Teachers JPD: exploring intelligent materials

Partner Teachers of the SENsory Atelier Programme have finished a 6 month Joint Professional Development programme with Sightlines Initiative, Britain’s reference organisation for Reggio Emelia pedagogy.

In the final session, teachers presented on sessions that they had faciliated with their young people in their education settings. They explored intelligent materials and how children can learn though engaging with new materials.

The teachers explored Newspaper, Plasticine, arts and crafts materials, glitter, card and clay.

Exploring with Newspaper

Amy Mackenzie-Smith and Amy Williams from Ashmount School

For our material exploration in class 1, we decided to use newspaper. It is something we had in plentiful supply, and due to it being a household material, it was an activity we could suggest for our students to take part in at home (as half of the class was shielding at the time). 

The session took part in a completely free stimulus room and all that was in the room was a large pile of newspaper in the centre (with me hidden underneath), and chairs stationed around the mound. when the students came into the room, all of the staff members took a step back and allowed the children to lead the session. The students were wary to make the first move and chose to sit around the mound, nobody making the first move. After about 5 minutes, I jumped out of the newspaper. This action was met with many gasps and laughter, and it almost gave the students the sense of “consent” to do what they wished.

All of the students in the class reacted very different to the newspaper and it was wonderful to just take a step back and observe. In just the first session we watched our students:

  • Pick up the newspaper to read
  • Rip the newspaper into tiny pieces and throw
  • Fold the paper in different ways
  • Create clothing out of the paper
  • Scrunch
  • Replicate the hiding underneath the paper to jump out on their peers
  • Lay on the paper like it was a bed
  • Collect and gather the paper
  • Roll the paper
  • One student even asked to make a hat out of the paper!

The session led to us all getting to know our little individuals’ characters more personally. We watched peer on peer relationships blossom, creativity flow, and curiosity develop. It is something that we have further worked on, adding another small element to each session. Such as tape, scissors, material etc. 

It is so nice to each week, allow our children the space to enquire, experiment, communicate, and create completely on their terms. 

Exploring Plasticine

Gemma James from Ellesmere College

What did you do?

I decided to continue the plasticine exploration and this time changed the environment we explored it in to see what sort of direction the children would go with their exploration. I put a tough tray of plasticine in the garden and presented it in the same way as before and just gave the children chunks of plasticine. I also left the packs out in the tray.

How did it look?

I gave the children chunks of plasticine in a tough spot. I also left some wrapped up plasticine at the side. Straight away one of the children began creating a model of a house and garden. Interestingly, he went into the similar exploration of making a model but posing it like a picture that you would look at in 2D. This linked back to the last time we explored plasticine. Another child also went straight into smearing the blue on the tough tray to make a sky. At this point they didn’t have anything extra to use but did have the whole garden to choose items from if they decided to.

I then began making my own model and decided to bring sticks into it. I started making and pressing my sticks into it. Both children wanted to stop what they were doing and guess what I was making. They came up with lots of ideas whilst I was making it. When I started adding sticks, Imogen guessed a tree. We had a chat that it could be a tree because the stick could be the trunk but I was going to carry on until I’d finished my creation. William guessed it was a fox and the sticks were ears but I kept adding more. He then decided this wasn’t the case as foxes didn’t have spikes which then led him to realise I was making a hedgehog.

We also talked about different ways of showing our models. I couldn’t press my hedgehog into the tuff spot on its side so how can we still see it? Actually, by standing it up so that we can see all sides as a 3D model means we can still see it all. Both children then wanted to find items in the garden that they could use to add to their plasticine. One child picked lots of grass and sprinkled it on his plasticine grass and then went off to find some sticks which he then used to create a dog. He wouldn’t tell us what it was and we had to guess what it was and why we thought that. Another child went straight off to find her own sticks and used them to make her own unicorn. Again, she wanted us to guess what it was and what the stick might represent.

What were the outcomes?

  • The children remembered and built on their exploration from last time.
  • Without adding any items, just a change of environment encourages lots of different ideas and thoughts and is a different way to approach an activity.
  • That introducing just the use of sticks, creating a model and showing another way to present it opened up more ideas and ways of modelling.
  • Lots and lots of skills come out of such a simple activity – reasoning, problem solving, communication, UoTW and more.

What did you learn and observe?

Throughout this experience I have learnt to really let children go with their own explorations. This is something we already do but this has shown how to take it that step further. Working alongside the children as we go develops their learning, exploration and own ideas. Rather than showing a finished product and encouraging students to make the same, it’s about showing them the techniques and letting them develop their own ideas using the strategies and ideas.

Exploring Origami- Leicester hospital School

James Stafford from Leicester Hospital School

For the last Sightlines task, myself and a student continued looking at the link between origami and maths.  We had settled on working with perhaps the most iconic origami animal – the crane. My student had been looking at the angles formed from the folds.  This generated some great discussion about angles and shapes. It also brought up some discussion around colour and what colours would show if the shapes formed by folding were coloured in.  The investigation was so simple, but answering the questions that arose involved lots of critical thinking and visualisation skills, and this was really beneficial for my student.  I guess the most obvious takeaway from this Sightlines task was not to disregard tasks based on how simple they are but to perhaps allow a task to be explored further and create its own further questioning and greater depth.  Allowing the student to direct this also meant that unexpected avenues were explored and richer discussion were had. 

Exploring Arts and Crafts

Mel Holland from Leicester Hospital School

I decided to focus on a particular student I am currently working with (M) for the final gap task, exploring a variety of different materials with her. M is a student with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) and is non-verbal. She communicates with facial expressions, deliberate eye contact and is honing her abilities to use eye pointing to make choices between two objects. The aim was to complete an activity where M chose between two different types of materials to decorate a fish for Science Week. The task focussed on which two types of materials would M be able to choose most easily from and how could I facilitate these choices to get the best from her and for her.

Overall, I was really pleased with the activity, which took place over two sessions. Although M’s choices weren’t always consistent, I think that might have been more due to the fact that her eye movement can be so subtle, that I might have missed the nuances of her decisions. I think that I could have helped a little more by giving M completely different materials to choose from (such as shiny tin foil and coloured tissue paper) so that she really had that contrast to choose between. She did seem to enjoy holding whichever material I was sticking on to the fish, so that continued element of her choice coming to life did seem to be successful and cemented that cause and effect of her choosing something and then it going on as a decoration.

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