Thursday, 15 July 2010

Gaudi's Mosaics

In June I blogged about a sequence of lessons called "Mi bandera".  With my KS2 classes I have just finished the next part of this unit dealing with shapes and colours.

Last summer I went on a mini-break to Barcelona, and was struck by all the different examples of "shapes making shapes" in the city.  Lots of square panels making up the front of a building, seven circular panels of glass arranged to make a big circular window, and, of course Gaudi's mosaics.  I took lots of photos and started to formulate an idea.

The difficult thing proved to be fitting it in at such a time that it didn't seem contrived in our sequence of learning.  It did, however, fit perfectly after the flag lessons.

We started off looking at a map of the world to find Spain (and had some useful discussions about how come the countries in South America speak Spanish when they are so far from Spain), and then we looked at a map of Spain to find Barcelona.  This in turn led to some interesting discussions about the regions of Spain, Cataluña in particular, and we compared and contrasted the numbers 1-10 in Catalan, Spanish and French.

We then focussed on Barcelona specifically, and looked at the examples of shapes making shapes.  We talked about Gaudi, his buildings and his mosaics.  We then looked at these mosaics from Parc Güell:

We found out that Gaudi used unusual materials in these mosaics, like glass bottles, dinner plates and china dolls.  We set about creating mosaic suns of our own, using unusual shapes to echo Gaudi's unusual materials.  I made an example to show the children, photographing it at various stages of its creation so show them how to build up their mosaic.
If you would like to see some of the children's finished mosaics, there is a video montage on my school blog.

So why did I do this?


  • Cross-curricular art

  • Intercultural understanding (Spanish-speaking world, Spain, Barcelona)
But also:

  • I wanted them to write about the mosaic afterwards, using the same format as we used to describe the flags.  I wanted them to use the dictionary to find the words for the shapes they had used and to make these nouns plural as necessary, and to agree the colours as necessary.  It was bringing together a lot of the different threads of our work since January.
What would I do differently next time?

  • Start it earlier in the year - we haven't been able to progress to the writing stage due to it being the end of term!

  • It's interesting that the best artists aren't necessarily the best mosaic makers.  I'd set up a Smartboard activity or a group cut'n'stick activity to practise jigsaw-ing shapes into another shape, to enable more of the children to produce a more authentic-looking mosaic.

  • Find stickier gummed paper!  And get more of it, as we ran out of certain colours very quickly.
All in all, I am very happy with the results, particularly with how well Y3 responded to it (it's them you can see working in the photos on the video).  It made my day yesterday to follow one of my Y3s out of school and to watch him excitedly show his dad the mosaic he had made and explain how and why he had made it.  It's given me the courage to find more ways of "thinking outside the box" and to endeavour to teach Spanish in its broader context a lot more.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


This is a Tagxedo of my Twitter feed for the last 24 hours or so

I'm imagining a conversation with my dad:

Dad: What is #MFLSAT ?

Me: It's a hashtag, something you add to your tweet in Twitter to group your tweet with all the other tweets about the same thing.

Dad: Yes, but what is #MFLSAT ?

Me: It stands for "MFL Show and Tell". We've had two now. The first one was in Coventry in November 2009, and the second one was yesterday in Nottingham. It's where lots of like-minded MFL teachers give up their Saturday to meet together and share good practice and engage in professional dialogue. Some people give presentations about things they've done in the classroom. It's also an opportunity to meet in real life the people with whom you correspond virtually most of the time, via Twitter and other fora.

Dad: Well why didn't you just say that in the first place ?

Yes, yesterday I went to Nottingham High School with 46 other teachers from England, Scotland, Wales and Australia (yes really - it was great to see Fiona Rose there). After coffee and chocolate croissants - which were most welcome after the 3 hour drive - there were 7 presentations on subjects as diverse as recording from Skype and the French vowel Haka.

We were really fortunate that all the presentations were filmed and streamed live on the internet by @eyebeams, so you can watch them all here. Thanks to a tip-off from Lisa Stevens, I've been able to embed the video of my presentation below. I talked about my RecorderPen, about which I had already written a blogpost:

After a very nice lunch in the high school dining hall (gadget of the day - the conveyor belt where you put your tray afterwards!) we had some round-the-table discussions about, amongst other things, VLEs, Language Labs, using ICT to enhance speaking work, e-safety and international links.

The day was sponsored by the high school,
Links into Languages, Naace and Scholastic. The first MFLSAT cost us each £10, and was a more low-key affair. I had been concerned before yesterday that this event would be too "corporate" and that it would change the feel of the MFLSAT. But I needn't have worried. The sponsorship enhanced our comfort and the catering, but little else changed, for which I am grateful.

So what did I learn, and what am I going to try ?

  • You can export selections of an Audacity file as .wav My podcasts will be a lot quicker to do now I won't be cutting mp3s up into bits and saving them all as individual .wav files. (I know, Dom, I was a plonker not to know this before!)
  • Get KS2s to do writing on mini-whiteboards, then photograph them for assessment evidence. Cuts down on paper for them and me, mistakes are easier to correct, and I always have my camera with me anyway.
  • I MUST have a go with Prezi and play a bit with Sliderocket.
  • Have a go with Xtranormal to make starters and listening activities for KS2 and maybe KS1.
  • I love singing, the children love singing, so I must make an effort to do it more. And of course, the Spanish vowel Haka.

Do you fancy getting involved in something like this ? In these days of rarely cover and dwindling funds, teachers have to take the initiative as far as their CPD is concerned. Twitter is one way of finding out what opportunities are out there. You might also be interested in these:

Primary Languages Meet (#PLMeet) in Doncaster on Monday 27th September 2010

MFL Flashmeeting 8 - Monday 27th September 20.30-22.30, link to follow

And for you Mackems out there, there's the Sunderland TeachMeet on Thursday 14th October 2010.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Working with partner schools overseas

When I first started working with partner schools overseas, in 1997, communicating with partners and exchanging project work involved faxes, telephones, files, CDs, video tapes, books, pieces of art and craft work.... and many expensive trips to the Post Office to post it all. It took time for it all to reach the partners, and just as long for them to send theirs to us. Everything took a long time. Over the years, however, thanks to all the new technology that is out there, this communication and sharing of work has become much easier, quicker and cheaper. There are many web tools that we can use now to collaborate with our partners.

Two of the tools that have really taken off in the MFL world are Storybird and Storyjumper. Brian Stobie, the international officer for County Durham, discovered Storybird recently and could immediately see its use for partnership work. He asked me to give a presentation about Storybird and Storyjumper at the Atlas (RNIL) conference today. I agreed to speak for 10 minutes, just to give delegates a taster and to whet their appetites to find out more. I decided to present Storybird and Storyjumper as a story. I hope you like it.

Here is a Storybird that I wrote in collaboration with Dominic McGladdery.  I wanted Fiona Joyce, queen of the MFL Storybird Wiki, to be involved as well, but at the moment you can only collaborate with one other person.
What do you like to do ? by d_mcg, CSeccombe on Storybird

Storybird and Storyjumper aren't of course the only programs that can be used in this way.  You could also try Voki, Wallwisher, Voicethread, Xtranormal and GoAnimate, to name but a few.  And you could set up a blog or wiki for the partnership so that you have some shared webspace via which to share your work.  Anything that motivates you and your students to sustain your partnership and make it meaningful can only be a good thing.