Research School Network: Witnessing a Schema Form – Even COVID Had a Silver Lining! Opening up the mind of an 8‑year-old through George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

Witnessing a Schema Form – Even COVID Had a Silver Lining!

Opening up the mind of an 8‑year-old through George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces.

by Staffordshire Research School
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During the early stages of lockdown, before the explosion of Zoom, Loom and Teams meetings, I was somehow able to effectively juggle home schooling and my role in school. The juggling act didn’t last long, but in the early days I was pretty pleased with that fact that I found some time to invest in teaching my 8 year old daughter a range of topics within science, geography, literacy and numeracy from the KS2 curriculum. When it went well, it was unbelievably satisfying. We covered plants and plant growth, earthquakes and volcanoes, planets, food chains and the water cycle amongst other things. Little did I know that these learning experiences would provide me with a light bulb moment in learning and my very own cognitive science case study of experiencing how the theory translates into practice.

Fast-forward 8 weeks into the lockdown, with remote education strangely beginning to feel like the new normal’, and things were much tougher. Needless to say, the home-learning suffered significantly as school leadership demands took over and my respect for our colleagues in Primary settings ratcheted up another notch. Only #edutwitter kept me sane by understanding that many other parent-teachers were experiencing the same balancing act of educating their own children and hundreds of others too!

However, one constant remained – cognitive science and the ways in which children learn. One evening whilst my daughter was watching yet another slime video on kids YouTube and saying, welcome to my channel’ in an American accent, I sat down to watch George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces on Channel 4. The next 30 minutes resulted in one of the most pleasurable and rewarding conversations I have ever had with my daughter about her learning. For those of you that are not aware, George Clarke is an architect whose programme features many people that have designed and built/​converted their own amazing space’ in their sheds, boats, bunkers, or outhouses. This episode featured George visiting an observatory, showing some incredible close-ups of the surface of the moon. At this point I paused the TV, managed to convince my daughter that the moon was better than slime and to turn off her iPad. This is how the conversation evolved.

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Retracing the links, we went from an observatory, to the moon, to baking scones, the film The Lost World, volcanoes, KS2 science and plants and food chains to dinosaur extinction. All were previously isolated silos of knowledge, gradually beginning to interlink to form more complex schemata of understanding. I was over the moon (pun not intended). As was she when she knew what it felt like to experience successful learning and to connect the dots’.

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To top it off, we baked scones again on the 13th of September. She reeled off the connections from start to finish with the scaffolding removed and only simple question prompt from me. The schema held firm.

To see learning happen is amazing. To understand the cognitive science and evidence base behind it and to be able to explain how it happened as an educator is extremely satisfying. But dare I say it, to experience it as a parent trumps everything and certainly provided me with a Covid silver-lining.

Nathan Morland,
Director of the Staffordshire Research School at John Taylor.

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Further Reading

¹ Huebner, T. (2008) What Research Says About…Balancing the Concrete and the Abstract. Educational Leadership, Vol 66 (3).

² Sharples, J., Webster, R., and Blatchford, P., (2018) Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants: Guidance Report. Education Endowment Foundation p15.

³ Didau, D. (2018)
When do Novices Become Expert Learners? ⁴ Centre For Education, Statistics & Evaluation. (2017) Cognitive Load Theory: Research that Teachers Really Need to Understand. (NSW)

⁴ Centre For Education, Statistics & Evaluation. (2017) Cognitive Load Theory: Research that Teachers Really Need to Understand. (NSW)

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