A year 4 teacher shares her story about her students who led an assembly in an unusual way where, instead of hours spent practicing lines and rehearsing, the students were learning how to create, do mathematics and write for an audience.
Like many schools, our primary school has regular assemblies which are led by different year groups to showcase learning. When we look at the purpose of assemblies they are:
- An opportunity for children to express themselves and present their learning.
- For teachers, parents and learners come together as a school community.
However there is a mould of assemblies that needs to be broken, that of the audience. There is an assumption that assembly audiences are there to sit and listen with maybe a bit of singing and clapping thrown in.
Enter the maker faire
A maker faire is basically a community coming together to build. With a year group assembly looming, one of my colleagues had a brilliant idea. Instead of spending the usual assembly where classes would spend hours practicing and rehearsing scenes and the audience sits and listens, the entire of the primary school could make a balloon car based on instructions written by our students. This seemed so much better than the usual process.
The students were still viewing and presenting, but would be doing so with their parents. Our year 5s and year 6s would help the children in the younger grades. The children were on board with showcasing their learning to a bigger audience in a different way.
One of the children identified a problem and asked: “Ms Stephanie, the year 1s can not read so well. How can they follow our instructions?” Enter Book Creator–an iPad app–which easily enables students to add pictures and text in book form. The added bonus of Book Creator is that alongside the traditional text, children can drop in audio files and movies. All of sudden a book was not just a book, it was a multimedia experience.
The next problem we encountered was distributing the materials. Rather than do the work of creating packs of supplies for each class to use, my co-teacher and I used this as an opportunity to do some real life multiplication and division. The students were responsible for making packs. They quickly worked out this project was going to require an enormous amount of mathematics. Some chose to use counting on while others were more confident using a variety of multiplication and addition strategies.
Using technology to document and overcome constraints
One of the creative constraints we faced for our assembly was a lack of space. Our school auditorium is snug when we are sitting together. But this assembly would require lots of space. Instead of all being in the same space, the children from the other year groups stayed in their classrooms. A Google Hangout was used to connect different classrooms together through the interactive whiteboard. We then visited different spaces to see what was going on with a few kids acting as reporters through iPads.
Would it have been better if we could have all been in the same place at the same time?
Absolutely. But the technology kept us linked without being intrusive.
After an initial trepidation about doing something different, the audience took to the maker faire with gusto. During the assembly one of the parents remarked to my co-teacher that the instructions were not so clear. What the parent had not realized was the instructions were written by their child. My co-teacher suggested feeding that observation back to the child and looking for ways to improve. This moment led to what we really want out of our assembly: conversations about learning.
Instead of hours spent practicing lines and rehearsing, the children were learning how to create, do mathematics and write for an audience. They still had an authentic audience and the only downside in the experience was feeling sad for the students whose families were not able to attend to share in the experience.
What I have learned
Be less helpful: If I had started with learning intentions and success criteria the students would not have been as interested. But by stepping back and looking for teachable moments, the children learned more and were more motivated.
If process is complex, keep the content simple: The year 4s are capable of making something far more sophisticated. But given the amount of learning areas we touched on in this assembly, a simple balloon car went a long way. We explored other lines of inquiry, but used the assembly to explain one thing really well.
Technology is great, but is not a substitute for good teaching: Much of this experience could have been achieved without iPads. However, the best part of learning with iPads is the students pick them up when they need to and then put them down again. Technology enabled the children to create and share the learning more effectively.
Connections matter: The maker theme of our unit came out of a tweet from @GCD28 about the global cardboard challenge.
But most importantly: Do not get bogged down in tradition for tradition’s sake. Look for the purpose behind the traditions.
Stephanie is a teacher of a year four students at Nexus International School in Singapore. A passionate advocate for making learning powerful, authentic and engaging, Stephanie has taught in elementary and middle schools in New Zealand, the Republic of Korea and now in Singapore.