Ball Pit Pedagogy
I know it’s not my usual thing to write about things my students do in class as part of their learning, I think I’m going to try and write more about what I do as some of the ideas work really well and I’m sure some of you could refine them even further.
So……200 plastic balls and 25 excitable 16/17 year olds…….
Three years ago I was rewriting the Sociology SOL to inject a bit of va-va-voom- I’ve always liked trying out new ideas with my learners and originally I wanted a hook-a-duck game. My manager said water in classrooms was a no go, so instead we settled on a ball pit. The ball pit itself its just a kiddy inflatable paddling pool and was bought from Amazon along with the balls for about a fiver. It’s lasted three years and still has life in it yet, so it wasn’t a bad investment.
The balls are something like this:
And the paddling pool:
(But not in pink as I have some taste)
This year I used it to teach Post Modernism and Youth Culture. This is quite a theorist heavy section of the spec linked to neo-tribes and rave and clubbing culture. The students are often wary of the tricky theory, and I thought by engaging them in this type of activity they might take more ownership of a quite difficult theory AND they could self differentiate by the words and terms they chose to define and later utilise. I gave the students a summary of the information and asked them in pairs to create a glossary of key terms, ideas and Theorists. Some students used their phones and iPads to do extra research- emailing me relevant links that I will put on our VLE. The research stage is important as this is their initial learning contact with these ideas- and as teacher I have found letting them work together to create the content more effective when they are later able to use the theorists to evaluate others in a more organic way as they have the depth of learning due to detailed research rather than a more superficial understanding that might come from being given a list to just learn.
We then shared our ideas as a class and agreed the key ideas they would need for the exam. This was a bit of messy board work where the students contributed and corrected each others ideas. I then asked them to write the key terms and Theorists on the plastic balls. BEWARE do not do this in board pen or your students will look like they are auditioning for Oliver Twist by the end of the lesson all covered in black smudges….. Each table was then made into a team and they had to write questions about the content of the initial summary sheet. They knew that it would be competitive so they made the questions quite demanding and I asked them to incorporate the key exam terms such as ‘evaluate’ and ‘analyse,’ so that the activity had resonance with the exam question they would be working on later.
I use music a lot in my lessons- and couldn’t resist playing them the Rocky theme tune as I read out the questions and the teams raced to find the right answer in the ball pit. The students took turns in the groups to do the finding and there were lots of shouts of ‘Its META NARRATIVES’- they totally took ownership of words and terms that had the potential to be quite daunting to even a stronger AS candidate. A massive frenzy of running between groups and the ball pit then took place until i had run out of questions. Fair to say everyone was a *bit hyped up as the wining group was announced.
To consolidate the learning I then projected a past paper on the board and asked them to use ALL the key words and theorists to write a timed answer, which they will peer assess next lesson. Having been totally absorbed in group work they then sat and worked on their own refining exam skills. I have been training them to be able to work and write individually since September- after all they sit the exam on their own and have to have those individual skills so they are worth revisiting at least once a week. They then proof read the work and I look forward to seeing the fruits of their efforts next lesson.
Really the ball pit is a bit of a gimmick- I know there are lots of other ways this could have been done, but it was fun- every student was absorbed in the collaborative nature of research and then the competitive game. They all left flushed with the success of writing a whole timed questions where not one learner was unable to access the higher grade terms. In terms of Challenge, the AS group were working with ideas more commonly found at degree level and they will have these ideas at their disposal to utilise again. I think that’s a win. If anyone has any ideas of how I could modify this and make it better then please give me a shout.