Operation Moonbase – November 2016

Tom Varley, Education Associate in South London, reflects on Reach Academy’s latest Challenge Day.

The School: Reach Academy Feltham

Reach Academy Feltham are in the first year of working with Enabling Enterprise. They believe passionately that all young people, regardless of background, can achieve great things. The academy offers an all-through, 2-form entry schooling career to its students from Nursery right through to Sixth Form. Through this, a community is created of pupils, parents and teachers united by the highest expectations of what every young person can achieve to succeed in life. The teachers at Reach Academy believe that their pupils will work hard towards this goal if it is real to them.
The values of the Academy are Reflect, Endeavour, Aspire, Show Courage and Have Fun.

The Challenge: Operation Moonbase

Planet Earth is becoming overcrowded so, in this challenge, students are tasked with starting a new society on ‘Utopia’, a moon in a galaxy far, far away. Their Problem-Solving skills are put to the test as they have to come up with the best plan for their new Moon Base. To do this well, they take on various roles throughout the day, from designers to managers, to builders and advertisers. Demonstrating their strengths in Leading and Staying Positive, the space explorers must then construct 2D and 3D maps of their new cities in the sky and sell the idea of their society to prospective inhabitants.

Enabling Enterprise challenge days engage the whole school in an exciting competition that also achieves clear learning outcomes. Designed to develop children’s skills through a one-day challenge, these days are a great way to bring the whole school together. Activities are differentiated between Key Stages and, with all classes involved and working towards a similar goal, learning usually takes place with mixed-ability groups within individual classes.

For their Enabling Enterprise Challenge Day, teachers at Reach Academy were keen to do things differently…

Imagine being asked to lead students eight years older than yourself, Sharing Ideas with a child six year groups below you or teaching KS4 students when you’re a KS1 class teacher? That’s the challenge that faced students and teachers at Reach Academy Feltham for their recent Operation: Moonbase Challenge Day.

From the outset, the children were very aware that this was to be a day like no other they had experienced. During morning registration, each student was given a group number before making their way to the Sports Hall to meet their team for the day. Every class from across the school – Year R right up to Year 10 – was to be involved, with a 2-part vertical grouping structure that mixed students from Reception, Years 1, 2, 7 and 8 in one set and Years 3, 4, 9 and 10 in another set. For a four-year-old, that’s quite something! But when a Year 3 student and a Year 10 student are asked to collaborate on a project for an entire day, who is furthest from their comfort zone?

Students’ Initial Reactions

Fatima, a Year 10 student, reflected on her initial feelings when first placed in her group: “It was nerve-wracking to be with the Primary kids because it’s a huge responsibility; they are going to be looking for me to guide them.”

Gulalai from Year 8 was also a little apprehensive but soon began to think about the opportunities the day could present: “I was nervous when we got into our groups because everyone was younger than me but I stayed positive and saw it as a chance to lead and learn from others.”

For many of the younger students at this stage, the combination of meeting new students and teachers as well as being in a new environment was a little overwhelming. Logan in Year 1 said, “I wasn’t sure if they would listen to me.” For Vidyuth in Year 2, he was excited about the day ahead but said, “I was worried I’d forget their names!”

The Challenge Unfolds

In terms of developing the enterprise skill of Aiming High, aspirations were being raised across the board, whether this was Secondary students’ added responsibility as role models and leaders within their group, Primary students’ opportunity to work with older peers and showcase their skills, or teachers adapting their practice and working with a range of year groups outside their usual phase.

As the activities got under way, teams were asked to select a new crew to take with them on the mission and had to weigh up the merits of certain people and their job roles in order to select the right candidates. Choosing 4 crew members from a possible 10 proved to be tricky and the groups had to display a range of problem-solving skills to come to a solution that everybody in the team was satisfied with. Darius, from Year 9, reflected on the difficulties facing the older children in that they were far surer of their decisions before considering the thoughts of others. He praised the younger members of his team in a class ‘Shout Out’ when he told the group: “The Primary children have shown us how to solve problems. They worked together and shared some ideas on how to find a solution and didn’t just put down their first answer. I’ve learnt a lot from them.”

Measuring Progress and Pitching It Right

With an assessment framework that outlines development throughout a child’s entire school career, progression within an enterprise skill is eminently visible. When Sharing Ideas, Year 2 children would be expected to speak clearly and add detail to a group of people, whilst a Year 7 pupil would be able to structure their language in a way that makes communication clear and engaging. When the two students in question are debating the varying benefits of different animals with the view to deciding which should be taken on a space mission to create a new civilisation, it’s especially important that both children are doing this to the best of their abilities in order to ensure their ideas are made clear and therefore considered worthy of consideration.

Rhyse, from Year 7, was very receptive to his team mates’ ideas and understanding: “It’s really important that we co-operate because, even though I’m older, my team knows more than I do about some stuff so I have to listen to them, no matter how old they are!”

In creating an ‘ideal animal’ to provide maximum benefits to the newly-established society, the focus was on the skill of Using Imagination. At this stage, the over-riding narrative was that the older students could provide the scientific knowledge and insight to sit alongside the younger students’ imaginative ideas and heightened sense of freedom with their creativity. The two dispositions combined to devastating effect in the creation of a horse with the ability to photosynthesise, a fierce egg-laying unicorn whose horns possessed medicinal properties, and a fire-breathing cow cloaked in lamb’s wool with a spatula-shaped tongue to cook food as it caught it.

Constructive Teamwork

As the challenge moved on to the creation of the new society, students took on the roles of architects and builders to design and create a model for the city of Utopia. With limited time and a range of buildings to construct, teams were stretched to complete the task. Having each had a chance to lead their group members through the different activities, the students were by now instinctively assigning roles to themselves and each other. In one class, a Year 9 student sat patiently and listened to detailed and precise instructions on how and where to construct the model for their city’s railway station. He did so patiently and attentively, offering his own suggestions and clarifying his assignment before setting to work. His ‘foreman’ was a Year 4 student.

Georgie, a Secondary English teacher, saw a different side to her students during this activity in particular and said, “It’s been brilliant. The younger kids have risen to the task and performed better than I ever though they would. I’ve also seen lots of really good qualities from the older children that we don’t always get to see.”

With the models’ construction complete, teams had the opportunity to present their societies and reflect on their journey through the day. Adam, in Year 4, told the other teams, “We’re the best team because we worked really hard and used our imagination more than we usually do. It wasn’t always easy but we helped each other and supported our team members, even if they were older.”

Staff Reflections

Angela Melia, Reach Academy SENDCo
When I heard about the day, I thought it sounded good but I was a bit concerned that it was Primary and Secondary: I worried that all children wouldn’t have a chance to talk, that the Primary students may be taken over by Secondary, or that the older children wouldn’t try too hard because it’s at a Primary level. Instead of that, I actually think that both sets of children are really having to aim high.

Today, the adults are modelling to the children that we are together – Primary and Secondary teachers together as well as students, so the smaller ones are looking at the older children and thinking, ‘We are in a team now so I am at your level. We are buddies.’ It’s not about the project, it’s about seeing themselves as a team, as ‘us’ and all of them feel part of that. I think that’s why it has worked so well.

When they were creating the animal mind maps, it was the Primary children who were giving so many ideas. At that moment, the whole team dynamic changed because the Secondary children looked at them and found a whole new respect. There was one Secondary boy who was so patient, he was amazing. He knew there was a child whose body language showed he was really nervous (he is in Reception) and, very kindly, he asked him what he thought and then was full of praise for his answer and offered to help him write down the answer. That child, within a second, felt more comfortable.

I just love the fact I was learning so much from them today.

Henry Everett, Reception Teacher
I think some children initially found being out of their comfort zone difficult but they have had to use a set of skills that they have not used before. What’s been nice has been to see certain children who haven’t always had so many opportunities to lead, especially a young Year 7 who perhaps doesn’t have so much confidence, actually being able to lead a group and given the chance to shine and surprise us.

I’ve just come out of a classroom with one child who is a really high achiever but his behaviour can sometimes be difficult to manage; his brain is often operating at such a high speed and he wants to be doing so much all of the time. Today has been brilliant because he’s been given the scope and the freedom to be really creative and to think about something on so many different levels. Because it’s all building towards a celebration and an outcome, there’s a purpose to it.

I’m sure we will refer to this day in the future and reflect upon the day and I know it will inspire us to do more.

Enabling Enterprise are working in partnership with schools and businesses to support students to build enterprise skills and aspirations. Find out more by contacting us or visiting enablingenterprise.org

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