How I transformed a normal History lesson into a research-intensive learn fest

Jim Maloney

Jim is a primary school teacher and SLT member who's interested in pushing the boundaries with regards to teaching and incorporating new technologies where there is direct benefit to the children's learning.

Follow @mister_jim

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As a teacher, I pride myself on thinking outside the box. Rather than going down the traditional route, I often think of more creative ways to teach lessons.

Two years ago, I had a class of 34 children, 21 of whom were boys - who fidget. As a result of this, I decided to do a learning style questionnaire. The figures amazed me; 60% of the class came up with a dominant kinaesthetic learning preference.

The need for hands-on learning opportunities was immense. So, I collaborated with another Year 6 teacher and designed a unit about the Aztecs, as part of our creative curriculum. The only difference was that I used our school blog, which I oversaw, as the starting point for the unit.

I asked the children to come up with things that they wanted to learn about (not an original idea) and make them post information about it to the blog page as a link. They responded by finding out loads about the Aztecs (most of which seemed to centre around ritual sacrifice – boys - and chocolate – both boys and girls!).

Once their ideas had been collated, the children organised the page into sections which included a timeline, maps and links specific to various different topics. They did this in lieu of homework that week – an idea that they came up with. I capped their time limit on it though, as it was a pretty daunting task!

By including them in the planning stage, they felt real ownership of the work. This, in turn, focused them and their work became more detailed. The main creative starting point was achieved through prior teaching of specific skills. I trusted them to research independently – a skill I had taught them. But it was also the fact that they knew I would value their ideas and use them.

They learnt that the Aztecs did loads of crazy things like the earliest recorded for of bungee jumping (not a safe version though) or invented a form of basket ball (sometimes using human heads). It was easy then, to link physical activities into the curriculum. We redesigned a netball court to resemble the playing area and afterwards, “sacrificed” the losing team at our “Temple” which really resembled the school staircase.

The beauty of incorporating work on a blog was that the parents could also access it. The children had a platform for their work & the classroom extended beyond the time constraints of both the school day & building.

It takes a bit of know-how to create a blog, but not loads. There are some fantastic examples around if you know where to look. Here’s one as a starting point. Heathfield Primary School in Bolton. Their Year 6 blog, run by Deputy Head, David Mitchell, includes loads of fantastic opportunities for embedded technology and learning. He’s a great one to follow on twitter too, @DeputyMitchell.

Like the title says, innovative teaching isn’t a whole new approach, it’s found by tweaking what you already do well.

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