I’m walking in the country with R. It’s a professional catch up. Executive coaching. (Coaching walks really work, try them). We’ve each got a Starbucks, black Americano, 4 shots. The sun is out, the air is clear.
We cut through bushes and emerge to find 40 beech trees spaced evenly and set in two parallel lines – just over 2 meters apart – stretching left and right. The trunks are too wide for us to reach around; they must be 150-200 years old. Looking up, the canopy is pastel green and sunlight washes through.
There is intent here, there is purpose. Someone, along time ago, decided to plant these trees – right here and in parallel lines. A car would fit between them and maybe, when the trees were younger, two carts could pass.
The trees are on a ridge. To the east is an ancient track, to the west an abandoned military camp. Neither offer any clues but our curiosity is peaked. We want to know – need to know – who planted these trees, when they did it and why.
We ask a man walking his dog. He doesn’t know. A phone search brings up nothing. As experienced educators it’s unspoken that neither of us will now rest until we have this knowledge. This is necessary knowledge.
We plan some blended, lockdown-ready learning for R.’s primary learners:
- Study trees. Become beech experts. Have 10 key facts to hand. Learn through expert lectures, online research, reading. Be ready.
- Visit ‘Beech Avenue’ (school visit or streamed live). Apply your knowledge. Come at the task visually, linguistically, existentially, mathematically, alone, in groups.
- Get creative. If you walk the full length of Beech Avenue, where will you be transported? If the trees talk when we leave, what will they say? What have these trees seen?
- Develop the absolute best question you can about Beech Avenue.
- Back at school, or at home, seek out local history experts. Zoom Q&A. Locals who’ve moved away are now within reach.
- Present learning live, online, face to face – whatever works best.
- Review the project. What do we now know and how does it connect to what we already knew and want to know next? How will we remember it? What skills did we need? What attitudes did we need for this?
COVID has forced us online. It’s forced us to consider how we teach.
If you taught in ‘way A’ before lockdown, you’ll probably seek out tools online to teach in ‘way A’. If you taught in ‘way B’ before lockdown, likewise, you’ll seek out tools online to teach in ‘way B’.
What if online offers way C? What are going to do?
The majority of the children whose futures you are nurturing will be alive when the years begin with ’21’. We’re going to need a pretty strong evidence base to continue to use teaching methods that dominated when the years started with ’19’ or even ’20’.
Let’s make the future work: