Pirate Theme

For our latest theme we have become pirates, sailing across the high seas to visit distant lands.

The starting point for planning was to combine two themes from last year’s Year 1 curriculum, Pirates and Around the World. This involved restructuring the entire Year 1 skills curriculum. I chose to do this using Evernote so I could easily tag each skill with a subject and theme before converting each theme’s set of skills into a Google Doc to share with parents. Click for the shared Evernote Notebook then just click ‘tags’.

This was planned to be my first attempt at a proper ‘Mantle of the Expert’ based theme. This strategy is intended to engage and give purpose to a topic or theme and has a lot going for it as well as some detracting points. It involves the entire class being ‘in role’ for prolonged periods, each with a job to do for a ‘Client’. As appropriate, each ‘Episode’ then occurs moving the theme on and refocusing the children and their learning. I certainly can’t say that I introduced everything correctly and I know the children could have got a lot more from the strategy than I provided. But as with everything new and out of your comfort zone… baby steps!

The theme was introduced to the children by finding ‘Barbarosa’s hat lying on the ship’s deck (carpet area) with me in role as ‘Guybrush Threepwood’. I explained to the children that I wanted to be a ‘real pirate’ and was looking for Barbarosa’s treasure (he being one of the most feared pirates in all the lands and seas). I told the children that the hat was cursed and I dared not pick it up. Cue a child picking up the hat. At which point I played a pre recorded of video of me as Barbarosa on the interactive whiteboard which you can view by clicking the image below. If you dare…

I tried to come across scary but as usual ended up more Jack Sparrow than Davvy Jones. Pretty much confirmed by the one child afterwards saying ‘Is that man coming back? I didn’t like him’. Anyway… The theme then focused on the children working with me (Guybrush) as a team of trainee pirates trying to find Barbarosa’s Treasure. As pirates we went out scavenging around school and low and behold we found a treasure map leading us to what we thought was Barbarosa’s treasure. This then set up the basic premise for the next stages of the theme. Which were…

Travel to a country/continent. Learn a story from that place, retell it, orally adapt it and create own versions. Repeat.

Whilst this Literacy unit was under way, in our Geography we learnt how to compare different locations with our own, how to use basic coordinates and develop some map skills.

Something the children really loved was creating Jackson Pollock ‘Yellow Islands’ style paintings.

However, outside Literacy, the centrepiece of the theme was the ICT unit (surprise surprise). Each week a group of children would go out on a treasure hunt around school (this was planned to link with when we travelled to a new country but the timings didn’t quite work out in sync).

I had set up a Posterous blog with more videos of me as Barbarosa and images of things found on a typical treasure island, including their location (North West etc). The children never saw this as a blog as they viewed each item as they uncovered it, for their ‘hunt’ was a QR code treasure hunt! Bare with me as this explanation gets a bit complicated…

Around school I had placed QR codes, each with either a Barbarosa video or a map item and location. E.g. A crocodile in the North West.

Each week a different group of children (supported by a TA) went out of our classroom armed with our class Ipod Touch. The children were all familiar with the I-nigma app to scan the QR code and be taken automatically to it’s content. Each child would then take it in turns to use Skype to communicate back to the rest of the class in the classroom. I was hoping to use the Ipod for this but the Skype app currently does not allow for Proxy settings grrr. So we had borrowed a netbook from out sister school and Skype ran fine through the desktop program to my teacher laptop.

Whilst this was all going on the rest of the class and I were developing graphics and control skills, first off giving the children the choice between 2Paint a Picture and Aviary Education (awesome online tools and at the time of writing, free). We developed understanding of fill, brush, rubber and undo tools for purpose (e.g. changing the size of the brush to draw in more detail). Then for the magic. ‘Ring ring’. The treasure hunting group rang in with locations of different items which the children inside the class would then draw in the correct place on the map they were drawing. The children went absolutely wild when they realised they would be in the group going on the treasure hunt and those left behind were almost equally excited and certainly hugely engaged when they got calls from the treasure hunt group.

‘Where are the control skills?’ I hear you cry… Well, with an extra bit of support from me, the children then exported their maps and loaded them up into Focus on Beebot 2 which allows you to control an on screen Beebot around an image you have imported. That’s right. The children could control the on screen Beebot around their very own treasure island, giving instructions from one map item to another. Not everyone got this far and so we will definitely be coming back to do some additional descrete control skills development but the excitement they had in realising they could have their very own map with a Beebot on was fantastic.

But wait… we are not finished yet! Once most children were managing to use the tools mentioned above, we extended their use to focus on layers. This meant everyone logging in online onto Aviary and not being given a choice to use 2Paint. It was interesting seeing which children at year 1 could transfer their skills and those who found it more difficult. Aviary is not ideal for year 1 but it allowed those who were capable to extend their skills and gave children the opportunity to begin to use layers. To do so I showed the children items they would be putting on the map on laminated sheets so they could see that each could be moved around independently. The purpose for the use of the layers was so that the children could draw each map item on a different layer and when the treasure hunting group called, the children could easily move each layer into the desired location without needing to rub anything out.

Back to the Literacy…

The two units covered in our Pirate Theme were ‘Stories from a range of cultures/Stories with predictable and patterned language’ and ‘Instructions’. The Instructions unit heavily involved game based learning from the Wii puzzle game ‘Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure’ which is discussed in this separate post.

For the other unit, I wanted to take the opportunity to focus on other cultures, visiting a new area with each story as we continued our pirate travels. After a bit of research Joanna Troughton‘s series of folk tales around the world seemed to be a great fit, with enough pattern in the stories (not necessarily language, which will be covered during another theme) to be suitable for Year 1. We began our travels in North America reading ‘How Rabbit Stole the Fire’. You can find examples of the children retelling and adapting the story at our class blog. The stories really stretch the children but because of the structure given during the first phases of the unit, their written versions generally became their best pieces of written at the time. Only to then be surpassed by their retelling and writing of their versions of ‘The Tiger Child’ as our pirate travels continued to India. To give our writing extra purpose Joanna Troughton, who is on twitter, very kindly agreed to answer a few of the children’s questions. We still have one book we will be covering before the end of the theme and I am hoping that it will signal the beginning of the children writing their own blog posts. The idea being that I will tell the children that the author and illustrator will be reading their stories, giving a fantastic purpose and focus to their writing.

A quick note about the learning environment. I wanted to make the whole pirate experience as immersive as possible but still leaving the room with the support displays etc that the children used so here are a couple of pictures of what I came up with. The area below the giant pirate flag is a whiteboard wall which has been fairly successful since I introduced it in the role play area. The children love to use it and they wrote time connectives and adjectives on it when we were writing narrative and ‘bossy verbs’ when we were writing instructions. The only problem is the quality of our bobbily wall, despite me sanding it down, which means the rubbing out doesn’t always work brilliantly.

Finally, I have really started to get to grips with using out class Ipod touch and most of the children have been extremely enthusiastic about using it. Strangely, these were different children than those who were excited about using the Wii during our Instructions unit. We used several apps during continuous provision developing a range of skills, including iArrPirate, Marooned, Pirate Island and Puppet Pals. The stand out app of these for both me and the children was Puppet Pals. It allows the user to create and record their own puppet show, with pirate and other characters and scenes (which you purchase separately) and has a lot of potential.

I have absolutely loved this theme. Don’t get me wrong, not everything has worked out for the best, I think I could have gone further with mantel of the expert, there were still a couple of children who were reluctant writers, and not every child produced amazing maps using layers. But the buzz around the classroom was obvious, most of the children’s writing has reached a new level and I believe a significant number will remember elements for a long time to come. For more classroom examples check out our class blog and click on the ‘Pirates’ tag.

Originally published at primarypete.net on February 6, 2011.