One of the many joys of working with as creatives is that I get to see and sample parts of the world I might never otherwise visit. And not just the UK (although we’ve been to all four corners – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), but internationally, too. So, having already run two as creatives programmes in Malaysia and one in the Czech Republic, I had the pleasure this summer of delivering a two-day Creative Approaches to Maths CPD programme for teachers at Denmark’s International School of Billund.
One thing you can’t escape in Billund is Lego. The phenomenally successful construction activity was invented in the town, by Ole Kirk in 1958, the company still has its headquarters there – and it’s home to both Legoland and the Lego House. Even the local optician’s uses Lego to display its wares! Lego and the International School enjoy a close relationship – and the two are working with Harvard University’s Project Zero to develop a groundbreaking Pedagogy of Play. Which fits in perfectly, of course, with our approaches to the teaching and learning of maths.
After a troublefree flight (on an aeroplane so tiny it might have been built from Lego!) and a short bus ride, I found myself at the school for a preliminary meeting with the Maths Co-ordinators, the ever cheerful and always helpful Athina and Steen. With big, open learning spaces, colourful décor and artworks everywhere, it was clear that the very look of the school was designed to support the belief in, and commitment to, learning through play.
We’d put together a structure for the two days that would complement the school’s six Transdisciplinary Themes. And, in line with our own approach to CPD, this was to be a very experiential time for participants, who would try for themselves, and reflect on, some of the many successful maths methodologies that we have developed since we began ten years ago. So, after a good night’s sleep, Day 1 looked at “Who We Are” (through large scale games), “Where We Are in Time and Space” (with our unique code-breaking challenge, The Bunker) and “How We Express Ourselves”. This latter session explored some of Kandinsky’s geometric art and experimented with ways of using drama to promote problem solving (working with Ronda and David Armitage’s “The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch”). And it also made use of our mathematical approach to clay modelling to illustrate the dialogue between “teaching creatively” and “teaching for creativity”. As the school is awash with Lego, staff were delighted to have an opportunity to use a much more mobile construction material. So delighted, in fact, that they gathered all the plasticine elephants they’d made into one giant herd, for a series of photo opportunities!
Billund is only a small place, so, once the day was over, it was only a short walk to Lego House, offering a whole range of magical and creative experiences. And, as a avowed Shakespeare lover, I was particularly taken with the more than lifesize replica of the Bard himself! Finding something to eat was a little more challenging since, as I’m sure the Danes themselves would be the first to admit, Denmark isn’t the world’s best place for vegetarians. I did, though, manage to find a café where they combined non-meaty offerings with the country’s passion for open sandwiches by providing me with thinly sliced quiche on rugbrød!
Returning to the Transdisciplinary Themes on Day 2, we explored “How the World Works” (with our ever-popular Outdoor Maths activities), “How We Organise Ourselves” (including our challenging Priorities Game) and “How We Share the Planet”. For this final session of the programme, we’d decided to focus on something that people love sharing the world round – food. So we’d cooked up a special Danish version of our eternally successful CSI: Bake Off, one that saw Danish pastries substituted for profiteroles – and that even squeezed in a reference to “Vild Med Dans”, the local version of “Strictly Come Dancing”!The two days had gone extremely well, with all staff feeding back how useful the experience had been. And the Kindergarten teachers had reported back that this was the most valuable of the CPD sessions they had ever attended, as there were multiple, clear opportunities to adapt activities to suit the needs and abilities of every age range. So, with no flight available until early the next morning, I took myself off to the Sculpture Park. In an illustration of the symbiotic relationship between Billund and its major employer, many of the works have either been donated to or by Lego. So it didn’t really come as a surprise to come across “Welcome to My World”, a horse-headed alien greeting … a Lego astronaut!