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Starting With a Problem: Hooking Children Into New Learning.

16 January 2015

Niki Meehan, Head of Primary: At the start of our new school term, the teachers have planned very carefully for how they launch the new areas of learning to the students.

  • Year 6 solve a mystery in literacy

They want to ensure that from the beginning they inspire curiosity and hook children into these new learning topics. They want to establish what the children already know so they can effectively tailor future learning. And importantly, they want to motivate and excite the children to ask and seek answers to questions. With all this in mind then, some of our teachers have very creatively provided students with a big problem to solve as a catalyst for new learning about new topics.

In Year 6 the students were faced with  a “Who Dunnit” problem to solve when they discovered that the primary cooking room had been vandalised. They became crime scene investigators and forensic scientists as they carefully looked for clues, analysed data and findings, and interviewed potential suspects and witnesses. They had to employ a wide range of literacy, maths, science and communication skills to try to solve this problem and the task also required that, to be successful, they had to work collaboratively, sharing ideas, findings and hypotheses. This was a great example of active and engaging learning that has provided wonderful stimulus and a language rich environment for the students now to start writing creative narratives in their Literacy lessons.

Another example of this method of really engaging students in new learning topics could be seen in Year 5 when they were given the challenge of building geodesic domes as a launch to their ‘Building a Village’ themed learning context for this term. Working collaboratively in groups, armed with basic resources including newspaper, shower curtains and tape, they had to work through a design process to produce a real 3D geodesic dome shelter. This task really challenged their critical thinking and their maths skills but also their perseverance to keep going when it was proving really hard. They had to work together and keep each member of their team focused and involved, using the different skills and attributes that each child brought to the group. And for some, they had to accept defeat this time round, but reflect and learn from what went well and what they could do differently to gain more success in the future.

This kind of stimulus for learning is happening throughout the school and is helping the children to see that their learning across the curriculum is relevant in real life contexts and is essential to solving real life problems. It also makes learning really challenging, which in turn can make it really exciting and fun.

But this is just the beginning so just when they think they have solved one problem, they realise that the situation has given rise to lots of new questions, providing a further catalyst for children to be motivated and inspired to seek solutions to these new problems. Do ask your children what they are learning ‘about’ but also ask them about ‘how’ they are learning – they might surprise you!

- Niki Meehan, Head of Primary

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The British International School Shanghai, Puxi

111 Jinguang RoadHuacao TownMinhang201107Shanghai


金光路111号华漕镇上海市 闵行区201107

Nord Anglia Education

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