This 'F' word you are wondering about?
I promise it is not the naughty one you might automatically head towards, although at times it seems as if it is almost as controversial, within some educational circles - especially nowadays with all this preoccupation with drumming in standards, formalised assessments and standardised testing. Policies that do little to encourage students and staff alike to come to work and school each day.
I am talking about FUN. That is correct - you read it right - FUN.
I am tired of people, and by people I mean politicians, sour pusses and general 'suck the enjoyment out of life' advocates, forgetting one very important truth.
Students are children.
Thats right - children. They are not 'mini me' adults or boring old stick in the mud entities that should be forced into a system that doesn't acknowledge that they are children. Children learn through playing, exploring and experiencing, and no manner of ill conceived policy or system changes that demand children sit still, be constantly tested and generally bore the heck out of them, will change that. If anything, it will simply create a whole generation of brassed off young people who will either act out or turn into mindless drones. That is not the world I want for my child or yours! I could go on and on about this but suffice to say, it is time we stood up for the young people in our schools and for the people we work with.
So, we decided as a team that we would do something about it. This year we wanted to make more of an effort to collaborate, provide authentic learning experiences and lift the 'fun' factor. My DP and I had attended the NZPF (New Zealand Principals) conference last year, and it was quite frankly, outstanding. In particular we really loved listening to UK guru Richard Gerver and we were particularly taken by his workshop on making school a place students want to come to each day. A place they would skip into each morning and be 'lining up at the gate' to get in.
Richard talked about the school he had turned around and how at a staff meeting when he had posed the question 'how do we make our school a place our students want to be at', how a young teacher had suggested making it like Disney Land. Not the physical space but the mental space. In other words, to make school a place that made you feel like you were in Disney Land - where your heart and soul was inspired and you just couldn't wait to get there each day. My DP and I resonated with this. So we challenged our own staff and our Board of Trustees with that same ideal.
Long story short, after a number of vision and goal workshops and some serious navel gazing (including discussions around data and what makes a difference), we decided that 2015 was going to kick off with (and maintain) a focus on engaging our students, bringing back FUN, and providing real, authentic learning opportunities. It was not just about making our place a place that students wanted to be at and staff enjoyed working at, but also to give our students some really engaging things to write about. Writing has always been our achilles heel in terms of data and it was time to look at this with a new lens.
I have blogged about the way we kicked off Inquiry Learning earlier this year, outlining how we used a 'crash landing', complete with cordoned off 'crash landing' site to spark our students imagination and get them excited about learning, but that is not all we have done.
Each term we have set aside specific days to collaborate as a whole school. During our House and Values days, students have been engrossed in a multitude of engaging, hands on activities. Students have participated in a wide range of Sports, including Dance and Skate Boarding (we have a class set of all the gear needed for Skate Boarding, because with Sport we believe it is important to expose our students to a wide range of codes - not just Rugby and Netball). They have built, designed and created. They have used digital media to create House jingles, cooked up yummy food, and worked together to make realistic looking wounds.
Then there was the learning around book week earlier this term. Our Junior school explored all things The Gruffalo, including forests in classrooms and crazy dress up days, culminating in a final Gruffalo feast and celebration. Our Senior school explored all things Harry Potter, which saw students making wands and each student getting a fabulous cloak to wear. As you can imagine, there were all sorts of FUN shenanigans taking place. Their big finale was a massive Hogwarts Feast, complete with a visit from Hagrid and a Quad Wizard Tournament (there was even fireworks!).
Please do not misunderstand me. It is not about gimmicks or things that go 'whizzy bangy'. It is also not about spending massive amounts of money, or by not being accountable. It is, however, about engaging students, making things interesting and providing students with opportunities to be active participants in their learning. It is about authentic learning opportunities and it is about our students improving. We all know it is not rocket science - if you enjoy what you do then you want to come back. It is early days, but mid year data is showing good shifts in all areas, and whilst I am reluctant to say it is because of this, I am confident it is part of the whole picture.
At the end of the day, we want our students to experience learning that spins their wheels and encourages them to bigger and better things. Who knows what doors will open for our students all because we dared to do something FUN.
Anyways, must go - tomorrow is SNOW DAY (that is a big deal in a sub tropical city like Auckland where the closest thing to snow is possibly hail, and even that is rare) and I can't wait to see the snowmen/people our classes create, not too mention their faces when they see snow for the first time!!!
ps If life is about making memories, then what is your school doing to create memories of authentic and engaging learning? How much of the 'F' word are you committed to?
|ANZAC Inquiry - Our Place|
|Harry Potter - Hagrid - Feasting - FUN|
|Harry Potter - Feasting Tables - Wizard Tournament|
|The many faces of learning including Skate Boarding|
|Creating Fake wounds - Vaseline, Tissue, Red Food Colouring|
sprinkled with Cocoa powder