Last term my teaching colleague and I changed tack for the last four weeks of the term. We teach Year 4s. We had just heard (again) Adam Brice, speaking to us about the difference the students at a school he was teaching at, made for others. After hearing him, I took away the desire to do something different. Something that wasn’t currently happening at my school to any great degree. I wondered whether we could do a Challenged Based Learning project – a variation of one – for the final few weeks of term.
Setting The Scene
Kathryn, my teaching colleague is currently over in Kenya Africa on, for want of a better expression, a missions trip. She is visiting a community whose children have basic education, basic food supplies and basic accommodation. Kathryn has been a few times before, visiting, setting up projects and contribution to the welfare of the people there. In the past the students at our school have been passive participators. They contribute money to the cause and listen to the stories and see the photos when Kathryn returns. My proposal to Kathryn was to have our students contribute in a practical way to this community.
Our big idea was ‘How Can Our Community Help Another?’ We proposed to the students 8 different projects that they could work on. Kathryn had already received requests from the Kenyan community that they needed Literacy and Mathematics resources, and so we differed a little from a true CBL project and suggested to the students the activities they could choose from. We allowed them to privately vote for their choice, and in some way we gave them a freedom, citing that we wanted them to choose based on their passion, and not on their friends choices. This worked as well as we could have hoped, with a group having only one boy in it. He didn’t want to swap but was committed to his choice.
In the end our children worked on;
- Word Lists and subsequent activities
- Math / Number Games
- Beads and Badges
- Masks Kits
- Letters to the Orphans (Each of the 90 or so children got an individual letter)
- Animal Cutouts for the children to decorate
We really had no idea on the way to ‘let go’ – so we did. Each group pitched their ideas on how they would complete their activity and were constantly monitored to ensure progress. We opened up our classrooms at lunchtime and the students were free to come and go. We kept them consistently aware of the timeline and how much classroom time would be dedicated to their efforts. It was exciting to watch them work, and even more so knowing that it was their efforts that was making this come to fruition. The enthusiasm that the students had for these projects was beyond anything that Kathryn and I had witnessed before. Numerous times we heard students talking about the difference they were making. As their teachers, it was this connection that we wanted them to make the most.
Each group encountered problems and difficulties but to the students credit they rose to the challenge and either asked for assistance or resourced their answers themselves. It was impressive to watch them tackle their problems and come away with a collective answer.
In a way our project is not yet over. Kathryn is, as I type, in the middle of her trip. The students plan to Skype Kathryn and look at the photos and spot where the activities have been used. Most of them are keeping up to date with Kathryn’s blog and so when we resume today one of our first things we do will be to check in and make that connection. But before we ended the term we did a round circle allowing the children the chance to openly and honestly reflect on their efforts.
What these Year 4s contributed left Kathryn and I amazed;
What We Leant About Others
- Flexibility in thinking
- People have different capabilities
- People work really well in jobs they are passionate about
- When someone is trying their best you let them do it
- Others like to help you – bounce your ideas off each other
- People have different likes
- Working together is fun when we all co-operate
- Working for a purpose is fun and real
- People are less fortunate than ourselves – we are incredibly lucky
- Little arguments can be productive as you can work through them to get work done – which is most important
What We Would Do Differently
- Start tasks earlier
- Join different group and work harder
- Have a different roles in our group – to build other skills
- Help everyone
- Strategies and process of tasks to be a bit more organised
- Putting two people on one task increases productivity
- Not spend so much time on computer – refine what we’re looking for
- Watch the timeframe more closely
- The Project Manager needs to clarify when meeting with the teachers at the start what the rules / roles for others in the group are
Where To From Here?
This term we are handing over to them challenges based on our school environmental situation. We want them to explore the amount of rubbish we generate and what proportion of that is recyclable or green waste? How much do our heaters use? What can be done around the school to be more efficient in our energy and waste? We will this time, give them an issue and allow them to explore and find solutions according to their passions. We look forward to the challenge – for both them, and us, their teachers.