Action Stations – Active Learning in the Classroom
Nicola Borthwick, Head of Eaton House The Manor Pre-Prep, says active learning is one of the best ways to engage younger boys
Call it nature over nurture, but we firmly believe that boys learn better when they learn actively.
That means rolling their sleeves up, picking up and examining, evaluating, getting involvedand excited, and sometimes making lots of noise and getting dirty when they are painting, experimenting or creating.
We feel that old-fashioned ‘from the front teaching’ would be quite dull for the majority of four-to-eight-year-old boys, especially those at Eaton House the Manor Boys’ School. That’s why we try to make every lesson as active as possible.
Experiments can be a wonderful way of getting the boys deeply involved in learning. Our ‘exploding volcanoes’ project is a great example of that.
Based on our geography topic of ‘Magical Mapping’ for Year 2, the boys worked in groups to design a paper mâché base structure. They then added painted features to the islands such as trees, animals and pirate ships.
The final step was to create a ‘volcanic explosion’ by dropping baking soda and vinegar inside the volcano. All the boys agreed that it was extremely exciting to see the eruption!
The boys also loved being allowed to drop an egg from a parapet next to our new science block as part of the STEM Egg Drop Challenge. This challenge was to create a container that would protect an egg from cracking or breaking from a high fall.
The boys produced some very creative containers and predicted which would break and which wouldn’t. After the experiment, the boys did what real scientists would do and
reflected on what they would all do differently next time.
Themed immersive events are another good way to get boys really involved.
Our ‘Medievel Day’ was designed to support and consolidate learning from the boys’ ‘Castles’ topic, and it was a great success. The boys had a great day getting involved in jousting tournaments, medieval dancing, attending a royal banquet and creating some beautiful medieval text using quill pens.
Topic work in the field can also be very successful in teaching boys if it is active. One topic in the summer term was ‘Minibeasts,’ studied by the youngest boys. They learned about the lifecycle of various insects and, in particular, focused on the life cycle of a butterfly.
Each class was given a number of caterpillars. The boys thoroughly enjoyed observing the changes that they went through on a daily basis until they flew off as beautiful butterflies.
They were also very lucky to receive a visit from ‘Spirit of the Wild’ and spent the morning in the company of a variety of animals including meerkats, a python, a fruit bat, frogs, tarantulas, owls and even cockroaches. The boys were absolutely mesmerised by such a wonderful selection of wild life.
By its nature, art is an active subject, but art using vegetables proved especially fun for our 1A boys. This was the perfect introduction to 14 th century Italian artist Guiseppe Arcimboldo, who painted seasonal portraits using fruit and vegetables for facial features.
The boys worked as a team (collaboration skills were a must) to create Arcimboldo-style faces from seasonal fruit and veg. Now, that’s really fruitful learning.
This article was first published in Absolutely Education Prep and Pre-Prep, spring 2019,