Category Archives: KS3

A trip to the Black Country Living Museum

A month ago, we packed the family into our ageing Megan, and travelled to the Black Country to see relatives and visit one of my favourite Museums, the Black Country Museum.  Sharing a hotel room with your tweenage family was, it turns out, a bit like sleeping in a busy badger set. Sighing, coughing, burping and breaking wind keeps us all awake as, outside, urban foxes voice the sleepless frustration that bubbles away inside.  In the morning we emerged blinking to breakfast next door at the brewer’s fayre – the idiopathic y adding little authenticity to the atmosphere of disinfectant and yesterday’s grease.

Then on to the Black Country Living Museum. I have been to the museum several times during my time teaching in Reading. That we were prepared to travel from Reading to Stourbridge with a coach full of kids to visit the museum year after year illustrates how highly we thought of the museum as a learning experience.  Put briefly, I loved that trip when I was teaching, and loved the way that the children learned from it.

One of the great things about the museum is the way it puts human scale against the Industrial. Maddy hates ‘ humanoids’ as she puts it – hating being at the bottom of the unhappy valley where ‘almost humans’ explain things that have emotional significance. All of us NT’s enjoyed the way that these helped us see the individual stories that in turn enabled us to see the bigger picture, and Maddy was able to listen to and later to recall with interest their stories of underground food and drink – ‘tack’ underground as well as the dangers of each of the different methods of digging out the coal.

Most memorable from their point of view was the young man sitting in the mine bottom, waiting for the pit pony and driver at a ventilation door, so unimportant that he was not allowed a candle. We imagined the stories that the child would tell itself in the dark – waiting for the sound of the hooves or the glimmer of a candle to disrupt the 12 hour shift, sitting on the floor of the tunnel in silence.

The museum covers industrial technical history – in the shape of the mine already discussed, but also using a working Newcomen EngineUntitled

This engine was used to pump water from mines – it is amazing in action – dramatic smoke and a swinging pump arm full of crashing power in a tall room full of heat. Underneath the machine is the weirdly hypnotic ash-pit. My young nephew spent a good 5 minutes watching the embers flitting down to the cooling ash pile.

UntitledAbove ground, the first houses you see are earlier than many of the other domestic settings, Pitt’s cottage, a one story self-built home, which contrasts with the back-to-backs further in to the museum, one of which is set slightly later in 1891 (and highly suggestive of overcrowding and poverty) and the other, set much more comfortably in 1924.

Where I think the museum is missing a trick is in not making more of the change over time (or perhaps even change over geography) aspects of the different houses and displays that they have gathered from around the black country. There is an element of this – many of the shops on the top row are more obviously from the 1930s – though the school is earlier – perhaps late 1800s.

UntitledOften however we’re just ‘in the past’. There’s a wealth of information on the website, but not much available as you wander around. It would take a strong guide to explain the transitions and contrasts between buildings and chronological periods, but I think this would be a worthwhile aim of the museum.

UntitledThere are very strong guides at the museum – the children particularly enjoyed the lady in the Chemist shop. Despite looking the model of idealised Victorian female propriety she was more than willing to delight in explaining the use of suppositories. She also showed the children how ‘the Victorians’ made pills, which they were enthralled by.

Untitled

It’s this handiness, the skill and often very hard labour involved in production that stays with me after a trip to the BCM. This is especially true of that the different kinds of metal work that the Black Country specialised in. Watching a man working in the Nail Shop not only shows the great skills involved in working metal and also in working metal so quickly that they could make a living out of it (there’s a great video on the page to show you how it was done), but the physical nature of the labour – the hardness of the work. The hammers, mangles, wash tubs, fire grates, carpet beaters, brushes, mops, files and other tools are on display in areas around the museum – in shops, in the hands of dummies, laid out on the floors of houses as if momentarily dropped or left. When you step back and consider how much of the work achieved by people using those tools is now achieved through the use of energy (in the form of fossil fuels, mostly) you realise how much the consumption of such energy has changed our lives.

UntitledI’m reading (slowly, it’s very long!) Frank Trentmann’s ‘Empire of Things’, which alongside this trip has made me realise how much today’s consumption of ‘goods’ is based on the provision of things like water, energy and sanitation that allows us to operate them, but which also gives us the time to operate and enjoy them. This is the other thing that I think the BCLM is perhaps missing – it’s implicit in the gas lamps, the coal scuttles and the water pipes, and in the bridges, canals and trolley buses, but I think that it too could be brought out more.

I’ll end this rambling set of reflections with what was a real treat. I’m a wannabe baker (isn’t everyone these days) and as a family we really liked looking into the Victorian bakery. The heat (it was a cold day) was very welcome, the smells and the bread, basic human nourishment, alongside the excellent volunteer guide, made us think very carefully about how people lived, how they fed themselves, and enjoyed life despite the difficulties. Last week we watched the excellent ‘Victorian Bakers‘ on the BBC iplayer and recognised the bakery on the second episode of the show. We were really gripped by the way the programme explored the nature of bread production over time – how it changed, what stayed the same, how the meaning of bread itself changed over time.

Victorian England, and the Victorian Black Country in particular wasn’t one ‘thing’ or even a set of different class-based ‘things’ – it was a time of unprecedented change in almost every aspect of the way people lived, ate, socialised, organised, travelled, and how they voted and persuaded each other – which is what the Victorian Bakers and the Victorian Slum BBC programmes were so good at helping us to see. If I had one wish for the BCM it would be that they found ways to explain this in more depth – perhaps even to help us walk though, in and out of these changes and make explicit comparisons and contrasts.

Day Two (before lunch) #SHP15 #SHP2015 Conference – Longer Texts

Straight into the workshops on Saturday morning. Breakfast is always a sea of people bending over conference packs and making choices over which workshop to attend. When schools are farsighted enough to send more than one delegate, or where friends have been made, you can often hear groups deciding who will go and report back on which workshop. I had so many I wanted to see and I heard of so many great workshops that I couldn’t get to. I try to see people I’ve not seen before, but even this rule doesn’t always make it easy to take decisions. You know, I think I would be kicking myself over not getting to see @bones_carmel do her workshop on engagement, but for the great sessions that I did get to.

Paul Nightingale and Tim Jenner’s workshop on ‘using extended original texts with less able students’ was very good – and just the right mix of ambition and practical examples. They started from the revelation that they could make reading and understanding a text the aim of the lesson, and that modelling different kinds of enthusiasm for text would help, but would only get students so far. Their take is that students who find history hard are often given less complicated texts, when what they need is to be ‘skilled-up’ and to an extent given the contextual knowledge to understand the more complicated texts. Having listened and taken part in this great session I think what they have really achieved is slowing pupil thinking down, and encouraged engagement with the text whilst at avoiding student anxiety about ‘getting it wrong’. That they have managed to do this creatively and with, wait for it… engagement with the text, is what makes their ideas compelling to try in the classroom.

Three activities really stuck out for me. The first was ‘stage directions‘ – making your students dramatise and present the action that takes place in a document. In small groups we played briefly at being pupils, and highlighted, scrawled and discussed ways in which we could make the meaning of our text come alive. I know I’m a 40 something history geek, and that this is hardly a scientific approach, but I think this great idea merits trying with students. With the right class, and with the right text (we had a Wilfred Owen poem) students might be able to use this technique to get to grips with text in deep and thoughtful ways.

The second was text mapping, which could be done individually, in pairs or in groups. With large copies of the text students are encouraged to highlight key features, key terms, argument, pictures, diagrams, summaries, conclusions, titles, headings, footnotes. In groups initial support for getting into a complex text could be given by asking lower attaining students to do simpler and increasingly complex highlighting. The crucial thing is that this is not the end of the use of the text. The highlighting is not the point of the activity, it is just the first activity – a way of helping students attain familiarity and confidence before moving on to other things.

The third I’m including because at first I internally dismissed it as something I’d seen before.  However, a few subtle details brought me up short.  Wordle has now been around for a while, and I went through a period of using it quite a lot, as a quick way of demonstrating the main theme in some writing.  I have in the past made students create wordles of their coursework or essays, in the hope that it would help them see their main themes (or lack of them).   I had started to think that it was a way of skimming over the details in a text and I worried that it stopped students from really reading a document – they didn’t need to if wordle had already summarized it.

Paul and Tim have taken the idea a little further by asking students to look at the smaller words in a wordle – the words that occur less frequently, but nonetheless are there. They ask ‘what’s the subtext?’, what ideas are being snuck in under the radar? They also suggested using a wordle to predict the content and thrust of a document before using some of their other techniques so that students can then compare their initial prediction with what they really find when they become familiar with its contents.

Overall, what struck me about their approach was the building of knowledge and confidence as students worked continuously on the text, and how this went hand in hand with the text itself. It was however never a crude ‘here’s what you need to know, now lets look at the text’ approach.  Subtle and energising stuff.

Then I was on doing the second outing of my own workshop – which went much better the second time around.  I’ll post the powerpoint soonish, probably after I’ve finished blogging about #SHP15 (who knows when at this rate).

H.A. Northern History Forum: Global Learning

Wednesday’s HA event at Leeds Trinity had a stall manned by Pearson which set out their ‘Global Learning Programme‘.  At the start of the keynote we were told of a CPD event being run by the university (and paid for by it too) deisgned to celebrate work being done by teachers on ‘Global Learning’. Global Learning is clearly ‘a thing’ right now.

The HA website has more details of its take on Global Learning, and I understand that they have been helping Pearson to develop the programme, offered on a website here. It’s hard to argue with the HA’s point that

“much of the history curriculum provides a clear context for the current debate about poverty, globalisation and inter-relationships between the countries of the world, and helps students understand the current debate.”

My mind is also drawn back to Donald Cumming’s talk to the SHP conference in July 2014 in which he rightly pointed out that we cannot really understand the history of any country (and perhaps especially not the one in which I live and teach) unless we understand the history of the countries around it and the wider world. Globalisation and global interdependency are not recent developments, and we’re not really teaching history if we deny this to our students.

Whilst I was reading the key aims of global learning cited by the GLP and the HA, I wondered about the kinds of substantive topics that we could use to help achieve these various aims to

help young people understand their role in a globally interdependent world and explore strategies by which they can make it more just and sustainable,

familiarise pupils with the concepts of interdependence, development, globalisation and sustainability

enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality

stimulate critical thinking about global issues, both at a whole school and pupil level

help schools promote greater awareness of poverty and sustainability

enable schools to explore alternative models of development and sustainability in the classroom.

It seems to me that there are many substantive topics that we could use in trying to reach these aims.   I can also see that thinking about these aims could encourage us to think differently about how we can ask students to think about the past from a global perspective.   Most obviously a comparative ‘long view’ approach of the kind developed by  Shemilt and Rick Rogers offers us a way of brining a historical eye to these aims. By comparing and contrasting different modes of trade, causes of poverty and wealth, and the development of campaigns against injustice over time we can help students understand how people in the past have wrestled with these issues.

If I can, I’d like to go to the conference, if only to see what it means to ‘enable teachers to move pupils from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality’.  It is this aspect of ‘global learning’ that causes me most trouble, and has since I started teaching.  When teaching histoy we are, in my opinion, teaching a way of thinking, rather than what to think about a particular event.  History doesn’t guarantee that our students will have a particular opinion about a topic, but should aim that they are well informed enough to form an opinion that is well-supported.  There are no single right answers to many historical questions, though there are lots of wrong ones!

So, I need to clear up what it means to be “moving students from a charity mentality to a social justice mentality”, so that I can make sure that I’m not trying to replicate my own mindset or political views in those of my students.

http://www.history.org.uk/resources/primary_resource_7836,7837_127.html

http://globaldimension.org.uk/glp/page/10807

http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/global-learning-celebration-tickets-15724652860

Northern History Forum

IMG_0061Last night I attended the Northern History forum at Leeds Trinity University, ran a workshop entitled ‘Playing Games in History’ and met some great teachers, new and experienced.

Ben Walsh gave the opening address, and reminded us of the benefit of asking ‘why am I teaching this?’ every now and then, as well as giving us some fantastic website tips. These included:

Dipity
Time Maps
Chronozoom

I was there to run a workshop, which I did, entitled ‘Playing with History’.  My aim was not to offer any over-arching theory, but just to present (with new teachers particularly in mind) some techniques that I have been honing over the years to keep lessons moving with purposeful pace.   You can find the materials for the talk on this page.

A Cup of Tea from the History Resource Cupboard #28daysofwriting

HistoryResourceCupboardSo, yesterday was the end of a long week (even for a part timer like me), and I was stuck for something to do with my year 9 class.  It was the end of the half term, they’d just done an assessment, and we’re planning on starting the First World War next term.  All in all I was stuck, with only a vague idea of what to do.  I fired up my onedrive and typed ’empire’ into the search engine, as I hoped to find a link between what we’d been studying and the coming war.

A brilliant lesson that I’d seen described at my first SHP conference flashed up. The files must have been sitting on my drive since then, and I punched the air as I realised that the wonderful people at History Resource Cupboard had saved my bacon.  I’d hit upon the first lesson in the great scheme of work about Britain, the Empire and the Industrial revolution, which you can find here.  I can’t recommend it enough, as it starts by asking students to consider the link between tea, coffee, cheap clothes, and other commodities, encourages them to make close but fun analysis of a piece of evidence and ends with some well supported writing.  If you’ve never taken a look at the site, please do – it’s great.

Why I love: the Memory Tea Tray Game #28daysofwriting

Memory GameWhen I was little we would sometimes play this game on wet afternoons (there being no youtube).  It is much easier with pictures than objects, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use either.  I often use images as icons for particular concepts, events or historical actors, especially where there are several factors or issues that we’ll be exploring over a couple of weeks or half a term.   Sometimes I’ll give the students these images, sometimes I’ll ask them to associate images themselves.   If we’ve been studying a topic without using these images then this memory game is a good way of introducing them as a tool for revision.  This also works really well as a starter, as there’s an element of time which encourages them to settle and to raise their game very early in the lesson.

Before the lesson I will find images that allow students to discuss causes, consequences, or other second order concepts, or those that enable us to talk about substantive events, people, trends or other historical content.   I can then arrange them on a powerpoint slide with the instruction that students have say 10 or 15 seconds to memorise them.

In class I tell them to close all their books, and to have a pen ready at the side. They’re to look at the screen / board and memorise the pictures that appear.  After the allotted time I change the slide (you can set powerpoint up to do this automatically too) and tell them they have a minute to write down as many of the items as they can remember.

Here’s one I made earlier about the causes of poverty in Elizabethan England.  You’ll notice that there are several important causes I’ve missed off – a good way of extending this idea is to ask students ‘which causes are not represented?’.  To push this further I can ask them to remember the images at the end of the lesson too – which works well as a plenary if the images, or the ideas that they represent are then explored in the lesson itself.

#28daysofwriting – Feedforward

Spring in the GlassGoing to be very brief this evening, but I did want to record how I got on with feedforward questions. This idea, which has been doing the rounds on twitter, involves teachers making comments on work and asking for improvements, or asking supplemental questions designed to move students’ understanding on.

I tried it with my year 9s, which worked well. I think that this was because my feedback was based on the work we had done on generalisations over several classes, and the work they had to do was improve a paragraph that they had written last lesson, and which I had marked in the meantime.

With my year 8 boys I tried writing questions that I hoped would enable them to extend their understanding, or improve their responses to questions they answered last lesson. This didn’t go as well – perhaps because I had much less concrete set of learning objectives for the work. This led me to give out a much more diverse set of feedback instructions, and didn’t allow the students to use their experiences in the previous lessons in the same way as my year 9s could in interpreting my advice. Also they were year 8 boys, it was the last lesson on Friday afternoon, and I was asking for independent thinking in response to written comments.

Why I love: Hotspot Taboo ( #28daysofwriting )

hot seatQuick one tonight, as I’m determined to keep up this #28daysofwriting effort.  I’ve been thinking a lot about playing games in lessons which seem to help learning.  One of my favourite types of games are hotspot games – such as ‘yes / no’, ‘guess who’ or ‘just a minute’ where someone comes to the front to play.  Recently I’ve been playing ‘hotspot taboo’ with my year 7 classes. Using Ian Dawson and Dale Banham’s book on King John, we’ve been coming up with lists of words and phrases that it would be really useful to be able to use if we want to explain the problem that medieval English kings had with the French, the Catholic Church and their own Barons.

We write those three lists (one for each problem) on the board.  Then we see if volunteers can accurately explain each problem without using any of the words on the board, like a whole class game of taboo.

If anyone hears the player use one of the taboo words they get to shout ‘TaboOooo!’ and then come up and have a go themselves.  It is great fun, but it also forces students to think of ways of explaining the importance or effect or causes of things.

Why I love: Marking

Harvest TimeI’m trying to work on a “do more marking than planning” basis this week. Partially as an experiment to see if I can, but also because I wonder if I spend too long thinking of cool things to do, and not enough time finding out whether those cool things have actually had an impact.

Yesterday I posted about the ‘Target Notes‘ idea that I half-inched from Paul Ginnis. Today I thought I’d share what I did with the marking of them. I flicked through, and looked for really good examples of the kind of generalisation that we were looking for in the middle ring of our notes. I then compared these with sentences which were much weaker generalisations. I did leave feedback, and I was able to note which students had really got what I meant, which were still unsure, and to know those students who found the whole thing mystifying. The marking also gave me a really good pointer about who to ask questions of in class, to check whether things had been going in.

So, armed with my understanding about the progress made during the last lesson, I made a powerpoint called Making Explanations and Generalisations which I hope enabled the students to compare these stronger and weaker generalisations, and which we then used to come up with some criteria for assessing generalisations. This only took 10 minutes at the start of the lesson, but it gave the rest of the lesson good momentum. This was mainly because I told the students to be ready to write a really strong generalisation at the end of the lesson – based on the (have to admit it) rather dull note taking exercise that they would be completing in the meantime.

In short, the marking planned my lesson, and gave me an excuse to set them up with a plenary that would allow me to see if they’ve moved on.