The Armada Theme

I’m going to be honest here… I wasn’t really looking forward to our Tudor theme during half term. We had just finished a very successful mini book theme based on ‘The Rabbits’ by John Marsden and a Mario Kart theme previous to that. The Tudors have never really captured my imagination unlike other National Curriculum History areas like Egypt or The Romans so the challenge for me was how to I try and teach an entire theme through content that I personally didn’t find inspiring and didn’t believe the children would either?!

Taking learner motivation as the starting point, I thought what would capture boy’s interest? Hmm. War and guns… sounds like The Spanish Armada! So rather than focus on Henry VIII and factual understanding as has been the tradition, we would start off the theme with an in depth study of The Armada then move on to the rest of the Tudor era. Not a massive shift I admit, but one that seemed to lead us down an altogether more exciting path.

We opened the theme with a ‘teacher in role’ session between myself as the mighty Sir Francis Drake and my parallel class teacher as Elizabeth I. It wasn’t entirely historically accurate, granted, but it grabbed the children’s attention and took us on a path of question finding, led by the children and covered many of the History skills required in the curriculum.

The main Literacy unit on which to hang the content was information texts. So using a mixture of a library loan and appropriately sources website links based on the questions posed by the children we developed out ability to skim, scan and take notes. The children loved taking notes, particular when we used some of the Battlefield Britain video — they liked the idea that they could develop ‘their own code’ and be scruffier with their writing than usual.

During the note taking process we trialled the use of http://markkit.net/ with limited success. A better bet would have been http://www.ript.com/ which I came across thanks to Bev Evans, alas to late to implement for this purpose. As an assessment of our note taking we used Wordle to create a word cloud which really emphasised which words were overused/ should be shortened/ removed. It led to an interesting discussion into what the Wordle was showing and what that meant for their understanding of note taking. I found the idea for this from Tim Rylands on his hand held learning 2009 talk.

During The Armada work, the children were working on becoming shipmates of Sir Francis Drake, in order to help against The Armada. We built up to creating diary entries from on board ships focusing on paragraphs, connectives and adverbs using a mixture of paper and pen and ICT techniques. For example, below average children were given a Photostory templates with images, directions and background music so they could focus on the audio and therefore the speaking skills that would help their first steps to improve their use of connectives. These worked really well, producing high quality sentences which the children involved were really proud of.

After all The Armada development we moved on to a resource that took a while to build, A Tudor Exploration Day, based on Ictopus 29 good practice guide. Unfortunately we were are not lucky enough to have mobile tech in school yet which would definitely have allowed for a richer experience of discovery. As it was, missions were posted on our Studywiz learning platform through the morning where groups of children had to go and explore, loot or discover from around school, intertwined with information bulletins building a Tudor time line which included text, images and videos. The children loved their missions but I couldn’t help feeling that to be really successful in terms of moving their knowledge on, the information bulletins needed to be linked to the missions more closely.

To develop their understanding of chronology, I decided to trial the use of an online time line creator. I love the look of http://capzles.com/ but this is currently blocked in our LEA so I opted for Timetoast. As usual, the children loved using ICT to add their information and it was great that we could create a collaborative time line. The only issue was that due to using 1 account, a couple of times children accidentally saved work whilst another child was editing the same spot, losing their work. The children soon realised this though, and managed themselves well in their group of 6 to ensure this was minimised. The quality of the time line created was a little hit and miss. This was clearly because of the way we had approached the unit, focusing heavily on the historical enquiry skills and Literacy rather than ‘fact hunting’ which would have helped with time line details: http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/31475

With the skills the children had developed so far in the theme, they were able to follow their own lines of enquiry. Because we had entered the theme with The Armada, we had come across references to Henry VIII, Mary Queen of Scots etc along the way and the children were dying to develop their understanding of areas such as these. Some children wanted to continue to focus on The Armada, which they were given the opportunity to do. Through the Tudor Exploration Day missions and information as well as specific ‘finding out’ skills using Google (as I did not want to restrict their question paths to information I had found) the children then went about finding out what they wanted to know, examining sources of evidence along the way. In hindsight, I should have got the children to use notebooks to write questions down that occurred to them through the unit that they wanted answered so that they would have this resource to draw. This would have enhanced their lines of enquiry.

The culmination of the theme lay in 3 areas:

Firstly, the design and development of a Tudor presentation, related to their own line of enquiry. This was generally focused on The Armada, or the Tudors in general, apart from 5 or 6 girls that notably chose to focus theirs on Elizabeth I. After the moderate success of the time line I was a little apprehensive about whether they had sufficient detail following their question paths to produce a suitable presentation however this proved to be the most successful outcome from the theme. I gave the children a choice between Powerpoint and 2Create. We discussed the merits of both and with a little pushing every one of them wanted the flexibility to the user that 2Create gave (plus the fact that it could be embedded in their Studywiz blogs at the end!). They had used 2Create in Year 3 and I was impressed with their skills at working around the program which allowed me to focus on navigation structure, usability and layout with them, looking at their target audience.

Secondly, after their presentations were completed, they wrote an extended piece on the same area. It was really useful to complete the computer presentation first as it gave the structure for their paragraphs already and instead the children could concentrate on the sentence construction which had been our focus in Literacy throughout. The highlight for me was seeing the children ask for their planning documents and previous note taking to help them… for just about the first time ever pretty much everyone ‘got’ why planning is so important! In a subsequent session we used Etherpad to revise and improve their writing, which kept motivation levels high.

Thirdly, and still yet to come — The Tudor Feast! We’d watched a cut down version of Heston Blumenthal’s version a couple of weeks ago and apart from having to gloss over a couple of choice words by the adult diners it was a really useful 10 minutes as it helped the children get into the experience, or for want of a better word, the ‘wow’ factor of a Tudor Feast. Ever since then they have been dying for their own version (minus the butter beer). We are planning on combining this with a full on Tudor Day celebration where parents can drop in to see the children’s work as well as view dance performances and acted scenes from Macbeth (more on that in a later blog post!)

So have I been converted to liking the Tudors? Er.. No. But the feedback from children and parents has been tremendous and that is all that matters! I plan to do some evaluation with the children to find out exactly what they have enjoyed so much — was it the approach to the unit? Was it the chance to create their own lines of enquiry? Was it the (moderate) use of technology to support them? Or was it just that unlike me, they love The Tudors?! Time will tell!


Originally published at primarypete.net.