June 16, 2007

Active Learning: working environments and The Play Ethic

The_play_ethic A day with Stephen Heppell in East Lothian

I've been reading Pat Kane's The Play Ethic (in between about four other tomes) and, together with the action research published on Learning and Teaching Scotland's Active Learning section, can only think that play as the central pillar of learning is the best way forward in the early years right through into adulthood.

11h16 - Yester Primary School
[see pictures from this visit]
We joined Jen Macaulay and her Primary One class in the gym hall for some learning of graphs. It was the first time the kids had come across these things (they don't know what they're getting into ;-) and we were lucky enough to see the process Jen uses from start to finish. In this session the children had gone out to gather different categories of object from the school grounds (twigs, stones, shells...) in order to put them into some pre-made grids. They then had to work out in pairs what made their grids a graph and then how to label the graph.

Exploratory play: This was pure exploratory play, with the teacher not once actually saying: "This is what a graph is for and this is how we make one". These kids will remember the result a lot better having been so involved in the process of finding out. The kids were not sat in rows at desks. They were on their bellies, on their knees, crawling about and looking at the graph from different angles. When asked, they were scooshing over to each other to help when they spotted something wasn't quite right.

Speaking_partner Assessment for learning: You don't need to test or quiz youngsters to find out if they have understood. You can get them to show visually how they feel about their learning, by putting their thumbs up, down or in the middle, you can ask them to traffic light their learning by choosing a red or green cube from the tub, or by placing a counter on their individual traffic light card on their desk back in the classroom. Best of all, you can get them to explain to their classmates what it is they have learned, getting your speaking partner up to help you if you need it, and you can ask them to make the task more difficult or easier depending on how they felt it had gone so far. Jen did all of this in one lesson. Who says assessment has to get in the way of learning when it is learning?

Working-Playing Environments: Jen's classroom is a visual feast, reminiscent of the kind of classrooms I discovered in the experential learning classrooms of the New Brunswick Intensive French Immersion classrooms a few years ago (I'd love someone to help me stitch together these pics in particular). There are separate areas all around the classroom for different types of play and roleplay, from the creative sandpit (creative, because there's a challenge set above it for the kids to explore), to the shop and the planting area (the shop must be a garden centre at the moment - the kids will learn number and language here later). There's also my favourite place of all, the reading tent with its easy recliner to climb away into a quiet corner and enjoy a good read or quiet think. This is all shareable, through things like the Flickr Classroom Displays group (I've added Jen's room there now).

Meanwhile, when the class take over the gym for some "on the floor" learning, the space is used to its fullest, both as a large space where learners can spread out and as place where learners can come together in much more compact groups.

When I was taking part in the discussion at Reboot9.0 on the subject of working environments with Robert, this is the kind of thing of which I wish I had had a couple of photographs. Jen has helped provide her students with a space that is filled with learning opportunities, learning objects and challenges. Take a look at her classroom objects in these Flickr photos.

At the heart of it all is, once more, leading from behind: Jen empowers her five and six year olds to go on their own learning journey, help each other out, summarise how they feel about their learning and find their own space and place in their learning environment.


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Wow!What a stunning set of photos! Fills me with "I want to do that"-ness! Those kids are lucky to have such a creative teacher!
From the photos it's not a huge classroom space, but Jen has really made good use of it. And your description of AifL within the lesson you saw makes it clear that it fits naturally into the whole learning process.
I'm looking forward to more instalments from your day.

A fantastic post, Ewan, clearly outlining some practice that those of us working with secondary age children should really reflect upon. Already, I've spent many hours this dark Saturday on the Flickr photostream, considering how the ethos in my new, very complex class could be affected by a tent, AiFL flashcards, and an investigation area.

Couldn't resist getting out the needle and thread to see if I could do justice to Jen's classroom. Your originals, of course, have been bent, twisted and otherwise mucked about. But then you asked for it.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/557984984/

Now that's just showing off :-)
But it is cool!

Hi Ewan,
Just a 'thank you for the last couple of posts and associated flickr stream. Great examples of good practice.

The stitch-up view of Jen's class I posted to Flickr was resized to 1024 pixels wide (about 80% of the original 1264px).

Turns out this is normal for a free account.

I've uploaded the original file to edubuzz here. (1264 x 185 pixels, 320kB)

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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