Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

September 29, 2013
by Pete Jones
1 Comment

This is not a classroom


beautifulFollowing the beginnings of our PBL course (Pebble-throw a pebble into a pond, watch the ripples etc) I decided to get my students to change the end of the ‘Why are we doing Pebble intro’ and go for something a little more ethereal. I attach some of the results. The one above I read out to parents as an example of what students said they wanted to happen in the classroom this year. There were a few stunned parents, mouthing ‘wow’ to themselves. I also added jokingly, “No pressure then” to a ripple of chuckles. I have a whole bank of these, written by every member of the class. Something incredibly powerful to remind me and them, what we want our classroom, our education to be about and how we will have to act to ensure we reach were we think we want to go.

They were inspired by @Sparky teaching’s wonderful ‘This is not a classroom’ posters and this video as an example of slam poetry. Their poems, which summed up their feelings of what they would get from the Pebble course had to have rhythm (try speaking them with a South London accent, works for me) and some rhyming words to help it flow. There were a couple of kids who tried to get away with ‘You need skills, to pay the bills’, but they were very quickly put in their place and we ended up with a book-full of these beauties. Each student read them out with as much ‘Street’ passion as kids from Jersey can muster, me MCing between each one. Huge respeck. (oh dear god).

Okay, I’m no English teacher, far from it, but their sentiment, their passion for learning exudes out of every syllable. This for me, is my benchmark. Our expectations for learning. Our mantra. What a beautiful start to the term this has created.

I tweeted the poem above last weekend and it was swallowed up and retweeted by educators across the world. When I told the unassuming young Year 8 girl who wrote this poem, her face literally sparkled. Following on from the ‘To praise or not to praise’ debate of recent days, a recognition and celebration of the passion for learning of our young people, I hope is acceptable. What a set of values to hold dear as we embark on a wonderful new mission for learning this year. Better than ‘The Class Rules’?

Most definitely.

Here are a few more to keep you going.

base of operation

this isnt a classroom


in this classroom

And I know this one isn’t quite as glossy(she made it on my iPad), but I love what Gina says about believing in yourself and being supportive.


July 7, 2012
by Pete Jones

That’ll Doodle!


After an absolutely amazing year of challenging, engaging and incredibly rewarding project work, students summed up their Pebble experience with a learning doodle. The depth of thought, the confidence to create original work of real value perfectly reflects the profound experience so many of our students have had this year. Their future thinking interviews are in full flow. The senior leadership team have been amazed at the quality and confidence demonstrated in the interviews. The penny is finally dropping that we need to give students throughout KS3 deeper and more challenging learning experiences to consistently stretch and inspire. The question is how do we involve more departments to develop the Pebble ethos further, or better still, how can we get the whole school to question the value of what and how students are learning? How is our curriculum preparing them for more than just an exam?

For those teachers involved in Pebble, as a consequence of the collaborative and constantly evolving curriculum we have created, it has certainly encouraged us to question the value of what we teach and how we teach in our own subject areas.It has made me have much higher expectations of what I teach in Year 9 Art for example, changing our learning model to an enquiry based experience, focusing on the mindset of the creative learner.

As a group, we all recognise the enormous difference larger chunks of time allow students to think, learn and act differently. Having the time to try, fail, fail better, reflect, aim high and aim better with each unit helps foster a growth mindset.

The vast majority if students respond incredibly positively to having a morning and an afternoon working on their projects rather than singular lessons. They really see the benefits of the longer time- how much deeper they can engage with their learning, extended discussion, collaborate with others to create meaningful outcomes, spend time just getting things right and ultimately being able to reflect properly on their achievements.

It has made me question the value of what I can teach in a single practical lesson. But for students, to have 5 different mindsets to bring to school, 5 different approaches to learning, shuffling from one classroom to another 5 times a day, 5 days a week must at times be incredibly frustrating. How much real learning do we get done in hour slots?From French to Geography to Science, then DT and Maths all in one day?

As a result of Pebble, many students are beginning to question the purpose of traditional models of learning, many students and parents have expressed sadness that Pebble ends at the end of Year 8. As a school next year, we are looking at (hopefully) finally reinventing our curriculum model to allow for a more deep, engaging and challenging curriculum. I will use this blog to keep updated as the year progresses. Will we reach a critical mass for real change? We will have to see. I have to say, I’ve been here before…



May 29, 2012
by Pete Jones

The Future Thinking Project

The final project, ‘Future Thinking’ gets students to consider their own futures; where they are right now and how they will need to adapt to get to where they want to go. We use Daniel Pink’s ‘Whats My Sentence?’ idea to help students focus their minds.

Now.. We have to remember that these students are only in Year 8 and many students really don’t have a clear picture of what they would like their futures will be. But if you ask any student, do they want to be successful? Then of course the answer would be yes. And this is the starting point. Their definition of success is crucial to the development of this project. Today, I asked the whole year group what success meant to them. Ok, so one student said lots of money, but the responses were really encouraging. ‘Being happy’, ‘Working on something I find really hard and making progress’, ‘Being the best that I can be.’

Students then went on to question each other with a wide range of provided searching questions, to build a picture of another students dreams, realities, passions, strengths and weaknesses. From the information they acquire, they have to distill that information to create a sentence, or short paragraph which they feel sums up their lives right now. A fascinating and rich experience. I will post some of the responses soon.

At the end of this unit, students will be going to a short formal interview with a senior member of staff. They will be asked 3 challenging questions which they might face in a typical job interview which they must try to answer as effectively as possible. They will have to use their understanding of the PLT’s we have been developing in Pebble to add gravity to their answers.  There responses will be graded along with there general demeanour. More about this later.

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