Through my connections to ISTA, I’ve been most fortunate to attend workshops led by Dr Debra Kidd. I always look forward to these as I adore her ideas for using drama as pedagogy in the Primary classroom. Recently, I heard her speak about spatial memory, and how we can use maps to immerse children in their learning. I was eager to give it a go and very quickly an opportunity presented itself.
Our unit of inquiry was centred on the idea that ‘People build their homes in different places and different ways’, and to supplement this, we were exploring The Three Little Pigs in literacy. I was keen to use some of Dr Kidd’s methodologies, with a ‘Mantle of the Expert’ slant, to connect the story and the inquiry together authentically and meaningfully. Bear with me, because this was a long journey! Before getting started, I explained to the learners that we were going to do something a little different, where we would all be in role, and that using our imaginations would help us really enjoy this experience – this way, everyone was on board before we began! I told them they would shortly be joined by an inspector from the FBI who needed their help, then I left the room.
I knocked on the door, then re-entered in role as the inspector. I began referring to the learners as ‘agents’, and told them I had assembled them (as the best in the business) to help me solve a crime. They were presented with a picture of a destroyed straw house. What do we think happened?
We sorted these into the possibilities of natural disaster vs intentional harm. While the learners were discussing these, I ‘received another phone call’, and informed them that we had had word of another destroyed house – a stick one this time. This time there was no doubt this was intentional. To find the culprit, we needed a map.
The ‘agents’ jumped in, quickly helping construct the town where the crimes took place. After placing the straw and stick houses on, we added a river, the police station, the hospital, a mountain, a park, a zoo, a train station…no ideas were rejected and the town quickly grew!
From this point onwards, I saw a marked difference in the engagement of the learners. They really took ownership of the situation, and became fully immersed in the project. We identified possible places (post-it notes on the map) that the culprit could be hiding and I was amazed at the critical thinking applied to produce reasoning for these hiding places. They listened with eagerness and interest and calmly debated the rationale for the different hiding places.
There were many more different stages to this learning experience, but I want to stick to the importance of the map, which was always central to our meetings when in role. Having the map, and giving the learners a solid location for our discussion and actions, led to them being really invested in this experience. During other lessons, they would constantly ask me when the inspector was coming back, and bring in items from the playground that must be ‘clues’!
Eventually, after interviewing eyewitnesses, making posters, going to wolf-hunting boot camp, and solving a BreakoutEDU box, we found the wolf. And a restorative conversation was had with the wolf and the pigs to help resolve the situation.
But we were far from finished. Two of the three pigs were now homeless. Back to the map we went. Where could the pigs build their homes? In the forest? On the mountain? By the river? On the beach? In the city? We had the basis for our inquiry. Rather than inquiry for the sake of inquiry, the learners had an invested interest in finding out about houses in these different locations to help our friend Peter Pig! We constantly referred back to the map to remind the learners of our purpose.
I can honestly say this has been one of the most magical learning experiences I’ve ever been a part of. I never knew where we were going next and had to plan on my feet every second. Something that always amazed me was how the learners saw such a distinction between myself and the ‘inspector’, though I used no costume or anything. Throughout the day, they would ask me when the ‘inspector’ was coming back as they had vital information to share with him!
I can’t recommend this style of learning enough. Moving learners from engagement to investment is something I am always thinking about now when setting up an inquiry. I can’t wait to do it again!