Thursday, December 14, 2006

BP Challenge for Christmas

I had the last Discovery Time with year six students at Porirua East School today. Some of them had a go at the Christmas Tree BP challenge.

They had to make the tallest possible, free standing christmas tree.
Twenty five sheets of newspaper, many sheets of coloured paper and vast quantities of sellotape later ...... these were the results.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Christmas gifts
A glossy magazine fell out of the morning paper today... 'The Complete Christmas Catalogue' full of goodies to buy.

On the page 'keep the kids happy'... between the robot and the nintendo was a picture of a stick!
and the following

What: A stick
Where: Beaches, forests, river banks, some backyards and farms
Price: $0
Why it's fun: Can be used for hitting balls, teasing dogs, tracing patterns in sand, an aid for pirate adventures, pushing into cow pats and chasing younger siblings and parents with.

How refreshing

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Activities for Year 5 & 6 students

The BP Challenge website provides problem solving activities for groups of students. These are fabulous for Senior Discovery Time.

Just print the page of instuctions from the website and you are ready to go.

Last week we challenged the kids to make 'The Longest Bridge' (out of newspaper!)

The task
To build a model bridge which must sit on the back of two chairs facing outwards. The bridge must be as long as possible but strong enough to support a 500g weight.

15 full sheets of newspaper
2m sellotape
3m string
2 sheet A4 card
Scissors (for construction only)

It goes on to give conditions and judging criteria

Ready made activities just waiting to be used. Try them out they are great.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Just a few ideas for looking after equipment

Strengthen all the corners of boxes (jigsaws, games, construction sets) with clear heavy duty tape so that the boxes are more robust.

Use Discovery Time to teach students how to look after things. Insist that when lids are removed they are placed under the box for safe keeping and that pieces are not spread all over the room.

Keep large pieces of fabric (1-2 metres is good) for the students to spread out on the floor when using construction material (LEGO etc). This defines the area and keeps all the pieces together. When packing up it is easy to gather up the corners and collect all the bits at once.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Photography and movie making

Discovery Time provides the perfect opportunity for a small enthusiastic group to:

  • capture the action happening in the class
  • experiment and explore possibilities for themselves
  • get teacher guidance if needed
  • be creative

In a year 6 class last week a group became enthusiastic about a collection of dolls I had bought. We let them lose with the digital camera and these are some of the photos they came up with.

They now plan to use the movie maker software to put the still pictures into a digital story.

Movie Maker is on windows XP. Go into 'start' / 'all programmes'. If you can't see it there (the icon is a film reel) then look under 'accessories'. Right click on it and select 'send to desk top'. The icon will then appear on the desktop so that students can find it easily.

The programme is very user friendly and with minimal guidance your techno savvy juniors will soon master it. Older students should just about be able to work it out for themselves.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Modern life leads to more depression among children
In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, 110 teachers, psychologists, children's authors and other experts express their concern at the rising incidence of childhood depression and children's behavioural and developmental conditions.

They write that children... " still need what developing human beings have always needed, including real food (as opposed to processed "junk"), real play (as opposed to sedentary, screen-based entertainment), first-hand experience of the world they live in and regular interaction with real-life significant adults in there lives.

They also need time. In a fast-moving hypercompetitive culture, today's children are expected to cope with an ever-earlier start to formal schoolwork and an overly academic test-driven primary curriculum."

In response the Daily Telegraph has launched a campaign, Hold on to Childhood. Letters and emails of support have poured in.

Check out the website above for the letter in full.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Just back from the Ulearn conference. What a lot of thought provoking ideas and new challenges for us all. Gay & I will be focussing on getting schools in our area (who are not on ICT contracts), to make even greater use of technology during Discovery Time. We've come back really fired up so watch this space...we'll report back on how we're getting on (or ask for your help when we run into problems!)

Thank you to all those who came to our workshop - your enthusiastic response was fantastic. We hope there are lots of DT sessions starting up next term. We'd love to hear about them so leave a comment on the site.

I'm trying to remember the things we said we would put on the blog....

Firstly - Information on key competencies. I recommended a background paper by Rosemary Hipkins. This is a lengthy document (85 pages) but worth reading if you are leading your school in professional development on key competencies.

Secondly - We remembered after the workshop that we hadn't mentioned linking the session to your writing programme. We get some wonderful writing from children following the Discovery Time sessions. They always have plenty to write about and make some really insightful and reflective comments about their learning.

Thirdly - We also thought we should say that if your whole syndicate is going to do DT avoid the temptation to have the students move between rooms (unless you spend most of your time in a true team teaching situation). Feedback from teachers and our own experience lead us to believe that this time is invaluable for observing and interacting with your students. This is a time to strengthen your relationship with, and increase your understanding of every child in your class. For this to happen you need to have them with you.

I'll post again in the next few days
Have a relaxing holiday

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Ulearn06 conference starts next week in Christchurch

For those of you attending our workshop here are some useful references.

Are We Fixing the Wrong Things?
Yong Zhao, (2006). Educational Leadership. vol 63. no 8. p28-31.

Children are less able than they used to be.
The Guardian Jan 24, 2006

Moving up the Grades: Relationship between Preschool Model and Later School Success
Marcon, R.A. (2002) Early Childhood Research & Practice. spring 2002. vol 4, no.1

Three Rs to make room for life skills
The Age. March 30, 2004

Hurry! Hurried! Hurrumph!
NSW Dept. of Education
Education Horizons Vol 8. no 5, 2005.

If you have trouble locating any of these, contact me and I'll be happy to send them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

An Evaluation of the Discovery Time Programme
Last year Rebecca Fisher, an Educational Psychologist with Group Special Education in Porirua, completed a research project on Discovery Time in one of the Porirua East School.
An article on this project has just been published in Kairaranga - volume 7, issue 2: 2006

The article describes the Discovery Time programme, a largely child-directed developmental programme, and discusses it in relation to the sociocultural approach to learning. It considers the effects of the programme on the development of children's oral language learning and cooperative social skills in a year 1 classroom.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Masks and puppet shows are always popular and a great way to stimulate oral language.

Big Billy Goat Gruff

The fox - in a new version of the Gingerbread Man!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Vegetable Animals
Don't you love this wonderful owl made by a year 3 student

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Making horrible hands!!!
Sounds like fun...
NZ School Journal Part 2 Number 3 2005

Kids will love this!!
Making coloured frozen hands in plastic gloves.
Good clear instructions to follow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

New Zealand Curriculum

The revised curriculum (Draft for consultation) was released this week by the Ministry of Education.

Discovery Time enthusiasts will be delighted to see that it aligns very closely with the basic tenets of our programme. The section on effective pedagogies affirm everything we have been saying! Yeah!

We originally developed the programme around 'Curriculum Areas' and 'Essential Skills', hence the strong focus on these in the planning sheet, so we were very keen to see what the changes would be.

The Essential Skills has been replaced by the Key Competencies: managing self, relating to others, participating and contributing, thinking, using language symbols and texts. These work perfectly for Discovery Time - fantastic!

We are in the process of rewording parts of the planning sheet to reflect the curriculum changes and to incorporate some of the feedback we have had from teachers.
If you contact me I will send a copy as soon as it's ready.

A copy of the curriculum arrived in schools last week, so don't forget to hunt it down and have a look at it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Recipe for Lemon Syrup

This is a great activity for Discovery Time and perfect for this time of the year when there are so many lemons around.

The recipe makes enough syrup for the whole class to have a drink.

It provides a perfect opportunity for encouraging participation / collaboration and oral language (essential skills / key competencies).

The activity can be extended by:
  • Setting up a drink stall - with cash register and play money. Children design a sign and decide on a price.
  • Setting up a cafe - children organise the table, waiting staff (with pad & pen), money, kitchen staff for washing up etc.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Silly Billy" - Anthony Browne's lastest book is fabulous.

'Billy was a worrier - he worried about everything, until his Grandma introduced him to worry dolls...'

Here's a wonderful response to this story from a yr 1&2 class. The teacher read the story to the class and then included the activity in Discovery Time the next day. She set up a table with wooden pegs (from the $2 shop), PVA glue and scraps of fabric/wool and the children set to with very little adult assistance.

These are some of the worry dolls they made.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Matariki -

The latest 'Starters & Strategies' magazine (, dropped onto my desk this week, this is what they have to say about Matariki.

Tell students that Matariki, the name given to the Maori new year, refers to a cluster of stars that are seen just before dawn, slightly north of the easterly horizon during late may / early June. The celebration of Matariki begins when the first new moon appears after the star cluster becomes visible. This year it is 27th June.

  • If the stars in the cluster are clear and bright, then it is thought that the year ahead will be warm and productive.
  • If the stars in the cluster are hazy and shimmering, a cold winter is ahead and we must prepare for this.

The nearest star of Matariki is 440 light years away from earth. Light travels at just under 300,000 kilometres per second. Can students suggest a method of how to calculate this distance? Can they do it?

Here are some web sites that the magazine suggests:

Kites are a special part of Matariki celebrations so you may want to make kites during Discovery Time.

I've search a number of sites and these two seem to be the best. Be warned though, I haven't tried them... yet!!! I'll report back next week. This gives good simple instructions for making a bird kite out of plastic. This is a very simple kite using paper and shish kabab sticks.

Make sure you hunt out 'Starters & Strategies' in your schools. there are lots of ideas for Matariki.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


For those of you who are not inspired by football... what about some ideas or resources around Matariki?
Football World Cup

When I set up this blog I thought that it would be interactive. That people would add information and ideas through the comments function. This hasn't happened!!!!!

So how about it!
Over the next few weeks some children will be following the World Cup, so how about letting us know how you are going to incorporate this into Discovery Time. Maybe developing soccer skills, designing jerseys for a New Zealand team or perhaps exploring food from Germany. I'm sure there are some good websites out there that children could explore too.

So how about sharing your ideas. Just click on the comment icon and leave an anonymous message (if you make it anonymous you don't need to log on or get involved in passwords). Give it a go, we'd love to hear from you.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Equipment specials from Every Educaid .
If you are looking at buying equipment for Discovery Time the latest brochure from Every Educaid has some great specials. Open ended equipment gives best value for money and I have found that the following sets work really well.
Gears! Gears! Gears! - Wacky Factory
Breakfast set
Train set (I have bought the black one and found it excellent - very tough and durable)
I would consider these to be part of the 'basic' equipment for Discovery Time.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

More Procedural Texts - A wonderful resource for teachers.
This is not a definitive list, just a selection that we have purchased for schools because we feel they provide great ideas for Discovery Time.

From Horowitz publishing
Let's make pancakes
Magic tricks
Making a picture
Making a torch
Making bread
Making butter
Making dips
Making music
Making spaghetti
Milk shake
Shadow puppets
The school news
Treasure hunt

From Nelson Price Milburn publishers
Bees in the garden
Growing peas
Ladybird ladybird
Making a bird
Making a cat & mouse
Making a rabbit
Making a toy house
Making breakfast
Making lunch
Making party food
My noodle necklace
Our butterflies

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Focus on Photos

I visited a year one class at Windley School and saw an amazing Discovery Time with a focus on photography. It had began with the teacher taking photos of each student and then progressed into:
making their own cameras
constructing photo frames
setting up a photo shop

There were of course other DT activities going on at the same time but these three activities provided a focus.

The photo frames - made out of driftwood involved some good carpentry skills and the children soon discovered that some pieces were softer than others - lots of great vocabulary extension work going on around the table.

The photo shop was a great opportunity for role play. The children took photos and then marched off to the shop to have them printed and of course to pay. Again lots of oral language opportunities.

These activities continued over several Friday sessions. They were hugely successful, yet quite simple to organise.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Procedural Texts
These are great for providing ideas for Discovery Time activities. In many of our schools the RTLBs have provided a set of these books for teachers to use. These are the books from Pearson publishing (I ran into Maria Ludgate - Wellington agent, this week and that jogged my memory about putting this list up!!) I've seen some wonderful 'happenings' in DT using these books. The making of shadow puppets, inspired by the fun with shadows book, is a standout.

Dig in
Fun with shadows
Let's make music
Let's Play
Make a house
Make a mobile
Making a milkshake
Making blueberry muffins
Paper planes
Skipping games
String games
What is it?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Radio NZ - Eva Radich interviewed Michael Fielding Tues 2nd May 2006

Michael Fielding is from the University of Sussex in the UK and is Director for Innovation Education .
He strongly believes that we should be involving students in their own learning and that listening to and valuing childrens' voices has to be a priority for classes of the future. He says that in order to do this teachers need to take on a facilitating role!!!!

So, all you teachers out there doing Discovery Time you are right on target!

This interview is 18 minutes long and can be heard on
Bring up the web page, go to live audio streaming, then nine to noon, select Tues, 02 May.
If you left click you can listen to it
If you right click you can save it with - save target as (and then listen to it later)
The Role of the Teacher in Discovery Time
Last term I was working with the Junior Syndicate at Windley School in Porirua. They felt that teachers needed to adopt a different role in Discovery Time. That they needed step back and let the children take charge of their own learning.

These are their thoughts on the role of the teacher in Discovery Time

A facilitator
Helping children extend themselves
Helping children take responsibility for their own learning.
Setting up situations where learning can happen
Setting a safe secure environment so that children feel they can take risks
Setting rules and boundaries for listening & speaking, so that children feel safe.
Organising the room so that children can access equipment and work independently

A prompter of ideas – asking open ended questions
What might happen if…?
Can you try that another way?
Where do we go next?
Why did you do it like that?
Tell me about it?
What are you going to need next?
How do you think it will work?
What do you think might happen if…?
I’d like to do that. What do I have to do?

An observer
Notice successes
Notice strengths and weaknesses
Notice different personalities
Notice different interactions
Gather information for further planning
Gather information for meeting individual specific needs

A role model
Model specific behaviours that you want to target – looking after equipment, sharing, taking turns etc

A participator
Joining in as one of the kids rather than as the teacher

A listener
Taking time to really hear what children are saying

Thank you to Jamie, Shona, Marion, Bev, Kylie and Vanessa for this valuable contribution.

Friday, April 28, 2006

School Journal - Mothers' Day
This is a great Discovery Time activity to follow Mother's Day

School Journal
Part 1
Number 2

Check out some fun ideas to celebrate family.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Magic of Thinking - Tony Ryan
Gay and I went to this seminar in Wellington last night. The mention of 'higher order thinking strategies' had caught our attention. Here are just one or two snippets from a highly stimulating three hour session.

Higher order thinking can be encouraged through:
- An endless range of great frameworks (Blooms, Habits of Mind, 6 Hats).
- The use of HOT questions
- Graphic organisers
- contextual thinking experiences (cooperative learning structures are great)

The HOT questions really caught my attention
examples: Why are at least 90% pf websites around the world written in English?
How do wings work?
Which toy would choose you?

HOT questions should 'stretch' the thinking and present a cognitive challenge.
We can think of HOT questions for every topic we might be studying - children have fun thinking of them too.
We should be using them hundreds of times a week!

So what has all this got to do with Discovery Time?
I believe strongly, that it is the quality of teachers' thinking and questioning that determines the quality of a Discovery Time session.
We need to be using 'open ended' and 'HOT' questions to encourage higher order thinking during Discovery Time.

Check out Tony Ryan's website

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Food for thought

“Children learn through collaboration with adults and peers, through guided participation and observation of others, as well as through individual exploration and reflection” (Te Whariki)
Ministry of Education (1996). Te Whariki: He Whariki Matauranga mo nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa (Early Childhood Curriculum). Wellington: Learning Media.

“In New Zealand, early childhood is defined as the period of education from birth to approximately 5-6 years of age – there are good arguments, based on research, to extend this to 8 years.” (Farquar 2003, p1).
Farquhar, S. (2003). Quality Teaching Early Foundations: Best Evidence Synthesis. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

“By year one, there was very little time for play as teachers struggled with content overload from the policy requirements. Just as children become more skilled in their play, opportunities for play are restricted. Policy-makers assume that young children need more challenging work, whereas research shows that they also need more challenging play” (Wood & Attfield, 2005, p153).
Wood, J. & Attfield, J. (2005) Play, Learning and the Early Childhood Curriculum. (2nd. Ed.). London: Paul Chapman Publishing

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

From Gay:
Have you spotted on The UK Guardian Education page research from Michael Sayer claiming that children are not making the predicted gains from all the input of literacy and numeracy funded programmes.
He quotes "........I would suggest that the most likely reasons are the lack of experiental play in primary schools, and the growth of a video-game, TV culture. Both take away the kind of hands - on play that allows kids to experience how the world works in practice and to make informed judgements about abstract concepts."
Check out article January 24 The Guardian.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Great to be at Festival exhibit today "Earth and Beyond" and see so many children interacting with visual images - making connections and taking their own learning to higher levels.
from Gay

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An oral language focus

At the end of last year Gay and I visited a school in South Wellington. Brigid (class teacher) along with Angela & Warren (RTLB) have set up Discovery Time to target the oral language needs of their year 1 & 2 students.

During the session, when teachers heard good examples of oral language, they wrote down what was said. This was then displayed on the wall next to the student's name and photo. At the end of the session these 'good talking' quotes were shared with the class. This was a highlight of the reflection time and very much enjoyed by the children.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

What is Discovery Time?
Discovery Time is a ninety minute, action packed, activity based programme similar to the 'Developmental' or 'Choosing Time' concept of the 1970's. Held once a week, it provides opportunities for teachers to meet the cognitive, social-emotional and physical needs of students through well planned, structured, activity based experiences.
It began two years ago as a collaborative project between the Junior Syndicate at Porirua East School and Resource Teachers: Learning & Behaviour (RTLB). Since then the concept has continued to grow and develop. It is now used in over thirty classrooms in the greater Wellington area (please add a comment if you have set it up in other parts of New Zealand, we'd love to hear from you).
It was initially designed to meet the needs of students who found the structured academic focus of junior classrooms a challenge. It soon became apparent that there were benefits for all students and for teachers as well. The programme is based on three key principles:
  • That students need opportunities not only for cognitive development, but also for social-emotional and physical development.
  • That students need to be actively involved in 'hands on' experiential learning.
  • That student directed learning increases motivation and success.

During Discovery Time, the children; experiment, problem solve, challenge themselves, practise new skills, explore new ideas, think creatively... the list is endless. At the end of the session they reflect on their experiences and share what they have learned.

For teachers, it's a time to step back from the 'teacher' role and become the facilitator, the questioner, the encourager, the helper...

Discovery Time is one of the highlights of the school week.