My best worst lesson

4th July 2008 at 01:00
Best: The Year 4-5 class was learning about direction - clockwise, anticlockwise, turns and so on
Best: The Year 4-5 class was learning about direction - clockwise, anticlockwise, turns and so on. We started with a quick recap of the key vocabulary. Then, as we were fortunate to be in a large classroom, we re-arranged the tables to make a maze.

I placed red pencils at strategic points and the children took turns, in pairs, to guide each other through the maze to pick them up. One child was the programmer and the other was a robot, who could only move as specifically instructed. Each pair was timed to see how long it took to navigate the maze and collect the pencils.

We varied it by starting children at different points, by moving the location of the pencils and occasionally by re-arranging the desks to change the layout of the maze.

There was great hilarity but no behavioural issues as the children were so engrossed, calling out corrections and suggestions and seeing who could beat the clock.

By the end of the lesson, nearly all the children understood and could give and follow instructions using the key vocabulary.

It was such a fun, practical and successful lesson that I am waiting for the chance to do it again.

Worst: I had been left a Year 6 numeracy lesson about identifying congruent shapes to cover as a supply teacher - only I had no idea what a congruent shape was. I mentioned this to the class teacher as she left the room and she said not to worry because all the explanations were on the sheet.

It read: "A congruent shape is a shape that is identical to another shape. Colour all the congruent shapes the same colour." Only when I looked, I couldn't see any identical shapes. They were there, of course, but I didn't realise that they had been rotated, reflected and translated, and since they weren't regular shapes, I couldn't spot them because I didn't know what I was looking for. Oh, the shame. Then the children came in and the lesson started.

It was awful. No one, including me, had any idea how to complete the activity. After 20 minutes discussing and rejecting various suggestions of how to complete the sheet, I realised that I was in danger of teaching the children absolute rubbish so I told them to stop and admitted I had no idea how to do the activity.

Fortunately, it was a pleasant class and, far from being awkward, pupils were forgiving. It led to a philosophical debate about how everything is a lot for one person to know so it was OK if sometimes there were things even teachers didn't know.

You can be sure that I learnt what congruent shapes were after that because I'll never forget the terror as I struggled through a lesson I knew nothing about. It was quite a while before the fear of experiencing that again finally faded.

Donna Neil teaches in Rochdale.

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