Bestworst lesson

13th April 2007 at 01:00
Best I was teaching a small Year 1 class and had just moved the tables so we were all sitting in a big square. The pupils were feeling grown up as they had seen a similar arrangement in a Year 7 class when they had visited for paired reading. I could also see all of them at once.

It was around the time of Chinese New Year and we had been reading a story - Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel - about two Chinese brothers who got stuck down a well and the dangers of having a long name when you need help quickly.

The children had got into the story and were drawing and writing about their favourite part. Some of them were trying to practise the long name, with much hilarity.

I had brought in some paper Chinese dragon puppets and the patterns on them were being studied and copied intently.

There was one of those wonderful buzzes in the room, all the pupils were on task and enth-used. Some great work was being produced, even by the children who were usually reluctant to do anything.

I looked around feeling proud, then I noticed one boy who had a coloured pencil in each hand and was adding dramatic flourishes to his picture, first with one hand then the other.

"What are you doing?", I asked casually. "Being an artist," he replied and carried on embellishing. It still makes me smile nearly 11 years later

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Worst A different school but still Year 1 and only the worst in terms of the preparation and testing I should have done (in hindsight).

The topic was Houses and Homes and the science element was testing materials for strength and suitability for house building.

I had found a science resource book in the staffroom which suggested using the story of The Three Little Pigs, and to test brick, stick and straw houses using a hairdryer to play the part of the wolf.

It all seemed straightforward. I collected the materials needed and the class made some model houses. This provided its own set of challenges because it didn't mention anywhere quite how to build stick and straw houses.

Thinking about it, even the fairy tale is somewhat hazy as to exactly how the first two little pigs achieved their architectural feats. Fortunately, the pupils were amazingly inventive with string, Sellotape and Plasticine.

We tested the brick and stick ones - so far, so good. Then came the straw.

The wolf substitute turned out to have a hurricane effect on the house.

Let's just say straw went everywhere - on the children and all over the nylon carpet, where it defied being swept up. The parent helper who was in that afternoon was not impressed, especially when I broke the cleaner's vacuum by clogging it up. There was straw around for weeks afterwards.

The moral is - always test these amazing ideas you read in books before introducing them to class Helen Phillips is a teacher in London

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