For the last 2 weeks I have been ‘teaching’ or rather ‘participating’* in a Creative Fortnight at my school. This is where we go off timetable for the whole 2 week period, including Maths and Literacy and plan things just related to a topic. The topic for this Creative Fortnight was ‘Continents’ and the continent year 4 were given was ‘Africa’. This was brilliant for me as in August 2010 I spent 3 weeks working in schools across Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa.
We began introducing the topic by looking at the countries within Africa, the children were amazed at the amount of countries which were in Africa especially the ones which they’d heard of and didn’t realise e.g. Egypt. After exploring the different countries across the 3 classes we began building up a giant collage map; to go with this we also made country name labels and flags.
Each class in the year group then took one country to focus on to try and give the children a diverse range of experiences. My class looked at a section of South Africa – the city landscape as well as famous landmarks and flora/fauna of that area. In contrast the other 2 classes explored the Republic of the Congo and Morocco. The children were then given the opportunity to learn from each other; to share what they had found out about their country and make a display about it.
We spent a few sessions during this week looking at Africa animals, an area which the children were already very excited about. We began by looking at some of the animals who the children thought were African animals, lions, tigers…no, not tigers, penguins? PENGUINS…no! Actually, yes… and the conversations continued. The children were then sent on an African safari; in groups they were given a location around the school/school grounds where they had to first find a pack – read a fact and work out which African animal it was. Next, they checked back in and were sent to the next place. The children loved this activity and came back repeating the information they’d found it. From here we also made clay animals of their choices, most went for elephants but I’m not really sure why.
For one session on every Creative Fortnight at our school the parents are invited in to join their children in our classes and spend some time learning together. We usually use this session to do activities where we need more hands and this time was no exception. We had already looked at weaving with the children and example of different patterns and purposes; at this point though we were weaving with flat A4 sheets for the parents we were moving on to 3D baskets! This was a very fiddly job and some children took to it better than others but the visual impact was very effective.
Finally we explored Handa’s Surprise reading and discussing the story and then recreating it using stop-frame animation. The animation was made using Zu3D software which I had no used before but had many useful features such as a shadow to allow you to return objects to the place of the last take without accidental moving. The children took to this project very well as they had never done anything like this before; some found the process very tedious but the conversations and the thinking that occurred from the process could not have been planned or forced. Check out their final animation (each group did a section) here:
We also had a fruit tasting session to coincide with Handa’s surprise. I was pleasantly surprised that they all had a go trying the fruits and describing what they could taste.
Finally on the last afternoon of our Creative Fortnights we have an exhibit of everything we have been doing, ensuring the shared areas are transformed whilst the hall offers a showcase of children sharing their learning. Our children chose to perform a play from an African folk tale ‘Why the snake has no legs?’ including animal masks that they had designed. This part of the fortnight is fantastic because the year 6 children are runners who would come and collect the children and then each child shows their own parents/family members around the school. Here is the best time to see the children’s enthusiasm and listen to them explaining at 100mph why they did this and what happened here.
At the end of this extremely busy two weeks it is interesting to look back at all we’ve done. Still as I’m writing this I’m thinking ‘oh but we did that as well!’ and fortunately for you I am not going to explain every activity. This way of teaching is far more exhausting that teaching a normal school week, however, having the freedom to follow interests and check what we think we know, compared to what is right is a great experience. Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this fortnight, the school looks fantastic, it was brilliant to see the parents coming in and the children’s excitement at sharing their work with them, I can’t wait for the next one (after some extra sleep!).
*I make this distinction from a pedagogical shift standpoint with the learning for this time being through participation rather than typical teaching.