Thursday, 19 February 2015

Low cost; high impact

Sometimes, and I am guilty of this too, the best, quickest and often simplest solutions to problems are often overlooked. Technology is becoming more and more relied upon to support and motivate learners. Whilst I don't think technology is a bad thing, if learning can be supported better without plugging something in or turning something on then don't plug it in or turn it on; simple.

Some of the more engaging and effective sessions in my room are often the ones that evolve from an unknown element being introduced. A few unplanned or unknown elements that have impacted upon learning in my room this term would not have looked out of place on a 'Blue Peter Makes' materials list. Many of us probably remember this one:

Instructions on how to make this and several other classic Blue Peter Makes can be found at:
This will be a site I will get my class to visit!

These resources are on my list of low cost high impact resources used this term:

Masking Tape

1. Masking Clauses 
One revelation was made during a group session on grammar. We were discussing the impact of clauses depending on their order within the sentence. I had planned to use the whiteboard and the children's show me boards to model arranging clauses for impact, however, I have a terrible habit of fidgeting with inconsequential objects whilst working and I had picked up a roll of masking tape. I asked the children to write a clause, to go with an example on the whiteboard, on a piece of tape. These were then put onto the Literacy working wall. The children were then able to rearrange the clauses and discuss the impact of their order. This appealed to several kinaesthetic and visual learners. We also found that  the whiteboard pens wiped off relatively easily, therefore editing and redrafting  clause was very quick and the children had little fear of experimenting with different ideas.

2. Masking Maze
I was privileged enough to work alongside my Year 2 colleagues this term for an afternoon team-teaching session on algorithms, and introducing the children to Logo programming. Masking tape was used during an impromptu introduction that I set up in the school hall. During the morning I had been teaching my class how to make a maze game on Scratch, an idea came to me during the last few minutes of the lunch break. I quickly set out a large, simple maze using masking tape on the hall floor.

When the children entered, much to their amusement, I put my shoes and tie around the maze in different locations. They then chose one of their teachers to be the robot/turtle and we introduced the language and instructions for controlling the turtle. The children directed the teacher to one of my items, but they had to avoid the maze walls. Extending the activity was relatively simple, the class were split into three smaller groups. Each group into pairs, with one child being the robot/turtle, the other being the programmer. Differentiating and adapting the activity for each group was then very simple as extra walls could be added with the simple addition of more tape, likewise it was also easy* to remove walls by peeling off masking tape to make routes easier to navigate.

*although it would have been easier with low-tac tape, lesson learnt. Several children and a few minutes were required after school, peeling bits off of the floor. 

Large paper and coloured pens

1. Felt tip Friends
There aren't many children that don't love using felt tip pens and bright colours to write with. During many of our most successful writing sessions I have started with a paired writing activity. The children choose one colour each and may only write one sentence at a time on their shared piece of paper, they discuss each sentence; often using ideas borrowed from Pie Corbett's 'Talk for Writing' models. This simple technique has engaged several reluctant writers in my classes over the past few years. I have modified the task in different ways to suit different group dynamics. In one group the children scored points for using a range of punctuation correctly, e.g. Full stop = 1pt, capital letter = 1 pt, comma in a list 1 point, comma for a clause 2 points etc...

2. Sentence Scaffolds
When experimenting with sentence construction and different types of punctuation I like to scaffold the activities using a similar technique to the felt tip friends. However, on this occasion the children pair, or group write sentences on A3 paper. Each piece of paper will have a scaffold sentence structure on it in different colours. The children have to then write a sentence in pairs ensuring their clauses fit the structure given.  I will often make differentiated sheets quickly before school and photocopy them for each pair. I have found that they make a brilliant warm up activity before longer writing tasks. We have also used them to structure children's learning on a working wall and as examples of stepping stones within success criteria for a task.

An example Sentence Scaffold


1. String Connections 
In several sessions I have found an odd length of string in my pocket, left over from a display or tidying a roll of paper. In an impromptu discussion I had the children create a discussion connection web. They passed the string around and held on at their place in the discussion. This was a very quick and simple technique to track the history of the discussion and important points raised. It also allowed us to recap and build upon other pupils' ideas as the discussion continued.

2. String Timeline
The string has also been used as a non linear timeline during initial learning tasks for our history topics.

3. Story Strings
Whilst working with other teachers from local schools a group of pupil premium children from our year 5 class took part in a writing project on smuggling. Facilitated by several staff from different schools there were many different activities, however, one that struck a chord; story string. The children quite simply had a length of string each. During their walk they collected items of interest and tied them to their string. A simple and effective writing prompt ready for a recount to be written back in class.

There are many more very cheap resources that we all use that have a high quality impact on learning. This term I'm looking forward to measuring the impact of the investment we have made in Google Chrome books and iPads. 

At my previous school I had the opportunity to work alongside a very charismatic and IT astute Deputy Headteacher. One of his sage-like expressions during our IT meetings was "Don't be first...", I believe he saw the virtue in letting someone else iron the kinks out. However, it is with excitement that I start next term ready to roll out some firsts, we are the first school in our locality to implement Chrome Books and Google Apps for education at the pupil level. Our tech support team have been busy over the holiday getting the hardware set-up. 

Next it's time to introduce the resources to the children and staff; but I'm also looking forward to finding the next 'freebie' with high impact learning gains as well. 

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