Category Archives: Asking questions

TEDxKids@Sunderland – the start of the story

TEDx shapes appear at every authorised TEDx event

Pupils making the freestanding TEDx letters which appear at every licensed TEDx event

Anyone who follows my twitter feed – or that of Ewan McIntosh or Tom Barrett of NoTosh probably couldn’t miss that last Friday, 27th May 2011, was the day Year 3 and Year 4 students from one primary school in Sunderland, UK achieved a remarkable event – their own TEDx developed, organised, performed and documented by the pupils in those two classes. Through a wonderfully pupil led project those young people approached a task many adults would think twice (and maybe more) about.

TED is a global phenomena – inspirational talks presented at TED events but made available through the internet. In their words: “TED’s mission is spreading ideas. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building  a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”  TEDx is: “designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.”

The first of the audience arriving for TEDxKids@Sunderland

So how did a group of pupils in Sunderland tap into and respond to this? In this first of a number of posts I’ll be making about the project I’ll describe a little of the early part of the journey. This journey that led pupils to be delivering talks about their passions and concerns, talks including: Why you should raise money for Cancer Research…Why my Mum is my best Friend… How big are families?…What are you doing about car pollution?… What would it be like to win Wimbledon?… Why slugs have slime… Do you know what it is like to be me?

In its final year of the Creative Partnerships programme, the TEDxKids@Sunderland school wanted to continue with a strand that had run across the two previous year. The enquiry question summarised this as: “Can more opportunities for ‘speaking out’ support pupils in extending their vocabulary and understanding situation appropriate language, and support the understanding of body and facial expression?” They particularly wanted pupils to be able to better understand the range of appropriate language forms that exist and to be able to modulate between them successfully – thus extending their speaking skills to benefit both their literacy skills and to support them through life.

One of the joys of working as an Agent on the Creative Partnerships Change School programme is it giving me a three year relationship, assisting schools to build enquiry based creative programmes (supported by creative practitioners) which aim to respond to key objectives within their school development plan. My knowledge of the pupils and staff grew and with that an understanding of approaches that would challenge everyone but also energise them and stand a good chance of being deliverable. But there are never any certainties in a process which encourages appropriate risk taking.

In Spring 2010 I had the opportunity to see Ewan McIntosh speak at a conference. I was inspired by his emphasis on learning for purpose and willingness to challenge school leaders about their fears of new technology. I immediately applied for a bursary to secure some mentoring support from him – around building knowledge of use of social media and wider technology (It was successful – hurrah!!). In spending time with him I came to learn that language was something Ewan was passionate about so it occurred to me that he might have an interest in the school’s  enquiry. The response he came up with was a brave one, and he enthused to me (on my mobile phone at a service station carpark!) “wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when you offer young children a format like TED, what would they make of it? How far would they take it? How might they respond to it?”

I hope you can see that right from the start it was a curiosity about the pupils response and actions – it wasn’t ‘lets organise a TEDx’ but ‘lets see what the pupils want to do with this.’ This pupil led approach was perfect for the ethos of Creative Partnerships, and taking it back to the school it was greeted with enthusiasm from the Head, who turned out to be a TED lover already, and with a deep breath, and some intrepidation,  we were off…

Y5/6 using geocaches, google maps and QR codes to tell their story

http://www.thorntopedia.co.uk - one of a number of individually designed geo-cache treasure boxes hidden around the trail, created by pupils.

“Y5/6 have been transformed in how they work together and they have managed to change their attitude towards their own learning and the different styles they can use in order to achieve this.”

Deputy Head, Thornton Dale Primary School.

When the pupils of Y5/6 interviewed four candidates to work with them it was Invisible Flock, and interactive trio of artists based in Leeds that they wanted to work with. Artists had responded to a very open call for practitioners who could assist the pupils in learning out more about their area through an enquiry based approach. With over 40 applications the pupils had a lot of choice, from animators to storytellers, from dancers to writers, from musicians to actors – but at the end of the project were still absolutely sure they selected well.

Invisible Flock appealed to pupils partly because of their immediacy of engagement; they spent the whole of their interview time with pupils in the school grounds – encouraging pupils in making a secret trail which their friends could try and work out at playtime. But also the quality of the idea they offered – that they could assist the pupils in them developing a mystery trail across the whole village that could draw on factual knowledge but be enhanced by fictional content, that could involve people finding out about it on the computer and bring them to North Yorkshire to try to follow it. They were very clear that the pupils would lead this, that they would need to come up with ideas and ways to make it work. For the school this was a great fit to the enquiry based learning model that they sought to embed in school.

Together the artists and pupils created an interactive story trail around Thornton le Dale which follows clues hidden in hand made treasure boxes and backed up with online access through the projects own web-site and geocashing sites. On completion of the trail the final code discovered allows access, through the website, to a print out of the full story written by pupils. The trail stop off at key areas, where the treasure boxes are hidden and must be sought out in order for the participants to continue on the adventure. These boxes each hold small tasks and puzzles that need solving, send them to other places on the map, and ask them to annotate and alter their maps as they interact with the geography of their surroundings in a brand new way.

Pupils developed over a number of weeks an extended story, full of characters and plots that took you on a circuit of the area, introducing intrigue and mystery along the way. Key spots had been determined on a class tour of the village, and some characters built from church and graveyard inscriptions backed up with classroom research and plenty of  fictional spice.

Pupils took turns capturing the story being developed aurally as text

Some pupils recount: “Making the story up was really hard. Our group decided we had to involve all the class, so there were quite of lot of agreements and disagreements.” “We made up all of the story, we mostly did it as a big table, we haven’t done it like that before. It is easier to make it up together – because there are different ideas, not just yours” “We took some votes to help make decisions, like the title – the people who lost just got on with it really, they didn’t make a huge fuss or anything. That was good.”

They felt what made it easier was… “imagination” “Everyone’s ideas helped, someone would say something and then all of a sudden you would get an idea like theirs but a bit different. Although sometimes you’d say ‘how is that going to work?.’” Others added “I was surprised that most people’s ideas could get in. When you think about it there are 29 of us in the class, and there are 8 characters in it – but that is everybody’s ideas” “We wound up at the end of one day with 2 whole big boards just full of ideas. We were working quite hard really. It didn’t really feel like work – it felt enjoyable.”

Building up a google map on the website

A pupil spoke of his “Disbelief sometimes, about what we were doing. The first week or two weeks we’d had fun but we weren’t very far on, we had loads of stuff to do, we were ‘we’re not going to finish this’, we had a lot to do.” “We only started to create the boxes on the second to last week.” “Everyone worked hard at the end – all you could see was everyone was getting their head down and doing, people were walking about getting stuff straight away, back down on with it. Before that it was a bit more casual. We had to finish it.”

Pupils were aware that their two class teachers had taken on a different role, describing that “they wandered around watching what people were doing and stuff, and giving ideas” realising that the teachers were supporting rather than leading. One boy added “Because it was quite busy they were kind of like kit managers – making sure we had what we needed.”

Staff were of course taking notice of pupils response.”They took responsibility for their own learning because it was their product. It wasn’t a stuffy map – it was state of the art, cutting edge practice they were doing. It was relevant to them. It captured their interest from the start.  But the pupils had to be creative with the story they created – they had to have the basics behind it, they had to have the skills to make the boxes – it was a great blend of technology, traditional arts and crafts and creative writing – it had to be all of those to make it work. It wasn’t about just being behind the computers.”

“It was research for a reason, they were ‘we have got a map and we are putting things on the map’, so they had to transfer over the results of the research so it was there on the map and people could click on it. It wasn’t theoretical and this meant pupils wanted to be thorough in the way they approached it. They were coming up with ideas and generating solutions – all the time. The amount of discussion they had with the artists was impressive, who listened to their ideas constantly. Even the daftest of ideas were in there – Invisible Flock were very good at including everything the children said, if they wanted a troll under the bridge they had a troll under the bridge. They saw how this could all be made to work – they were challenged to find ways to make it all work”

Checking the QR code in a treasure box lid

Staff saw a considerable level of cross transference of skills, from geography and history work previously completed (such as use of mapping and historical study of the local area) to home based computer knowledge feeding into to the classroom (such as annotating google maps). The project introduced pupils to new materials and approaches – from QR codes and scanning and manipulating of images  to varnishing wood, engraving metal, wood and plastic. Developing a story as a group created a very explicit experience of how it could be built – as everyone pitched in and negotiated and accepted or challenged each others ideas. They had to find congruence between suggestions to maintain the integrity of the story – and always think of the external reader, how to engage and surprise them.

Pupils value that others will experience the results of the project, that their work was an appropriate standard to place in the public realm “it is exciting that people outside will find out about the story – they can find out what happens as usual but they might have a race if they do it with friends, see who does it best” “I will do it with my mum and dad but won’t tell them the answers, see if they can work it out.” “We have put a geo-cache in Wardle’s [newsagents] shop window, they let us because we have done this really good treasure trail thing.”

Pupils’ biggest surprise was that they actually did the project “At the start of it I didn’t think we were going to do, it was just an idea that was out of this world. Sometimes you plan things and they don’t happen – but sometimes they do like in this case. It is better than I ever thought it was going to be.”

As a Creative Partnerships Creative Agent my role in this work was to work with the school to develop creative ideas in response to key learning targets within the school development plan. This included linking them with appropriate artists to support them. I assisted everyone through the delivery as well as gathering documentation and evaluation along the way. The school really appreciated the child led approach  I encouraged in this role, right from the early ideas generation and selection of artists to the final reflection processes.

Do let us know if you follow the trail…..

A hint - don't tell anyone