Monday, January 31, 2011

Drawing Together Informal Education and the Teachers Prerogative

Drawing Together Informal Education and the Teachers Prerogative

by Marcus Dunning

Informal learning in a museum can be an exciting, fascinating, inspiring, yet conversely a difficult, stressful seemingly unproductive time for children and teachers. Museums such as the Natural History Museum provide fantastic programs to engage and educate schools and families but are their efforts rewarded effectively? Are teachers aware of the programs on offer, and do teachers consider the benefits of an informal education environment worth the effort to arrange and manage? How can a teacher convince their self, parents and their schools that visits like one to the Natural History Museum can be both educational, and practical, be an extension of the classroom and also allowing assessment and progress monitoring? I suggest that the teachers requirements for assessment and evidence based learning, and a Museums programs of education can be more fully exploited by using drawing.

Definitions

What is Informal Learning?

There has been considerable research into efforts to concretely define the terms of 'informal learning' and 'formal learning'. The broad terms have needed clarification and studies like the LSRC’s ‘Informality and formality in learning’ for example, have endeavoured to clarify the issue. Definitive conclusions on the meanings of informal and formal learning are necessary to establish a norm from which further discussion and research can be made. (LSRC, 2003)

Informal learning in a museum for example, provides educational experience that permits a learner to experience objects, artefacts and displays without necessarily having to learn confusing and often unnecessary new terminology. It also motivates the learner to gain personal meaning from their learning, which has greater value and longer lasting memories of the experience. (Gerber, 2001, pp 570)

To effectively cover the literature regarding informal learning in education it is necessary to define informal learning and formal learning.

Learning that takes place in settings outside the classroom is termed ‘informal’ (Maarschalk 1988, Tamir 1990). Informal learning environments are less structured than the formal classroom setting, and management of the learning is shifted from the teachers to the students (Tamir 1990). Informal learning may occur in institutions (e.g. museum, zoo); organizations (e.g. Boy/Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement); or everyday situations (e.g. watching television, taking piano lessons, working on hobbies, shopping for clothes). In essence, the informal learning can be defined as the sum of activities that comprise the time individuals are not in the formal classroom in the presence of a teacher. Informal learning could also include school sponsored extracurricular activities (e.g. sports, band, clubs). (Gerber 2001, pp 570)

Formal learning:

… includes only that knowledge to be acquired in the classroom within a systematic educational setting (e.g. primary and secondary schools, technical schools, colleges, universities). With the curriculum, educating students takes place in organized, systematic ways. The learner and teacher interact with the prescribed intent of promoting learning. A set agenda is implemented and little, if any, importance is ascribed to children’s’ experiences outside the classroom. (Osborne and Wittrock 1983)

Resnick (1987) describes in-school learning as a solitary experience far from applicability to objects or events being represented and removed from real-world experiences. This contrasts to out-of-school learning experiences which focus on group learning, interaction and a greater, deeper development. This view leans favourably towards informal learning over formal.

Colley et al. (2003) disagrees and states that when defining the two, one must be aware that they aren’t isolated experiences. Both have degrees of each other inherent within. When viewed as isolated, opposite styles, it is too easy to see the weakness of one compared to the other, instead of looking at them as attributes present in all learning situations.

It is apparent that with informal learning’s recent popularity it has been assumed it is better quality learning than formal learning. It is important to point out that it has been neglected in the past; its' use now should be to redress the balance rather than be as a superior, format to formal learning. (Billett 2002 as cited in Malcolm et al., 2003)

Informal learning can occur in any situation and place including home schooling. In fact, a child can learn many things by simply living with their family, from tying their shoes to how to boil an egg. (DCC 2007)

Informal Learning as defined by the Natural History Museum

'Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.' (DCMS 2006) In regards to the Natural History Museum (NHM), if compared to a forest walk, as a learning space, it would fall closer to formal than a pure informal learning environment. It has classrooms, interprets the curriculum, self regulates its standards of education and delivery, has staff to plan and coordinate workshops, and interactive talks in and around the museum. In some respects the children may find themselves in very similar surroundings to those they find in the classroom. However, when the children are in the galleries or the Darwin centre they will be in an entirely new experiential environment and be immersed in an informal learning environment. It is therefore difficult to strictly classify the education experiences to be had at the NHM. It is here that the NHM strives to balance the experience of a learner by incorporating all aspects of its available learning spaces in its guided workshops.

The NHM has extensively researched informal learning for its own programs and education model. The research of Berliner has had significant impact upon their workshops and delivery style. Berliner explains his concept of Academic Learning Time (ALT) and how to efficiently deliver material to children in a very constrained time frame. Berliner (1987) stated that in order for an educator to be effective you have to maximize the ALT you have with your learners. That is "...that part of the allocated time in which students are engaged with materials or activities aligned to the outcome measures that are being used and in which students experience a high success rate." (pp 101)

Berliner (1987) explains that ALT is dependent on 5 factors for effective delivery. These are alignment, organization, behaviour engagement, cognitive engagement and success. Alignment refers to whether or not the subject matter is appropriate to the learners, the curriculum and museum objectives. All workshops at the NHM are designed around the curriculum and aimed specifically at the appropriate Key Stages. The best example is the 'Investigate' workshop, which will be covered in detail later in this essay.

The NHM's workshops are designed for prepped learning spaces, quick transitions and specifically designed learning spaces. These aspects of preparation are key to effective behaviour engagement, ensuring a positive learning atmosphere, consistent strategies and clear ground rules for the learners. The programs are also developed to promote questioning, provide a challenge, and are scaffolded to encourage cognitive engagement. When combined these factors will contribute to a greater success, celebrating the learning, applying meaningful praise and ensuring a safe successful learning atmosphere. (Berliner 1987)

These theoretical frameworks for effective delivery are used to assess and manage the NHM's staff and evaluate performance and efficiency. As the NHM and most museums do not have a governing inspection body like OFSTED to be accountable to, the NHM has taken it upon itself to design a self regulatory system, in conjunction with other museums in the United Kingdom.

Semantically speaking the NHM uses the terms Informal Learning for their family and self led projects that schools or small groups can take on at their own pace and without assistance from the museum. The term formal learning or sometimes non-formal learning is reserved for their workshops such as 'Investigate', 'Cutting Edge' and 'How Science Works'. This was explained as a strictly 'in-house' use of the term to alleviate any confusion amongst staff.

Theory

Researchers like Lev Vygotsky and later Jerome Bruner have investigated some very relevant issues regarding informal learning and learning in museums in particular. Both have placed particular importance on culture and cultural artefacts in any form. Vygotsky (1987) believes that language and instruction are essential for the acquisition and evolution of culture. Bruner (1996) feels that one of the main purposes of instruction is to introduce the learner to skills and methods of disciplines and experience them first hand through interaction with people in those disciplines, not only to pass on facts and information. Bruner and Vygotsky suggest that museums are integral to learning experiences when used appropriately in their relevant disciplines to advance understanding and practice.

It is clear people learn in different and contrasting ways, and the research of Howard Gardner reveals that there are at least seven different intelligences to the human psyche. These include linguistic, musical, spatial, bodily kinaesthetic, logical-mathematical, inter-personal, and intra-personal. (Gardner 1983) These facets help explain how people learn to their strengths and suffer difficulties if exposed to modes that they find to be inappropriate to their style. He also addresses the education systems of most western nations lean heavily on linguistic and logical-mathematical modes to the detriment of other modes. Gardner (1991) posits that informal learning environments like museums and science centres are an important part of a learners education, forming a complementary role supporting more formal learning. He compares informal education experiences with formal and finds that the contextual, exciting and enjoyable learning experiences of informal learning are more appropriate to modern learners than traditional formal learning styles.

Further research by David Kolb explores how different people can learn via sensing or feeling things as opposed to people who can learn by thinking something through. These learners may then proceed to actively practice their learning or alternatively reflectively watch other practice. This can be attributed to right brain versus left brain dominance. The right side of the brain governs intuition and non verbal thought, whereas the left side of the brain is concerned with rational, analytical and verbal thought. Museums in particular have taken an interest in this field of research as they have the flexibility to accommodate many learning styles. (Anderson 1999)

Clearly informal learning environments like museums offer great benefit to children studying their specific subject areas. But can a visit to a museum offer a teacher more than a day out of the classroom? Is it possible to assess pupils progress in a variety of subjects from a single days visit to a museum such as the NHM. I believe drawing provides the means to make further practical use of museum visits and offers teachers an avenue of assessing pupil progress.

Research For Drawing

Assessing an informal learning environment can be very difficult. Non-classroom environments, low student teacher ratios, behaviour management, and unfamiliar subject matter all can contribute to an ineffective learning experience. Children may have difficulties focusing, behaving and staying on task in a new exciting environment and as such may not be able to partake effectively in a learning experience. Research has shown that drawing is an excellent tool for focusing and engaging children in many areas.

Studies by Bowker (2007), Barraza (1999), and Glyn and Muth (2008) have shown the positive and concrete evidence that can be obtained from drawing in and outside the classroom. Drawing is a common occurrence in the classroom. Whether it is used as a ‘time filler’, an art activity, performed by the child as a source of pleasure, or used as a means to observe, its use is a firm element in a child’s education. In regards to informal learning and assessment drawing is less utilized.

Drawing has had various purposes in education. Some research has focused on the product, such as art educators, evaluating the content and methodologies involved in production of the drawing. From this researchers have found that stages of development could be found regarding a child’s mental growth. (Arnheim 1954) Others have focused on the psychology of a child’s drawing and a great body of work has been produced to analyze the content in regards to a child’s psychological growth, especially in order to gain insight into their reactions to major events in their life. (Hayes et al. 1994)

Other research has focused instead of the mechanics of a child’s drawing, discovering how they draw, the manner they move around the drawing, and the way they translate the concept to their drawing, preferring things they can relate to and are comfortable attempting to represent. (Goodnow 1977, Lodge 2007)

Hayes et al., (1994) reminds us that the main drawback of much of this research is the fact that most drawing has been done without a physical subject present. Drawing without direct observation fails to address the issue of observational skills demanded in the Nation Curriculum. (DFES 1999) According to Hayes research, when encouraged to draw from an object, to look at the object more than their drawing, the children exercised greater observational skills and a marked increase in their drawings quality. Development of these observational skills directly applies to the requirements of, and satisfies SC1 in the science curriculum. Direct observational drawings are excellent tools to focus children, increase understanding, and improve communication. (Hayes et al., 1994) Most importantly, in regards to this paper it provides a record of learning.

Weber and Mitchell (1996) point out that drawings are a form of text and can be read if the reader has the knowledge required to interpret the drawings correctly. Like writing, drawing can be refined, thus improving the child’s non-textual clarity of communication.

The use of drawing as a means of assessing a child’s knowledge and the acquisition of new knowledge is underused and often overlooked. (Hayes et al., 1994) Mind maps are a more common method to collate what a child knows or has learned in the classroom. Mind maps, although useful, may be a less accessible means of collecting knowledge than drawings, as children who find expressing their ideas in writing difficult, might find drawing a less inhibiting exercise especially when faced with complex problems.

Drawing provides an enjoyable, non threatening activity for children that can be used for communication, understanding and assessment. Table 1 attempts to show how drawing contributes to science in the primary classroom.

Figure 1 (Hayes et al., 1994)

Although drawing has been used as a pre-assessment tool in Hayes research. Some research has been performed to include drawing as a way of measuring the amount and quality of a child’s learning from venues outside of the classroom.

Research done at the Eden Project, Cornwall, (Bowker 2007) showed that drawings made by the children involved provided clear and quantifiable data from the experience. Most previous drawing research has used oral or written assessment of the learning experience, in this case though, the research focused on analysing a child’s drawings prior to the experience and again afterwards. It assessed the depth, breadth, extent and mastery of the project. Gauging success in these areas was measured by comparing the before and after drawings the children made. Marked improvement was clearly made in most areas and the use of personal meaning maps provided a method to plot and record quantifiable data on the amount of learning experienced by the children.

Using pre- and post lesson drawings as a form of assessment was also exhibited in Glynn and Muths (2008) research on the strategic use of drawing in the classroom. They found that pre-lesson drawings showed the possible misconceptions the children may already possess and allowed for them to prepare and correct for this. They also allowed the children to compare their own drawings which concreted their learning making them more aware of what they have learned. Obviously the drawings themselves were records that concretely defined progression and knowledge acquisition. Bowker's work at the Eden Project provides further excellent examples of these findings.

Barraza (1999) examined children’s drawings about the environment with a focus on pressing environmental issues and successfully to establish that there is a cross cultural universal pattern of development to how children draw. This study lays the foundation for application to multicultural classrooms, clearly asserting that children can express themselves in predictable and decipherable ways in their work; thus allowing teachers to read their drawings without the possibility of different cultural backgrounds needing different interpretations.

When applying these techniques to an informal learning environment one simply approaches the lesson with a pre- and post drawing as modelled in Bowker, Glynn and Hayes’s work. The teacher must then note the differences in the drawings, taking into account new information, detail added to existing information, and information the child is keen to include that they didn’t consider before. If time allows, questioning the children about their drawings can lead to further insight into what the child learned. Bear in mind that cultural subject matter may wildly differ and the images drawn will vary greatly between cultures and individual children for that matter, but these things are to be expected. (Barraza 1999)

At the time of writing though, the NHM admits to not having enough information on offer to enable the teacher to fully enact an informed and congruent pre-visit lesson to compare with the workshop and post workshop activities. Consequentially the NHM is currently working on programs that will provide the teachers with pre visit and post visit work. Bowker (2002) mentions in his research that pre-visit work is of utmost importance to ensure children have a foundation knowledge base upon which the museum learning experience will build and expand upon. In order for the assessment and learning experience to be completely realized foundation work in school and follow up work are integral to the learners experience. The NHM recognises the need to have learners prepared for the workshops they present and in order to provide the best learning experience for the learners they do have some resources online for teachers to use. Unfortunately according to the staff at the NHM these tend to be overlooked and the efforts are wasted.

The drawbacks of drawing for assessment would include children with dyspraxia, the sight impaired and those who have a reluctance to draw, stemming possibly from poor self confidence or lack of interest. Obviously these situations would need to be planned for and accommodated accordingly.

Experiences at the NHM

The NHM has a fantastic staff who plan and organize workshops and family sessions. The two workshops I will focus on here are the Cutting Edge and Investigate workshops. Cutting Edge is an exploratory investigation on teeth. Like most, if not all, of the workshops in the museum it lets children handle actual artefacts. Skulls of various animals, from foxes to lions to giraffes, are handed to groups of 5 or 6 children. The children are then tasked to examine the skulls and decide if the skulls in their group are herbivore, carnivore or omnivore. After they decide they are asked how they decided and what factors were important in their decision. This carries on to a discussion on the types of teeth each animal has, and what they are good at eating. The room Cutting Edge is held in lets it down as an informal learning environment. It's reminiscent of a classroom but due to various reasons also resembles a storeroom. Learning environments are integral to defining a formal or informal setting and unfortunately this room remains undecided. It needs to be embraced as a room for learning and decorated as such.

In general the children participating in the Cutting Edge sessions were quite animated and talkative. The talk was on task and although it sometimes was difficult for the Science Educator to maintain a sense of order this was only due to the children's fascination and interest in the subject. Very little off-topic talk was observed. Sadly the weak point of the sessions, was with the visiting class teachers and Teaching Assistants. Having spoken to many of the Science Educators they all expressed a concern over their role as leader/teacher of the workshops. Most of the Science Educators are fully qualified teachers in their own right and are completely capable of managing a classroom. however when an external class enters their teaching space accompanied by the classes teacher and Teaching Assistants, there is a confusion amongst the adults and children as to who is 'in charge'. Ideally, the Science Educator should have full classroom management but it is when behaviour issues arise that the situation becomes difficult. From observation either the teacher takes a back seat entirely, leaving the children to do as they will, and restricting the Science Educators ability to correct behaviour by not reinforcing their desires, or they charge around and restrict the children's experience by crushing all interest and curiosity in the name of order. It is a difficult position to be in as a Science Educator as they are aware that their behaviour strategies can only go so far and then need the support of the visiting teaching staff. For the visiting teacher, by account, they often feel out of their depth in an informal environment and are happy to leave most of the work to the Science educators, but can undermine authority in discipline where they still feel secure in their role as teacher and leader. Pre-visit information is key to solving some of these management issues.

Practically speaking subject specific curriculum based workshops like Cutting Edge will find difficulties in behaviour if the children have already covered the subject matter in class. Some learners will simply lose interest as they believe they already know what is being presented. Consequently their attention will wander and possibly cause others to lose concentration. Schools selecting this workshop should be aware that this is the case but interestingly in 2 of the sessions observed the children had already previously covered 'teeth' and it was clear in their behaviour that they weren't as interested. In the interest of parity, the artefacts presented to the children are new and very interesting and the museum does introduce some new information. At present the development team are aware of this 'repeat learning' problem and are planning rolling workshops, with greater degrees of flexibility to accommodate the different progress levels of the myriads of schools that walk through their doors.

The second workshop observed was the Investigate workshop.* The learning space is relatively new and extremely well appointed. Along one wall are rows of trays filled with clearly labelled artefacts and specimens. The room also has large skulls, stuffed animal specimens and workstations with computer databases. There is also a pond dipping section, microscopes, visualizers, scales and various measuring instruments, all available for the children's use.

The class is ushered into the room and given a 10 minute introduction to the Science Educator and asked to pick a specimen from anywhere in the room and investigate everything they can about it. They are then shown the microscopes, magnifying glasses, visualizers, measuring instruments, scales and notepads on which to do so. They are encouraged to draw, weigh and measure their specimen. At no time are the children told what their specimen is, it is up to them to find out. Throughout the room there are books, and computers with databases on them to aid the children in their investigation. Great emphasis is also placed upon the fact that every specimen in the room is real and the children are encouraged to look through as many as possible.

The investigation takes place over the course of 1 hour and there are usually 1-2 science educators present plus the visiting teaching staff. Key stage 1 and 2 children find this activity to be extremely exciting and thoroughly enjoy the Investigate which clearly utilizes the SC1 mandate of the national curriculum. (DfES 1999) The notepads that the children are given are fantastic records of learning which they can take away with them. Unfortunately most of the observed teachers overlooked this and failed to see the assessment opportunity they presented. When around half an hour to 40 minutes has passed the children are called together to discuss what they discovered. Children are encouraged to speak about the interesting specimen or artefact they drew and measured and tell everyone present what it was and something that they found particularly interesting. Praise and thanks are given to all the children and the science educators dismiss the children to prepare for the next group. Over the course of the workshops hour, I observed some fantastic work being done by the children*. The notepad has drawing as its core activity and the concentration and dedication to the task was impressive. Very few children failed to draw anything at all and many made excellent observations of their specimen.

Teacher interaction with the children was disappointingly limited. Many teachers sat on the side and observed passively, speaking up only to chastise or bring children to task. Whether this was due to disinterest, a perceived notion of unimportance of the task, or reliance on the science educators to take on the role of educator in their stead was unclear. In one particular instance it was unclear which of the 4 adults accompanying the children was the class teacher and which were parents and teaching assistants. The impression given was one of the beleaguered exhausted teacher simple glad for a break from the rigours of the classroom and using the day as an excuse to leave the normal routine and allow someone else to take charge. This is, in my opinion, a complete waste of the enormous opportunities the museum presents not only to the children but the teacher as well in regards to professional development. After having spoken to museum staff they commented that teachers with 'drive' and teachers which are 'switched off' seem to be evenly distributed across the schools that visit.

Although the two different workshops are separate unrelated programmes it is interesting to note that the drawing in Investigate seems, in my observations, to be a integral part of the success of the Investigation workshop. Drawing, as previously explained, focuses the learner, aiding concentration. (Gerber 2001) When asked why they thought drawing was important in this exercise, some responded, 'It helps me look', and one particular child said 'I like drawing and I've never seen anything like this before so I want to draw it!' I would like to see how the Cutting Edge workshop would change if it incorporated drawing into its planning. The children for example could simply and quickly draw on sheets similar to the ones in Investigate, the different teeth that separate carnivores, herbivores and omnivores. Then the children could think about why the teeth are different and how that might help the animals. Drawing from the real, or from direct observation, not only fulfils SC1 objectives but it also serves to heighten a child's ability to observe, notice detail, and helps ensure memory recollection, according to Hayes et al. (1994), and Glyn and Muths (2008).

Both workshops for the most part, depend upon schools booking in advance. The NHM website recommends a pre-visit exercise for Investigate, but doesn't, at present, provide a specific example. It is my opinion that in order for the learning experience at the NHM to be most effective a detailed lesson plan for Key Stages 1, 2 and 3 should be devised by the NHM in conjunction with teachers input. Many schools local to the NHM visit on a regular basis and have good connections with the staff. Such a rapport would be an excellent resource to utilize as a joint venture to develop a limited scheme of work for schools to use in conjunction with the NHM. As stated previously, Hayes et al., Deirking and Bowker all stipulated that informal learning environments must be a collaborative learning experience, working alongside schools and if teachers were given a comprehensive work scheme to apply before visiting the NHM, acquiring evidence during the visit and then resuming a post visit lesson to assess the teachers should be able to assess pupils progress effectively and accurately. Drawing in the pre-visit work would, ascertain exactly what children know about specific species, encourage scientific questioning, creative problem solving, expose previously held misconceptions and prepare them for new and interesting specimens to investigate upon entering the NHM. The drawings made during the workshop (see appendix A) can then be compared to the drawings made before hand and as Bowkers work shows simple quantifiable differences can be examined and compared to discern how much was learned from the sessions. The post visit lesson would entail asking the children to examine their own drawings, recount what they thought they learned and what they discovered that they may have misunderstood previously. The lessons could be a simple as 'Draw your favourite animal(s)' and upon visiting the museum, 'Find your favourite animal and draw it!'. In order to help children draw animals that are easy to find in the museum, a list of suggestions in the pre-visit lesson might help focus their efforts. Further questions like 'What do they eat?', 'What makes them special?' and 'Where do they live?' could be added to the lesson and later referred to once the museum visit has concluded. Assessing what the children learned from their visit would be as simple as comparing the before, during and after work. This sort of lesson planning is something that needs to be developed with both teachers and the museum education staff working very closely together to make certain it runs smoothly.

The scope for assessment of a class's work during a workshop at the NHM is quite expansive. A visit to the NHM would cover Geography, Art, Design and Technology, Literacy, Science, Mathematics and Religious Education and PHSE. With proper foci on each discipline a teacher could in theory assess pupils progress for each of these subjects from one visit to the NHM. For example, exploring how museums are important to the community, how people are expected to behave in museums and how museums help people understand what has happened in the past could be a focus for PSHE.

I was also able to take some time while visiting the museum to view the collections of scientific drawings done during Cooks voyages and Darwin's Beagle voyage of the various specimens and peoples encountered. I was very interested to view the drawings of Fischer and Audubon for their detail, colour and skill is astounding. In some few cases, drawings of species that have become extinct or are not available as skins, are used as Type Specimens, being the best and most accurate representation of that species for the scientific record. Scientific drawing has had a very strong presence since ancient Greece, and later such greats as Leonardo Da Vinci used illustration to inform their viewer. Drawing and science have worked hand in hand and as such should be thoroughly reinforced in the classroom. Having spoken to a few scientists on staff at the NHM, they affirmed that they still use their own drawings as an excellent means of documentation while in the field. Granted, with the rise of digital cameras, drawing is on the decline, but many still believe that drawing benefits themselves for memory aid and more effective observation than simply taking a digital photograph.

Next January, the NHM will be installing a new exhibition exploring the long relationship between Science and illustration for instruction. I was fortunate enough to be able to help in a small way with one of the independent workshops that is being designed for the show. The show will explore the drawings and illustrations from the museums archives. The workshop is designed to allow children to explore the galleries and find their favourite creature. A card and pencil is given to the child and instructions to draw what they see are printed on it. The workshop is geared for KS1 and 2 with different instructions for different age groups. I assisted in the card design and suggested questions to incorporate on it to help the children think about what they are seeing and where that animal comes from. The children's drawings are recorded on the back of the card and will be displayed on a wall for the public to view. Further research into this activity would be of great benefit and perhaps involving school trips with a pre-visit drawing to compare to their drawing that they see in the museum would be very interesting. Hayes et al. (1994) is clear on the fact that drawing from direct observation is a very strong learning aid and I would like to explore that further.

Implications

For my own practice I will endeavour to make full use of drawing, not only as a fun activity for the children to do but also as a regular means of assessing pupils progress. It is clear that people use drawing and are aware of some of its potential but I am also inclined to think that they do not understand the ease and simplicity with which it can be utilized as an assessment tool. The research behind its use for this purpose is clear and strong. I will be certain to centre lessons in Art, English, Maths, Science, Design and Technology, PSHE and any other subject I can possibly use drawing in.

More importantly though, is the use of informal learning spaces. Clearly the cost of using these spaces can become the greatest inhibiting factor, as simply hiring a coach for 30 children can drive costs above parental abilities to pay for the trip. Thankfully recent work has shown that informal learning can take place on the school grounds, in the school corridors and even to a limited extent within the classroom. Introducing children to new and unusual ways of using the spaces they are so familiar with can shift their perceptions enough to bring them to informal learning environments. Welly walks and pattern discovery in classroom architecture and school building architecture are simple ways to enable children to see things differently and cheaply.

Using the informal space as a means for assessing pupils progress is another means of justifying the cost of informal learning. The recent push for APP and assessment in general by both schools and OFSTED would look upon assessment exercises that incorporate informal learning as something more than a simple outing with interest. In some respects it is a matter of convincing both school boards and parents that a trip to the museum is a viable and valuable day out for the children and most importantly as a way to determine their learning development and progression.

Conclusion

Research into informal learning has clearly outlined its value in and out of the classroom. Incorporating the research for drawing as a means of measuring a pupil's learning and progress, means that one can take what was traditionally a difficult environment to enact teaching assessment and create a fun, exciting, and productive means of assessing pupils progress. It is such a simple means to assess and in my opinion heavily under-utilized. Not only does it provide an easy to read and accurate progression of learning it is an activity that children thoroughly enjoy. It provides children with literacy difficulties with an alternative means to express themselves and further develops their communication skills in their education experience.

Work needs to be done in cooperation between the NHM education staff and teachers in all key stages to tailor the efforts into best fit scenarios. When successful workshops are achieved, the museums will benefit from increased attendance from schools who now have a practical tool in the form of drawing for assessment and evidence. This cooperation is most clearly summed up by Dierking and the following quote clarifies the purpose of informal learning in education.

Learning is a result of many complementary experiences – a “dynamic, never-ending, and holistic phenomenon of constructing personal meaning. . . Much of what people come to know about the world, including the world of science content and process, derives from real world experiences within a diversity of appropriate physical and social contexts, motivated by an intrinsic desire to learn” (Dierking et al, 2003).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

EVONY Online ------ 4/5 stars!

Ive been mildly addicted to a little game online called Evony. It's a medieval themed, city building, army building, conquering, farming game. In some ways it is a very elaborate, pretty progress bar.

Its free. In the way that free means you can play all you like but those people who decide to give money to its 'Buy Items' system have a massive advantage. Those who purchase Evony Coins are few and far between as most members pride themselves on their hard work ethic. To me this is both good and not so good. The Evony people are a fairly small outfit and the game has a very large fanbase. The customer service is actually quite commendable. A recent unfortunate downtime resulted in a package for all players to compensate for the inconvenience. As such, given all the time players play and the work involved in maintaining such a large player base, a little monetary thank-you for their product wouldn't be too much to expect.

Ive played a couple of these sorts of games, like O-Game and others. All have a free based system with the option to purchase upgrades or items etc. Not a bad system and it seems the way of online gamings' future. So its not going to fade away anytime soon. What evony has over those games is the chat system. The other games had messaging systems and all but the cumbersome communication made coordinated hits and just plain old chatter and congratulations on any achievements all the more difficult or just useless. You form alliances and wage wars in a much more personal way. You can get get quite involved in the ethos of it all. If it weren't for the chat, the game would be just like the others I've played and lost interest in.

There is a wheel of fortune system as well. Every day you log in you get an 'Amulet'. This can be gambled on a wheel of random loot. Anything from food to armies can be won. The big prizes of course have quite low odds and the lucky are blessed. Amulets can also be bought for 5 evony coins... which is about 50cents US. Its quite amazing how much fun the wheel adds to the game. Every morning you have a lottery ticket of hope! Granted in the grand scheme of things it amounts to nothing, but for the time you spend building farms, looting barbarian cities and pillaging those who are smaller and less well equipped than yourself it adds a lovely random flavour.


The tech tree is strong and exponential in the time and resources required to climb it. First Level items may take 10 minutes but level 10 things can take over a week to research.

Saying that, play evony if you have time to spare. Its not as cut-throat as other games and you don't find yourself slaved to your army to protect it from others as much as say in OGame. Casting a casual eye over things and spending 5 minutes a day just building or researching can be all you need. Or you can babysit every progress bar and scout every town for plunder to maximize your progress up the merit system.

Evony has its failings as well though. Its recruitment idea 'IEvony' mildly backfired and caused a public backlash against spam invites. Members are allowed to invite people themselves and gain coins for those who sign up. Some people have, of course, abused the system and mass spammed, giving Evony bad press. Evony themselves have now taken action to restrict use and amended policies regarding the system.

The game lacks just a little bit of polish. Spelling errors and grammar problems are the first to come to mind. Its clear the game was developed in a non native English environment. Some leniency can be granted there... but by now those errors should have been found and corrected.

The other main and common complaint is the merit system. To advance levels and unlock the ability to build/attain more towns you need to collect 'Medals'. For the most part these are found in battles. Unfortunately the drop rates are very low and in some cases less than 1 in 50 battles will leave a medal. The fan base has done some amazing work researching where you can find the medal you need but it basically falls to the old strategy of grinding found in so many games.

The system is understandable... Evony is a business after all, and must do its best to maintain its player base. But a little more creativity in attaining medals, making it seem a little less, 'head meets brick wall.. repeat' and little more VERY hard but not impossible wouldn't go amiss.

All in all though, I've enjoyed my first month in Evony. Being of an addictive nature it falls to me to balance my personal life with PC time but hey, if it wasn't good I wouldn't be so drawn to the damn game :) Check it out and have look round. Find an alliance! The advice your peers can offer is invaluable. If your on server32 look for pravo22!

Cheers!

p

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Culture Show!

Lo all 2 of my pieces were accepted to the BBC's culture shows' grand relaunch! Im chuffed as a chuffy thing!

Check it out!


Marcus dunning

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

As seen on NWW... more info there

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Terrian and toys!





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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Sunday, May 13, 2007

New Shoes!!