Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Mazes (Part 3)

See Part 2 for basic maze instructions. When we did this as a class we spent a lot of time exploring the possibilities which result from the fact that, when you join two points together, as long as your line doesn't cross another line or touch it, your maze is topologically the same.  When you join those first two points you can take your line on as many diversions as you like as long as it doesn't cross or touch.  Like this:

When you enter the maze you can reach every part of it.  As long as your line doesn't touch the edge of the page you can reach every part of the page.

Mazes (Part 2)

Here's how to draw a maze.  Sorry it's taken so long!  When you have drawn the first two pictures in the sequence with the cross and the dots and the four right-angled pieces, pick two adjacent ends or dots and join them together with a bridge.  Then take the next pair of points to the right and left and join them with a bridge.  Continue as shown, but don't cross any lines, or let them touch.


Thursday, 10 January 2013

Mazes (Part 1)

As I remember it, a child came into school with one of those colouring books that have dot-to-dots and the occasional maze that you're meant to find the way through with your pencil.  We started talking about how hard it would be to design your own maze.  It ought to be easy, we thought.  Definitely easier than making a birds nest.  Though these were older children, and not the same ones.

The children quickly figured out that you needed one pathway through the maze to the objective, and lots of dead ends to fool the victim.  But it was hard to make the path through the maze un-obvious, and the dead ends were boring.  Plus, if you went wrong when you were drawing it was hard to put it right without making a mess.  So then we went out into the courtyard with every plastic and wooden brick we could borrow from other classes and made mazes using those.  They were more like winding pathways than mazes, but it was definitely fun to do and we spent a couple of afternoons outside in the sunshine doing it.

We were all thinking that a maze was something to get lost in, a place where it was hard to find your way out.  Then I came across a simple set of instructions for drawing the classical maze in the picture above.  The maze has a single pathway that goes all the way to the centre and the pathway occupies the whole of the space.  There are no dead ends and you can't get lost, but it's definitely a maze. 

So, I wondered how easy it would be to teach the children to draw one of these.  They were 6, 7 and 8 years old, so I figured the older ones could help the younger ones.  It took a couple of days, but eventually we could all do it.  It felt just like being able to do magic.  It's very like when I used to make rings and discovered that most people were completely baffled by the mystery of joining two pieces of gold together invisibly.  People would look at the mazes the children had drawn and not have a clue how they'd done it.

That was just the beginning.

(Instructions for drawing the maze coming up next time!).

Friday, 28 December 2012

BIrds' Nests

I was talking to some young teachers at school and they were asking me what it was like in the mythical times before the National Curriculum.  I started telling them about some of the things we did back then.  The funny thing is, you could still do these things today, although you would have to think of some Learning Objectives, write them up in big writing and nail them to the classroom wall before you began.  This might possibly remove a little of the fun.  You do not always know what you are going to learn when you start to do something!  So here is the first in a series of small adventures in Primary education.  Think of it as an antidote to Govism.

One morning a five-year-old turned up at school with a bird's nest.  I have no idea what kind of a bird made it, though I'm sure we looked it up at the time.  It was a perfect little bowl, made from fragments of woven straw and grass and beautifully lined with the softest moss and feathers. 'I wonder how hard it would be to make one of those?' I said, just thinking out loud really.
'Easy!' they all said.  'Let's try.'

So we spent a morning collecting materials and couldn't find everything we needed on the school field. At the weekend we collected a lot more, and some clever child (or their parents) discovered that mud might be a useful element in some kinds of nests, so we made some of that too.  Then we set to work.  It was wonderfully messy, and we didn't make a single habitable nest.  It turns out that making nests is just one of many things that birds do much better than us.  I guess that's what we learned - making birds' nests is very difficult if you are not a bird.

We didn't write about this activity.  I didn't carry out any assessments.  But I am fairly sure that those children will still remember the day they tried to make birds' nests, twenty-five years ago.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

My grandmother

This is one of the photographs pinned to the noticeboard in the room where I write.  You wouldn't want to meet this lot in a dark alley, would you?  My grandmother is the one on the left and it is said that she hated this picture, but I love it.  I think she thought it looked as if she was wearing the living-room curtains.  Maybe she was.  These are proper old ladies, although I don't think they can be that old - sixty-ish probably.  From the moment I first remember her she always seemed to look pretty much like this.

People really do age more slowly these days.  I have old photos of children before the war and the fourteen-year-olds look about fifty.  Young men of twenty dressed in tweeds and grey flannels with pipes their mouths look twenty years older than they really are.

My grandmother lived to be ninety-four.  She lived just long enough to meet my daughter, Emily, and to advise us to feed her on bread-and-milk.  I don't think we took her advice.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Fair Isle

Fair Isle is an island of birds, although there are some people there too.  This summer when we were there, the island appeared to be guarded by this lonely sentinel.  It's a solitary Whooper Swan, and I don't know what it was waiting for.

We stayed at the Auld Haa Guesthouse and could not have had a better time.  Thanks to Tommy, Liz and Henry.  This is a link to Tommy's Fair Isle blog.  Can it be possible that there are more bird-watchers than birds?  More of my own Shetland and  Fair Isle photos are here.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Michael Gove

Michael Gove wants children to learn more facts. Why? Because we can benchmark more easily. He just kind of slipped that in to his interview on the Today programme where they were all very matey together (Gove used to work on the programme as a researcher).

Governments always want something to measure in the slippery world of education. It started with Robert Lowe, who brought in 'Payment by Results' back in the nineteenth century. Because schools and teachers were paid according to how well the kids learnt the few things they were tested on (the three 'R's - amazing how persistent these ideas are) the teachers taught to the test and the kids didn't learn very much. Later Lowe said, and I quote approximately from memory, 'if we could have found anything more easy to measure we would have used that.'

Gove says that he isn't going to tell us which facts to teach. He's appointed a bunch of his mates to do that. There isn't a single headteacher from a comprehensive on the panel. I'm not surprised - we expect this kind of thing from the Tories. But I don't hear much from their coalition partners on this subject. Do any of them really care about education? Do any of them ever read education research findings? If they do then they ignore them. I don't suppose you climb to the top in politics by listening to teachers and researchers.