Heart attack in the playground!

The playground – probably the most creative environment in the world!

Yesterday I sat on a bench, near my local park, watching my children climb, run and clamber over a brand new jungle gym. As I was watching, I noticed just how quickly all the children playing on the jungle gym quickly got bored with the slides, the climbing wall and the wood-chain bridges which made up the jungle gym. Well that isn’t exactly true! They didn’t exactly get bored with the equipment; they got bored with using this equipment the same way all the time!

As I continued to watch, I was particularly interested to see the way my own children reacted to their older peers innovative (and at times terrifying) use of the jungle gym as an ‘adult heart-attack inducing’ machine! I saw a ten year old use a metal tunnel (4 metres high) as a trapeze rope. I also saw numerous children, including my own, holding onto the railings the opposite way round; so that if they let go they would have a 3 metre fall to the playground. And as I watched, I started to think…

My children were actively solving problems without my input. I wasn’t teaching them how to hold onto the railings from the opposite direction! I wasn’t telling them how to run up the slide backwards and then jump down from the climbing wall; as far as I  know you are meant to climb up the climbing wall and slide down the slide!

Watching my children, me – in a continual state of abject terror, I started to see the parallels between their play and some elements of teaching where I may have flipped (or rotated – I am going to use this term today because I think it has more of a multi-directional feel and I am sick of hearing the term flipped) the learning in my classroom.

Example One

Two years ago I had a student who was brilliant at maths and I mean brilliant! This student was at least three years ahead of his cohort and the maths we were teaching him simply wasn’t challenging him. So after a brief discussion with a fellow teacher, who is both highly creative and extremely knowledgeable, I decided to start using a combination of Khan Academy lessons with secondary (junior high school) curriculum learning objectives. The student would work in a small room next to my class. He would watch the Khan Academy video/videos then he would complete the maths investigation or assignment he had been given.

I think it is fair to say the results were mixed. The student certainly became more focused for a while. He also enjoyed the challenge that came from learning about new topics like algebra, negative numbers or converting fractions to decimals. However, being seven years old, he simply didn’t have the maturity or vocabulary to access a lot of the video’s content. He also missed the feeling of being around other members of the class during maths lessons. Verdict: A good idea and start with a less positive outcome.

So many of the sessions focused in on how important it is to foster relationships in the classroom:  Whether it is between teacher and student or between student and student – turning learning on it’s head

Example Two

My second example of rotated learning is very much a success story and is almost exclusively based on another COETAILer’s ideas and thoughts. I am going to try and explain just how fantastic this example of rotated learning is, however I am not sure that I will truly be able to do it justice! To better understand the premise, you need to read Philip Arneill’s blog post. It was his blog post which acted as a catalyst and inspiration for my dalliance with extreme classroom rotation!

After reading Philip’s post, you will understand the incredible scope for student empowerment this type of lesson can bring. last year I decided to use his flipped classroom model to encourage my students to think, learn and teach in a different way. In the example below, we combined a student’s teaching with a ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ lesson (this was an open-ended lesson which challenged the children to build objects which could be helpful or useful in the real world)

I think it is fair to say the results were better than I could possibly have imagined. The students were incredibly focused, engaged and motivated with the all aspects of the teaching and learning. I would urge all teachers to have a go at this. It really does open your eyes up to the incredible skills our students already have which we simply don’t access! Verdict: Brilliant!

Increasingly, education’s value-add is and will be in the coaching and troubleshooting when students are applying their learning, and in challenging students to apply their thinking to hands-on learning by doing and teaming:  so let’s have them do these things in class, not sit and listen. We know that collaboration is a critical skill set which can’t be developed easily either on-line or at home alone– let’s have students learn it with us in our classrooms. Let every classroom be a collaborative problem solving laboratory or studioReverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”

Back to the playground

My children had already been taught to use the basic playground equipment many years ago when they were much younger. They would watch as myself or my wife would demonstrate the basics of using a swing, slide or climbing frame and then they would copy our techniques as they swung, slid or climbed over the equipment. However, this time, I had nothing to do with the new heart-stopping methods they were now employing on the jungle gym. They were watching older children’s techniques and methods actually being used right in front of them; and they were learning to use and adapt them so that they increased the risk but also the enjoyment.

Isn’t this what learning should be about?

Reverse instruction! Flipped learning! Rotated learning! Upside down and back to front, topsy-turvy learning! Whatever you want to call it, whenever it is possible to do, it should be done. I know that it can’t be done all the time. However, if it is done correctly, students should be given as many opportunities to learn in a rotated classroom setting.

Why do we, in the status quo,  replicate in person in our classrooms what is easily available elsewhere, the content delivery/skill modeling, and then have kids apply their learning to difficult problems at home, without us there to help? – Reverse Instruction: Dan Pink and Karl’s “Fisch Flip”

5 thoughts on “Heart attack in the playground!

  1. Rotated learning, now that is a term I could get used to hearing. I love Phil’s post and your scrapheap challenge. You make some incredibly salient points around the lessons learned from failure and the power of self directed learning when the students take charge. If you haven’t already, you should see what this school is up to in New Zealand. Definitely heart attack in the playground material.


  2. I love your version of reverse instruction, rotated learning, etc. I like your analogy between kids stepping outside the box on the playground and that we didn’t teach them that. There are so many opportunities online now that can stretch their thinking. I like the idea of adapting our classrooms to inspire creativity and problem solving. Thanks for sharing!


  3. Fantastic article and like @pgja I Love the idea of rotated learning or the rotated classroom. The idea that students need the freedom to go in any direction…and in a moments notice. I have nothing more to add than this is going everywhere and will become part of course 4 reading material moving forward…..my brain hurts!


  4. A good read and as a dad, I could so identify with your playground experiences 🙂

    Your enthusiasm for your second example has me wishing I was back in the classroom, working directly with students 😦

    I’m about the check out the Philip Arnell post, based on your review.
    Thanks for sharing.


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