Isn’t it amazing how I can suddenly find the time to blog, now that the school year is almost at an end! I had promised to write this blog post months and months ago (especially when I was greeted at BETT with “You’re the crime scene man!”), but just never got round to it. Following on from yesterday’s post about the alien spaceship crash landing, I thought I should probably blog about something I did way back in January when Year 5 were starting to learn about The Aztecs.
I am so lucky that I work in a school that allows me to be creative and do slightly off-the-wall things from time to time. One evening in December, I was sitting with a blank piece of paper and a glass of red wine, thinking about how I could teach our new topic on The Aztecs. One thing led to another, and before you knew it, I had come up with a slightly wacky idea to provide an initial stimulus. The plans kept formulating in my head over the Christmas holidays, until it was time to set things up during an INSET day on the first day back in January.
If you look carefully, you can see that my classroom has been completely trashed and turned upside down. It would be the job of the Year 5 children to find out what happened when they returned to school the next morning.
So when the first morning after the Christmas holidays came around, it’s fair to say that none of the children were expecting to come back to a crime scene in their classroom! When they arrived in school, they will have noticed the police tape outside the classroom and a message from me to stay outside the cordon.
By the time I had my morning coffee and got outside to greet them, quite a few of the children were already formulating ideas of what had happened. One of my initial aims was to eliminate everyone asking “What did you get for Christmas?” and I’m pretty sure that discovering this in school made them forget all about Christmas and presents!
The children were brought inside to the school gym and told that the school alarm had gone off at 4am and the caretaker arrived to find my classroom in complete disarray. They were told that Northumbria Police had already been to school, however they had to leave and had decided to give the task of investigating what had happened to the children of Year 5. As far fetched as this all sounds, it was quite surprising how many of the children actually believed this, especially when they cornered the caretaker without me knowing (he had already been prepped, so he was singing from the same hymn sheet!).
So when the children crossed the police cordon and entered the classroom, they were faced with a lot of mess, but lots of clues.
All over the classroom they found feathers. Maybe it was a bird that had been in the classroom and set the alarm off?
Chalk hand prints were found on the tables…
…and on the walls.
They even investigated the ridiculous possibility that it might have been me that put the hand prints all over the classroom!
Whoever or whatever had been in the classroom liked or had some form of an interest in chocolate, as there was chocolate wrappers strewn all over the floor.
Some children noticed that books about the Aztecs had been opened all over the classroom.
And some started to ask themselves what this message underneath the map might mean…
The most intriguing clues, however, were these lists of numbers that were found on all the walls:
The children wrote down all their findings…
…and went into the other Year 5 classroom, which had been set up as an Incident Room, where they had access to laptops and the internet so that they could research any clues that they had found.
When the children looked at the numbered messages, they would find a code. The code was 1=A, 2=B, 3=C etc. This would then give them a website address: eyahue.wordpress.com and lead them to the website of Eyahue, the Aztec Warrior.
On the website, they found out who Eyahue was and he explained the story of why he had wrecked the classroom.
Over the next few weeks, Eyahue became a character that we encountered a lot in class. For the first few weeks, it was the job of our children to teach him about our world today. They taught him in particular about contemporary art. After this, Eyahue sent messages through other means to teach the children about the Aztecs.
This was a very successful morning and one that I hugely enjoyed. The children learned a lot about the Aztecs without realising, which put them in good stead for the rest of the topic. Providing an initial stimulus like this, completely out of the blue, really engages the children and makes them want to find out as much about the topic area as they can. Each and every child was able to access this, from low-ability to high-ability, as they were able to investigate at their own level. There was very little teacher input during the investigation, however we did try to set them off down wrong paths, to test their investigative skills even more!
If I were to do this project again, I would definitely use the Aztec blog more. As the topic progressed, the blog became less and less important, as Eyahue gave messages in other ways. I would definitely keep the blog as the focal point and centre of interest throughout the topic, particularly as it can be referred to by the children at home at later points.
This is a one-off event, as I cannot repeat it again with my new Year 5 class next year. I’m looking forward to thinking of new ideas along the same lines to get children investigating a topic and leading their own learning right from the offset. It definitely is the best way to learn!