A well-known children's book, floor turtles and innovative teachers brought children from special and mainstream schools together. Carolyn O'Grady reports.
Rosie the Hen is making her way around the farmyard, pursued by Fergus the Fox, of whom she is blithely unaware. But this is not Fergus's lucky day. Each time he is about to pounce he is foiled by fate: a rake bangs him in the face; he falls in the pond; he becomes entangled in the haystack; he jumps on a cart and is attacked by bees.
Many teachers will be familiar with the plot and characters of the picture-book Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins, enacted at the Vines school in Wandsworth by simple robots wearing costumes of fur and feathers. Rosie and Fergus were the stars in a session that was a high-spot of the AllfarthingVines inclusion project, focusing on control technology.
The Vines is a primary school for children with moderate learning difficulties and Allfarthing is a mainstream primary, also in Wandsworth. Staff from the schools teamed up to run a five-session project, each session lasting three hours, with seven Reception children from each school.
"We wanted to find out for ourselves the benefits and practical issues surrounding working with children in a truly mixed-ability setting," says Vines teacher Nick Flesher, who sees the project as helping strengthen the relationship between the two schools. "We chose control technology because it's a good way of beginning to teach young children about the technology around us. It places IT in a familiar context."
With an ICT suite complete with 10 computers, digital cameras, an interactive whiteboard that can be used as a projection surface and touch-screen, the school is equipped to offer a range IT facilities.
The project began by introducing the Allfarthing children to some simple Makaton signs (devised to improve communication skills in children and adults with a variety of learning disabilities) such as"hello" and "how are you". "What I found hugely optimistic and moving was the lack of prejudice that existed with the mainstream pupils," says Nick Flesher. "They recognised the differences that some of the Vines children had, but did not seem phased by them and, unlike many adults, found it easy to support without being patronising."
The project then began in earnest. After an investigation of everyday objects operated using buttons and switches, such as a toaster and a tape recorder, they made a simple manual switch device (the eyes in a photo of each child were made to move - see page 36). Next they progressed to toys controlled through switches, such as battery-powered cars that were tested in races and a ramp to find which could climb the steepest slope. The trigger used to introduce the floor robots - Valiant Roamers - was the book Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, about a boy who is sent different pets by a zoo and then returns them one-by-one, because they are unsuitable.
The robots were sent back and forth across the room - to and from the zoo. The Vines pupils had alreay made zoo animals on sticks for a literacy project and these were attached to the robots. At this stage, the children were beginning to understand how to programme the robots.
In the third week, preparations were made for acting out Rosie's Walk. The farm was built by staff and the plastic covers for the robots decorated to create Rosie and Fergus. The farm and costumes were finished by different groups. Bees were made from paper, and straw from drinking straws. One group recorded farm noises to play while a story was told. A trail was set up through the "farmyard", with "footprints" used as the intervals for programming the Roamer (so five footprints between the pond and the mill enabled the children to count how far to programme the robot to go).
Rosie and Fergus's journey, was photographed by children with a digital camera, so they could discuss it later.
In the final session, the pupils thought of different ways of making a bus and how it might move. Buses were made and decorated with photos the pupils had taken of themselves becoming bus "passengers". A remote-control device inside the bus was then explained to the children. The route was laid out, with traffic lights, school buildings, grass and a zebra crossing with a "lollipop lady", and the children then took the bus on its journey.
"We felt the project gave both teams an excellent insight into how each school's children learn," says Nick Flesher. "In the special school we were able to remind ourselves of what we want our children to aim for in their socialisation and language, and Allfarthing got a valuable insight into how they can support children in their own school who have language difficulties. We were able to disseminate useful ideas to our colleagues there and to benefit from their input into our own school community."
The project was funded by a curriculum initiative bid from Wandsworth education authority and the Learning Circuit. For case studies, visit: www.learning-circuit.co.uk. For details of the Makaton vocabulary development project go to www.makaton.org. For advice about inclusion visit: http:inclusion.ngfl.gov.uk
* SWIVELLING EYES
1. Children use a digital camera to take photos of each other.
2. The faces are printed, cut out and stuck to cards that are larger than the faces.Next, draw and cut out rectangular flaps on each side of the face. Slits are then cut into these side-flaps, which are bent at right angles to go behind the face.
3. Classroom assistants then cut out the eyes and children stick these to marked positions on a strip of card. (A small cube of wood can be stuck to this "eye-strip". This becomes the "handle" so the strip can be moved from left to right.) 4. The eye-strip is then slipped into the slits so that it can slide from left to right. (A piece of thicker card can be stapled to the end of each eye-strip to keep it in place.) 5. By moving the eye strip "handle" back and forth, the eyes appear to be moving from left to right, giving an example of cause and effect.