Depth of Understanding

I remember being aghast at the fact that the children in my Y5 class were pretty hazy on the details of the Christmas story when I was teaching it 20 years ago. Surely they had been in nativity plays, heard the story loads of times and recognised bits of the story from the Christmas songs?
Apparently not.
My response was to turn my classroom into a stable with a giant star, finger knitted vines round the stable, wool wound shingles for the roof (surrounding my blackboard) and so on. I seem to remember a 6ft painted donkey…. but maybe I imagined that bit. We didn’t do a cloze procedure worksheet, answer a short comprehension or even rearrange some carefully cut out story bullet points into the correct order. They had done that before when they had ‘covered’ the topic.
Two weeks ago we were delighted to host Pennyman Academy Y4s for the week. Sadly they were unable to stay in their own building because of fire damage. They used some rooms each day and even took part in our Scrapheap Challenge but it was the Thursday and Friday that stand out in my mind. The teachers had plenty of work for the children to do and one of those tasks was to ‘do’ the Easter Story. Their experience appeared to mirror mine from 20 years previously. The children had worked on the story every year since they were in school but the majority could recall barely a few details about what happened.
Because we have the space and facilities here, I suggested that they might like to work on the story from a creative angle, using our animation equipment (iPad and a stand!). The teachers did their input on the key points, ensuring the children created effective key bullet points for each stage. I then showed the children how to animate (and let them practice a few tasks for an hour). Animating is simple, I have done it with nursery children; quality animation takes time to develop. Like skilled writing it develops with an understanding of the audience, use of sounds to create mood, ensuring the language track is clear and much more. Coupling an app like Stop Motion with iMovie to bring it all together into a quality piece of work takes time and these children were up against it. I left backgrounds and characters for them because I was unable to be there for their 2 hour attempt to create the scenes and then pull them all together.
I arrived back in the centre late on the Friday morning to see various groups of children huddled in corners to ensure that sound pollution didn’t affect their voice overs (some clearly hadn’t spotted that this was useful!). “How are they getting on?’ I asked one of the teachers. The answer was hesitant but positive.

Well having been away for a week, today was an opportunity for me to download the work that was created. And what an amazing collection it is! I would argue that the depth of engagement with the story is clear to see. There are examples of music being used to change mood, key pointers as titles to develop plot, inventive use of extra characters to support the story and much more. Considering the time scale they had to work in I think their work is absolutely fantastic and shows a great example of quality teaching. The analysis of the story into a clear plot was led by the teachers prior to any story planning, and this stands out clearly in that the children have not only used it to drive their story but also to ensure that they explain what is going on in each scene.

I wonder if this deeper engagement will mean they remember more of the story this year?

I have managed to recover most of the work that was created so please enjoy the videos below:

Information or Aspiration?

IMG_7066Great to see the sun shining once again on our Y5 aspiration event. Children from Handale, Layfield, Breckon Hill, Corpus Christi, Sacred Heart, Errington and Chandler’s Ridge are the latest to explore the world of work through interaction with ‘real life people’. Julie from Inspiron Learning has talked about many of the exciting engineering challenges that offer cutting edge careers; Steve from Tees Valley Wildlife Trust has shown the work that conservationists do; Glenn has shown a range of exciting roles within the RAF, especially related to engineering; Lorraine created a fabulous hands on science workshop looking at roles in later life and last but not least Gary and Harry from PD Portcentric Logistics have given the children a real insight into what Logistics is and the many roles that are involved in it. As a great complement to the specific work related sessions, Matt has worked with each group to get the children to think about their own likes, dislikes, hopes and aspirations.

I asked the children at the beginning of each session (we run one in the morning and one in the afternoon) what they thought they were here for. Broadly they were aware it was about ‘careers’. Many people are surprised that we run these sort of events for primary children but the evidence is starting to stay up, and our experience to boot, that starting that conversation younger is likely to have a greater impact than waiting until secondary and beyond. 250 children today and a similar number each month is really putting a dent in the number of children who have never really had the opportunity to think about their futures before.

The title also refers to the outcome of the day. Is it about aspiration or simply giving them a wider understanding, more information, about what they could possibly pursue in later life? The message that I leave them with is that they have every opportunity in front of them, just be curious and enthusiastic. If you have the drive to succeed, you will.

Writing this at 2.15pm also allows me to include some feedback from Breckon Hill who attended this morning. The deputy head teacher made a point of emailing me to say that the children and teachers who had attended had thought the event was excellent and that the children were ‘buzzing’.

I am assured by Julie that this had nothing to do with the session about future uses of energy!

Enterprising Pupils

IMG_0739Well done today to the children of Rift House Primary and Newcomen Primary. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances the two businesses that were going to support today were unable to make it so the children were stuck with me alone! However, as previous blog posts no doubt show, the focus of most of our work are the employability type skills and I made it clear today at the outset that it was specific aspects of teamwork that I was looking for. The children didn’t disappoint and used the vocabulary I had given them throughout the day in relation to their work.

Their first task was to use a simple business planner to create a new business: a cafe aimed at kids. Their thoughts were structured through a value proposition and USP to create a design that they could fit to a floor planner. I did lie a bit; i told them they wouldn’t be doing math or english today and they ended up having to work to scale and come up with persuasive language to sell their idea. ‘Sweet-a-licious’,’The Cracking Cafe’, ‘Read Me, Eat Me’ are all examples of the different concepts each group came up with through listening and compromise skills.

IMG_8011After break they were tasked with creating a salad but of course many of them don’t tend to eat salads very much so we had a tasting session where children recorded their thoughts. They used these notes to create their own salad after lunch. Unfortunately Rift House had to leave early due to bus timings but Newcomen stayed for half an hour longer and created the fantastic adverts that you see below. Considering the fact they had never used iMovie before it is a testament to their resilience, creativity and the ease of use of iMovie that they got their tasks done so well. Even when being distracted by the dressy up box!

Bringing stories to life

What a brilliant day so far today. Year 2 children from Newcomen and Riverdale Primaries in Redcar have been joined by Y1 children from Ormesby Primary to take on our latest creative challenge day. As usual we focus on teamwork and confidencIMG_2639e building and today we have used the lens of animation.

The children began the day animating their names and took to the process like ducks to water. Stop Motion is a free stop motion app that takes away any complication to the technical side of animation and allows users to concentrate on the quality of the work. On previous days we have used it as a short task when using our Build to Express LEGO sets but today we wanted to develop a better quality product.

Using a three part story planner, various backgrounds, vegetables and some oogly eyes, the children are now creating simple three part narratives that they will bring together in iMovie after lunch to add voice overs and titles. You can see from the pictures below what these children are capable of when given a creative stimulus and the chance to work collaboratively.

Creativity and Enterprise

Great to see St Benedict’s, Rift House and Ormesby Primary schools here today to take on today’s Creativity Challenge. Essentially we have challenged the children to think as creatively as possible, through the medium of LEGO to a specified design brief. A real test and development of enterprise skills. The youngest are 5 years old! As always with our events, they are bespoke to the children who attend so we have a range of support and task running in the room as the day progresses. One of the teachers told me this morning that some of the children who attended the last event had not stopped talking about it, even after they came back after half term! They are sending groups of 12 to each of the events to make transport easier and also to keep up the engagement level across the year. It certainly seems to be working.

Below are some pics of the pupils developing their team work/negotiation skills whilst making a LEGO montage of their best day at school ever. They are using the iPads to record a simple trailer to showcase their work; these will appear below as a playlist later today.

After lunch we also used the split in ages to our advantage. It gave an excellent opportunity for some of the older children to develop their leadership skills by facilitating the work that the Y1 children were doing. Comments from teachers on both sides confirmed that the Y5 children took on board the key attributes I had discussed with them prior to their task and they brilliantly led in each group whilst ensuring that all of the other children were very much included. Some of the pics below illustrate this:

Some of the parents arrived slightly earlier than expected to pick up their children but were invited in toe see them completing the task. One told me that the day was all her daughter had talked about for weeks because of the vibe that had been brought back by classmates at previous events. Great to see we are having a wider impact.

And now for the main event! The trailers that the children created to showcase their work. As ever they took on a lot of work today but the fact that they achieved everything that was set is a testament to their hard work and teamwork. Well done everyone, real enterprise skills in action.

STEM in the Tees valley

dsc_8491Wow, what an amazingly enthusiastic, talented and inquisitive groups of children we have in today. Over a hundred pupils from Layfield, Oakdene, Whale Hill, Newcomen, St Bedes, St Gabriels, St Paulinus and Riverdale are currently in the centre being inspired by colleagues from some of our local businesses. Analox, EDF Energy, LearnitComputeit, Accenture, Whessoe and Osbourne Technologies have all spent the day at the centre running hands on inspiring sessions for children with a STEM theme. The idea as always is to inspire the children but also make these careers seem less remote, more accessible. The days are open to all ages from KS2 upwards and the activities vary from event to event.

Companies are really happy to support our events because we do all the organising and we invite multiple schools to each event. This creates a much wider impact for any outreach work that a company can offer although many enjoy it so much that they sign up to more than they originally planned to. They often feel that it offers them as much benefit from the children. For example:

We see the benefits of our outreach work to be multi-faceted.  Not only do we have the opportunity to engage with young people and help equip them with the knowledge they need to be able to make important decisions about their futures, but the Nifco team members gain an enormous sense of achievement and pride in imparting their knowledge – which supports their own personal development.

Erika Marshall, Marketing & Communications Manager, Nifco UK Ltd

See for yourself…

Animation for the first time

What a crazy half term we have had here. Hundreds of students doing such a wide range of different activities.
Today we welcomed Rift House Primary and Ormesby Primary to the centre to learn how to animate. As ever, we don’t just talk about the task in hand. Teamwork, especially compromise and sharing, were the key attitudes that we wanted to focus on with a smattering or ‘being creative’ thrown in. The children use the excellent LEGO Build to Express kits to create mood through builds then followed it up with a short three part story, planned and written in half an hour!
After a slap up lunch (we teach them to buffet graze appropriately) we focused on the animation skills and the children threw themselves into the task. Have you ever animated with an iPad? It looks easy but learning the subtleties of keeping everything VERY still, make the movements small and think about how to actually move the characters takes a LOT of practice. I’ve included the children’s work below because I think you will agree that they worked really hard on their movies. Believe me, there were many false starts that we deleted, many photos that we had to redo but little by little most of the children started to grasp the key factors that would make their animations work effectively.
Even more pleasingly I was told by one of the teachers that she had been a little worried today about some of her children. At school they had a reputation for being a little single minded, maybe not being very good at sharing. I was gobsmacked when she nodded towards the children she had in mind. They were a personification of teamwork; the different environment, the nature of the task and the way that we couch it in ‘teamwork’ language all contributed to them working in a very different way than they often would. THAT is why we do these animation days, not to each animation, but because of the other wider skills that it gives the children a chance to develop.

‘I am astounded’

img_1054Those were the words of the STEM ambassador Gareth Attwood who came to support our event today. He was unable to come first thing so joined the activity at the end of the morning. ‘How can I help them?’ he asked as he arrived. I suggested he just go and have a chat with each group to get an idea of what they were doing. So what were they doing?

They were focussing on how to be creative. That doesn’t mean they were drawing pretty pictures for fun. They had tackled a range of activities during the first part of the morning that got them thinking about creativity for a purpose and how that related to jobs that they might like to do….or not do in the future. Considering we had a mix of Y1s from Ormesby Primary and Y4s from St Benedict’s it was brilliant how they mixed in with ideas. All this prepared them for a task to design a new LEGO set using the great ‘Build to Express’ sets as a basis. Of course they were not allowed to just build. They had to create a simple business plan starting with targeting an audience, identifying a value proposition for that audience then working out their USP. Confused? They weren’t!

To show how fabulous their teamwork was I also asked them to make a short advert. I had assumed that they knew how to use iMovie but they didn’t. Was that a problem? Not really. They had a problem to solve so they overcame it. I gave them a few pointers and the results are below. I occasionally run whole days using iMovie as a great vehicle for developing wider ’employability’ skills in a creative context. A whole day using iMovie produces a very polished product; these children not only learned the basics of iMovie but also planned and produced a short movie to a brief…in 45mins. Well done to all of them. As I said before they left,  ‘If you watch it and think you could have done a bit better here or a lot better there then brilliant – because you are now learning to add quality to your work and will build it in next time’.

Passing a test is a one off event; walking around with an understanding of how to improve is effective for ever.

Wintry Weather? We have got it sorted!

img_1033Isn’t it great to be back into a new year? Don’t all cheer at once! Well after a first week back of working in classrooms we had our first centre based event today which involved teams from our local VEX league. The league was funded by the CSI and we wanted to build in some one off ‘cup competition’ type events….today was the first.

We had six schools who could make it for the whole day and they were issued with the challenge of creating a variation on their original clawbot designs. With the weather looking like being exciting for drivers in the next few days the challenge was to design and build a snow plough. Unfortunately I2L has not had the pleasure of the snow queen as yet this year but a mix of cubes and paper shreds stood in its place.img_1031

The teams were tasked with not only designing, building and testing their designs but also to showcase them in the form of an advert by the end of the day. It was brilliant to watch teams sitting in huddles with paper and pencils, discussing ideas, trying them out, discarding them, going back to previous designs and so on. I’d have this lot project planning with me any day.

As you can see from the pics below there were a range of designs and some of the groups wanted to add a green screen element for authenticity.

It fills me with great pride that children in our local schools just consider use of green screen, voice over and animation as ‘what they do’. Sadly with time constraints the finished videos have suffered from some issues of sound quality but that in itself has been a great learning experience. The playlist below has the finished videos for you to enjoy.

So now I can put my feet u……….oh no we have another 70 in tomorrow using LEGO with iPads for a creativity challenge…..I can’t wait!

Throwing it at them

An interesting day today with a range of students, Y7 – 9, from Unity City Academy in Middlesbrough. We wanted to focus on their creativity in the same way as the previous post on this blog. What immediately struck me was how much more reticent they were than primary age children when asked to talk about their own ideas and stand by them. They had great ideas, they really did, but it took a fair bit of cajoling to get them to open up in the main.

So, the activity focussed again on the nature of creativity and how it related to jobs before giving them an opportunity to apply some new skills to a creative situation (design a new LEGO set). As always, we don’t try to quantify or ‘level’ creativity (or any of the employability skills) but we develop them and focus on them through reflection and action. The opening session revealed their thoughts on what creativity is:


We used this as the basis for the work that followed.

The task was to create a short advert that included a range of creative approaches. I purposely did not want to intervene too much in the thought process but simply showed the some of the possibilities in Garageband for voice and music, Green Screen for effects, iMotion for stop motion and iMovie to glue it all together. I have run a day session on each of these apps in the past so it was interesting to see how the students would adapt and use what they felt was needed. And that is exactly what they did. I wouldn’t say many have a polished finish because they only had so long to work and they tended to focus on getting one aspect right; whether that was the sound design or the green screen or the structure. You can see form each video below what was of the most interest to each group and how they developed that idea. In an ideal world we would have had sessions on each technique and then the task treated as a single activity but life sometimes isn’t like that. It’s clear from the playlist below which aspect each group focussed on, some worked so effectively that they even got more than one technique pinned down. If only we had more time….

But overall, great work and we concluded before they left, ‘attitude is everything’.