“Christmas is upon us,” Glynis is busily unsticking multilink cubes and replacing them into their colour-coded trays.
“The goose is getting fat!” I replied, cheerily. At this point, Glynis darts a glance at Michael, who is finishing off a mince pie, placing the tin foil cup down into another such cup; in fact into a stack of five such cups.
Michael Benzine – edtechpreneur, disruptor of both harvest-based and industrial models of schooling, edtech czar to a revolving door of education ministers, tech-edutainer, innoveer, techagogy visionator and thrice-winner of the Bejam Learning Spatula – is poring over a grid of letters on the screen of his iPad. He looks up and fixes me with a grin.
“12.7 inches,” he says, “Not bad, eh?” Glynis drops a multilink cube into her tea.
“Was sent it to evaluate,” he strokes one finger down the screen of the iPad, then holds aloft a white plastic pencil. “Got a pencil too.” He smiles at the white plastic pencil: “You can write on the screen with it. Look.” He traces a line, with the white plastic pencil, along a string of letters in the grid on the iPad’s screen.
“That is how you spell ‘unprecedented’, isn’t it?” he says, showing the grid of letters to me with the word picked out diagonally in highlighter yellow. Callum, seemingly tall for a Year 5, looks up briefly from his partitioning.
*No, it’s ‘Unprecedented’,” I reply, spelling the word out for Michael.
“Bugger!” says Michael.
“Michael!” says Glynis.
Michael goes back to his grid of letters, swiftly erasing the highlighting with the non-writing end of his white plastic pencil. Once done, he smiles at the pencil and briefly looks at me with raised eyebrows. “Not bad, eh?”
Glynis has fished out the tea-saturated multilink cube and is drying it with a Christmas tree-stencilled Kleenex. As she does so, she starts to whistle. Ursula looks up from her work and softly trills: “Children singing in Christian rhyme.”
“Shut up, Ursula!” says Callum, “I’m trying to partition here.” Ursula goes back to her work.
Michael looks up from his iPad screen. “This is the culmination of a week’s worth of topic-based ‘techquiry’,” he says, beaming and gesturing at the grid of letters. “We’ve been exploring Christmas traditions – from their roots in paganism right the way through to modern interpretations of Christian narrative.”
“Like Home Alone.” offers Glynis.
“We’ve been looking at the ways that winter celebrations combine both a mythicist explanation for the seasons and a prayer for renewal – an appeal to a higher power for the bounty of harvest.”
“Like Home Alone 2.” says Glynis, licking tea off a multilink cube.
“So the kids’ve made this grid of letters for me – with a combination of the topic words that we’ve been mastering as we investigate winter celebrations.
“Words like ‘bauble’, ‘ritual sacrifice’ and ‘Radio Times’.” says Glynis with a smile.
“Is ‘unprecedented’ a topic word?” I ask, brow furrowing.
“Nah,” says Michael. “I’m clutching at straws there, to be honest. Been at this since the end of first break and haven’t found a single word – apart from loads of ‘A’s.” Callum looks up again from Michael to me and back down again to his partitioning.
“That’s a wordsearch?” I say, looking at the screen of gridded letters, beneath which are listed around thirty words and phrases.
“I prefer to call it a ‘student-generated lexiquest’,” Michael says, chewing on the end of his white plastic pencil.
“Kept him busy all morning, that,” says Glynis, stacking the colour-coded trays of multilink cubes and walking them over to the store cupboard at the back of Michael’s classroom. “He’s not found a sausage, have you Michael?” Michael reddens and dips his head further down towards the screen.
“‘Animistic’, ‘Green Man’, ‘family argument’ – I haven’t found any of them.” Michael scratches his head around the base of the stalk of his headmounted 360 degree camera. He turns to the interactive whiteboard. “You had any luck with it, Keith?”
On the screen of the whiteboard, Keith looks up from a bowl of Skittles, sat on the sofa in his brown dressing gown. “Lovely piping,” says Glynis.
“Nah, Michael. Not been doing it, to be honest,” Keith says, through crunching Skittles, “Watching Nightmare Before Christmas.”
“‘Jack Skellington’ is one of the words,” says Michael. “I can’t find a double L anywhere.”
“The students made this, you say?” I say.
“Yes.” says Michael, not looking up from his lexiquest. “They’ve done a great job. I can’t find any of the words!”
Glynis returns from the store cupboard and looks over Michael’s shoulder at the array of letters on the iPad screen.
Callum looks up again from his Christmas partitioning and catches Glynis’s eye.
“Busy work,” he says. With a wink.
Glynis looks at me and smiles broadly, not revealing her teeth.