Saturday, 28 September 2013

Wrapping up

After we left the classroom in early September, classroom teacher Andy took a few more sessions to bring the mantle to a close. In an email, he described how this process went.

The closure was really fun (in a sadistic kind of way initially). We received a letter from the NZFD [the client] thanking us for all our hard work but that we didn't get the job. The kids were dumbstruck
'How could we not get the job'
'This isn't like the movies' etc.
Then I emailed them from Wirimu and said that he had overheard some people talking as he was clearing his office. They said that the company that are financially supporting the project may not want to have such a close affiliation with a company that is so passionate about the environment. 
I think 1 kid said 'well we shouldn't worry about the environment then.' He was shut down straight away with comments about us not changing our beliefs for the sake of a job. 

What a brave move - and one I would possibly have been worried about taking myself... All that work, for 'nothing'? But Andy knows the children and knew that this outcome would challenge them to think about professional bottom lines. And what a valuable lesson they learned about  standing by ones principles... this is a lesson for life AND for business....

Andy's email goes on to describe the conversation children had about what to do. Initial thoughts were to take action - either personal (one suggested violence) or legal. What did eventuate was some passionate written work. 

You should see some of the writing - talk about powerful. You won't believe some of it is from 10 year old children... There's also some that argue for the testing of animals in a safe and humane way for the good of the human race... [There are some]  really powerful and logical arguments.

Here is a short extract from one girl's writing arguing against animal testing.

"Due to the natural process of evolution, we humans have evolved into highly intelligent major species, but at the same time, barbarian savages, sacrificing the lives of the innocent, minor and not as highly intelligent species for our successful medicinal products. Plain unfair."

While it is too much to claim that the mantle taught the children to write this way - it would seem that the experience  took children to a place where they felt passionately enough to write their best. 

It would have been interesting if the writing had been framed firmly within the mantle and written from an adult perspective, as members of the company... as it was, I think the children wrote as children - but with the passion of the experience behind them.

Andy goes on to describe how he carried out the closure of the mantle, and the interesting reflective conversations with the children.

We closed this up a few weeks ago now by doing the book thing. [Children were invited to imagine a large book in their hands - as if they were holding the journal of their six week journey through the mantle]. They all looked at the size of their books, the best pictures, the hardest narratives they had to play out, the highs and the lows before putting it on the shelf.

Interestingly when we talked about the Mantle and what lessons we would take into our class life and what we would not, the girls were the ones who said that it was too talkie. Some agreed while others said that we had to talk the problems out so it was necessary. It was a lot of the boys who chimed in with what we could take from the Mantle in to our everyday schooling life. 

"I liked getting talked to and talking like an adult"
"I liked actually working together to bring the presentation to life'
"I liked being someone else but not at the same time"

 These comments are delightful, showing an insight and appreciation of how mantle of the expert works. The criticism of "too much talk" is one I have had before - and need to think about. But all in all, a satisfactory closure......... although ............................... I must confess I am still wondering whether in a few weeks - or even months' time, we might receive the news of the unethical sponsors coming to grief..... perhaps a newspaper article saying they are facing a public inquiry - shares in Global Simulations possibly adversely affected? (It's not a matter of needing a happy ending....  I just can't stand the other lot getting away with it.....!)

And so another mantle adventure comes to an end. I extend huge thanks to Andy and the children at HNS. Also to the Principal, Deputy Principal and Board for entrusting us with the class. To Claire for coming along for the ride. And to the student teachers for being true colleagues. I have so enjoyed working with these reliable, reflective and fun fellow travelers on this journey. 

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Final session

Our mantle adventures with HNS students wrapped up on 3rd September with a whole class presentation to the fictional 'client' showing the company's ideas for the simulation. Time had been desperately short in the closing stages, particularly with so many students away. However, classroom teacher Andy took this as an opportunity to allow students to problem solve.... Since they didn't have completed plans, or polished soundtracks how were they going to impress the client?

Sure enough students took leadership and decided to work in small groups, each with responsibility for presenting a particular aspect. This would allow them to demonstrate the thinking that had gone into the project, even though the commission wasn't "finished". There was frantic, self directed work over the few days leading up to our visit.

Andy made use of the emails from "clive" (the boss) to remind the children that another company (Global simulations) was also tendering for this job. So it was all on....

When we (the student teachers and me) arrived for the presentation, we first of all needed to get ourselves back to Wellington. Once again, we imagined packing our briefcases (mimed action) but this time the spoken thoughts were in relation to how nervous we felt about the day ahead. Drama was also used to depict emotions on take off and landing.

Looking back, I realise that I missed an opportunity for "brotherhood" thinking here. Would have been great to stand on the threshold of the fisheries department and considered who has gone before us in such moments..... However. I didn't! Too intent on getting to the final presentation!

Next, I co-constructed with the children how best we should represent the client. I had planned to use a single symbol - perhaps a piece of paper with the logo of the fisheries department on it. This worked well in previous classes. But children in the class asked whether the student teachers would take on the roles - so that they had someone live to interact with. When I asked children what the student teachers should do to portray these roles, the suggestions included, "make some kind of change - like put on glasses", "ask really difficult questions" and "look more serious and stern". I asked whether this was how they wanted the client to be and one boy answered, "well, it's not how I want it, but it's what feels right". Lovely stuff.

Student teachers and I assembled outside the classroom while the children got ready. Andy had told us that rather than expecting to see one single polished presentation, we should prepare to move around the class and interact with the small groups. But he was as surprised as we were to find that when the 'clients' arrived, the children moved into whole class presentation mode.

I think it says alot for Andy that he was prepared to 'let go' his 'power over' the class to the point where they could surprise HIM in what they came up with!

One group of girls had prepared a script to link together the different parts of the presentation. I noticed that children had framed the presentation in dramatic terms - we were invited to "tour" the company and see each of the sections at work.

Amongst other things, the children presented the following:

  • A drawing of a possible design for the tank, with a description of how the feeding and filtering systems might work

  • An example of a deepsea soundscape (played on an Ipad)

  • Details of the mathematics used to calculate the volume of water in the tank

  • A freeze frame of maintenance crews working on the tank

  • A detailed description of the Dumb Gulper shark's characteristics, life cycle and needs including the environmental challenges faced by the shark

As each presentation was given, the "clients" asked probing questions, assessing (in both the real and fictional worlds) what the group really understood and knew about this topic.

Several of the children opted to use drama conventions (freeze frames and spoken thoughts) to show their ideas. Good to see this - especially since they were not instructed to use them - but drew on them spontaneously as the most useful way to show their ideas. This can be seen as evidence that their learning in drama had gone right inside!

Demonstration to the client of the procedure for changing the filter in the shark tank

Throughout the presentation there was full attention from other children in the class. One of the children who had was invited to film the presentation and took great care over this task. I saw him zooming in and out of the action and even adding 'jiggles' to the camera at tense moments.

The presentation didn't include any overt reference to the Key Tension - the issue of the sponsorship by shark oil manufacturers. The team had decided to win the job first, and address this issue later. At one point, however, shark oil was mentioned. The "clients" looked uncomfortable and several of the children gasped and whispered to each other. The issue was not mentioned but remained in the air.

After the presentations were finished, and the student teachers had deroled, I invited children to change perspective and take on the role of the client/s. I asked them to get into groups of 4 or 5 and imagine they were in the taxi driving away from the presentation. What would they be saying to each other? Spoken thoughts was used and the children had the chance to express responses to their own work through the perspective of the "other."

"What a lot of work they put in to that."
"That's an amazing team"
"Are we going to go for them, or Global Simulations? Tough decision"
"They lost it a bit a couple of times.... could have been more professional"
"I'm glad no one mentioned the shark oil issue"

With a bit more time left, and to allow a sense of release after all that sitting and watching,  we closed the session by thinking about what the company members might do to relax after such a tense day. Still in their groups of 5, the children were invited to decide how they might spend the rest of the day in Wellington. We created a 'photo album' of the outcomes:

A celebratory bungee jump
Shopping for bargains
Photobombing the Prime Minister outside parliament buildings

An interesting issue arose here when a group of boys decided they were going to take a company car and 'cruise for girls'. It was intended as a lighthearted response, but I one that I decided required some kind of intervention. I engaged them in some discussion about whether this was the kind of behaviour that members of our company would engage in. They were adamant that yes, it was - although one of the boys opted to change role at this point and become a dog in the back seat, rather than a person ... When the 'photo album' was shared, I took care to stress that it was going to be printed and left in the company offices for everyone to see - including Clive the boss. With this, the boys decided to change the caption on their photo from 'cruising for girls' to 'out on the town'.... and conceded that the 'girls part' might not be such a good idea. Not exactly a perfect resolution - but least they did some thinking about professional responsibility.

Out on the town....

The session closed in a bit of a rush, as the bell for lunch went. I thanked the children and gave them the opportunity to say goodbye to student teachers - and we left. The experience for the children was not over, however, as Andy still needed to bring the Mantle journey to a close. More on this in my next post.

Toasting a successful presentation:
A.R.S. colleagues enjoy a coffee on the Wellington Waterfront

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Week five - scientific investigations

Monday of week 5 (as described in the previous post) I went into role as Wiremu and delivered the bombshell about the dodgy sponsorship for the project.  The next day - Tuesday - I was back with the student teachers. The session began with a meeting to bring everyone up to speed on what had happened. As before, the children positioned as company members broke into small groups and told the student teachers (positioned as 'trainees') what they needed to know. I noticed that children were equally pre-occupied with the fact that there was a rival company competing for the project as they were about the ethical issues raised by the liver oil sponsorship.

In a sense we had loaded them with not one but TWO key tensions to worry about. Some of the children commented that it was all rather difficult - so much to think about and so little time left. The consensus was that it was best to get the project completed - try to beat the opposition - and THEN think about what action to take to communicate our feelings about the ethical issues .... Quite authentic and mature responses to a complex and real world matter.

So we moved on to the focus for the session, which was to investigate the samples brought up by Bruce's deep sea probe. Andy had led the children towards this by asking them to nominate what they thought would be important to check out in order to help the tank design. Unsurprisingly, the children had come up with very similar aspects to those planned by the teachers - they mentioned needing to test the quality of the water (so we could reproduce it for the tank), needing to get the salt water clear again (so it could be disposed of), needing a filtration system and needing to consider the temperature of the water at the depth that the sharks naturally live.

This is an example of how a the teacher using mantle of the expert can predict some of the likely outcomes of inquiry and plan ahead - or even 'lead' a little towards a curriculum area they wish to explore. We wanted the mantle to lead towards a session of science experiments and sure enough, with the right questions, the children 'requested' it.

Each student teacher took responsibility for a 'station' within which a separate hands-on science experiment was set up.

Alysse was dealing with temperature,

Gavin asked students to consider different materials
for filtration systems.

and Irene was working with Ph testing.

Each of the student teachers was charged with ensuring that the experiment they set up met the expectations of the NZ curriculum in science, and each wrote a full plan accordingly

One of the questions people sometimes ask is whether mantle of the expert allows teachers to plan 'proper' deep learning in particular curriculum learning areas. This can be a challenge in inquiry learning in general. I'll ask the student teachers to comment after this blog about their experience of teaching 'real' science during this session...

The student teachers took leadership throughout this session and it appear to go very well aside from a few practical issues (cold temperatures leading to a smashed glass bottle, boys getting excited at the chance to make a mess with the wet sand, the difficulty for ESOL students in understanding complex  instructions). Students rotated around the space in groups, moving from station to station and engaging with the different experiments in turn. As I travelled around and listened to the conversations it seemed clear that the children were doing more than completing the tasks, they were also relating what they were doing to the context of the shark tank design.


Towards the end of the lesson, Andy received a 'text' from the boss, Clive, reminding the ARS company members that they needed to draw implications from the experiments.

Blue post it notes were hand out for the colleagues to jot down what they had learned and how it would impact on the project. This was a form of assessment in disguise.

Comments on the sticky notes were diverse and showed that children had understood the science. children noted that the ph of the sharks water should be approximately 9. They advised ways to filter and desalinate the water. They even included some commendations that were not part of the original intention of the experiments such as noting 'the chemicals to alter ph are poisonous and therefore should not be touched' and 'we will need to ensure we use thick glass for the tank as if it gets too cold the glass might break,'

As we left the classroom, one of the children updated the 'countdown' on the whiteboard - only 6 days to go until the presentation to the client!