tools used in business and industry. Although in that setting it has garnered something of a negative reputation, presentation software like PowerPoint has a lot to offer in a classroom setting, and the format of presentation that it affords can be a good introduction to public speaking for children.

PowerPoint presentations are a linear format that encourages the speaker to arrange their ideas in a particular way, and teaching that kind of thinking gives children a powerful mental tool to not only communicate their own ideas to also to formulate and refine them internally. Complex ideas need to be broken down into smaller chunks, to sequence them into a logical progression, and to think of logical ways to visualise or simplify complicated or abstract concepts – all processes which not only make communicating an idea easier and more effective but which also hugely improve understanding and recall of the ideas involved.

The communication tools are very simple and accessible: in addition to PowerPoint there is also Keynote (Apple’s visually appealing alternative) and the presentation tools in Google Docs (which have the advantage of being cloud based and accessible from any computer). Additionally there are heaps of other resources available to teachers to use online.

PowerPoint presentations have ended up having significant reach beyond the classroom and the boardroom and indeed have become a cultural force with momentum of their own. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is at it’s heart simply a powerful well constructed PowerPoint presentation that has won an Oscar and a Nobel prize and which has been a significant tool in driving public awareness of climate change. On a smaller more personal scale is the Pecha Kucha format of presentation events where a group of people gather and deliver short, tightly formatted presentations on a subject of their choosing. The secret to the Pecha Kucha format (the name is an anglicised version of the Japanese term for chit chat) is it’s ruthlessly short format – only 20 slides are allowed and each slide must be on the screen for 20 seconds: no more or less. This fast pace keeps things moving and means that each presentation will be exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds long. Pecha Kucha elevates a tedious business obligation to a hipster entertainment and events are often held in bars and clubs where young creative people gather and exchange ideas.

It is not hard to see how a Pecha Kucha format could be used to give structure to a classroom presentation or how the task of producing and delivering a cut down version could be given to a group of pupils. Speaking in front of a group can be daunting but the visual prop of the presentation can help children both to build their confidence and to maintain the focus and momentum required to perform.

PowerPoint was built for business but the classroom may be an ideal home for it.

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Maybe next week?

Just when I was feeling good about the legs. 🙁
You have to watch this video. It is awesome! This is what programmable Lego is ALL about!

I’ve obviously got a bee in my bonnet about this programmable Lego – we can see that it can do some really cool stuff but why is it important? Has it got the educational value? After all, Lego isn’t used in the real world to solve engineering problems. The National Curriculum has changed to push programming language (explained in this document from ComputingAtSchool). Key Stage One requires that children:

  • understand what algorithms are, how they are implemented as programs on digital devices, and that programs execute by following precise and unambiguous instructions
  • create and debug simple programs
  • use logical reasoning to predict the behaviour of simple programs
  • use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content
  • recognise common uses of information technology beyond school
  • use technology safely and respectfully, keeping personal information private; identify where to go for help and support when they have concerns about content or contact on the internet or other online technologies

(all detailed in the National Curriculum file for Computing )

Programming is a big deal but much of it is totally abstract. Tools like programmable Lego are vital to bring the abstract concepts into the real world and make them understandable to children. An algorithmic pattern of actions is so much easier to visualise when it is physically happening in front of a child.

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WeDo one more cool thing before lunch

Now this is more like it! Forget the legs, a rocking boat is about as cool as you can get. (The alligator had already been made ok!)
The motor is used again but this time with a cam, which gives us that seasick feeling. Ahoy there!

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WeDo cool stuff with Lego

Programmable kicking legs aren’t the height of cool technology but I was pretty impressed with myself. It was great to take the opportunity to play with a fascinating piece of tech, Lego’s WeDo education set, and I have to say I’m a big fan. Once you know what you are doing it is pretty simple. Just follow the instructions to build the model and then it shows you how you could program it to move. The final aim is to get you to build your own stuff and use the general programming syntax to get it moving!

Or maybe legs are the height of cool technology: the next phase of robotics involves refining the walk cycles used to make them closer to that of a human. Nagoya Institute of Technology in Japan have a passive walking system which draws it’s energy from the environment and, like a human leg, is remarkably efficient, breaking a distance record by walking a mammoth 15.2km in 13 hours. A news report shows the system at work on a treadmill with only minimal assistance to stay on track.

But what does this have to do with children in the classroom? Surely this isn’t something that is accessible to children in a school setting with no more than Lego to work with? Surprisingly the answer is yes, as this video shows. The children are a little bit older but the principle of using Lego as a tool to help understand otherwise inaccessible engineering problems is the same. Lego is an accessible modern day tool that encourages creative problem solving, and it has the massive advantage that children are already familiar with it… and they think it’s a toy!

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Our art effort

pig made out of leaves

This little piggy

If you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise….

Carla and Nicola create a masterpiece. A retelling of that famous pig fairytale…In leaves! I am sure by now the wind has huffed and puffed and blown those leaves away, but we managed to capture this piece of ephemera before it transiented itself off. Andy Goldsworthy eat your heart out.

Producing this artwork lead me to think about the Forest School concept, referred to as “an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment” in Liz Obrien and Richard Murray’s Forestry Commission report (pdf link). Even the little exposure to the natural environment permitted by our small project was fascinating and I am intrigued by the notion of extending this experience to the rest of the education systems.

Currently it is estimated that people spend around 90% of their lives indoors and there are notable health implications associated with this (explored in this US Environmental Protection Agency document) This is especially true in the current education system where outdoors activities are something of a rarity rather than the norm and children (and teachers!) spend a great deal of time cooped up in not just the same building but usually the same room.

P.S I used Bump to upload this image to my Mac. Ooh, get me!

(Edit: the link above to the Bump file transfer system has been changed because, following their acquisition by search giant Google the system has been discontinued. Apt, given the reference to transient ephemera in the above post, that even something as concrete as a file transfer technology can flourish and then fade in just a couple of years.)

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Starting the blog

bird kicks baby out of nest

Amusing visual metaphor

Blogging: The final frontier. To boldly go where no man has gone before.

Well, no woman. And when I say woman I mean me. But just like split infinitives now, blogs are all the rage.

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