This half term I have been doing a lot of reflecting on my practice. I’m now in term 3 of my NQT year, am getting some wonderful training from the Three Rivers TSA, feel a real part of the team in my new school and seem to be settling into my new life as a Year 4 teacher in a rural first school.
Just before half term I had my first Forest Schools experience. This was something I had read about and the inclusion of a Forest School within the school grounds is one of the things that attracted me to my current school. To take me outside of my comfort zone a little bit I was given a group of Reception children to do something with outdoors. Before they came out their teacher had primed them to think about what trees would say if they could talk. My idea was to use the excellent (and free!) Chatterpix Kids app to take a photograph of a tree then let the children add their thoughts to animate the tree. The children had never used the app before but, within minutes of me showing them, were able to head into the woods and find a suitable tree to have a conversation with. The power of apps like this to engage learners are immense; we will be app smashing their videos in a couple of weeks into Book Creator so that I can start my whole school project to become published authors (in line with my mantra to change the audience for writing to improve standards.) I firmly believe that this is one way we can encourage children to write for a purpose; no longer are they just trying to satisfy the whims of the teacher, they now want to write something that is going to be seen by the world.
But what else of the outdoor environment and how does it work as an analogy for our tech practices? Fortunately during this holidays I have also read the incredible Playing With Fire: Embracing risk and danger in schools by the inspirational Mike Fairclough (@westrisejunior). Now a large part of me wanted to believe that Mike was certifiable, a loveable loony operating on the ragged edge of hipster knitted school culture. However I was pleasantly surprised to find that his book is an ode to the sensible, taking risks but constantly mitigating against the consequence. This central premise to his book reminded me of an article in The Telegraph some years ago about incidents of children playing on railway lines being on the increase as they needed to have some danger in their lives. I remember from my time in the Scouts as a child doing things that, when I wanted to become a Scout leader some years later, were simply “not allowed, because of Health and Safety and all that”!
Where Mike triumphs is by meeting these challenges head on. By allowing children to do things that are inherently dangerous he is allowing them to taste the rush of danger but in a managed environment. The risk still exists but is mitigated and systems are in place to make sure that nobody can come to harm. The key? Teaching children to do things that are dangerous properly.
Now can we then apply this theory to everything in the classroom? If we liken the “dangerous” environment to the Internet and our way of mitigating the danger to filter it or turn it off then we need to look at how we do things. Are we better off teaching children how to use the net properly, how to be good citizens on social media and not to believe everything we read online? Of course not everything on the net is suitable for a class full of primary children but should we turn it off or teach them how to deal with it? The genie is well and truly out of the bottle, we can see death and destruction on the lunchtime news, so is it time to remove the cotton wool a little and teach responsible tech use?
I’ve just managed to get YouTube allowed in school, social media is next – wish me luck!