Primary Musings

thoughts of an every day teacher

What if…

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I used Mantle of the Expert this half term and it’s been a really effective, not to mention fun, way of immersing the children in their learning. Here are my highlights (with thanks to @imagineinquiry, whose ideas I have used and adapted to suit my own context).

We began by looking at the notice board of Time Team, a group of expert archaeologists who have made successful programmes about different periods in history. I deliberately produced certificates, awards and letters to reflect historical periods I knew my children had already learned about, so it was a short leap to suggest we become this team to make a new programme about the Saxons.

The children were very excited about turning our classroom into an office. We rearranged the furniture, made I.D. badges and even created a ‘security system’ with a hand-scanner and codes on the door! One of the most revealing activities was creating an order list for equipment we thought we might need. The children’s language and reasoning expanded before my eyes as they suggested everything from microscopes, brushes and magnifying glasses to cameras, computers and paper clips!

We had lots of great episodes in our learning sequence, but one of my favourites was taking part in a Time Team dig. Previously, we had been to the Birmingham museum to see the Staffordshire Hoard and had done lots of work around Saxon artefacts. I started the session by showing the children a clip from a real Time Team episode based around a Saxon dig, then asked if they’d like to join in. We had a masking tape grid set up on the carpet (also great for teaching co-ordinates and translation!) and the children set about enthusiastically ‘unearthing’ treasures from the ground in their imagination. There were real sieves and paintbrushes which some children chose as their equipment, while others preferred to imagine they were operating metal detectors and diggers. As the children ‘dug’ they handled their fragile objects with great care and recorded their finds meticulously. I knew the children where highly engaged when many of them said “I’ve finished with this artefact, can I find another one?” and went back to the carpet to dig again!

Altogether, they ‘found’ parts of skeletons, sword handles, shield bosses, pottery, jewellery, sword pyramids and spoons and cups with Christian inscriptions on them. Their sketches and explanations showed a great understanding of the artefacts we had previously learned about, what kinds of Saxon artefacts were likely to be found, and what these things can tell us about who might have lived and died around the site. All excellent historical skills.

Our work as Time Team culminated with the children presenting their ideas to our Headteacher, who was in role as a BBC producer, come to see if he would like to commission our Saxon programme. Each group was responsible for a different episode which would be about a different aspect of Saxon history, including one based around Beowulf and Saxon myths to tie in with our English work. Our Head did a great job engaging seriously with the children and asking them questions in role, which again helped to demonstrate all their learning. You’ll be pleased to know our bid was successful and we received a £2, 000, 000 advance to make the show!

On reflection, my feedback to myself is as follows:

  • Rearranging the classroom was a great idea. Doing it with the children, then asking a colleague to help me move it round again to get it just right, was an even better idea. I needed some carpet space for drama-type stuff and also a space for gathering the children in close when I wanted to move our story on. But I didn’t want my Year 4s to  feel they were being ‘babied’ by being made to sit on the carpet again. Calling it our ‘meeting room’ and doing the initial rearranging with the children gave them ownership and made the space purposeful.
  • Being very explicit that we were using our imagination worked very well. I picked up this tip from @rkieran and I think this is what held the whole mantle together in many ways. I was very clear from the start about how we are going to step into our story using our imagination. For instance, when we began to move furniture, I said “we know that in the real world, this is a classroom with tables and chairs. But what if it was an office space for a team of archaeologists? What would it look like? What might we need in here? How should it be set out?” Using this kind of language is great because the children don’t have to spend all their time wondering if you’re really tricking them, or refusing to join in because it’s not real. We all know it’s not real, but we all agree to suspend our disbelief and engage in the moment. At first we talked quite a bit about the difference between the real world and the (what) if world, but I found that once this was established, the children were able to switch fluently between the two with confidence and understanding. Right at the end of term, one of my children said, “I think if stands for Imagination Followed.” A perfect explanation.
  • I need to look at some better ways of evidencing the great things that are happening in my room. I’m going to talk to our fab reception teachers again about how they do this and what ideas I can borrow from them. If you have any great ideas on this, please let me know!



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