Forced!

This is rhubarb ready to be harvested; you can be sure that we had a delicious rhubarb crumble for tea last night!  The reason that the rhubarb sticks in the forcer are so much taller and brighter coloured than the rhubarb in the open ground is that it has been stretching to reach the light.  Also, without light chlorophyll can’t develop in the leaves so there is no green to mask the bright red of the stalk or the yellow in the leaves.  Rhubarb is a very low maintenance crop to grow.  Even if children don’t cook it in school they might be able to sell it to their families.  I have also heard that the roots make a great natural dye ……more of this in a future post.

However, of more interest to me at the moment is the way that it can be forced.  The same has happened to the rhubarb as happened to the grass which  I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

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And also happened to these seedlings which I put in the airing cupboard to germinate but forgot to take out straight away.

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Encouraging children to talk about what has happened in all of these instances and why the plants are so pale and ‘stretched’ (the scientific term is etiolated) would be a great way to assess their understanding of what plants need to be healthy and why.  It would also help to reinforce the message that rhubarb and grass are plants too!  So often children think that plants include flowering herbaceous plants but forget that vegetables, trees and grass are plants too.

Give Away!

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I am going to have a blog give-away!  On the 7th March there will be a draw and the winner will receive a copy of this wonderful book.  It is crammed full of ideas of things that you can do with that most wonderful of toys ….. a stick.

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What a fab den!

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning a copy is to leave a comment on one of my blog posts.  That’s it, all you will have to do then is cross your fingers.

I will then use my randomised name generator (aka ‘the hat’) to choose one person to receive  a copy of their very own.

Sorry Dad, I am afraid that family members will not be eligible!

 

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Just a small selection of some of the ideas inside this inspirational book

Good Luck!

Journey Sticks

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A journey stick is a short piece of stick with elastic bands wrapped around it.  While children are outside, perhaps on a nature ramble, they can collect tiny samples of what they find and tuck them under the elastic.  The value of this is that it prompts children to talk about where they have been and what they have done afterwards.  Without this physical prompt younger children will often need a lot of adult support to talk about what they have done.

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A similar idea is a strip of card with double sided tape stuck to it.  It is gradually peeled back as tiny bits and pieces are added to it.  Although I like the idea of a journey stick I found that children found the card and sticky tape easier to manage.  Moreover the flowers tended to stay preserved on the card which meant that they can be kept and compared month by month.  They then give a valuable visual prompt to the changing of the seasons.

Although these are usually thought of as something to do with young children I find that when I give these to adults (or make one myself) it tends to really ‘switch one on’ to observing the world around and noticing all of the flowers, plants and other things that there are in the surrounding area.  Even when one has stopped collecting one carries on being much more observant.  Consequently I think that even older children would benefit from this activity, perhaps linked to poetry if it does not fit in with their science curriculum.

Recording Outdoors

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Sometimes it can seem as if there is only one path when it comes to recording and assessment and woe betide anyone who tries to do something different!

Earlier today I was asked by a colleague about my experiences of recording and assessing children’s work and learning while outside.   As I described in this post, I found playground chalks a valuable way to encourage children to record their learning; photographing any relevant drawing or writing meant that a permanent record could be kept of children’s work. (Although I always found that there was a tendency to take too many pictures due to the worry that there would not be enough evidence of what we had done).

I also liked to take photographs of what children were doing, for example I meant to take photographs when I took the children outside to make shadows.  However, by themselves I found that the photographs had little value.  Some of them looked posed and many of the pictures looked very similar even though the children in the pictures had demonstrated different levels of learning.  Annotating them helped but, to tell the truth, unless I made extensive notes during the lesson (which meant that I had to stop teaching) I often forgot what the pictures were meant to be showing!

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Instead I found that it was more valuable to ask the children to both take and annotate the photographs, perhaps adding a description of what they were doing or describing what they had learned.  One of the things that I liked about this approach was that the work showed different levels of attainment and allowed children to challenge themselves but did not restrict individuals by differentiating through task or by labelling them.  It also meant that children tended to have a good understanding of where they were with their learning and what their next steps were, especially if I found time to listen to them tell me about their pictures.

With younger children I still used to end up doing the writing, but wrote down what children said (I found a dictaphone invaluable for this).  Tomorrow I shall describe some other ways that younger children recorded their experiences outside.

Behaviour

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Sometimes when I talk to new teachers about going outside they tell me of their worries about behaviour; they wonder if it will be harder to control a class once they are no longer contained within the four walls of the classroom.  This reminds me of a quote I saw from a 14 year old boy with ADHD.                                                                                                                                 “When I go outside I don’t have ADHD”.

Yesterday I described a lesson about shadows with a Y3 class.  My abiding memory of that lesson is of one boy whose behaviour was often described as ‘challenging’.  While most of the children stayed close to me throughout the lesson he spent a lot of his time running around the field.  I kept my eye on him and was happy not to intervene as he was actually engaged by the subject matter and on task.  At one point he ran past our group with some sticks clutched to his head shouting                                                                                                                                “Look at me Mrs Winter; I’m a reindeer!”

Sure enough, his shadow looked as if it had antlers.  Next time he charged past his arm was outstretched and he told me it was an elephant’s trunk.  He joined the group to help make the dragon shadow, and he joined in our discussion about how shadows were formed.  I was happy that he had learned what I wanted him to during the lesson.  I had learned something too; I’d learned a little bit more about this child and his needs.

So often it is not children who are challening in themselves.  Rather it is the juxtaposition of their nature and the expectations that we make of them.  Although this is my most vivid example, I often found that it was easier to match my expectations to children’s behaviour when we worked outside the classroom rather than when we were confined indoors.

Sunshine and Shadows

 

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Bright winter days are the very best for exploring shadows!  The low sun means that shadows are large and obvious.  On bright winter days when my class was lining up they used to experiment with their shadows on the corridor wall, using their hands to make rabbits or monsters or making their bodies as large or small as they could.  In the summer their shadows were so low on the wall that they barely noticed them.

I remember one lesson that I did about shadows with a Y3 class.  My colleague stayed indoors and made shadow puppets.  I took my half of the class outside to explore our wonderful winter shadows.  First of all however we watched a useful John Lewis advertisment which really got the children talking about shadows, and keen to explore the ones that they could make themselves.

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I have found this John Lewis clip to be a great start to an exploration of shadows.

We spent a long time exploring the shadows that we could make with our bodies.  They made monsters and angels individually.  Then they worked in pairs to make elephants and giraffes.  Next, as a group, they made a many legged dragon.  They also used PE equipment to embelish their shadows.  They used chalks to draw around their shadows and then tried to fit exactly into their own and to each others.  They talked about why they could never quite manage it.

After a while I suggested that we work closer to the school building.  The children’s explanation of why this wouldn’t work (as we would have been in the shade) showed me that they had a good understanding of how shadows are formed.  I had planned for them to annotate the photos that we took; however an embarrassing technological hiccup meant that there were no photographs!  Nevertheless, listening to the children explaining to their class mates and teacher what we had been doing showed that most of them understood what I wanted them to.

Year 1

  • observe changes across the fours seasons

Year 3 

  • recognise that shadows are formed when the light from a light source is blocked by an opaque object
  • find patterns in the way that the size of shadows change

Year 5

  • use the idea of the Earth’s rotation to explain day and night and the apparent movement of the sun across the sky

EYFS

  • (Playing & Exploring) show curiostiy about objects
  • (Playing & Exploring) using senses to expore the world around them
  • (Mathematical 30-50 months) shows an interest in shapes in the envirnoment
  • (The World 30-50 months) talks about why things happen

Dig for Victory!

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Now is the time to start chitting potatoes.  This is when you carefully place your seed potatoes with most of the eyes facing upwards so that the sprouts start to develop before they are planted.

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This potato has already started to sprout but the shoot is very pale.  Now it is in the light any new sprouts will be green and much sturdier.

The term ‘seed potato’ is something of a misnomer as they are not seeds but tiny potatoes.  Although it would be possible to collect seed from potatoes they would take longer to develop into productive plants.  Moreover, they would not be ‘true’ to the plant from which they had been collected as they would be the result of sexual reproduction and combine characteristics from both parents (including some unexpected, and perhaps unwelcome, characteristics from past generations).  By using tiny potatoes we are able to make clones of the original parent which means that the plants are exact reproductions of the one from which it was taken.

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I was therefore able to choose a variety (Arran Pilot) which I know will have a waxy texture which is perfect to serve in a salad and another (Red Duke of York) which is more floury and suitable for roasting.  They are both ‘first earlies’ which are the quickest to be ready to harvest.  I expect to harvest both of these before the end of the summer term.  ‘Second earlies’ and ‘maincrop’ potatoes on the other hand will probably be ready in the summer holidays or when the current cohort of children has moved on to the next class.

The Potato Council has a project called ‘Grow Your Own Potatoes’ which sends potatoes and growing bags into schools for children to grow.  Sadly, registrations are closed for this year.  However, it is still worth taking a look at their website which is full of materials about growing and weighing potatoes.

If you plan to grow potatoes in bags you will only need a few.  I managed to find bags of six in Yorkshire Trading.  It is no doubt an expensive way to buy potatoes if you are adding up the cost of each potato.   However, I have purchased two varieties for less than a larger bag  in which all of the potatoes would have been the same.   If you can’t find any small bags why not put a shout out in your school news letter or website.  You may well have a gardening parent or grandparent who would be more than happy to donate a few seed potatoes.

Year 2

  • find out and describe how seeds and bulbs grow into mature plants

Year 3

  • identify and describe the funcions of different parts of flowering plants: roots, stem/trunk, leaves and flowers

EYFS

  • (The World ELG) make observations of plants, explain why some things occur and talk about changes
  • (The World 30-50 months) develop and understanding of growth, decay and changes over time

 

Evidence!

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What with all this rain, there has certainly been some mud around lately hasn’t there?  If you are lucky enough to work in a school which is near a muddy track why don’t you take your class and invite them to see if they can deduce who has been there before?  A lot of science involves trying to work out the whole picture from a limited amount of evidence. Astronomers, for example, use faint patterns of light to work out what is in outer space; forensic scientists examine the scene of a crime to ascertain ‘who dunnit’ and geologists and paleontologists find evidence of what happened many thousands of years ago from traces left behind.

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How many different vehicle, people and animals have passed this way?

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What could possibly have made this track?

 

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What has been happening here?

 

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What made this mark?

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Could this be a clue?

If you are unable to take your class to a muddy track perhaps you could take some photographs to show them and then challenge them to take photographs of their own when they are at home?  Perhaps they could share them on the school website and challenge others to work out what has happened?

Bird Song

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This picture is taken from the RSPB website

Yesterday I went for a walk and saw a skylark; I would not have seen it if I had not heard it singing first.  It is the same with goldfinches as, when I recognise their call, I look out for them.  However, I find it hard to learn to recognise bird song; it can be difficult to locate sounds and connect them to their source. Especially when there are many birds singing at once.

Listening out for bird song is a great activity to do with children.  It helps their concentration and general listening skills, as well as helping them to identify birds in their environment.  It links well with literacy lessons.  A brilliant resource to help you and your class learn to recognise different birds is the RSPB bird identifier which not only has pictures and descriptions of birds but audio clips of their song.   One difficulty is that it is not possible to look up a sound in the same way that one can use an identification key to identify a bird by appearance.  The way I have used it is to listen to a recording of a bird which I know is common in my locality, and then go outside and listen out for that song.  Children have enjoyed doing this too, and are very excited when they recognise a song that they have heard in class.

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Young female blackbird waiting for crumbs outside a cafe.

There is rarely time in a crowded curriculum to do this with older children.  However, I have found that some children, once introduced to this free resource are keen to use it in their own time.  It is often surprising how much bird song one can hear even during a noisy playtime.  I would love to hear how you get on if you do decide to listen for bird song with your class.

Reflections

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Yesterday I went for a walk to look at puddles.  In particular I was looking at the way light and images were reflected in them.  Sadly, I forgot to put the memory card in my camera when I went out in the rain so I didn’t get any pictures of rain drops falling into puddles.

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I love the juxtaposition of the squalid, grubby winter paths and the sublime images reflected in the puddles.

It was much harder to capture the clouds than the trees reflected in them.

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Some were too muddy to have any reflections at all.

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This one reminded me of Escher’s picture.

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I love puddles!  They are a wonderful opportunity to combine science learning with poetry and art.  I would love to hear about your experiences of teaching with puddles.