Archive for May 12th, 2017

A bit of word wizardry

| May 12, 2017 | 0 Comments 

 A man with a cane leapt out and actually made us do things. Scary stuff for teachers and support staff. After all, a day in a golf club had sounded kind of relaxing. But Tim made it fun, striking a good balance between opening up his box of tricks, guiding us through some of the best sites on the web, and focussing on the way children learn.

We had the opportunity to experiment with one of the Myst games too. Tim’s ideas about using the landscapes to develop writing were very inspiring, and we were put in the position of learners ourselves. Role play of a visit to a castle showed us how we could use Powerpoint Shows alongside drama techniques to immerse the children.

I went back to school itching to try out some of these ideas, but first I had a problem to sort out. My topic with my Year 3 and 4 class had gone a bit off course. I needed to steer it back in the right direction. It was based on the idea that the ‘happily ever afters’ had been cancelled in Fantasy Land. The fairy tale characters now had to cope for themselves.

The idea behind the topic was for the children to think about being entrepreneurial, and invent ways of helping the characters to think for themselves and make a living. I’d put a poster on the wall of the Lord High Wizard – who’d decreed ‘Austerity in Fantasyland.’ ( See Attached) The children had got deeply into the topic – we’d had a letter from Hansel asking for our help. The children had decided to call themselves ‘The Fairy Tale Savers’. They decided that the ‘Lord High Wizard’ in the picture on the poster might not have the right to revoke the happily ever afters.

One of the children suggested he was actually Hansel’s evil witch in disguise. So the class had started to focus on how we could get to talk to this man to find out who he really was, and to challenge him. I was concerned that this could simply become a meeting between a mob of angry fairy tale savers and the Lord High Wizard. Our very own riots! However, I didn’t want to say no, and for the children to lose interest. What could I do?

Tim had introduced us to Crazy Talk, a way to animate pictures. So I came up with the idea of a Lord High Wizard who would get their sympathy – a sad Lord High Wizard who’d lost his father. To make this more real we could make a portrait of his father talk, Harry Potter style, so the father himself could tell the children why he’d decided these measures should be introduced. I downloaded Crazy Talk, played around with it and had a few technical problems. I’d commented on the blog the day after the training and knew Tim was very approachable and so I sent him an email asking him for help. He was fantastic. Over lunchtime the same day, he took the script I’d written and the picture I’d found and animated it brilliantly – and sent me back the file. When I heard his voice, I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the part so well!

I had a wizard’s hat so I took on the role of the Lord High Wizard! I displayed the animated portrait behind me on our huge screen in the hall. The children were taken through the scary forest (otherwise known as the playground) through the able imagination of my wonderful teaching assistant. When they came in they were ready to believe I was not just a middle aged woman in a rather floppy hat, but a real wizard… but would they still want to riot? As they began to talk to me they saw I was still really upset about my father’s death – and I told them he had been the one to introduce the austerity measures – and let him tell them why. They listened intently and the exercise really improved their speaking and listening skills – you could see them working out how they could respond kindly but still challenge gently. And their engagement was evident in their reactions.

Our clever ICT technician, Sian Hirst, who never gives up on anything –made a Powerpoint incorporating sound files of the children’s reactions, and the video of the talking portrait. We showed it in assembly to explain this complicated topic to the parents, and performed short plays written by the children about the fantasy characters and how they’d reacted – from Hansel and Gretel using their initiative and protecting their assets, to The Wizard of Oz group who focussed on the difficulties of making money when you had other businesses nearby.

Godfrey Evans, one of our governors, then used Crazy Talk to animate our learning animals – the animals remind us about how to use our learning skills.

And so Tim’s influence is ongoing. I follow this blog using the RSS email feed, and every day something bright and glittery drops into my inbox. One of the most useful things was Triptico (link) which has some great tools. I often use the grouping program –  the computer generates random groupings from my class list. The children are now used to working with lots of different people, improving their ability to work in any team, a real life skill.

And sometimes Tim’s ideas come at exactly the right time, as Machinarium did recently.  I’m hoping to use it to bring our environmental project to life. The web is full of exciting things, as long as you know where to look. Tim’s blog shines a light for us – and he likes to see how people are using his ideas. Do take time to let him know, and if you’re not sure about something just ask. He’ll answer, I can guarantee that – and you could well find your learning taking off in new and rather wonderful directions.