29 May 2009

The Green Schoolyard

We have a shiny new sign.  Well, in truth, it is neither shiny nor new; it is ‘green’ as in recycled.  And it took my eye; largely because of the fact that the letters had been cleverly formed by leaving spaces unpainted white.


But I digress (so no change there then!)  I am here (again) because of our latest ‘workout’ in the garden (which I should probably start calling the Green Schoolyard).  Sadly we have had a bit of a problem.  Just take a look at this wheat.


Look closely; what do you notice?


What can possibly have happened to it?  Suggestions included the possibility that someone had walked on it or that it had blown over in the wind, or even that a hailstorm had flattened it.  But we learned that it was not that at all.  To help us understand, we were cunningly corralled into a squashed up roped-in place in order to ‘grow’ from tightly-packed seeds into tall, strong healthy plants.  And it turned out to be impossible for us to grow so tightly-packed without falling over.

The same would have been true for the growing wheat.  Seeds that had been too generously scattered left growing plants with too little space to become tall and strong.  Instead they just keeled over.  An important lesson noted to be remembered for next year.

And then we went off around the rest of the garden to look for similar signs of too-tightly-packed seeds having led to weak plants.  We quickly spotted floppy lettuces.  But with lettuces it didn’t matter too much because you can eat them.  Which we did!

pregny garden1

There was work to be done too.  Warm sunny weather and rain had meant that everything (including things we hadn’t planted) had shot up. 

The roses were a profusion of colour…..

pregny garden2

but in amongst the healthy peas…..


and run-away beans…..


were ‘weeds’…..


that needed to be cleared, in order to give more space to the plants that were supposed to be there.  So it was ‘all hands on deck’, removing them. 


Being careful to remove just the things that were not supposed to be there.  After all, we want to be able to harvest our strawberries and our cabbages…..


as well as pick the odd bunch of Sweet Williams and even sweeter lavender.   Mmmm!

pregny garden3

28 May 2009

Make like a ‘real’ landscape artist

As if it wasn’t enough to go on one expedition, there we were, planning a second; on the same day!  I told you it was a lovely day, didn’t I? 

Break time saw a flurry of teacherly activity; a hustle and bustle of preparation; two sizes of paintbrush, fine-tipped and fat (check).  Clipboards (check).  Special (expensive) watercolour paper (check).  Freshly-cleaned tins of watercolour paints.  Paper towels.  Bottles of water and colourful plastic cups (check, check and check).

And shortly after the cowbells (bells not unlike this one) rang…..


to signal the end of break and the return of the hordes, off we set again, incidentally in the same northerly direction as we had an hour or so earlier.  However, we ignored the next turning to the left and instead walked right past the fortified building (also on our left) and on towards the beautiful grounds of Chateau de Penthes, for this was to be where we would search for a landscape worthy of our closer attention.

The perfect spot (and pose!) having been chosen…..


water was poured into cups…..


and this and other equipment distributed.


Fat brushes were used to wash the special (expensive) watercolour paper with water.  Fine-tipped paintbrushes were swirled in water and then dipped into chosen colours.  Paper towels were put to use to dab off excess wet (and to mop the odd spill).

Before our eyes…..


landscapes took shape.


Colours were scrutinised…..


and carefully copied.  Those mountains do indeed look blue!


Frequent comparisons were made to make sure we had got the shape of the trees right.


And whoever it was that said trees were merely green…..


was surely…..




And after all that creativity, there was even time at the end for a bit of a lie-down on the warm grass…..


before tidying everything up and trudging back to school.

The finished works of art will soon be proudly (deservedly so) displayed in the classroom.  Why not take the time to pay our gallery a visit?

Trying out our newly honed map-reading skills

Having learnt how to hold a compass horizontally to allow the swinging needle to settle before turning it oh-so-carefully until the needle is lined up with the letter N (for north) what better way to put our skills into practice than by seeing if we can find out about some directions in our local area.

As well as compasses which we will share, we will each need a map of our local area, plus a clipboard and a pencil.  And our wits about us. 

And we’re off!  Leave the school and having crossed at the crossing, turn, yes, right.  Walk (in which direction is this?) until the next junction where we will turn left.  And a quick look at the compass confirms that yes, it’s northwest.  Go past this, fortified building…..


(which is on our right) the shadows of whose impressively strong and high fences throw fantastic patterns on the footpath!


Walk in the dappled shade of this ‘avenue’ of trees…..


and then turn left.  Pass this building…..


which has these symbols on the glass doors…..

mapping and painting

on our way (in a south westerly direction) to the roundabout. 


Turn – yes, you’ve guessed it – left.  Direction?

Spot this building in the distance and walk along the path towards it.


Enjoy the pretty leaves on the trees…..


and the shadows they make (it is a lovely sunny day!)


Stop every now and again to make sure you know exactly whereabouts on the map we are and to check the lefts and rights (the mostly lefts – it is to be a ‘round trip’!)  Make sure you have a ‘turn’ at using the compass to tell which direction we are heading in.


Turn left again at the next pathway.  And goodness me; who is that enormous statue of? 


Zip down the grassy bank to check will you Aabis?  (See, I told you it was enormous!)


Quickly onwards (as it is almost break time!) until we pass this building on our right…..


then yes, turn left, at the next junction.  Up the hill (northwards again) in single file (along the narrow path) until we reach the place where we crossed the road at the start of our adventure.  And we are back - in time for break (just!) having marked our somewhat ‘circular’ route on our maps; having each had at least one turn at working out the direction we were heading in at our stopping points; and having hopefully found some way of ensuring we will remember whereabouts are each of the places we passed en route.  For our next related challenge will be to match (these) photographs with their position on the map.

27 May 2009

Finding our way – through a fog of confusion!

A discussion that began with the question ‘What is a map?’ threw up all kinds of interesting ideas and conceptions; certainly plenty of food for thought (and we thrive on that kind of food in Class 2i!)

Tatiana: A map is like a big paper with places on it.

Virginia: A map is a paper who (sic) shows places around the world.

Sharukh: A map is a big piece of paper with the names of roads and the names of areas and you use it to see how you go to the other areas.  And there are maps on the Internet.

Meghna:  If you are lost you can just take a map and it tells you where to go.  (Now wouldn’t that be wonderful!)

jd finds the way

Sivert: In museums maps tell you where to go in them.

Martin:  It helps you to go where the right place is so you don’t go to the wrong place.

Shahrbano: When you want to go somewhere you can see the map and it tells you where to go.

Harrison: If you don’t know where a place is you can buy a TomTom that shows you where to go.  (A true sign of the times!)

Tommy: Or you can use a compass.  (That was one large mouthful of ‘food for thought’.)

Right.  Let’s home in on what Tommy suggested; namely that a compass can help you find your way.  And ask a supplementary question or two; How does a compass help you find your way?  What does a compass do?  What is a compass?


“If you have a compass you see, if it shows north you have to continue,” said Dylan.

“North is up,” ‘corrects’ Virginia, pointing skywards.

Sharukh, standing, “If I face this way, north is here.  If I turn, north is the way I face.”  A murmur of agreement here.

OK; where is north then.  Can you point to north?  And, perhaps unsurprisingly, a forest of fingers point in my general direction.  But also somewhat unsurprisingly, there are also murmurs when I, facing them, wonder if north for me can be in the opposite direction.  Is north in front of me or behind me?  Can north be in two different directions at the same time?

“No; north is a certain way,” concludes Amelia. 

“What certain way?” asks Ryoma.  Good question.

And a compass; what does it actually do?  Well, it points north.  North and only north.  In a certain way.  Anyone know why?

Dylan again.  “It is because of the treasure buried.”  Hmm.  Too many computer games perhaps!

"It is because of something in the earth,” confirms Sharukh.  But definitely not treasure!

"There is a magnet in there,” Tommy tells us emphatically.

And so, in a very roundabout fashion, we make our way via TomToms and museum guides, past street maps and buried treasure to the magnetic core of the Earth and the fact that a compass is a tiny weak magnet that is attracted to the huge magnet that is our planet.  And that this fact can help us find our way.

And we set out to show it.  By remembering firstly, something we had learned about magnets in our unit on materials.  That a magnet has a ‘south’ end (or pole) and a ‘north’ end.  And that these two opposite ends stick (or are attracted) to one another.  And it wasn’t too far a step needed to link the North and South Poles of the Earth to the north and south poles of magnets, and work out that maybe the tiny weak magnet in a compass would be attracted by and point towards the opposite pole of the huge magnet that is our planet.  Let’s not here get bogged down by the confusion of the fact that a magnet’s north end points to the North Pole (no, no, no!)

Instead let’s get our hands on some tiny weak magnets that are compasses as well as some somewhat stronger plastic-coated magnets and investigate how they work.  Let’s find out, for example, that even though it might appear that this compass is pointing towards the west…..


when we swivel the compass around towards the letter N, the needle stays in place (my goodness how exciting that was!)


Let’s suspend a somewhat stronger plastic-coated magnet from a piece of string…..


to see if that too will point towards the north (which we confirm for ourselves is indeed in a certain direction).


And just for fun, let’s think about what might happen if we were to put different ends of a somewhat stronger plastic-coated magnet near (but not too close to) a tiny weak magnet that is a compass.  And then let’s check to see if we were right.

And now that we are ‘experts’ on how they work, let us plan a map-following trip where we can put them to use.  More of which later.

15 May 2009

Drawing on the white chalk with the black board

By now, Barney and Stig (remember?) are good friends and Barney is spending as much time as he can in Stig’s now beautifully smoke-free cave.  Yes, the smoky problem has been solved with an ingeniously executed chimney system, made using those ‘ruined’ tin cans and an upside-down bath tub, of all things.  And Stig has also been introduced to matches and learnt the ease with which it is now possible to light a piece of paper (imagine the fun we had acting that out with a partner!) race outside to see the smoke curling up out of the new chimney, before careering back inside again to repeat the exercise.  Over and over.

Anyway, on a subsequent visit, Barney discovers that Stig has been creative, using a piece of charred, blackened board to draw on the white, chalk walls of his cave.  He has drawn a hunting scene, with stags fleeing in fear from humans brandishing flint-tipped spears.

So of course we had to have a go ourselves.  Though not on the walls.  We did use burnt wood though.  Or charcoal to be more precise.

First, we taped a piece of paper to the desk (you’ll see why later).


Next we had enormous fun taking a perfectly good piece of drawing charcoal and bashing it to smithereens with a wooden spoon (improvisation; it was all we could find!)  We needed charcoal powder you see.


Then we squished up a paper towel, dipped it into the charcoal powder…..


before using it to turn the white paper a soft pale grey.  Our chalk wall.

Next we learned the technique of using drawing charcoal; there is a special way to hold it to stop it snapping (drawing charcoal is thin and brittle).


Then we used a combination of charcoal…..


and chalk to create our very own ‘authentic’ cave painting.


In spite of some impressive black hands…..


I think that if you come to the classroom to take a closer look, you too will be amazed, not only by our hunting scenes, but also by the perfect white frames around them.