Where's your head at?

Project based learning, thinking on learning and amazing Art projects

Meet the Ancestors!


It had been coming for a long time. The Pebble course, which we have been running for several years had always been missing public scrutiny- something which all good PBL aficionados have been banging on about for years. Berger, Fuller et al.


It was during the Summer holidays, I first thought about using this amazing empty shop front in Jersey’s newest, swanky shopping centre; a beautifully rennovated old abbatoir. And here I am now, writing up my blog post in the shop on the first Sunday Christmas shopping weekend, whilst Boney M, Chris De Berg and… for my sins, Cliff bloody Richard is being piped out down the frozen walkway. There is no heating and it’s 5 degrees outside and the same inside. Has it all been worth it? The organising, the fret, the panic, the bone numbing chill? Hell Yes!

On Friday night, after a long week….

Hang on… Oh God….. George Michael’s unmistakable wail. Last Christmas. AAAAAAAAAAAAARGHH!

Sorry as I was saying, after a long week, we put up the exhibition of incredible family trees, beautiful, painstakingly made memory books and diary entries. It looked amazing. The huge glass window had some great group photos of our students dressed up as their ancestors, A1 exhibition posters and ‘Pebble’ shop signs. It looked absolutely stunning as darkness fell and the spotlights glowed on the fabulous work.


It was all ready for our big launch the next day. We had done our bit. Now… Would anyone turn up? Would the students performing their ancestral monologues give Alan Bennett a run for his money? Would my feet turn to ice? The answer to all was a resoundingly affirmative YES!

From the moment we opened the doors, parents, visitors and shoppers came flooding in to see the exhibition and at 10.30, with the ring of an old school bell, the monologues began. 30 students performed their little hearts out for an hour and a half of nostalgic drama of the very highest order. We heard of stunt drivers from the 1950s, a wife whose husband was in jail for owning a radio during the occupation, a famous Chinese writer and illustrator living in Edinburgh in the 1940’s, an hilarious chef on board a warship in WW2, even Scott of the Antarctic was brought back just to tell us that Amundsen had got their first. The audience were stunned by the quality and confidence these young people had brought to their performances. The huge empty shop was full of an incredible buzz which had been shaped by their learning experiences at school. This day, if I ever needed proof that what we were doing has helped shape keen, young learners into highly skilled, highly motivated, passionate learners, this was the day.

So as David Essex waxes lyrically about a winter’s tale and I have lost all feeling in the tips of my fingers, people are still pouring in to marvel at our little geniuses.

Our young people spend an extraordinary amount of time at our institutions, often not getting the recognition for their hard work, not getting a voice for their achievements and not being able to shout about the brilliant creations of exceptional value our students are capable of.

Public exhibitions of students work certainly stops teachers ‘accepting’ work as what students are capable of. Every student in Year 8 had a piece of work at the exhibition. Spelling, punctuation, presentation from every student was near perfect. It’s funny how teachers look at these things with a more critical eye when there is more at stake than a level, a tick and a shelf to put it on.



We now have moved on to ‘Pan Pipe Christmas Moods’ album. Thankfully a mother and child are taking it in turns to read out some of the diaries on display. That… And only that is giving me a warm feeling inside as the ice block formally known as my nose starts to drip.

So what have I learnt? I’ve learnt that students are far more passionate about learning when we design meaningful ‘joined-up’  projects which encourage students to shine and stretch their thinking. Projects which question rather than accepts a student’s ability. Projects which explore, nurture and develop the fundamental skills needed to be successful learners. And finally, projects which give students a chance to publicly show what they are capable of.

There have never been so many empty shops in towns and cities across our nation. Adopt a shop. Fill it with what’s great learning in your neighbourhood and just see what happens to the public perception of your school. See what happens to the faces of the students you teach when you show them just how much their learning means to you. The profit you make will be priceless. Just make sure your shop has heating. And no bloody Christmas music.

Author: Pete Jones

I am primarily an Art teacher, but over the past 5 years have been co-developing an experienced-based learning programme in the school I work in called Pebble, (short for Project Based Learning). I read extensively on learning and education, and I intend to use this blog to record what is going on in my head as well as in the classroom. Hopefully I will be able to share resources and ideas with like-minded thinkers in the future. The Pebble course runs through the whole of Year 8 for 5 periods a week. I am desperate for our world wide education system to catch up with the way we live our lives. Transformation of what we learn in schools and how we learn in schools is desperately overdue. Pebble is a skills centered curriculum with the focus very much on what students need to be successful learners, giving them valuable, deep learning experiences to boot.


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