STEAM – Get on Top!

STEAM is an extension of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). The A is for Arts. The inclusion of the latter is a logical step, as the others are very often linked to design, aesthetics and human usability.  There is a world-wide drive to promote the value of the Arts as essential to using the brain effectively; they have suffered over the years at the hands of a busy curriculum, and increased external pressure for measurable achievements. This website argues that, without the inclusion of the Arts, students are not given the opportunity to use their whole brain.

There are lots of explanations and links on this website, mainly aimed at teachers, but there are good videos of kids showing what they do.

In my own little way, as a bit of a positive disruptor, I decided to combine as many of the STEAM topics into one curriculum area as possible. We needed to look at electronics as the final part of our Science programme, so following up on a hint by another teacher about making quiz boards, I set my students off on a mission:

  • Canvas other teachers about what their classes have been learning about;
  • Create some questions related to the learning;
  • Design an attractive quiz centre with which students will want to engage;
  • Draw your circuit diagrams;
  • Build your interactive quiz.

This took quite a few lessons on top of the Science/Tech learning we’d already engaged in, but every time, there was focussed, productive group work. Students were in 3s or 4s; one would be writing questions, one or two figuring out the electronics and one designing the product. Students who can sometimes stand back from group work, wanted to be involved and because there was so much to do, in various disciplines, there was something everyone could do well.

We had electronic quizzes about spelling, electricity, division, problem solving, animals, 3D shapes, poetry and circuits. Most students learnt how to trouble shoot circuits that didn’t work, systematically working through each element to identify faults. This promoted their knowledge so much more than creating text-book circuits. They were motivated through this sometimes arduous task, by wanting their art to work!

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By taking our learning about circuits to the Arts level and creating interactive works we could share with other classes, my students had a real-world experience of knowledge-to-design-to-manufacture-to-implementation.

Last term, my students also made ‘Explain Everything’ lessons about the aspect of Maths learning they were most confident in, and shared these with others. In the past, I’ve found students to be fully engaged when arts are integrated into Maths and Science, for example looking at and creating Islamic art, when studying shape and space. I have every intention of stepping up my incorporation of Arts into STEM in the future, because of first hand evidence of enhanced learning and retainment.

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The Chaos Curve

I’ve been connecting like crazy with other educators through Twitter, following their blogs and links and generally having an inspiring time, learning from like-minded and not-so-like-minded people across the world. In one of my comments, I made a comment about the chaos curve. I dutifully hashtagged it and tweeted away. I thought I’d better check it, as I always do on unknown hashtags, lest I promote something inappropriate. Amazingly, it was brand new! The excitement of creating a new Twitter term! It does however mean I am obliged to explain it. Here goes.

The chaos curve is similar to a learning curve, and does indeed encompass that phenomenon whilst adding an extra element. I coined the term specifically to refer to what happens when a new learning approach is introduced to a classroom or school.

Students are routine junkies. This is not necessarily a good thing because it stifles creativity and independent thought. And where did the routines come from in the first place? More than likely dictated by control freaks – otherwise known as teachers – sorry, I said it. You know it’s true. In the 21st century, we want our learners to use initiative, be communicators and innovators and challenge the status quo in positive and constructive ways. For teachers, this means letting go of control, even just a little bit, even for just one learning area. This can be very difficult for some people.

Anything that involves mess, noise and a bit of confusion is often the thing which generates the most engagement and learning. I’ve started SOLE in my year group. At first it was noisy and there were kids off-task, but then, we started to see results. Students were generating further questions around the main big question, discussing ideas and circulating to other groups, sharing findings and creating responses. After a few weeks, SOLE became a time when it was quiet, productive and socially positive. If we’d given up after the first couple of frustrating, noisy sessions, our students wouldn’t have benefitted from this innovative learning experience.

I’ve also picked up ideas about the Maker Movement and Genius Hour from the lovely educators on Twitter. I started Genius Hour two weeks ago, preparing for mess, confusion and a bit of silliness. Didn’t happen. You could have heard a pin drop. I had to kick out the kids for recess! They were organised with what they needed to bring from home, without being reminded. There wasn’t even any mess, despite unscrewing, cutting and cooking activity. They want to keep doing it, have made choices about what they want to learn and are happy to document their progress. These are some of the questions and learning students have chosen:

Genius Hour

If your classroom is getting a bit stale, and the students are uninspired, try something new. I would suggest preparing yourself and accepting that there may be noise, there may be confusion, and you’ll need to do some research. However, there will definitely be learning. Students will enjoy learning and this will transfer to other subjects – it’s a snowball effect.

What about the curriculum? SOLE is an inquiry model – you choose the question – link it your content. Genius Hour can be ICT, Health, Literacy, Humanities, Science, Maths, Design & Technology. That’s the beauty of student led learning: they get another crack at what they really enjoy doing, and there’s always the literacy element.

B1Ky78xCMAA5neU.jpg-largeCake decorating: not just learning benefits!

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50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom | TeachHUB

50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom | TeachHUB.

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A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned | Granted, and…

A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned | Granted, and….

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Young children, movies and brain development; time for parents to take responsibility.

I often hear students in Years 4-7 talking about the movies they’ve seen. Ted is one that seems to come up a lot. The link is a discussion about how this movie has statistically become a ‘family movie’. In Australia, the rating is MA(15+), whilst in the USA, where the statistics originate, it’s an R. In both nations, under 15s would have to be accompanied by adults and yet, despite the rating, this article reports 18% of cinema goers for Ted, were under 18. It seems parents were swayed by both the cute teddy bear and the ‘Seth McFarlane Factor’. It disappoints me that parents of 10 and 11 year olds are not more swayed by the ratings given to movies, which are based on the assessments of panels of parents from various backgrounds. An R rated movie in the USA is defined as:

R –“Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian”: The Rating Board applies this rating to movies the members believe contain a high level of adult content, such as harsh profanity, intense violence, explicit sexual content and extensive drug use.

I am certain, parents of children I have taught over the years, would not dream of exposing their children to live pornography, extreme violence or drug use, and yet they are facilitating and paying for, their children to see it on the big screen, and at home on DVDs and movie downloads.

In their defence, parents may say their offspring hear worse language at school, understand it’s not real, or that they don’t want to be left out of what their friends are doing. (Of all the explanations I hear for friendship issues, not having been allowed to see a movie has never been one of them.) Busy parents may well have to put up with the hassle factor from children, but would they honestly give in to an 11 year old who claims all her friends are drinking vodka? Probably not, because they know that young bodies and brains are not yet developed enough to cope with alcohol. Perhaps they are unaware that the developing brain is much like the body in that it requires healthy, safe and appropriate input to develop normally. Repeated exposure to violence and adult themes, real or fictional, causes stress, conscious or not, to the developing brain. Whilst pre-teens in our multi-media, digital age may seem street-wise, they still have minds which are highly adaptive and therefore will be influenced by what they have experienced most of. This is not to say that they will necessarily emulate what they see, but they will most likely use whatever heuristics of human behaviour come to mind easiest, because that is how the mind works.

I’m not one to rant on my blog, but when I see 11 and 12 year olds at school pretending to smoke joints, making sexual references (and in some cases, gestures) and using wildly inappropriate language, I’m fairly sure that, for the most part, they are not experiencing this from their parents. If parents wouldn’t use extreme language in front of their children, why are they happy to expose them to it through movies?

It may seem puritanical to ‘blame the TV’ for children’s behaviour, but with increasing technology and advances in neuro-science allowing us to understand the brain more, we have to consider what we are feeding our children’s brains as much as, if not more than, what we are feeding their bodies. We can change our diet and exercise, to rid ourselves of the influences of a poor diet; it’s not so easy to change what has negatively influenced our brain.

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OSHC – Why I’ve changed my thinking

I used to feel a bit sad for the children who were still at out of school hours care (OSHC), an hour or two after school finished. I would imagine their sad faces as other kids were picked up by mum, dad or granny and taken off home for snacks and games. My own children used to go to OSHC two or three times a week, depending on our hours. I always felt a bit guilty. That was before I was a teacher.

My classroom is next to the OSHC rooms. What I actually see is children playing outside with their friends after school, not cooped up in front of the TV or games console. I see them with their healthy snacks, playing on scooters or in the sandpit. They’re playing chasey and throwing balls around, spinning hula-hoops, laughing, getting out of breath and having a fun time. What they are doing is what people of my generation did after school. We played out. I wonder if OSHC kids are more active than other children? They definitely aren’t feeling sad.

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Technology is amazing for all ages, but have we lost the thrill?

My daughter and I had a lovely time seeing the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical last night. On the way back we were listening to a radio station, playing ’80s and ’90s party hits. I commented that every Sunday, all the kids would listen to BBC Radio 1to hear the top 40 countdown and it would be the one thing that would lift that ‘back to school tomorrow’ feeling. I described how exciting it was, waiting to find out if the record you’d just saved up for and bought, had made it to number 1. I told her about Top of the Pops on a Thursday night and the emergence of music videos; how my friends and I would make up dances and perform them for our very patient parents.

Now I assumed every generation thought theirs was the best time to be young but Immy surprised me by saying that it sounded a lot more fun in the ’80s. She said it seemed like things were simpler. They were. At the risk of sounding dusty and crusty, I think it was easier to get a little excitement. There was a lot that was new and not everything was always accessible, including our friends. We weren’t constantly in touch with them, so seeing them was interesting – we had stuff to talk about when we hung out. Even as an adult now, I know what my friends are doing, even if I’ve not seen them, for weeks.

Are we missing the simple pleasures? Have they been superceded by our theme park lifestyles? Do you ever experience delicious highs and lows on the same level as waiting for the release of the latest Duran Duran album only to have to wait another agonising three weeks to get enough money to buy it?

I do feel a little sad for Immy and her peers because despite their mass of possessions and access to a world that was only just beginning to exist 30 years ago, they don’t have to wait for much. Without the anticipation, is the thrill ever the same?

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