James Nottingham's Blog

Reflections from a World of Education

Archive for February, 2009

Thinking Schools Network

A new Partner Finding Site for Thinking School People has been launched (Thinking Schools Network) Available in English and “Scandinavish”, the site is beginning to fill with the details of interesting schools, thinkers, innovations and speakers. The site has been set up by Bengt Lennartsson and Bitte Sundin, following their hosting of the 13th International Conference on Thinking in their home town, Norrköping (Sweden) in 2007 and the subsequent Nordic Re-Thinking conference the following year.

The aim of the site is to offer a free facility for people interested in thinking in all it’s forms to share resources, ideas and contact information with each other. Members of the site can find schools interested in becoming partner schools, making student-to-student contacts and finding out about future conferences and seminars. Already there are members in many of the Nordic and Baltic countries, as well as the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Malaysia. JN

How Much Challenge is Enough Challenge?

Getting children to play pairs (matching one card to another) is a great way of improving their memory skills and strategic thinking. But how many cards should you start with when playing the game with nursery children? Most foundation stage teachers tell me 8 cards (4 pairs) or thereabouts.

So, what about starting with 20 cards and playing the game with 3-year-olds? Way too many, I hear you say and last week I would’ve agreed with you. But not now: during half-term, my 2
½ year old daughter and I downloaded Animatch, a game of pairs for the iPhone that comes with 20 cards as standard. Thinking this is too many for Ava to deal with, we simply listened to the sounds that each animal makes and names the creatures as we went along.

However, within 10 minutes of playing around with the programme, Ava had worked out the object of the game and was merrily matching the cards to their pairs. Her initial strategy was to pick one animal and then keep going until she’d found it’s pair before moving onto another animal. She soon realised that this is an inefficient strategy and so moved on to working out what was under each card and matching as she went along. It now takes her 90 seconds to complete the game without the need of any guidance or encouragement.

I wonder where I can find a game with 40 cards to match…?! JN

Sing from the Rooftops

Bravo to Martyn Soulsby and everyone at North Lakes School in Penrith (UK) for being the first school in Cumbria to receive the Sing Up Platinum award! Singing happens at the school every day, within and beyond the music curriculum – just for fun. They also regulalry perform at regional and national events. The Singing Squad, consisting of Year 5 and 6 pupils, selects and learns its own songs and assist and encourage singing amongst the children in the playground. Pupils are encouraged to use the Sing UP website and Song Bank at home in their own time and the school is introducing a section on the school Moodle (Virtual Learning Environment) for the pupils to access at home. Parents are highly supportive of the singing that goes on at North Lakes. They attend the monthly Sing Up sessions with Ems Featherstone and many parents accompany the choir on their many events and trips. The school now act as ambassadors for Sing up and the national Music Manifesto.

With the school already reknowned for its outstanding work with P4C, it really must be a joy to work, learn and sing there every day. Bring on the “Choir of Inquiry” JN

2 Circles for P4C

Facilitating Philosophy for Children (P4C) can be a challenge with average class sizes in the UK of 30 but a possible solution is to have 2 circles of children – an inner and an outer circle.

Whilst half the children sit in the inner circle engaging in the community of inquiry, the other half sit in an outer circle mind-mapping or in some way recording what is being investigated by the other children. Every 10 minutes or so, the groups swap over. Children partner up, one from each group, so that they can compare notes and respond to each other’s thoughts.

This idea was developed in Berwick by Mary-Rose Blythe, deputy head at Holy Trinity First School, and myself as a way to ensure that the deaf children at the school didn’t miss out on the wonderful experience of P4C. However, we also found that ALL children enjoyed the opportunity for thinking/recording time whilst in the outer circle and the increased opportunity to talk whilst in the inner circle. Furthermore, research by the Universities of Newcastle and Sunderland noted that this combination of P4C and cognitive mapping helped children make more progress in their learning when compared with taking part in just one of these approaches. Try it out and let us know how it goes! JN

Dramatic Enquiry

Do students think differently when, whilst in a dramatic role, they take part in a Community of Inquiry?

This is the key question for a project that aims to enhance creativity and transferable thinking skills in learners of all ages. Developed by Gordon Poad and a group of wonderful drama practitioners and teachers from Stoke on Trent, with a little help from myself and a pot of cash and enthusiasm from Creative Partnerships, this idea has flourished into an outstanding approach to learning. The vision for the project explains more:

Dramatic Enquiry develops creativity, responsible independence and transferable thinking skills. It appeals to parents and teachers who want a broad and balanced curriculum for their children, and encourages us all to be motivated and questioning learners.

We believe that creative thinkers will influence all our futures and that “Educare”, an approach to education that draws on the talents of every learner rather than relies on the expertise of a single teacher, supports creativity and effective learning. To this end, we are developing a training model that is open to all learners, based in schools that are centres for excellence in the Dramatic Enquiry.

As a team, we capture the learning and impact of Dramatic Enquiry whilst drawing on, and seeking critiques from, the worlds of education, drama and philosophy. We realise that creating new ways of working is not easy but we are committed to challenging ourselves and to achieving this vision

Of all the projects I was involved in during 2008, this was by far the most fun and probably the one with most potential to inspire young and old. Read more about it at Cap-a-Pie JN

Learning Outdoors

Learning Outdoors: come rain or shine, sleet or snow children between the age of 5 and 6 at a school in Norway spend all day learning outside. Can you imagine dinner nannies in the UK agreeing with that?!

The Headteacher of Torvmyrane School in Florø, Øivin Monsen explains why they do this: “The children have the use of a “grindhus” (traditional west coast hut) to leave their coats and packed lunches but otherwise they learn outdoors. The most obvious gain is in motor skills but they also know their letters and numbers and do philosophy for children regularly. They learn a lot about trees, insects, water, fish, birds, animals; they use knives, saws, hammers etc… ” Every 5-year old is outside. And they insist that they no longer go to kindergarten. They are outdoor kids, and that is something completely different. After several years we have registered only positive feedback, e.g. that the children have much more to tell when they come home.” JN

Credit where credit's due

A big thank you to Stephen Heppell, the inspiration for starting this blog. I met Stephen at a headteachers’ conference in North Lincolnshire. His morning keynote was so fascinating that it stopped me preparing my afternoon keynote, which is what I should have been doing!

This ageing hippy (as he described himself) lives on a boat on the Thames, and travels the world supporting learning through technology and innovation. During his presentation he used everything but powerpoint, including video files, blogs, websites, photos, webcam footage on his iPhone – anything in fact that he had stored on his Macbook! One of the many things he said that got me to thinking was how most teachers download lots and upload very little whereas our students are uploading to the web as much, if not more, that they are downloading.
And so I thought, well why not keep up with the young and start uploading ideas myself… hence this blog. Hope you enjoy it, and once again: thank you Stephen. JN