Zoom in on the young ones

19th September 2003, 1:00am
Carolyn O'Grady


Zoom in on the young ones

The Early Years and Primary Teaching Exhibition takes place at the Business Design Centre in London on October 3-5. Equipment ranging from climbing frames to computers will be on display, and a wide-ranging seminar programme will include sessions on school leadership, ICT, literacy, numeracy and special needs. Carolyn O'Grady hears from some of the presenters.

So you've got a digital microscope - what are you going to do with it?

(Seminar: FO9 )

Every primary school is now the owner of an Intel QX3 digital microscope, but how many of those ever leave the cupboard? Roger Mitchell, chair of the Association for Science Education primary science committee, says use them - "they're a fantastic piece of equipment that can greatly enrich education".

"Using the QX3's ability to magnify images by 10 provides a fantastic opportunity to show things to children they've never seen before," says Mitchell (it can also capture images at X60 and X200 - but X10 is probably the most useful in primary schools).

"Children can look at newsprint, for example, and see the different coloured dots that make up the print. They can examine different people's hair (including that of other pupils), seeing the variation in thickness and perhaps trying to guess whose hair it is. They can go pond dipping and view water boatmen, beetles, leeches and other creatures under the microscope".

Using the photographic facility they can produce stills to input into Word.

And with the time lapse facility the microscope can be set up to take a number of stills over a period, of, for example, a piece of fruit decomposing or mustard and cress germinating. This could then be shown as a short video clip in which the process is speeded up.

Another useful feature is the art package which enables the user to manipulate pictures or to type a description on it.

Though ready-made sets of slides came with the microscope, better-quality sets could be bought from companies including Philip Harris. One tip: beware of the slight delay between using the focusing knob and achieving clarity. "So be patient when you adjust the focusing: adjust - wait; adjust - wait," Mitchell recommends.

Building foundations in the reception (Seminar: FO7)

Among barriers to providing a foundation stage education for children in the reception class which teachers perceive are: lack of resources; downward pressure from key stage one SATs; lack of time for foundation stage staff to work together to reflect on practice; external accountability from, for example Ofsted; and too much prescription, particularly in literacy and numeracy, mitigating against creativity and spontaneity. These barriers are described in research conducted for the ATL by Mary Jane Drummond and Janet Moyles, which forms the basis of a seminar by Nansi Ellis, primary education adviser for the ATL.

"To get over these hurdles first you need to be aware of what's happening in your own classroom," says Ellis. "Teachers can be surprised by how much goes on that doesn't match up with their own beliefs about children's learning." They could carry out their own observations or video classroom practice so they can think about it later.

In particular, teachers had too little time to observe children's freely chosen play and to intervene. There was "worryingly little evidence of complex play and extended talk".

"Decide beforehand what you want to observe, which may be your own interactions with the children or a particular child's activity, or the use of a particular part of the classroom - the book or home corner for example."

To free up time to do more observing she recommends that children be encouraged to do more themselves. "Often activities call for too much teacher involvement."

Follow the child, she advises: "Plan what you want children to learn and let them find ways of learning it. Observe how the children respond to a range of activities and discover what works."

Teachers often felt they were losing touch with their own ideas because of what they perceived as too much prescription. "Find time to talk with colleagues about what you and they think is important and decide what you want to focus on, for example, if it's play, try to built that into your planning," she advises.

"Teachers must have the confidence to stand up for what they believe in.

And do seek support from your association and unions. We need to know what you need."

For more information go to www.atl.org.ukEmail: info@atl.org.uk.

Making Literacy Vibrant (Seminar: SU1)

Gervase Phinn, author, lecturer, trainer and broadcaster, recalls asking a young boy in a school what he was going to do. "We've got leprosy hour", came the reply. "Do you mean literacy hour?" asked Phinn. "Miss calls it leprosy hour because she hates it," replied the pupil.

One reason some children, and teachers, are put off books is over-analysis, suggests Phinn. "There's too much 'find the adverb, notice the alliteration' - too much pleasure-destroying detail. Children learn to approach books with something akin to fear and loathing," he says.

"Before analysis must come appreciation. First read passages from the book yourself - reading round the class is not something I subscribe too, some children can't read well and are too focused on deciphering the words to get the meaning - then talk about the grammar, but be very selective: point to the occasional vivid phrase or word, but that's all.

"When you are reading try to lift the text from the page. This doesn't necessarily mean putting on an accent, though your reading can be dramatic, but it should be sensitive to the text, which means reading it before you present it to the children."

Gervase Phinn would also like to see teachers become storytellers, the techniques of which he believes should be taught in college.

Though he has nothing against Harry Potter, he recommends that teachers throw their net wider, taking in books not often used in school. Among his recommendations are: Jez Alborough's Hug and Where's my Teddy?; Bernard Ashley's Little Soldier and Double the Love; Robert Swindells' Hurricane Summer and The Ice Palace and Peter Dixon's Grow Your Own Poems and The Colour of My Dreams.

Conjuring up the magic in maths - fun investigations for the foundation stage and key stages 1 and 2. (Seminar: F12)

Mathematical demonstrations, tricks, illusions, activities and games all designed to inspire pupils and their teachers about maths and to show how maths can be weird, wacky and even downright fun are the meat of this seminar, to be given by a representative from ProEducation, which specialises in activities which exercise pupils' problem solving and reasons skills involving number, shape, space and measures and data handling.

Included among their activities are such brain teasers as: Think of a number. Add 4 to it. Multiply the answer by 2. Add another 6. Divide the answer by 2. Subtract the number you first thought of. What do you get?

Now try again with other numbers and see what you get. Older children might be encouraged to find out why you always get 7.

Or: If today is Monday, what is the day after the day before the day before tomorrow? (Clue: it might be easier to work through the sentence backwards.)

Or: A shop bought a painting for pound;70, sold it for pound;80, bought it back for pound;90, and sold it again for pound;100. How much profit did the shopkeepers make?

(Answers to the second and third teasers are: Monday and pound;20. ) For more information go to www.proeducation.co.ukEmail: dr.mark@proeducation.co.ukFor further information and to register for the exhibition or buy a ticket to any of the 50 seminars go to: www.teachingexhibitions.co.uk Exhibition organised by TSL Education

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