Where might an unplanned Explorify journey lead?
When it comes to planning support for science, Explorify aces it, going beyond its own set of engaging activities and guidance to signpost excellent sources elsewhere, but what about that odd, unplanned, 15 minutes? Is an unplanned dive into Explorify ever a good idea?
‘Search 500+ activities’ the Explorify home page reminds us, which is not as daunting as it sounds because searches can be narrowed by year group, science topic and activity type. That’s a lot of activities with new ones constantly being added, along with a couple of new activity types. In the last week, Explorify has hit over 600 activites!
A rich and varied treasure trove with nine activity types organized into five categories: Video, Audio, Hands on, Discussion and Images. Search for something specific like a Zoom In, Zoom Out about rocks for Year 3-4 and up pop ten activities - a pleasing result. With such a neatly ordered system - carefully designed to meet the requirements of the curriculums for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and England - why would you do anything other than to plan ahead; read the background science; try out those ten activities about rocks, for example; choose the one that’s best suited to your particular class, to the learning objective of your next lesson?
Nine times out of ten planning ahead surely is the wisest strategy. It’s why so much care is put into the writing of Explorify’s background science, ensuring concepts are succinctly and clearly explained. It’s why possible misconceptions are flagged so you can consider them in advance of your lessons, and it’s why activities signpost you to tried-and-tested, ad-free, explanatory videos, great classroom activities, and downloadable resources.
But what if you have an odd fifteen minutes to spare? That meeting you planned to hold in assembly time that’s interrupted by the sound of returning feet because (true story!) a burst pipe has flooded the hall; or those end-of-day moments teachers used to fill with a game of Hangman or Heads Down, Thumbs Up. Might Explorify be a better option? There’s nothing wrong with those games, don’t get me wrong, but how well suited is Explorify to those random, hit-and-miss, ‘seat of your pants’ moments, being set out so carefully by year group and topic? Can you really just dive in?
Well, yes! I’d challenge you to find a single Explorify activity that isn’t worthy of a try, despite being intended for a younger age group than the one you teach. Take the Seasons What’s Going On? time-lapse film, aimed at Year 1-2, showing a stand of trees changing over the course of a year. Might this also calm and focus an excitable Year 5 or 6 class before they head out to Forest School?
Many activities aimed at older children will also engage and entrance younger ones. Water trick, for example, another What’s Going On? shows a square of card placed on top of a glass of water that’s turned upside down without a drop being spilt. The image-based activities Odd One Out and Zoom In, Zoom Out are particularly age-transferable. Film gems like The big squeeze, which shows a water melon compressed by elastic bands until it explodes; the frozen waterfall in Frozen in motion; or the dung beetle rolling a tiny ball of elephant dung in Bottoms up will spark a conversation regardless of age. And there’s always something new to spot, like the tick on the ear of the bat in Brown and hairy, a Zoom In, Zoom Out. I never even knew it was there.
The children will have their own ideas, things they’re curious about. You could put a Question of the Week display up, encouraging them to research an Answer of the Week for homework, or simply provide slips of paper and a box in which to post questions about the world and how it works. Why is a tomato red? How does the sea move? How long do flies live for? What are seeds made of? How did The Earth get its name? Any one of these examples from eight-year-olds I’ve taught could start an Explorify journey.
Flies might lead you to Living, moving, an Odd One Out aimed at Year 1-2, that would nevertheless get any age group considering what constitutes being alive; and, though What if the sea was gloopy (like ketchup)? might not be what you intended to find when you searched ‘tomato’, it’s sure to generate some thoughtful conversation about life processes and the water cycle.
A more playful, ad hoc, adventurous approach to Explorify can reap unexpected rewards. The activities were, after all, designed to foster higher-order thinking skills, including creativity, and they can also calm a class by providing something to focus on – generating awe or a sense of anticipation about what might happen next. You can follow suggestions from the children or build your own stack of favourites on the My dashboard page ready to dip into later. Point volunteers such as STEM Ambassadors in the direction of Explorify and the process will enable relationships to develop through talk.
Still unsure about diving in? Then follow the prompts Explorify gives you on its homepage. Currently, you can choose from a set of activities celebrating the arrival of Spring. Friends of flowers, for example, invites children to compare three pollinators: a butterfly, ladybird and spider. Explorify also offers activities related to any topic you’ve signed up for. Quick starters might be called ‘kick starters’ because that’s what they’re aimed to do to your morning or afternoon. And, tied in with the recent Planning Support Sessions for specific areas of science, a range of related activities is now showcased on the homepage.
Apart from hands-on activities, such as Mystery Bag and Problem Solvers, Explorify activities are always low prep and take only around fifteen minutes to do. They’re quality-checked, crisply displayed, and free to use. A spur to adventure if ever there was one!
Explorify Engagement Leader
Image Credits: Kevin Fitzgerald via Unsplash