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Learning Walk findings

May 10, 2016

I did a learning walk (pedagogical perambulation) recently in subjects that I personally have rarely seen taught with the main intention of finding out what else goes on in the school. This post just highlights some of what I saw and whether I think I can take anything away from it to use in maths. My take-aways are at the end.

RE

In this lesson, Kat was helping the students explore human dignity. Four things struck me:

  • Liberal use of pictures. This just is more engaging/eye catching.
  • Very clear and explicit use of key words.
  • This was clearly part of a series of lessons. Students knew what they’d done previously and also where they were heading to while being able to make links between the different topics they’d looked at.
  • Kat was able to get emotional responses from students in the sense that they could feel empathy towards the people in the pictures. The students wider experiences of life (and TV) were directly useful to them in class.

Electronics

This class had recently rotated in design tech groups and Kim was working on a ‘Jitter Bug’ project with them. I’ve seen students with the finished products previously (in maths) and I know that they like to show off what they’ve made. Kim had incorporated some changes to this project from previous years and was looking into increasing the challenge by (for example) including more use of formal circuit diagrams. She told me that this was at least partly to do with allowing students to develop their electronic skills earlier on in their school career (these were year 8s) because otherwise, when they pick up electronics later on, they’ve not encountered them.

Dance

A BTEC group was sitting and discussing the current theme of motif development. Shelley was excellent at asking questions and then probing the responses further and allowing students thinking  time. The students then moved onto developing the performance pieces and it was clear that they were all doing obviously useful things.

Whilst they were working, Shelley showed me some folders of their work and explained some of the structure of the course. I was particularly interested in the letter of application they’d written and the way that everything they were working on was clearly leading to a specific outcome. The idea that all the time they were building towards a culmination of work was evidently really motivating.

Food Tech

Wow! Sarah has warned me it’d be chaotic but I had no idea of what to expect. It was a whirlwind of activity with students all up and about doing something useful. They were making wraps in their zoned areas and some were washing up and/or putting away as well. The level of organisation was immense and there was a real sense of Sarah being everywhere and ‘juggling’ everything with super-clear routines. Again, there was a sense that everyone knew what to do and they were clear on why they were doing the things they were doing. There was a clear sense of ‘end goal’.

I liked the fact that students were developing practical skills (grating, chopping, julienning) but all within the context of making a wrap.

PE

This was an interview lesson so there were several interviewees taking the lesson. I won’t comment on their lessons as I don’t have their permissions but I did learn something interesting from talking to the PE staff. They all told me that the head of faculty (James) was very clear on one thing: “Have as many students doing something as often as possible. No sitting around unnecessarily.”

It started raining so I left. Apparently I’m a “fair weather observer.”

Take-aways

Key words are something I could do more about. I’ll have a think about that.

A fairly easy thing to try to incorporate into my lessons is a greater use of pictures. I should be able to do that although I’m going to be careful to only use ones that are relevant. (I’ve seen maths lessons with pointless pictures for no reason!)

From Electronics, could we improve some of our projects to be more explicit about some of the skills we are developing for later years? I think we can.

PE’s take away is simple enough: Students should be mathsing as much as possible.

A bigger issue that was recurrent across all of these lessons was the theme of ‘working towards something bigger’.  This was incredibly clear in Dance and Food (and PE) – you’re working towards a performance or you’re working towards making a wrap. No questions, everyone got it. In Electronics, although it wasn’t necessary to be looking at the circuits to make the jitter bug, it was obvious to all students why you would be doing that. It seems natural enough that if you’re learning how to make something, you should be looking at how it works. RE was a little less obvious but Kat had done a good job of working together a variety of concepts into a bigger project and there certainly wasn’t any ‘why are we doing this?’ I suppose there is some element of natural curiosity for people to want to know how other humans think and feel but there still considerable skill employed in bringing this together.

In maths, we do work on projects in key stage 3. There is a ‘bigger picture’ there but it’s far less obvious than in the lessons I saw. I suspect that students often get lost in the exploring of the maths and aren’t really clear where they’re going or what the overall outcome should look like so I’m beginning to think if we should start off by showing them some examples of good maths work. We don’t do that at present and I think I will change this in future.

The best project we do from the point of view of a ‘clear outcome’ is the juice drink box project. It’s obvious to all what the point is and why the various aspects matter. I’ll have to talk to the other maths teachers about what else we should do to improve the other projects.

So, all in all, I learned and experienced loads. I actually spent about 50 minutes in these lessons in total and it was well worth it. I’d encourage you to go and see some other classes and my thanks to all the teachers involved.

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