Everyone loves a treasure hunt

Last term was a knuckle-scraping slog. By the end of term the students seemed ‘full’ and unwilling or unable to take on board any more information. I’m reminded of it because I have just been to the Science museum in London, and although I was determined to spend the entire day there, having seen the range of exciting exhibits, after 2 hours my brain was leaking and I had to crawl out.
As we beckoned and cajoled the students towards the Easter break I did manage to light the fire of enthusiasm in my year 9 class with two particular lessons. One of them might be called foolhardy but I took a risk.
The purpose was for them to gather both facts and personal source evidence about rationing. The Enquiry Question centred on the variety of experiences of the Second World War at home; weighing up opinions and measuring them against the ‘stone cold facts’. However shunting a pen across the page had become a Herculean task for many pupils so I needed to make them desire the information. In a moment of pure optimism I decided to bill the whole exercise as a treasure hunt.
Each pupil was given two different coloured slips of paper. One with a fact and the other with a contemporaneous quote. They were informed that they needed to answer the question, ‘What was the impact of rationing?’ by finding relevant evidence. I thought I might be dreaming; the minute I mentioned a treasure hunt they visibly contracted into a state of high alert. This notwithstanding the fact the ‘treasure’ was a hoard of History information.
Having frequently organised Easter Egg Hunts, only to forget where I put the eggs I decided they should each hide their own two pieces of paper. Thus they could also retrieve them at the end of the game and avoid irritating the cleaners. The ground rules were that they had to allow at least a corner of the ‘treasure’ to peep out. Apart from that they could hide them anywhere. Then I let them loose, within certain parameters, on the corridor and inside the classroom. They scattered away, revelling in the subterfuge needed to secrete their evidence, without detection. After this they returned to class and grabbed their exercise books which they needed to record the information. The primary objective of discovering where others had hidden the information seemed to diminish the arduous nature of having to write things down.
Everyone swept off again, buzzing with excitement, whilst the LSA and I gawped in disbelief at the lack of passive resistance. The least motivated students simply tried to circumvent the exercise by sharing quotes with each other rather than hunting for them. They went to great lengths to hide their subversion without appreciating that their collaboration equally served my purpose. Actually a passing senior teacher on walkabout feared there was a riot in the corridor until she noticed they were all talking about History. It might possibly have disrupted everyone else’s lessons in the vicinity, but my mug was not deliberately smashed in the staff room later, so I think I got away with it.
After 20 minutes everyone legged it back into the classroom declaiming about the obscure locations in which they had successfully discovered quotes. Their energy translated into a heated discussion about the enquiry question, because everyone had different evidence. I hadn’t even dared hope for that, period six on a Thursday.
In the throes of my gambler’s lucky streak I then decided to design another risky, crowd-pleasing lesson for this class, set in a court room. The results will be outlined in another blog.

Charles I comes up Trumps



How can you teach the demise of Charles I? It’s a fascinating period; the build up to the Civil War, after all, shows the buds of democracy, the culmination of religious upheaval set in motion by Henry VIII and the prelude to a war which set families against each other and traumatised the English people for decades.
But it is ever so complicated for year 8.
We try to get students to unpick the decisions that Charles made and assess whether they showed good leadership or terrible judgement. Ideally they can tease out the differences between conflicts centred on religion, economics or power. However there are so many decisions over the course of seventeen years that they tangle together in an impenetrable knot. It can be difficult for a year 8 student to see the trees in the dark wood of history.
We use different media. For instance there are clips from Cromwell, with a rather fey Alec Guinness as Charles, to evaluate, http://youtu.be/qjoDZaARDSw
and excerpts from BBC class clips to explain his relationship with religion.http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/charles-is-policies-on-religion/11559.html

They can also split into groups to defend the behaviour of Charles or parliament in a court room scene.
But the best learning opportunity seems to come from Top Trumps. Everyone played it when they were young and by year 8 they have a sort of nostalgia for the game from ‘when they were children.’ I made 15 decision cards to fill in and illustrate. The illustrations highlight their relative understanding of the issue. For each decision Charles’ leadership is assessed for decisiveness, intelligence, strength, listening skills and trustworthiness. Students have to score each decision and then decide if it was aligned to religion, power or the economy. They are all inter-linked, of course, but one might be more dominant. More able students write his decisions themselves, right up until Charles raised his standard in Nottingham to declare war on parliament in 1642.
Making the cards is a creative homework and they come in excited with the promise of playing games. The scores given for his leadership then determine who wins each round of cards. It gets surprisingly competitive.

As you can see they enjoyed playing whilst unconsciously reflecting on the role of Charles. Following this the students had to organise the cards on their desks into categories and within these order them according to the quality of Charles’ decision making. Thus they had a ready made essay plan, divided into three paragraphs, with evidence of the events to cite and a criteria for judging Charles’ decision making.
They barely noticed they were learning which is much better than the assessment brain-ache  I used to observe contorting their faces before I thought of introducing Top Trumps.



Year 9 and competition

By the time year 9 have decided on their options it gets harder to motivate some students to work. With my current year 9 class competition seems to be the key to injecting energy and focus into the lessons. The other day they needed to obtain some basic factual evidence about evacuation which they could use to compare to source evidence. I decided to type the easier ‘describe;’ questions on red paper (worth 1 mark), explain questions on blue (2 marks) and analytical questions onto green (5 marks). The information was available in a text book or online.  Each student had to gain 10 marks in order write their name on the whiteboard. They could answer a combination of cards to reach 10 but they could only take one card to their desk at a time and it needed to be marked before they collected another card.

It seems that it doesn’t matter what the competition is about, my class want to win. It was a hectic lesson as they  raced to get their work marked so that they could attain 10 and write it on the board! Simples. (No one seemed to question why it was in any way rewarding to write your name on the board…)

In future I will select certain pupils to have answers to the simple questions so that I do not disappear under a throng of gigantic, impatient year 9 boys thrusting their books under my nose.

Incidentally, when I was berating members of the same class for not including titles and dates in their class work I threatened that if they continued to forget I would obtain permission from the Head to have it tattooed on their forearms to remind them.

‘We’ve done it before, and it worked!’ I asserted.

Horror crept across their faces, ‘Really?’

I think all this tells me is that they imagine I am so lacking in humour I couldn’t possibly have been making it up.

Rewarding idea for Year 10 History

boardgame 4

I love my Year 10 group, they are so keen to please. They just blinked a little in disappointment when I set them revision over the Christmas period so I told them to revise Hitler’s rise to power by making a board game. I’ve done this with younger groups but it felt like a bit too much fun for GCSE. They came up trumps (not literally- but certainly snakes) Not only did they do really well in their assessment but when I let them play the board games afterwards there was a huge variety and they were really engaged. I’ve included pictures of some of them. Games included:

A version of Lotto with a Hindenburg piece who can land on any of the pieces and ask difficult questions as they travel round the board

Who Am I? with images to tuck into  headband. Victims have to ask others who they are with ‘Yes/No’ questions

Various board games with Chance Cards

Snakes and Ladders.

When they played them competitiveness drew out an enthusiasm for facts, exact dates and vocabulary which had eluded some more laid-back  students until now. I wonder if there is a market for these games…

.boardgame 6board game 5boardgame3boardgameboardgame2


Munich putsch poem

It might see a bit vain but when I obliged a year 10 class to learn my rhyming poem about the Munich Putsch the results were impressive. I tried to scribe the poem ( which is stretching the genre a bit, to be fair) so that key words rhymed, therefore enabling students to learn  facts and vocabulary. I was also setting them up to learn things by heart which many have not been used to, since they got their times tables out of the way in primary school. The government steer on education, for better or worse, seems to be rote learning a lot of facts before the real thinking and application can be instigated.
The important thing is students had to come up with the last two verses themselves which made them think about key information. The outcome was a range of largely excruciating, arhythmic, and dubiously rhymed verses. In short we had a great time reading them out.
Here is an example of one verse of the poem so you get an idea
The Nazi thugs were talking,
They said, “We’ve lost our soul!”
They said “The French are walking in
And taking all our coal!
The Treaty has been vengeful,
Just Germany must pay,
And those Weimar men do nothing
So it’s time to have our say!”

And so it goes on. I won’t win any prizes for literature..

New teaching idea for the Enabling Act

As I groaned under the weight of Turkey and potatoes anchoring my stomach I suddenly felt inspired for an active way to teach the Enabling Law. It has nothing to do with turkey. Perhaps I finally felt relaxed after a long term followed by frantic Christmas preparations for a new idea to seep through.
It involves students acting out a range of roles. The key thing with this legislation is to convey the import of voting it all in. The consequences were catastrophic and students must go beyond just thinking ‘They were scared.’ They need to consider individual responsibility to society and the interplay of a complex number of reasons that went through the minds of the Weimar politicians when they handed over power to a brutal extremist. Students need to see the human face of this decision and recognise the temptation to feel helpless and hand over power to others in contemporary political systems.
I will make a series of cards reflecting the views of a range of politicians and also throw in a lot of SA bullies. They will need to mingle and have snatched conversations trying to decide what to do and then try to vote honestly. However the vote turns out will lead to an interesting discussion.
Watch this space for what I come up with.