Thursday, 25 April 2013

Workshops for teenagers?

It seems to me that la famille Grit is now conducting a survey of KS3 workshops around the shires.

See? I even have all the lingo, what with those National Curriculum Key Stages 1,2,3.

I wouldn't have known what you meant a few years ago. But, you home educating parents, there is a disjunction from larking about in the fields with children aged under 11 and these secondary years. Not a culture change entirely of our own making. I observe two trends.

First, the seeping back to school of home ed kids about age 11. Several friends of the griblets went to school, some for the first time. They'd spent a fantastic time replacing the tedious school grind with a truly expansive, outdoors, inquisitive education put into place by outgoing parents, but filtered into the school-based service for the secondary exam years. Coming into our world are those children who may have coped with primary school, but for whom secondary is a harmful nightmare. So we are now moving in a slightly different composition of people.

Second, as we all look around for educational support, we're finding a decline in number and variety of workshops and activities we can pick up from museums, parks, councils, and libraries suitable for the home educated post-11-year old child.

At primary the home ed parent can't go wrong. You can keep Tinkertop busy with dozens of activities from pizza making to storytimes to archaeological games and den building. You don't need to travel about the country looking for those; you can find them in your locality. You don't need to buy the services of the educational supplies company, you can organise a group and pick up a phone. But there's only so much pond dipping you can do, right? The growth of your kids and the targeting of services means that by age 12 you're scouting for something different.

So with kids aged 13 we're looking for new stuff. But I'm finding museum and institution activities no longer offered for the interests of teenagers; they are now activities morphed into the formal, national 'KS3 workshop'.

The organisations offering these workshops are sure to make website promises that are drawn straight from the National Curriculum, and offer targets printed off from a government website. Which means they're already a step away from the concerns of teenagers. They're speaking to us not through their own voices and interests; they're addressing us though a nationally school-mediated voice rather than a local people-oriented voice. Nevertheless, we stick with it, book a session, and then find these workshops are truly of variable quality.

There is no guarantee of academic content at a 'KS3 workshop'. Parents of schooled children, you should know this too. When you fork out a tenner for the annual KS3 trip touted by the school as a 'valuable learning opportunity', know that it could all descend into 'D'you wanna touch a dead badger?' with your child enthused only to the purchase of a rubber egg in the gift shop.

So now the KS3 workshop is disappointing on both counts. First, in failing to be heard by the interests of teenagers and second, in failing to provide even what they offered for the content.

Old Grit observes an issue here for those educators working in all our dear museums, libraries and the rest.

First,  if you want to keep them involved in your disciplines, you need to consider whether you are creating workshops and activities that fit with the interests of teenagers. Please don't assume they all grunt and play computer games.

Second, you need to examine whether you really want to provide National Curriculum services for the government, or whether you want to do the thing you're interested in, have the resources to do, and the staff to help create it.

Third, you need to think it through, where you want these teenagers to go with you, when you run a session. What do you want to happen as a result of your activity? What do you want them to do and say about your outfit?

Finally, you need to make sure, absolutely sure, without exception, that you front your workshop with real, live, blood-fired people who care about, and are sensitive towards the nuances of both their audience and the discipline they're promoting. They won't necessarily come with a PGCE. In fact, that might be a hindrance.

These thoughts are all prompted because today we hit another teenage workshop at the Centre of the Cell, in Whitechapel. It promises KS3 science of the National Curriculum.

The workshop session is, basically, play a load of computer games in a pod suspended above a laboratory. It hit the presentation, commendably showing aspiration and imagination, but despite the science/medical students hanging about, still relied on computer games rather than the excitement of actual human interaction to prompt thought and provoke discussion. For us, it failed to send our teenagers buzzing home, enthused by debate, fired up with ideas, and imaginatively placed at a different point from where they'd started.


Anonymous said...

Our eldest pair turned 11 in February and certainly we feel as if we are entering a new arena though we still have our 6 year old pair to balance too. Placing them back in the system is not something we want so looks like we have new challenges ahead. I'll watch your workshop reporting with great interest and thank you!

suzywoozy said...

We were a bit disappointed with centre of the cell - you can do most of the activities on-line. But we were coming from the Isle of Wight - if we lived on the outskirts of London it would be worth.

Grit said...

hi angela, yes, it all feels more pressurised now but life continues just as before. it's an odd mix ... home ed relies so much on the children being an active participant in what they do, yet it's quite scary for the adult; i feel i should know more than i do in so many ways.

yes, suzywoozy, i didn't realise how many of the activities were just the same, there and online; i told myself that a trip to tower hamlets is, however, an education in itself.