Encouraging your young scientists to notice the world around them

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The Art of Noticing – a simple, effective way to get your young scientists observing.

  • The Art of Noticing is simply about noticing the things that catch your eye, and talking/writing about them.
  • You can do it anytime, anyplace, anywhere – it’s free and doesn’t need any resources other than a piece of paper and a pen.
  • You can do it with a collection of objects, a view from a window, a picture in a magazine, a video clip, on a stroll etc.
  • You can use one or all of your senses
  • List the things that you notice in a descriptive way and it will read like a poem!  Don’t tell them it’s a poem otherwise they try to make it rhyme!

Here’s one that I wrote whilst sitting on my friend’s sofa.

Peg doll leaning drunkenly on the mantelpiece
Elephants marching slowly across a plastic bag
Leveret cradled lovingly by its mother
Silent piano keys gathering dust
Rows of books waiting to be read
Pirate ship abandoned for the day, waiting for tomorrow’s marauders

Here’s another from a Y2 child after watching a trailer for BBC Dynasties https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWI1eCbksdE – if you’re using a video clip, watch it once, watch it again and take notes, watch it a final time and add detail.

Dynasties
Walking wildebeest in the sunlight.
Hyenas running across the hot sandy land.
Proud painted wolves leaping across the desert.
Scared hyenas stepping away from their enemy.
Small chimp playing in the soft dry sand.
Cold and frosty iceberg shining in the daylight.
Growling tiger stalking through the bamboo.
Staring orange tiger eyes glimmering in the light.
Cold Emperor penguins huddled together against the icy wind.
Wafting wildebeest tails moving from front to hind.
Fighting lions with hyenas by their side.
Screaming chimps getting ready to fight.
Blazing fires spreading across the land.
Cuddling tiger cubs keeping warm beside their mother.
Snapping crocodile attacking every animal he sees.
Watery land shining in the sun.
Proud lions climbing on tumbled down trees.

So get out into your garden, or look out of your window, and notice everything you can see – I’d love to hear what your young scientists observe.

4 on 4

radio 4 logo.pngYoung teachers often ask me how I know so much stuff.  I tell them that I’ve been working in education for a pretty long time now.  Whilst this is true, anyone who has sat in a room with me for more than half an hour, will also know that I love BBC Radio 4 and it’s one of the main sources of my information.

I love programmes that tell me more about people, so here are 4 of my favourites:

  1. Desert Island Discs– my absolute favourite.  I never miss this programme and listen to lots of the archive editions too.  Two episodes have really stuck with me – Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, former test pilot; and vascular and war surgeon David Nott.  Eric Brown amazes me, and David Nott makes me cry every time I hear it.
  2. Last Word – Radio 4’s weekly obituary programme, telling the life stories of those who have died recently.  A fascinating mix of people I know of and those I don’t.  I learn loads from listening to this.  A good 30 minutes on the way home on a Friday.
  3. I also love a bit of nature and history, and Open Country, the countryside magazine, gives me lots of information about the people and wildlife that shape the landscape of the British Isles.
  4. Finally, for a bit of silliness and far too much innuendo, you can’t beat I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, the long-running, self-styled antidote to panel games.  Hilarious programme that will have you laughing out loud.

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Oh yeah, and I’m also addicted to the Archers!

A Visual Guide to the New OfSTED Framework – now updated to include both Outstanding & Good descriptors for Primary and Secondary

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UPDATE: Due to popular demand, I have created my visual guides to OfSTED for Outstanding and Good in Primary, and Outstanding and Good in Secondary.

For those of you who are expecting OfSTED, or who just want to get your heads around the new OfSTED framework, I’ve produced a visual guide of the ‘Good’ grade descriptors. I did this for three reasons:

  1. For those of us who like documents to be more visual, and who use shapes and colours to help us take in information, you should find these grade descriptors much easier to read than the way they are currently laid out in the OfSTED handbook.
  2. This “mind map” style representation would make a really great display in the staff room/training room as part of CPD. It would even be possible to add Post-it notes, documents and photos to it, to build up a picture of how your school meets the criteria (both formal and non-formal observations). Used in this way, I would encourage anybody to add to it – teaching staff, lunchtime staff, governors, visitors – as well as SLT.
  3. It’s a really useful tool for when you are doing a book scrutiny or learning walk, or as a quick reference guide for leadership conversations.

Visual Guide to the New OFSTED Framework 2Some things to note:

  1. I have written this as the Primary version, and as such haven’t included references about Secondary schools UPDATE: A Visual Guide to the New OfSTED Framework has been updated to include Primary, Secondary and Outstanding
  2. Some of the OfSTED handbook statements have been shortened to capture their essence, so please always make sure to refer back to the original for the full picture
  3. I have numbered each box to make it easier to facilitate conversations around the document, and to make it easier to collect and label evidence following a book scrutiny, learning walk etc

I hope you find this useful – I have had positive feedback from schools that I have trialled this with, and would love to hear from you too if you implement it in your school. And if you want any support with reviewing, revamping or re-energising your curriculum, please do get in touch.

Click here to download the Primary version of the Visual Guide to the New OFSTED Framework

Click here to download the Secondary version of the Visual Guide to the New OFSTED Framework

11 things I learnt from listening to Mary Myatt

Earlier on this term I had the pleasure of attending a conference to listen to the rather marvellous Mary Myatt.  Not only does she have concise, pertinent and incisive things to say about education, she is easy to listen to and has a fab style.  Oh, and lest I forget, she loves the Archers…we did manage to have a quick chat about it over coffee 🙂

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As a big fan of simplicity, here is a list of 11 things I learnt that day from Mary.  (I learnt a lot more too!)

  1. People and kindness come first. Your school should respect the humanity, dignity and integrity of everyone who enters it.
  2. “Writing floats on a sea of talk” – James Britton (1970).  Therefore, we need to get the children doing lots of talking, especially before they write, and we need to teach oracy.
  3. Children want more demanding work. We need to make them think – prioritise thinking over the completion of a task?
  4. Stories are powerful.  Enough said!
  5. We need to do fewer things in greater depth.  And we need to recognise that we can’t do everything.  We should encourage our colleagues to ask ‘So what are we going to stop doing?’
  6. Activities must not be proxies for learning. Ask “I have taught it. Have the children got it, how do I know?”
  7. Ask “What gifts do these people bring?” Beware of falling into a deficit model.
  8. Be grateful. Say to yourself, your children and your colleagues “How lucky I am to work with you.”
  9. Big ideas act as holding baskets for knowledge. E.g. Big ideas in Science → What are the big ideas in other subjects?
  10. Etymology is really useful – teaching children the origin of words helps them to understand things and apply that understanding.
  11. Progress is not linear! “Every data conversation should be a curriculum  conversation”. Progress or mastery develop over time – not in single lessons.
Follow these links to Mary Myatt’s blog and website to learn more about her philosophies on school improvement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daffodils – the simple joy of observing over time

daffodilsThe primary science National Curriculum says that children should ‘develop their understanding of scientific ideas by using different types of scientific enquiry to answer their own questions, including observing changes over a period of time, noticing patterns, grouping and classifying things, carrying out simple comparative tests, and finding things out using secondary sources of information.’

Most teachers are very familiar with the notion of carrying out fair tests, but I wonder how many of them plan for observing over time, or do it anyway without realising it.  In their very helpful book ‘It’s not fair – or is it? a guide to developing children’s ideas through primary science enquiry’, Turner et al, share the following pointers for observing over time:

  • Observing over time helps us identify and measure events and changes in living things, materials and physical processes and events.
  • Observations may take place over time spans from minutes or hours, to several weeks or months.
  • Observing over time provides opportunities for children to be actively involved in making decisions about what and how to observe and measure, and the best ways to record the changes that occur.
  • These types of enquiries provide rich contexts for children to learn about the importance of cycles, systems, growth and decay, and other types of changes.

As the signs of spring are getting stronger everyday, and because I do love a daffodil, I thought I’d take the opportunity to do a little bit of observing over time with a 99p bunch of daffodils from the local supermarket.  We watched these little beauties changing over a period of 12 days, taking 1 photo a day, and using PicCollage to put our timeline together.  I think the result is great!  It really shows how the daffodils have changed over time.  It would be interesting to continue to watch what happens after day 12 if they were placed on the compost heap.

As science week draws ever closer and teachers are rushing to find things to do, why not suggest this simple little activity?  It provides for a multitude of scientific skills e.g. observing, describing, comparing, measuring (if you want to), predicting, explaining and communicating, all for the price of 99p, and the effort of buying some daffodils and sticking them in a jam jar at the front of the class.  Take one picture a day, get the children to tell you what they notice, write it on the IWB alongside the photo, and make a class big book at the end of the week/fortnight.

Why not make a whole school project of it and show progression in science across school?  It would make a great display to have pupil paintings of daffodils, alongside photos, comments, predictions, descriptions and explanations.  For a bit of secondary research, why not find out more about daffodil growing in the UK?

And don’t forget, a bit of Wordsworth is always good…

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What if…

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Those of us who find it easy to access the creative sides of our brains often use that creativity for positive ends, but sometimes we can turn those talents to worry and anxiety.

For example, a recent leak in the roof of my house started out in my mind as…

– Oooh, that roof doesn’t look right…I’d better keep an eye on it.

– Hmm…there’s water coming down the inside wall.  Better mop that up.

Then panic and anxiety snuck in…

– What if we can’t get a builder?  What if the roof blows away in the wind?  What if I can’t afford to fix it?  What if the plaster gets too wet to support the window?  What if the window falls out (why would it)?  What if the house falls down?

Quite quickly I’d used my creative brain and its fairly constant supply of curious ‘what if’ questions to send myself into a downward spiral of panic, anxiety and sleepless nights.

During one of these sleepless nights, I got thinking about using my ‘what ifs’ for good, rather than negativity.  As educators, parents and human beings, what would it be like if we asked ourselves some alternative ‘what if’ questions.  Here are some to get you started:

  • What if my children (either your own or in your class) were perfect exactly as they are?
  • What if my children/colleagues are doing the very best they can, given the resources/experience/expertise etc. that they have?
  • What if we talked to our children/colleagues about the things they are doing well?
  • What if we assumed that inside each and everyone of us we have everything we need to be amazing? Inside a tiny acorn lies a great oak, so why not in us?
  • What if I was kind to myself today and acknowledged just how great I am?
  • What if I only said positive things today?
  • What if I trusted my children/colleagues?
  • What if I allowed myself to have fun today?
  • What if I just gave it a try?
  • What if I went with the rhythm of my children today?
  • What if I dared to be different?

So far, I’ve been playing with this idea and seeing where it takes me.  It’s fun, refreshing, sometimes a bit scary, but always full of possibilities.

Have a play with ‘what if’ and see where it takes you.