What’s Worth Learning These Days? – Gold Tidbits from Educating Ruby – Part 4

This is a massive question. Naturally, I begin by considering what is unnecessary. Funnily enough, they’re often the pieces of content that parents tell me should be taught more; handwriting, algebra, long division, Ancient Egypt, etc. Isn’t our curriculum full of enough boring subjects?

It seems that the more commonly boring a subject is, the more the general population considers it to be vital for education. I’ve never had a parent say to me, “Why aren’t my children learning to code more?” or “When will you be teaching Robotics?”

In Educating Ruby, Claxton et al. organises the curriculum into 3 parts; Utilities (self-evidently useful ie. read a newspaper), Treasures (culturally and contextually important learning ie. Democracy and Exercise-Machines (processes that help students to develop capacity or learning habits ie. logical analysis).

The questions still remains, what, then, is worth learning these days? Perhaps we might start by considering the real-world practice of the curriculum aspects. Who will use this? When will people use this? How will they use this in the future? Why will this be used? Where will it be used?

Our students also need to be considering the real-life application rather than just complicitly following along. One school gives every student a joker card at the beginning of each term. During any lesson that term, each student may “play their joker” upon which the teacher must explain the relevance of the lesson.

Claxton et al. also states that an Inquiry-based approach to learning is vital for 3 reasons:

  1. It’s engaging
  2. It’s accelerating
  3. It develops habits of mind

… as long as it is structured and supervised and scaffolded.

I’ll finish this entry with the authors’ quote on why Growth Mindset and Collaborative Learning are vital inclusions in the curriculum:

By the time they start school, many children have already started to value looking good over finding out.

I want my students to value learning above all else.


Gold Tidbits from Educating Ruby – Competence and Character

One aspect I find difficult to teach is character. What I mean by this is that I love teaching about character but actually giving students the skills to develop their character is a whole other ball game.

Something I’ve blogged about a lot is Austin’s Butterfly and how I play that clip to every new class. I love Austin’s craftsmanship. I love that he did 6 drafts. The students love to see his progress and how skilled he became through persistence.

“You taught me the pleasures of craftsmanship. I used to be a slapdash, but now I take real pride in producing work that is as good as I can make it… I don’t want to let others down, but, more importantly, I don’t want to let myself down. It’s not about determination; it’s about being careful, and thinking about what you are doing, and taking time to reflect and improve, and going over your mistakes and practising the hard parts.”

Educating Ruby, p.133

So, what is it that children really need to learn? Educating Ruby (p. 153 – 158) states that children need:

  • Self-protection
  • Intercultural empathy
  • Financial management
  • Sexual understanding
  • Practical labour
  • Science
  • Statistics
  • Scepticism
  • Talking clearly and confidently
  • Writing
  • Reading
  • Navigation
  • Cookery
  • Horticulture
  • Caring for others and things
  • Religion
  • Relationships
  • Morality
  • Self-presentation
  • Driving
  • Leisure
  • Fitness
  • Relaxation
  • Attention
  • Craftsmanship

The text implores each one of us to consider which of these should be taught, when and to what age group.

In the next section, the text reminds us of how contagious mind-habits are; we pick up the mental habits of others so easily. It is vital to ensure that we collaborate with others who have strong ‘habits of mind’. When students can get the grades without employing resilience, independence and self-discipline (not obedience); they are less likely to be successful in life (according to Paul Tough).

Learning is often a collaborative rather than (or as well as) a solitary venture, so the inclination to be a good sounding board to others, and the ability to give feedback in a respectful and useful way and take criticism yourself without getting hurt and defensive, is also needed.

Do you, as a teacher, teach 3D shapes or First Farmers or Colour Theory that extends your students to ask deep questions and conduct deep thinking? How can you make your students less dependent on you? How can you facilitate a safe mistake-making environment?


GAFE for Comprehension

In my previous blog post, I wrote about using Google My Maps to demonstrate comprehension of a text.

This post will be about taking that comprehension to a deeper level using Google My Maps and Screencastify; a Google extension.

If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that my class have been plotting locations from the text they’ve been reading in Google My Maps. They have also been adding important information to those points of interest  – what the characters in the story did in this place and the historical significance of that location.

Their next challenge is to combine all this together to create a screen recording. Students need to:

  1. Read the chapter
  2. Plot the locations on their map
  3. Add the historical significance information to that place’s description
  4. Add images to the description
  5. Add in what happened to the characters at this location in the description
  6. Taking turns, read the chapter aloud whilst using Screencastify to record their reading whilst scrolling through their plotted points on Google My Maps.

You can see my example here:

Google My Maps


I look forward to my students taking on this new challenge.

Google My Maps and Comprehension

We all struggle to implement Professional Development learnings into our current practice. This year, I’ve been determined to integrate what I’ve loved from PD sessions as soon as possible… next-day possible… if that’s possible.

At a recent Google summit, I had the pleasure of being in a workshop in which we learnt about Google My Maps. In Google My Maps, you, as the teacher, is able to create a base map and share it with your class. At our school, we have embarked on using Google Classroom which makes our sharing pretty problem-free.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 1.39.33 pm

‘What would one even use this for?’ I hear you ask.

We’ve been reading a text called The Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaardner. It’s an amazingly deep and thoroughly researched narrative in which the characters travel back in time from Oslo to Bethlehem. This is a perfect example of how students can use their comprehension skills to plot out the movements of the characters via Google My Maps.

I started by reading the text aloud and having students notate the direct references to places and times. I then modelled how to plot these places on Google My Maps. Following this, I created a series of layers; one for each reading group for them to add their locations and information.

Map with Layers

Once groups were competent at plotting direct information, we were then able to use our inferencing skills to look deeper into the text. Notice this excerpt from the text:

As they ran, they looked down on a cluster of red timber houses that Epheriel explained was a town called Kungalv. “That means ‘Kings Rock’ and the town was given that name because the Scandinavian kings used to meet here to counsel together. One of them was Sigurd Jorsalfar,” said the angel. “Jorsalfar means the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and Sigurd was given that name because he had been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where Jesus was born.”

To fully comprehend this piece of text, students must understand the following:

  • Kunglav is a cluster of red houses
  • Kunglav means ‘kings rock’
  • Jorsalfar means ‘pilgrimage’ and that’s how Sigurd Jorsalfar got his name
  • Sigurd was a Scandinavian king who met at Kunglav
  • This is significant because the group are making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land

Throughout the text, there are also examples of having to piece together separate sections of text in order to fully form the meaning.

In the next reading session, groups not only had to plot the places on the map, but they needed to use their comprehension to write information about the place from the text.

In this image, you can see that a description of the place and a couple of images have been added.
In this image, you can see that a description of the place and a couple of images have been added.

Next, I plan for students to conduct some pre-research about some of the history before reading their excerpt.

Gold Tidbits from Educating Ruby – Part 1

Upon recommendation, I’ve been reading a book entitled ‘Educating Ruby’ by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas. The book is not only a call to action about modern learning but demonstrates research about effective pedagogical practice – the Roms, the Trads and the Mods.

The Romantics believe that children will blossom if we leave them alone. The Traditionalists seem to believe that all would be well if we had lots of old-fashioned grammar schools teaching Latin and algebra. Trads like to keep things simple, even if their beliefs are damaging or wrong. The third tribe is the Moderates, which includes the vast majority of people who work in or care about education. Where the Trads are simplistic and pugnacious, the Mods like to think and tinker (or ‘thinker’, as Michael Ondaatje put it).” An excerpt from this blog.

I thought it might be helpful to collate some of the golden tidbits from this book to remember.

Chapter 1. Call For Concern

  1. We must encourage risk-taking

Many of our students are risk adverse having lived a molly-coddled life wrapped in cotton wool in which failure is unacceptable.

“How different my life might have been if my school (as many do now) had deliberately nurtured my appetite for adventure and a tolerance for error.” Tom Middlehurst, Head of Research at SSAT

2. We must encourage parental engagement

So many teachers are fearful of parent engagement, concerned that parents will “judge” or that their involvement might deem their teaching powerless.

“…the effect of parental engagement over a students’s school career is equivalent to adding an extra two to three years to that student’s education.” John Hattie, Director of AITSL

3. Finding a meeting point for all stakeholders is vital.

Those behind cried “Forward!”

And those before cried “Back!”

And backward now and forward

Wavers the deep array;

And on the tossing sea of steel,

To and fro the standards eel;

And the victorious trumpet-peal

Dies fitfully away.


Essentially, there is a call for concern. But, these authors are preaching to the converted. One of the reasons I chose to read this book is to have an empirical basis for my concerns about the lack of progression in education.

Implementing SOLE for the First Time

Yesterday, it was my first day on a new Year 6 class. Thus, as is my usual modus operandi, I decided to try something new. I decided to combine two newly discovered learning tools; Google Advanced Power Search and SOLE.

Google Advanced Power Search is difficult to find for a reason; it’s built so that people can’t google answers within the site. Developed by Google, it’s a research course that helps participants think laterally when searching for information as well as check sources. Participants are provided with a video which asks them to research several questions that are not easily ‘googlable’.

I wanted to use this tool to enhance collaboration and help my students to think outside the box. You can find the example question, strategies for research, the example solution and further questions here.

The other learning tool that I was keen to try was SOLE. SOLE is an “unprotocol” developed by Sugatra Mitra from his ‘Hole in the Wall’ experiment. Basically, students get together in groups of 3 or 4 around one screen in order to research about a curious question. Each group then presents their findings to the whole group.

I decided to combine the two tools together. I grouped students randomly into groups of 4 ensuring a mix of gender. I assigned a group leader and encouraged the leader to assign roles to their members. I also told the students that they would be evaluating their group at the end.

I used the diagram below for timings which I found here.


Recommended SOLE Timings.
Recommended SOLE Timings.

The groups worked well together other than a few moments of off-task working… perhaps to be expected on the first day back from holidays. The hardest part was for the students to persevere through the task without calling upon me for assistance… and for me not to help them.

After groups presented their findings, I asked students to evaluate their group’s cooperative skills using cards that I downloaded from Plickers.

I now plan to conduct one of these style sessions each week. I’ll let you know the results.

The Case of the Missing Glue Sticks – FINALE

So, I had been struggling as to how to end the mystery of our missing glue sticks. Who, should I say, had taken them? and, why? I had wrestled with asking a colleague to say he/she’d borrowed them and had forgotten to ask. Perhaps the glue sticks should just reappear and we should never know what happened to them.

When Skyping with @Miss_Para on the Thursday eve, we concocted a plan. NBCS were having a Maker Day on the Friday and would need a lot of resources. We decided that @Miss_Para would Skype into our class on the Friday and let the students know that she and her students had, in fact, borrowed our glue for their Maker day.

Students were very confused when they arrived on Friday that there was no clue. They were also surprised when my iPad started ringing in the middle of the day. I answered it and the students heard how their glue sticks had been used for a good cause and how they were excellent sharers. They also were able to see pics of the Maker day.

They were quite unimpressed that someone had taken our glue sticks without asking but they were also relieved that the mystery had been solved.

The students wrote their final entry about the mystery and edited their work. Many students were so proud of their writing that they wanted to publish their work. When I asked if they liked writing about a mystery, the acquiescence was resounding.

If you try something like this, I’d love to hear/read about how your students go.

Hmmm… now, what’s the next mystery I can concoct?