I’m scared of heights. Well, more specifically, I’m scared of falling. So how did I come to find myself being supported horizontally at shoulder height by six people I had only met a few hours earlier?
I’d been volunteered for a Dance/Science project funded by Creative Partnerships and this was the introductory session. I was working with a team of dancers, discussing how I saw the project working. Part of our feedback session was the demonstrate some of our findings and hopes for the project. Since I had admitted to frequently making a fool of myself on a skateboard when teaching basic Forces concepts – which was to be the focus of the project – I suddenly found myself being the skateboard!
Learning Moves was a project which aimed to explore the teaching of Science in a different kinesthetic way. The pupils in the class chosen were mostly identified as kinesthetic learners and they were given the chance to explore aspects of the ‘Forces’ section of Physics using movement. It was hoped that the pupils would be able to interact with their surroundings and be able to link their learning into everyday life; so that they can see the relevance of Science to themselves.
The project involved me, a Physics teacher; Julie, one of our teaching assistants who has a dance background and two dancers – Fran and Alexis. The pupils were my bottom set year 8 Science class – about 14 of them on average. In theory, that meant they should be working at level 3 with an expectation of level 4 by the end of year 9. In practice, something went wrong and I had a much wider range of abilities in there, right up to pupils who were working at level 5. Why me? Because I’m known to be a bit innovative and open to trying new ideas in the classroom. We spent about 8 weeks working with the pupils on a Friday afternoon – this meant taking them out of their Music lesson as well as my Science lesson. The dance was very physical – following observations of the class in their ‘natural surroundings’ of a Science lab, the dancers decided that the more physical we made the sessions, the better.
We didn’t just dance though. Once we had warmed up, we looked at Physics concepts and used those as a basis for our work. We looked at where forces acted on the body when it was in certain positions; we explored the effect of forces on each other – pushing and pulling to change speed, shape and direction; we put together dances based on a random selection of the following keywords – speed, shape, direction, push, pull, friction – and challenged pupils to move across a space in as many different ways as they could. We spent some time outside, looking at the effects of air resistance on speed. Pupils ran the length of the tennis court holding one or two umbrellas, and compared their results to pupils holding none. They were able to feel the effects of air resistance and talk about why they were running at different speeds. We repeated the experiments inside and discussed the reasons behind the differences in results.
The whole project was videoed with the aim of making a final presentation DVD. Some of the pupils did not like this initially, but having seen playback in their other lessons their behaviour and attitudes improved and they began to take responsibility for the filming.
At first the pupils were reluctant to participate – they were enthusiastic in principle, but when they had to join in, that was another thing. They found it hard to stand in a space on their own, and even harder to lie quietly on the floor. Some of the boys found all sorts of distractions in the theatre space we were in, which led to a few problems. When we learnt a sequence of moves, for use later on in the project, it was amazing how many of them just gave up when they couldn’t do it. As the project progressed, and they began to take ownership of their work, the boys in particular were very keen to keep practicing to get it right. The girls appeared less bothered if no one was watching. The use of video was interesting; it motivated the pupils to do better and make their dancing look nicer.
There was no direct impact on their results for that particular topic. However, from the project they gained a desire to learn and to do better in future; this lead to them working much better together as a class. There were fewer distractions, they were able to complete experiments and discuss their findings with confidence. Their test results for the final two topics of the year were significantly higher and a number of pupils were working at a level 5 by the end of the year.
Knowing that they were making a video which they could keep was a real motivator for the pupils. In the end we made two videos – one showing the journey that the pupils had made during the project – that chaotic scenes at the beginning and the well rehearsed dances at the end; the other was an edited piece of their dances. The pupils enjoyed the project and were sad when it ended. Their comments were recorded in my learning journal – we had talked to them before about what they thought of Science and what they did and didn’t enjoy in lessons. Before the project started they all said they enjoyed practical work and dislike written work although they were all positive about Science lessons. By the end of the project, most pupils had noticeably grown in self confidence and were asking more questions in class. They were able to work more independently and were beginning to respond positively to changes.
Jake: “It was more active”
Kieron: “I learnt how to work together”
Lauren: “I learnt what forces do”
Ayden: “As the weeks went on I started to enjoy it because the teachers were encouraging me. I reckon that I learnt more on friction, movement and shape”
Taken from my learning journal, spellings corrected but grammar left unchanged
As a teacher, this project gave me more confidence to be completely outside the box when teaching Science. We were able to get more physical in class, I was able to give the pupils longer term projects to work on and trust them to take pride in their work. It would be useful to repeat the exercise – certain bits of the project will be written into schemes of work so that all staff can have the opportunity to try them. I do feel that one of the reasons the project was so successful was because it wasn’t just about me as a teacher trying to teach Physics a different way, it was about having the professionals and the ideas and the way the pupils responded to those people. We are looking at trying a similar, confidence building exercise with our Breakthrough group for next year; if it were to happen again in Science lessons the pupils would be chosen in consultation with the PE department so that they were all either confident at dancing and not so at Science or vice versa.