The importance of learning outside

I am, as the followers of this blog will know, a fan of the brilliant spoken poetry of Sarah Kay. The video above is her poem “Montauk” and has the wonderful line in it….. “there are some things you can’t learn in New York City”.

Indeed there are some things that you can’t learn in a school and in this poem Sarah shows how we are always learning in the world outside of the school gates. We pick up life skills, about dreaming, wandering, climbing and how we relate to others, particularly those closest to us, our family and those who we choose to call our friends.

Yesterday, at my work, I got into a discussion about the way that so many youngsters seem to spend an inordinate amount of time on their computers, or their games machines or watching the T.V. They are learning a lot in all of these activities but it is a closed almost virtual existence.

Sarah is right… you learn by going swimming and looking at people’s faces, you learn swear words that maybe you shouldn’t keep using but at least you know. We learn about the good in people and the bad. We learn how to trust or mistrust and we sometimes learn how to relate to people. We experience physical pain in every fall and that is a learning process. We learn to enjoy the beauty of a wonderful sunset and to understand the beggar on the streets.

As a child I had parks and common land near where I lived in urban London. I learnt so much about the things that I mentioned above whilst I cut my knee open by crashing my bike into a tree. I realised that I was never going to be the great footballer that I wanted to be and I understood the joys and pain of getting completely drenched when a sudden downpour of rain just happened.

My learning was enhanced by these experiences and I feel it is really important that every child has the chance to wander, to feel, to hurt, to experience their own growing self and the changes that are happening in their life and to their body.

“There are some things you can’t learn in London” but to me there was so much that you can.

The happiness factor

I have been reading so much in the last two days about the sad suicide of 14 year old Jamey Rodemeyer, yet another victim of bullying in school because of his sexuality.

It made me think about an important issue relating to everyone’s education…. happiness. Now I have heard so often those people who say to me….. “what has education got to do with happiness and enjoyment? They are there to learn so as to get the qualifications they need in order to succeed in life!”

My response to this has always been that no-one learns when they are afraid, upset, dejected, demoralised, bullied, lonely, desperate or are made to feel (as so many of us have in the past) that we are inadequate, unable to participate like “the rest” in the class or because somehow we are different because we don’t sound the same, look the same, speak the same or because something inside us makes us want to be what we are which cannot be accepted by “the majority”.

In situations such as the long list above learning is taking place when there are other pressures around which tend to dominate your life. In these situations the teacher’s voice can be drowned out by your deeper thoughts.There is fear about what will happen in the break…will the taunts be there…. will you face being hit, shouted at or isolated by your peers?

How can you really learn some important fact about algebra or forces or what some character’s motivation is in “Romeo and Juliet” if all these things are going on in your life?

I believe that the environment for learning is crucial and that this environment is not just about chairs and desks and pretty colours but also about making you feel safe and allowing you to have a sense of happiness. When we are happy we can thrive but this can only be achieved in an environment of tolerance.

You can do all you like about trying to introduce so-called “world class” teachers into the classroom but their genius is lost to the “lost” student and unfortunately, as Jamey proved, there are just too many of them.

What Jim Henson meant to me

The Google Doodle above was created to mark what would have been the 75th birthday of a man who I feel has done more than most to entertain and educate generations of children and adults…. Jim Henson.

My brothers and I were hooked on “The Muppet Show” when it first appeared this side of the pond. We loved the characters of the Swedish Chef, The Animal, Gonzo, Miss Piggy and most importantly of Kermit the Frog.

We loved the way that well known people from showbiz and politics allowed themselves to become part of a show where they had to interact with a bunch of puppets.

My all-time favourite sketch was when the cast had to put on a show but couldn’t use the songs from that particular show and therefore used songs from about every other show whilst dressed in the costumes of the original show… it was absolutely hilarious.

Henson was not just about the Muppets though. His contribution to the outstanding “Sesame Street” has changed  the way that television was used in education.Whole generations have grown up with letters and numbers that they first picked up on the show. Henson again was the guiding light of the whole thing.

He died suddenly when only 53 years of age. Goodness knows what he would have done in the last 22 years with the onset of the internet and the digital revolution.

Jim Henson was one of those rare beings that have so much to give to the world and thank goodness he was able to use the great creativity within himself to make his mark in history. He would no doubt have been in the vanguard of defending the role of the arts in education and the significance of creativity.

Happy 75th birthday to  a man who influenced so many people’s lives.

Be creative: draw a stickman

I came across a brilliant link on a post in Google Plus. It is a site called “Draw a Stickman”

I strongly recommend that you open this site…. I will not go through it here but it is the sort of thing that children will absolutely love. The message at the end says it all.

I think we can all gain so much by being creative in some way  every day…… have fun!









I can’t go back to the way I taught before

I have been reading a really interesting report which was about a Project based in Onslow County, North Carolina, that used smartphones given to high school students to see if it would improve their mathematics.

The sub-title was:

Students leverage the power of mobile devices through the
Project K-Nect Mobile Learning Initiative in Onslow County

The results were impressive. There was definitely progress made by the students having access to the phones. Two comments in the report were:

“The smart phone is like a teacher in my pocket.” – Project K-Nect Student
“I can’t go back to the way I taught before Project K-Nect.” Project K-Nect Teacher

The teacher’s comment resonated with me. I am taking early retirement from my position as a Consultant and will be doing some supply teaching as well as freelance consultancy in the new year. My teaching style in the days that I was a full-time teacher was very much “the sage on the stage”. I was very much a performance teacher. I know now that this is not what helps children learn… it is not about me.. it is about them and I need to facilitate their learning and interact with them effectively.

To quote the report again:

Through interviews, the teachers reveal that mobile devices and the problem-based learning approach
encouraged through Project K-Nect transformed the way they taught math.  The teachers report they
now rely more on facilitation and less on direct instruction, encourage students to talk with and teach
each other, and create relevance for students by creating assignments that help them see math in their
world outside of the classroom

So, just like the teacher who said that they couldn’t go back to the old, didactic, chalk-and-talk, “sage on the stage” approach to teach,I too have to change. I realise that my pupils will probably not have the advantages of using the smartphones that the high school students of Onslow County were able to use, but that’s not because I don’t want to use them (far from it) but because of the continuing ban on their use in most schools.

The open-ended, collaborative, discussion-based approach to teaching  I can and must do… because I now realise that that’s how we all learn best.

Can you live without the net?

I have just read a really interesting article by Beth Arnold entitled “Letter From Paris: 28 Days (Without the Internet)” .

This was a really good read about a writer/blogger who tells us just how she has (like so many of us) become addicted to the internet. So much so that she says she spends hours and hours online every day and has begun to feel that she has “lost touch” with the realities of being human and living a life outside of the net.

She lives in Paris, which she describes as “the most beautiful city in the world” and yet she hardly ever ventures outside because she is on Facebook, Twitter, blogging or reading other people’s blogs or articles.

Her reaction to all of this is to go “cold turkey”. She is taking herself off to a Greek Island and will live for 28 days without any use of the internet. She will only read printed texts and receive phone calls. It really is a case of going back to where we once were.

She is hoping to write a chapter of reflection on every day that she spends on the island and will eventually be publishing a book (online or just text?.. now there’s a question!).

I certainly found a lot of food for thought about this article. It seemed to hit home in some ways and then felt like some sort of Luddite attempt to ignore a changing world in another. I feel that this is O.K. as an experiment for 28 days but would not recommend that we all turn our backs on the amazing things that the internet has given us access to.

I feel that we need to be promoting the idea of “moderation in all things” to our children. The idea of spending nearly every waking moment of your life connected to the net is a bad one. We do need to get out and have fun, we need to shop sometimes and meet people for coffee, we need to sit in a park and just dream or watch the clouds go by. We need our children to explore their environment and not just by using Google Maps! We need them to hang around with each other and play, talk, have arguments, fall out and do all the things that really what makes us human.

I think that over-dependence on the net is bad but it is something that cannot be dropped altogether. Today’s question from me to you is: can you live without the net altogether? I doubt it.

How to learn the times tables

I think it is so important for children to have knowledge and ability to use their times tables.

I found this wonderful example of a great teacher Jill Mansergh showing Teacher Trainees how to use a counting stick to learn their 17 times tables!

The important things to notice are the way that she links previous learning about any number times ten, doubles and relationships…. I loved the use of the term “here is the key” for the three times 17 and then the use of doubling for 6 X   17. There was even a use of “here’s one I can never remember”.

It had all the essential elements to learning the tables… fun, repetition, and application of known mental skills. I also liked the fact that she expressed that it was learning in a safe environment….. it was O.K. to go wrong as long as you realised why and could correct yourself.

This is a great example of teaching using a simple device (the Counting Stick) and  I would recommend it to any trainee teacher or experienced teacher who is scratching their head and wondering how to get the children to learn those times tables!”

Storycorps 9/11 animated short films

Yesterday was a difficult day for so many people. Like so many, I remembered where I was on that fateful day that so many people died in the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Building, in trying to rescue the victims of the horrific attack, on the airplanes that crashed into the towers and seemed to do so for hours and hours on that day as we (here in Britain where I live) watched on with horror at the events in New York.

I am a follower of the wonderful Open Culture website and followed the link to a short animated film made by the amazing StoryCorps organisation. The video above is one of three excellent short films that can be seen on the StoryCorps website which have been specially made to commemorate the 9/11 10th anniversary. They are actual stories from people who either survived or lost loved ones on that terrible day. As the organisation says in its site: “Storycorps is recording one story for every life lost on 9/11″.

These powerful and moving stories are just three of the stories that have been recorded so far for the complete list see:

I feel that understanding of the horror of an event needs to be at a human level. To try and understand what that horrible event meant to New York, The U.S. and the world just listen to these moving testaments.

America can certainly be proud that it as an organisation like StoryCorps and it is to be hoped that its excellent work will continue.


Why I blog

Life can be a bitch sometimes. Like everyone else I find myself in the midst of happenings, some personal, some a bit removed, that makes you feel that it is not all like the song… “a bowl of cherries”.

So, at times like these I used to bury myself in a book, hide on a settee and pretend that I was elsewhere. I could escape inside my mind and dream of a different world. I would be the person that I always aspired to be and life was rich and fulfilling.

Then comes the inevitable awakening that we all get. The day dawns and the harsh half light of the early morning shows our world in its true perspective. The problems haven’t disappeared and there has often been some terrible event happening somewhere in the world, a hurricane, a flood, a mass shooting, that reminds you that life can be…. (you know the rest).

One thing that I have always loved to do, since I was very young, was to write. I was not taught to write in any particular way and my education in respect of literary styles is somewhat patchy. But I always loved playing with words and very importantly, from a very young age, I loved typewriters!!

I was given a toy typewriter as a child and loved it. I loved the sound of the tip-tap as your fingers find the different keys and the minor miracle of having words appear that sometimes made some sense. I wrote novels and plays and sent these off to publishers to be given lots and lots of refusals. The great novel that would change western literature never came and the play with such meaning and passion was never performed.

So I found the world of work and the writing somehow died as it does for so many of us would-be writers walking around with our lost dreams about Booker Prizes and screenwriting contracts.

But like all true passions the writing did not really die, it just disappeared within me, waiting for an opportunity to get out. The weblog was the opportunity.The democratisation of publishing as changed the world for so many people because it has provided a means for them to express themselves.

After my initial steps into the blogging world I have found that I have found the perfect place for me.I can express my ideas, pass on my findings, comment on events and, as in this particular post, I can allow myself  a bit of navel-gazing self-indulgence.

Yes, I write for an audience and hope that there is an impact (as indeed there has been on a number of my posts) but in the end, it has been the ability to allow my fingers to tip tap on the keyboard and the production of yet another (to me) minor miracle of a piece of writing, that has kept me going in my blogging.

For those of you who harbour the need to express yourselves and let the inner “Scott Fitzgerald” escape, there is no better thing for you. It is free, it is open to all and in the end, it is real writing and you are a “real” writer. Give it a go…you’ll love it.

Connecting the dots

A few months ago I wrote a post about the work of Peter H. Reynolds. The discovery of this author, filmmaker and artist was a really good one for me. To quote from my original post:

” Peter H. Reynolds. If ever there was a person who was saying just what I thought and have always thought about creativity, potential and the need to find the inner-passion and ability within yourself, then here he was.

Peter is very much a polymath, a writer, illustrator, I.T. specialist and the founder of an amazing film company called Fablevision.”

Imagine my delight therefore when I was looking at a Tweet from the inspirational  Shannon Miller from Van Meter Schools in Iowa:

Shannon Miller
shannonmmiller Shannon Miller

Today The Students Made Their Mark….On Each Other, The World, and ME! from the #vanmeter Library VOICE @MrSchuReads

I went to the post and heard how Shannon got a group of her older students to prepare a “dot” display from scratch.The post has some great photos and I absolutely loved the collaboration, creativity and especially the spontaneity of the whole thing (as Shannon says, it just happened and wasn’t in her Google Diary for that day!)

I decided to look up YouTube to see whether they had a video of “The Dot” and made the discovery about “The Dot Project”

Here was another exciting idea.. to use “The Dot” as a basis for some computer art using iPads for 1st graders!

To quote their wonderful site:

“As part of our reading program, Mr. Colosi’s First Grade class read the book “The Dot,” by Peter Reynolds.  Students were so inspired by the book’s message of uniqueness that they decided to create art in a brand new way.  Using the classroom iPad, each student sketched their own “dot” using the Drawing App app.  Using this unique app, students were able to draw with crayons, paints, and markers to make original artwork that could be shared with the world!  Want to see the Dot Art Gallery?  Well just click on the admission ticket!”

I would recommend that you click on the admission ticket.. it is free but is also a powerful example of how some very fortunate children in Grade 1 are able to access technology, share their creations with each other and the world, read a great book by an inspirational author which teaches them about making their mark on life (whatever it is) and in both this example and the Van Meter one, there is no talk about grades, levels, tests or standards…… it is about learning, growing, creativity… the very things that these children will need if they are to survive and thrive in the future.

I will end this post by saying that September 15th is International Dot Day which was the reason for Shannon’s display work. To quote the site:

Every year on September 15, innovative educators around the world celebrate International Dot Day by making time to encourage their students’ creativity. After the last International Dot Day, we were overwhelmed by wonderful stories about the “outside-the-box” activities educators invented for their students. The time is here again — this year, we encourage even more kids and grown-up kids to “make their mark” in new and exciting ways!

If you are inspired in any way by the video, the blog post or the original book then why not join your class in with the fun on the 15th?



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