Bunting from scraps of fabric

I’ve been doing a bit of sewing this year and I have an idea of a little project for like-minded people out there… For every sewing project I’ve done this year, I’ve kept scraps of fabrics and yesterday I sewed them all together to make a couple of patchwork triangles Sewing these together and attaching them to a ribbon has formed the start of a chain of bunting. The idea is to do the same next year and the year after and so create an ever-increasing length of bunting that will also be a record of all my individual sewing projects. Hope you like it!

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Creative Curriculum

Following our recent Ofsted inspection, the Year 5 staff have received some CPD on long term planning this week. Our curriculum needs serious revision and our year group are going to trial a new curriculum for the second summer half term. The teachers spent two days with creative curriculum consultants, planning a new way of teaching our afternoon lessons. The idea is to ditch subjects and move to a more ‘fluid’ learning approach, which doesn’t put learning into boxes and timetables. Some teachers would say ‘oh that’s like the topic learning we did before the National Curriculum came in’. But it’s not. I’ve learnt this week that the current thinking in approaching learning is based on themes. And ‘themes’ is not a word you can interchange with ‘topic’. So it’s not like taking ‘Rivers’ and linking all your music to rivers, linking all your art to rivers and linking your science to rivers. That’s still a topic-based approach. Thematic learning requires a whole new mindset.

We have been told that you need to think of 3 learning skills (we’ve gone for using imagination, reasoning and understanding others’ feelings) and 3 ‘big ideas’ (ours are environment, viewpoints and responsibility). Then all your learning must link to some or all of these key phrases. The suggestion is to have these words and phrases stuck up around the classroom and to use the activities you provide the children as a way of exploring these skills and concepts. They really have to remain the focus, so that you don’t get distracted by simply teaching ‘fun activities’, doing little projects and covering ‘topics’ with little meaning behind them. The emphasis is on learning to be a learner, not on acquiring knowledge. We have tried to plan in such a way that the key phrases are not only the focus of the learning experience but show a progression in learning too. We look at reasoning in its basic form of breaking down big ideas, before looking at how others reason in terms of persuading you to follow their line of thinking. We finish the unit with children needing to use their knowledge and skills of reasoning to persuade a jury in a role-play court case. In terms of environment, we’re looking at the usage of water locally in our school, then regionally and nationally as humans take it from the rivers to use in urban areas and then globally as we look at areas of freshwater scarcity. (These aspects of environment link very clearly with the theme of responsibility.)

It seems to me that this approach is going to require a heck of a lot of planning, as there are no set schemes of work out there. It’s not like following a QCA unit. Anyway this approach is designed for the children you work with; you focus on the learning skills that you think they need to develop, so there shouldn’t be set units. Resourcing it and planning it is going to be difficult. Also, changing from subject and timetable-based learning is going to be a huge thing for the children. They are going to panic that they are missing out on their ICT slot! My personal worry is that we are not going to get the coverage required by the National Curriculum. I fear massive gaps in certain ‘subjects’.

However the advantages are as huge as the worries. The learning is going to be so much more relevant to the real world, often homing in on current issues, ethical questions and children’s own interests and questions. There is so much more freedom in the learning and, as it is not timetabled, certain ‘projects’ or concepts can be taken into much more detail or last longer if the children get on board with it. The approach is going to be a lot more child-led and teachers become faciliters of learning rather than the fount of all knowledge. But best of all in my view is that children will hopefully learn to grapple with huge concepts and ideas, which will be lifelong concepts and ideas. They will also learn the skills of being a learner. Thus we are equipping them better for the future, when the ‘knowledge’ we are teaching them now will most likely be superseded by something as yet unknown! If you know how to be a learner, you can learn anything in the future.

I’m not going to kid myself and think they will adapt to it straight away, or even enjoy the approach at first. It’s going to be hard for them and us to change our mentality and view of how we ‘do’ learning. It is going to be hard work and teachers and pupils are going to make mistakes. I don’t even know if we’ll end up doing it ‘properly’ or settle for a happy half-way approach. But I am willing to try it in the hope that we might be able to engage certain pupils who, at the moment, are not showing the right attitude towards their learning at school. And I’m hoping that some of the ‘big ideas’ and concepts will really push our more able and encourage them to take their learning into their own hands.

The privilege of fanning into flame the interests of primary pupils

It is amazing what a tiny bit of encouragement can achieve. A couple of weeks ago, a ten-year-old boy in my class was looking out of the window and he commented on a bird that was out there. What impressed me was that the boy knew the bird’s name, so I went over to join him and we chatted briefly about the birds before I heard myself saying ‘What we need is a bird feeder. Then we’ll get to see the birds and they’ll get food during all this snow.’ The boy enthusiastically agreed and, I have learnt, once a primary school child gets something into their head and they’ve heard you say something about it, they will pester, pester, pester until something happens! I decided that on this occasion I would be so on the ball that there would be no need for pestering on his part and guilt about inaction on mine. After all, here was my chance to encourage a more ‘wholesome’ hobby than what a lot of children these days pursue and I couldn’t let the chance slip by.

The next day, I arrived at school with my bird feeder and, as it waited patiently on my desk, the children commented on it, touched it and asked about it, like children do. During wet break time, the aforementioned boy and I donned our wellies and tramped round the school grounds to the tree by our classroom window. We hung up the feeder, with an audience of ten or fifteen warm and curious children, and then we trudged back inside.

Instantly children were interested, some spending every spare moment at the window. I printed off a poster of common garden birds and stuck it to the window. By the end of the day, children had ticked off a number of species. The next day, the bird-watcher boy bought his Bird Book in and another boy bought in binoculars. Since it was the last day of term (and to be honest we weren’t doing much), some children spent ages by the window. Including wet break times, I figured this core group of 4 or 5 boys had spent about 3 hours bird watching. At lunchtime, they asked if they could use the class computer to make their own poster of the birds they were seeing regularly, in order to help their friends identify them. They also wanted to create a picture-based tally chart to keep a record of our sightings each day. Obviously I said yes.

I was shocked at how a bird feeder, a poster and a little spare time at the end of term had nurtured an interest in these children. What shocked me most of all was that the core group of bird-watchers were all boys and the usually boisterous, “cool” ones too! I have now bought the ‘refill’ for the bird feeder, ordered some cheap binoculars for the classroom and I’m on the lookout for a nice laminated poster to replace the print out. My only worry is the level of distraction the window will provide during main lessons!

From this experience, I would encourage any teachers out there to grab hold of whatever interest you see flickering among your pupils. Find some small and simple way of nurturing it and then let the children do the rest. Once they see they have your support, they’ll take it the rest of the way! It is a great thing to witness and a great thing to be involved in.

Good Friday – Why?

Last week, one of the children in my class rightly asked, ‘Why is it called Good Friday if that’s the day when Jesus died?’ There is so much in the Christian faith that seems confusing at first glance but I think God has made it this way because He loves us to ask questions. He wants us to engage with what He’s doing; he wants us to use the brains that we’ve been given and work out the answers to such questions. And so I rejoiced inside when this child’s question was raised. Yes! She’s thinking, she’s curious, she’s asking just the kind of question God wants her to ask. There are some people who would shrug their shoulders in response; claim that ‘religion doesn’t make sense’ and continue life in self-inflicted ignorance. I was not going to let this happen. I feel that as a teacher it is my role to encourage children to grapple with their questions, even if they are only 8 or 9 years old.

So this week’s R.E. lesson began with a narrative of the events of Good Friday. We acted out the scenes. Jesus was taken before the religious rulers of the day, who in turn took him to the political leaders of the day, claiming he was causing unrest and needed dealing with. Now this political leader could find nothing wrong with Jesus: he found him innocent. Yet because of pressure from the religious leaders and the people of the city, he was forced to order the death sentence for Jesus and yet release a murderer and thief (as the custom was that a prisoner could be released at that time each year). So Jesus literally swapped places with Barabbas. Jesus was mocked, beaten and spat on, yet he did not retaliate. He carried his heavy wooden cross to the hill outside the city, where He was hammered to the wood in the (scientifically proven) cruelest form of death mankind has ever thought up. As He hung there, another man being crucified recognised who Jesus was and said ‘Remember me when you come into your kingdom’. Jesus responded, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. And there Jesus hung until he shouted ‘It is finished!’ All went dark at noon and the darkness lasted 3 hours. Meanwhile, the curtain in the temple – a thick barrier from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, which separated the humans from the place where God was thought to dwell (‘beyond the veil’) – this curtain was torn in two. The soldiers verified Jesus’ death and his friend was permitted to take him from the cross to bury him.

So what the heck was going on? It is clear that this is no ordinary death. Who else has caused night time to come at midday or an unexplained event at a local place of worship to happen the moment they died? Incredibly (but not unsurprisingly Continue reading

Holy Week – God in control

My R.E. lesson at school today was the first in our Easter series. I love teaching this series, as I encourage pupils to get down to the nitty-gritty of what Christians believe, rather than the superficial ‘nice little story’ side of it, which they normally get from their not-to-clued-up teachers. Today we were looking at the story from Palm Sunday through to The Garden of Gethsemane. In particular, I asked the children to listen out for parts of the story that showed that Jesus knew what was going to happen to him, that God was in control of the events of Holy Week. I expected the children to remember 3 points to write in their exercise books afterwards but I was pleased to see some children coming up with 6 or 7 bullet points! Here are some of the reasons they picked out:

Jesus knew what was going to happen to him. Christians know this because the Bible says:

  • As Jesus was approaching Jerusalem, he told his disciples that he would be mocked, flogged and crucified there. He said that on the third day he would rise.
  • Jesus knew the Old Testament prophecy that said the Saviour/Messiah would come riding on a donkey, so he fulfilled that prophecy on Palm Sunday by riding a colt into Jerusalem.
  • At the Last Supper, Jesus predicted that one of his friends would betray him to his enemies.
  • At the Last Supper, Jesus compared the bread and the wine to his broken body and his own blood, showing he knew he would soon die.
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to God, asking his father to take away the unbearable thing that was about to happen to him. He was so distressed that he sweat blood. Jesus battled with his imminent future but then willingly gave himself to it.
  • When the guards came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the disciples got protective and drew their swords, cutting off one of the guard’s ears. Jesus told the disciples to stop because he knew he had to go with the guards.

The children did really well in remembering these points, which led us into a great discussion about Christian beliefs.

You see, so many people argue that Jesus was a good man, a good teacher who just got caught up in a load of events that unfortunately led to his death. According to them, he was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. People have said that his death shouldn’t have happened. It just got out of control. A bad accident.

I would suggest that these people get stuck into their Bible a bit before coming out with such comments. It is clear through all the gospels that the Easter weekend is going to happen. Jesus states he will die on more than one occasion and these events of Holy Week show not only that Jesus knows what is going to happen but that he is letting it happen. Do you not think that, if he wanted to, he could have told the disciples to carry on fighting the guards while he legged it out of the Garden of Gethsemane by another route? Do you not think that the man who uttered two words to still a violent storm a few months earlier could have ordered a tree to fall on the guards that Thursday night, if he had wanted to? This man of miracles could have done numerous things to stop these mere mortals, if it were just a human plot to get him killed. But ultimately it was not just the humans that were behind this mind-boggling event. Yes, their motives were real and they did get him killed but they were simply part of a bigger thing. The Bible is bursting to show us that Easter week was God’s plan. It was all part of God’s perfect purposes for the redemption of his people.

So what was God’s plan? Why did Jesus have to die?

That’s next week’s R.E. lesson.

Isaiah 43 – The Promises of God

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.
For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.

Here are some verses that calmed me when I read them today. God is promising to be with me through the tough times in life. There are many things that feel scary and uncertain at the moment and I am realising day by day that I am a fragile being. Life itself is so fragile. In fact, I am quickly learning that everybody is going through some deep waters or scorching fires in their lives, many worse than mine. Perhaps you are too. But what these verses tell me is that God not only understands and promises to be with me, but he promises to protect and sustain me. I will not be burned, I will not be swallowed up by the swell of an angry river. And I have confidence in this because I know from the Bible that God does not break his promises.

Would you like to claim these promises of God in your own life? Well first of all, check out the opening four lines of the passage and the closing two lines too. These lines indicate to whom these promises are given. God has created you and formed you. But has He ransomed you? Are you His? Do you call Him your Saviour? If not, I implore you to find out more about Him. Answer Him when He calls your name and then rest in His grace with the full assurance of His love for you and promises for your life.

Oakes Farm Shop and Cafe, Balsall Common

I recently visited Oakes Farm in Balsall Common. (www.oakesfarmshop.co.uk) I had read in the newspaper that the family farm had recently opened a shop and cafe and, as I’m always looking for new tea rooms and cafes, I was keen to pop along.

The cafe was easily accessible off the main road between Balsall Common and Knowle and there was enough parking for about 15 cars. It is very clear that this is a new development, as it looks unfinished, but I have high hopes for where it could be in a year or two’s time.

The shop and cafe are in the same open plan building and, while the shelves of the shop looked somewhat bare, there was a good selection of produce in the farm shop. Meat, fruit and vegetables, cakes, pies, jams and preserves. A lot of this was locally made or locally sourced but, as you’d expect, prices were high.  Continue reading