Earlier this month saw the Achievement for All annual conference taking place at the Birmingham NEC, where a set of learning resources built around the BBC Earth film Enchanted Kingdom were officially launched. To give attendees of the conference a first-hand account of what can be achieved when using the Enchanted Kingdom as a stimulus for project based learning activities, Simon de Senlis Primary's headmaster Tom Rees was on hand to talk about how the six schools making up the Northampton Primary Academy Trust had recently collaborated around the film on this initiative.
Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with Simon de Senlis as one of Microsoft’s Global Showcase Schools.
Following a special preview screening held at Universal Studios in London earlier this year, teachers from Simon de Senlis and the five other schools within the trust then took elements of what they had seen in the BBC Earth film and transformed this into a series of activities for students of varying ages. Using the hashtag #NPATEK, examples of students' work were shared through blogs and social media channels, enabling other schools within the trust - and broadly speaking the wider education community - to see just how productively engaged the children were, and to inspire each other with the quality and variety of their work. This provided a great platform for teachers to exchange feedback, draw inspiration from other schools in the trust, and also show parents what their children had accomplished. We were shown examples of work from all areas of the curriculum, presented in a broad range of mediums making full use of the Office 365 suite of tools. Through Skype in the Classroom, students were able to speak with some of the crew involved in the creation of the Enchanted Kingdom film, with one cameraman traveling four hours away from the location he was currently filming, just to find an internet connection so that he could talk to the enraptured students about his experiences working on the African project.
Pupils and teachers from the schools involved in the #NPATEK project came together to showcase their work during an event at Simon de Senlis in July, which is summarised wonderfully in this short video:
The film's co-director Patrick Morris and Microsoft in Education's Mark Stewart were also on stage with Tom to talk about the history of the film, how it was made and the way the BBC and Microsoft have been working together to make this as inspirational and useful as possible within the wider educational context.
Later on in the day, Simon de Senlis teacher and MIEExpert Tomos Prosser ran one of the conference's workshop sessions, giving attendees a demonstration of the ease and effectiveness with which Sway can be used in the classroom. However, the highlight of the day for many was the dance performance by a number of pupils from Simon de Senlis, inspired by their work around the Enchanted Kingdom film from BBC Earth:
The day was of course not just about the Enchanted Kingdom, and there was an impressive bill of speakers covering a range of topics, starting with and inspiring talk from British Paralympic swimmer Kate Grey, whose words about perseverance, recognising your own achievements and not letting setbacks define you will have lifted the spirits of any teacher or student feeling a hint of the autumnal blues. Also speaking was Lee Elliott Major of the Sutton Trust, exploring the latest report into 'what makes great teaching'. One of his main thrusts was the notion that greater strides can be made by considering not what was spent by schools, but rather how it was spent. In other words, technology purchased in line with a well-considered digital strategy can have more of an impact than procuring the biggest and best machines available on the market.
Later in the day we were given an insight into causality and treatment of behavioural issues in young people by way of an articulate, and at times distressing, reflection by Whitney Iles, as she talked through the stories of some of the young offenders she has been helping through Project 507. And finally to refocus the mind onto school-based matters, we heard from Ofsted director Sir Robin Bosher, whose talk Improving Aspirations: The Contribution of Inspection helped to reinforce some of the more innovative approaches to achievement explored earlier in the day within the context of school assessment.
The annual conference also marked the launch of a series of books written by Professor Sonia Brantford (founder of Achievement for All), which each share the lessons that can be learned from the thousands of schools who have signed up to Achievement for All's high impact approach to education and who have bought into the charity's commitment to close the achievement gap in Britain's schools. Each book has its own intended audience (school leaders, classroom teachers, parents and students), and all are published by John Cart Educational. We'll take a closer look at this book series in due course through separate blog posts, but for more information please click here: Achievement for All series.
For those wishing to access the Enchanted Kingdom learning resources from Achievement for All, they can be found within the AfA Bubble. Upon the release of the Enchanted Kingdom DVD we will also be making free copies available to schools who wish to build their own project based learning experience around the film. We will post details about how to go about claiming a free copy of the DVD in due course.