Thursday, 25 October 2012

Starter for 50

Those of you who have ever worked with children will probably echo my sentiments if I tell you that they have the ability to constantly surprise you. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working with them ( quarter of a century in my case, and counting ) they always have the potential to do something you wouldn’t have expected.

I’ll explain what I’m talking about. At the start of most lessons I’ll use a little brain starter, just a couple of minute thing – eg. In 3 minutes name me as many words ending with – ous – as you can. The first class of the day, their score goes up on the board, and stays up until another class beats it. Then their score goes up. At the end of the day whichever class has the top score, their name goes higher on the board as a daily winner, and stays there until the end of the week. Despite what you might have heard, competition is not a dirty word. It’s not a dirty word in life, and it’s not a dirty word in education either – provided that you use it the right way.

This isn’t about competition , though. For Tuesday’s starter I put together a powerpoint presentation at home. Fifty national flags would be shown, one after another, and they had to try to identify them all in three minutes. To make it harder passing was not allowed. You could give as many answers as you liked, but if you couldn’t identify one of the flags, then that was where you stopped. –No chance of any class managing all of those in 30 minutes, let alone three minutes – I thought. Just goes to show how much I know. I can’t remember all of the scores. One class managed 47 in 3 minutes. Another class managed 49, only being stopped by number 50, the flag of Sri Lanka. The winners , though, managed all fifty in a fantastic 2 minutes 47 seconds. This was all the more praiseworthy since they were a Year 7 class, one of the two youngest classes that I teach.

Of course, if you’re a hardened Sporcle fan, and you play on the ‘name all the flags of the world’ type games, then this probably doesn’t sound that much of a feat, and to be fair, to serious quizzers it probably isn’t. But these are not serious quizzers – in fact not really any kind of quizzers at all. Granted that there were a lot of European flags amongst them, and not ones like Liechtenstein and Monaco either, but even so. So I had to ask the classes involved just how they were so good at the game. I’m sure that you’ve probably worked out the answer for yourself already. Football. Well, football in particular, but sport in general. Lots of the flags they knew belonged to particular countries because of seeing them at football matches, and also to a lesser extent in the Olympic Games.

A former colleague of mine once said that the most satisfying things to learn are the things you learn when you don’t even realize that you are learning them. Very philosophical, but he had a point.

As a postscript, I put together a different starter on a similar theme for today. I did an “Only Connect “ style missing vowels game on names of 50 countries. Just to stop them getting through all fifty, the last one was fdrtdsttsfmcrns (Federated States of Micronesia ). Mean? Of course. Schools haven’t changed THAT much, you know.


AaronW said...

I worked as a secondary school teacher for three years, and i was constantly surprised by many of my classes' capacity to come alive in response to brain teasers. It's as though they sense the freedom of moving off a 'set syllabus' to play a game of some kind, and get excited by that, even if it's only to do some puzzles that they probably wouldn't have any interest in normally (and certainly would be unlikely to seek out outside of a classroom). I think it makes the teacher-pupil relationship a little bit more human as well, to move off syllabus, stop being an agent of the exam beaurocracy, as such, and they appreciate that as well.

I had lots of students in GCSE maths resit classes that showed real sparks of curiosity about lateral thinking style puzzles - even if they were pretty much allergic to the algebra on which they were to be examined (as most were).

I sometimes wonder if we have really got the most enlightened approach to learning possible, divvying up time into little pigeon-holes of subjects...rather than integrating the entire gamut of subjects and teachers into an overall 'educational experience'.

I'm disappointed I had to wait for university and beyond to discover how interconnected everything was (and how much unlike a school exam it was).

Ben Dutton said...

That's great - well done to your kids. I get a lot of 18 year olds at my quiz and what they don't know often depresses me - and we get a lot of negative attention in the press of how unintelligent kids are - that it's rewarding to hear such things.

Londinius said...

Hi Aaron

Without wanting to start a wider debate on education I think that you make some very valid points. It certainly seems true to me that many kids are every bit as curious about things they don't know as we were at the same age.

Hi Ben

As you say, you don't have to look very far to see negative images of teens. It's not true to portray the current ( or the prevous) generation of them as being somehow ignorant, disinterested zombies glued to their iphones 24.7. That they may not have the same general knowledge that my generation in the late 70s had I don't doubt. But then I doubt very much that my lot had the same kind of knowledge as my parents' generation in the mid 50s.

Which probably explains why the 18 year olds don't know what you might expect them to know. The point has been made before in LAM and in comments which have been posted here that the majority of quiz setters are 30 - 60 year old blokes, and even with the best will in the world thge majority of their quizzes are going to reflect the experiences and interests of mainly 30 - 60 year old blokes.