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

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