This week definitely hasn’t been a “normal” week at school: it’s not every week that a spaceship crash-lands on your school field! This crash has been the culmination of many months of planning by a group of teachers and parents at my school, with the ultimate aim being that children would be excited and enthusiastic about writing, having had such an exciting initial stimulus.
The beginnings of the plans started back in September. Each teacher in my school is assigned to a team and each team has responsibility for a group of subjects or an event at some point during the year. I am on the Communications Team, which is responsible for Literacy, ICT and MFL. This set-up is definitely much better than having a co-ordinator for every subject, as leading the development of these subjects becomes a team effort. One of the remits of the Communications Team is to plan and organise a Writing Week towards the end of the school year. Last year this involved a wise sage from a land far, far away coming to our school to learn all about our school. This year, however, we decided that we would have a spaceship land on the school field. We were buzzing with ideas and talked lots in our meetings about having aliens creeping around school, a spaceship with smoke and noises coming from it, and there was even talk of a mysterious orb making its way around school with a concealed camera taking photos from inside it. The plans were codenamed “Operation Roswell.”
As July got closer and closer, our plans started to become reality and a few parents were let in on the secret of what was happening, so that they could help us to build the crashed spaceship. The most important aspect of the week was that it would be a complete surprise for children and parents. For a while, we even toyed with the idea of not telling staff and it being a complete surprise for them, pushing their creative, off-the-cuff planning skills to the hilt and allowing the children to lead the learning, but it was agreed that the week would be much better if staff were able to plan exciting activities in advance.
Anyway, last Sunday, everything was put into action. At 3pm, I went with a colleague to meet the parent who had very kindly given his time to build the spaceship. It is fair to say that we were extremely nervous, as we had no idea what his plans were, nor had we seen the development of the spaceship since an initial meeting a few weeks ago. What we found surpassed our expectations and we were amazed with what had been created. After many hours of moving it from a workshop nearby over to the school field, reassembling, digging huge chunks out of the school field, wiring up the amazing in-built lights, putting a police cordon around the crash area and adding final touches, our spaceship was successfully “crashed” and installed into the slope at the edge of the field, right next to the gate where the children come in each morning. Staying at work until 10.45pm on a Sunday night and arriving in at 6.30am the next morning was definitely worth it when the finished product became clear.
As the children arrived on Monday morning, they were amazed with what they saw. They were told that I had been given special permission to be able to get close to the wreckage, as I was wearing protective clothing. We had managed to get the police involved and they were fantastic, as they really added a believability aspect to the whole morning. The children had to be careful, however – when smoke started to emerge from the spaceship, I had to warn them that “the fuel reactor cell had activated” and that they shouldn’t breathe in the smoke.
Of course, I relished the opportunity to be in the centre of it all as everyone arrived!!
As the morning progressed, lots of classes came out to get a closer look at the spaceship. Younger children, in particular, were completely mesmerised by it and were hugely enthusiastic about it all. Unfortunately, with this sort of stimulus, Year 5 and 6 children are old enough to realise that it’s probably not real. However, I gave my class a choice:
- They could choose to believe it all, which is great.
- They could choose to not believe it at all, which would make the week ahead quite boring.
- They could choose not to fully believe it, but can play along, which will make the week much more interesting.
Most went for option 3, which was brilliant. We did lots of investigating on the first day and used our new handheld camcorders to record reactions and interviews with other children, teachers and the police. The children really entered into the spirit of it all.
Later, when we were in the classroom discussing what might have happened, one boy in my class said that he’d just seen a purple alien on the other side of the school field. So, without a moment’s thought, off we went to investigate. We looked for clues about the alien and one boy was particularly creative: he quietly created footprints in the ground, then drew everyone’s attention to what he had “found.” This was such a genius plan, and I’m so glad that I teach such creative children who can create learning opportunities like this for themselves!
As the day ended, I sent the children off home with my normal “see you tomorrow.” What they didn’t know, however, was that I wouldn’t be there the next day, as I would be at my sister’s graduation in Nottingham. So, I decided to use this as an opportunity for them to practise their persuasive writing skills. On Sunday, I had set up a film set in my living room, using a black slanket hung over an ironing board, a black towel and 2 lamps with red pillowcases over them:
I recorded this YouTube video, claiming that I had been taken hostage by the aliens and that the children should write to them and persuade them to release me:
I was amazed at how involved the children were in this task. They produced some excellent pieces of work, using all the skills they had learned when we looked at persuasive writing a few weeks ago. Some of my favourite reasons for why I should be released were:
- “He can’t go without coffee for more than 2 hours.”
- “He would be of no use to you, as you wouldn’t be able to understand his Irish accent.”
I also laughed a lot when I read one child’s offer to the aliens:
- “How about we trade you Mr McLoughlin for a bottle of Dr Pepper? It’s very nice.”
It’s good to know that I’m worth as much as a bottle of Dr Pepper!
The rest of the week went with a bang. There was a family picnic on Wednesday, with every child in the school wearing the alien hat or mask that they had made. There was also green alien cake for each class, which a group of children from each class had gone off to make on Tuesday.
The real purpose of the week was to promote writing and to get the children engaged and enthused to write. This was without doubt achieved. Each child in the school was really enthusiastic and produced a piece of writing for an exhibition on Friday afternoon. Children were awarded prizes for great work and for good handwriting. They also received prizes for Best Writer in Foundation Stage, KS1, lower KS2 and upper KS2. I let my children have the choice of what they wanted to write about. Giving them this option meant that they were writing what they wanted to write, not what I was forcing them to write. This meant that I had a really wide range of different text types in my class, from poetry to newspaper reports and from stories to persuasive writing.
So what have I learned from this week?
- An exciting initial stimulus is worth the hours of planning and hard work.
- I should let the children lead their learning more often – they were able to come up with some great ideas when I just let them go with the flow, without having structured teacher-led tasks.
- My children are capable of excellent writing when they are given the choice of text type and are able to take ownership for their own work.
- I love my job.
So now the hard work begins for next year. How are we going to manage to surpass this? Ideas on a postcard, please!