Neolithic primary education

This is a post in response to an interesting opinion piece from Michael Rosen posted today in the Guardian. In it he criticises the prescriptive nature of elements of the National Curriculum in England. Working in Scotland, with the sometimes maligned Curriculum for Excellence, I have heard some people call for greater structure, and even prescription, for schools north of the border. My advice would be ‘careful what you wish for…’!

One of Michael Rosen’s best loved children’s books.

The reason the Rosen post really caught my eye was the example he used. He discusses the relevance of Neolithic history and the inclusion and relevance of Skara Brae – situated in Scotland so probably not high up the average 6 year old, England based, pupil’s frame of reference. Remarkably, included in the National Curriculum guidance provided, there is even a suggestion that ‘Eight is the best age to teach this.’ Although quite why this is the case is not made clear!

The reason I was really interested in the Neolithic reference is because I once taught a local history topic including this subject. There was a local Neolithic burial mound very close to the school which I thought was fairly unusual. Working with the children, and consulting experts from the local museums and the local University archaeology department, I developed a scheme of learning framed within the idea of time travel (Dr Who had just regenerated so this seemed suitably topical). As the weeks progressed we (myself along with the children) learnt about how settlements have developed, reasons for trade routes and movement of people and some of the techniques and methods employed by historians, archaeologists and anthropologists. I made sure the learning was guided by children’s interests but was based around skills and concepts needed to access a greater understanding of the various areas we were covering. There was an element of factual knowledge included – but this was not necessary for the wider objectives to be achieved. As the topic progressed someone mentioned game playing through history (they had remembered a Victorian topic that had included this subject). So, although not from the Neolithic period, we investigated the Lewis chessmen – not immediately obvious to the children – but by this point they were able to make links. We investigated the craft skills required to create such objects but without modern tools or technology.

The amazing, but not Neolithic, Lewis chessmen

Fast forward to today, and waiting for a meeting to start this morning, I mentioned the article to some colleagues which sparked a discussion around a range of ideas and resources that could be linked, either through interdisciplinary learning, or via a context plan, to Neolithic of prehistory. They suggested looking up ‘The Boy with the Bronze Axe’ by Kathleen Fidler, and several other historical children’s texts. I now have, and realised I could have done so much more with the local history topic, inspired by a Neolithic burial site. To me this illustrates that the learning process is about enquiry and discovery, and even several years after I taught this topic I am still learning – and I hope the children are too.

#Mathschat and Maths bloggers…

This year the undergraduate students on the MA Primary Education course have embraced mathematics (if you are one of them, and reading this, then good on you!). I was ecstatic when 35 of them signed up for the Discovering Mathematics elective being run at the University of Dundee. At the same time I have been discovering technology for myself (see the last post) and so the Discovering Mathematics module is going include the students developing their own maths blog. The main aim of the module is to improve students confidence and competence in mathematics and develop a sound understanding of the underlying concepts and principles in mathematics. And also investigate some real life applications… like the regular references in Dr Who (happy numbers anyone?).

For me education has always been about making links and connections between ideas, concepts and topics (and in fact connectedness is one of Liping Ma’s principles behind having a Profound Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics) so I am using my blog to demonstrate maths blogging. Drawing on another connection I am also studying, and trying to research, teacher professional development, so am interested in the use of twitter for sharing ideas and stimulating educational debate and discussion. You may be interested in reading some of the posts available via the Twitter platform and #MathsChat – https://twitter.com/hashtag/mathschat This led me to a blog post (http://headguruteacher.com/2015/09/26/maths-mindsets-my-y10s/) by Tom Sherrington about ‘maths mindsets’ amongst secondary students. I think it raises some really interesting points and it led to me challenging my personal ideas about the importance of structure and process (sometimes) in mathematics.

 

Returning to the Discovering Mathematics module someone at York University has helpfully set up this wiki page so you can read more about Liping Ma and the theory of PUFM here: http://wiki.math.yorku.ca/index.php/Liping_Ma%27s_Knowing_and_Teaching_Elementary_Mathematics:_Teachers%E2%80%99_Understanding_of_Fundamental_Mathematics_in_China_%26_the_United_States

So I’ll sign off with a message for the students on the module – it is over to the students now… what interesting mathematical things are you going to blog about? And I’m really looking forward to seeing how your posts multiply (although not exponentially).