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Year 6’s Starry Night

Year 6 have been extremely busy of late, creating a mosaic of Van Gogh’s iconic painting, Starry Night, devising games of chance and probability, and holding a sneak preview of their end-of-year projects.

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Although Vincent van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889, it continues to be one of the most celebrated artworks in the world. He painted it during his stay at the asylum of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole near Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in France, and its dramatic brushstrokes of spiralling light and darkness reflect Van Gogh’s mindset at the time.

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With the arrival of the blockbuster exhibition Van Gogh Alive in Sydney – a large-scale, multi-sensory experience of shimmering visuals, fragrances and music at the Royal Hall of Industries – Year 6 were inspired to create their own tribute to the Dutch post-impressionist painter. And so, they played Edith Piaf and set about making the magic of Van Gogh’s art come alive by creating their own mosaic of Starry Night – a legacy artwork to hang outside Head of Junior School, Ms Lind’s office for posterity.

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The artwork was divided into a grid, with each student, as well as the four Year 6 teachers, allocated their own individual square. It forced them to consider the vibrant colours and vivid details of Van Gogh’s technique and style. And they had to collaborate with the person responsible for the squares around theirs in order to make sure that colours, angles and textures matched up. It was an opportunity for creativity and teamwork, as well a chance to unwind together while reflecting on the thoughts, feelings and intentions of the master painter.

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Year 6 have also been immersing themselves in all things chance and probability - finding out how and when to use tables, double-column graphs and pie graphs - before designing, developing and playing their very own games of chance and probability.

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As they discovered, graphs may not seem like something useful in the real world, but they are an important tool to make sense of the world. They help governments, businesses, sporting teams and groups sift through endless lines of confusing data in order to follow trends, make decisions and interpret and convey information. Put simply, graphs help to make our lives easier.

This led Year 6 to investigate the different ways they could analyse data. They looked at concepts such as range, mean, median and mode, and some of the students considered the concept of outliers, and what this meant for their data.

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Of course, games of chance can be traced back to the Stone Age. They’ve evolved from rolling stones, to spinning wheels, roulette and poker. Students were given the agency to come up with a concept for their own game of chance, including detailed guidelines on how to play it, a clear outline of the rules and a catchy name. They had to draw a diagram of their proposed game (or take a photograph of the finished product), clearly labelling each of the different elements. They had to calculate the theoretical probability of winning the game and outline all the possible outcomes, making predictions about how their game would unfold and why. Another proviso was that their game had to be sturdy, so that it didn’t fall apart when students started playing it. And it also had to be attractively presented, so that students were persuaded to give it a try.

After playing the game, students had to compare the theoretical probability with the experimental probability - put simply, they had to look at what the actual result was, as opposed to what it mathematically should be. For example, the theoretical probability of rolling a four on a dice is 1 in 6, because that is what should happen mathematically. So, if you rolled a dice 60 times, then you should roll 10 fours. But in reality, you may roll 22 fours. This is called the experimental probability, because that is what you actually rolled. The more rolls you have, the closer the theoretical and experimental probabilities become as Year 6 demonstrated in their games.

With ‘carte blanche’ to create their own games, the students harnessed their mathematical skills, design skills, conceptual thinking and creativity to come up with a variety of different options – and had a lot of fun in the process.

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Finally, Year 6 had a trial run at producing a transdisciplinary inquiry, with a mini-exhibition in the garden of Hooke House. The final inquiry exhibition is an integral part of the IB’s PYP programme and the students will be producing this later on this term.

For their trial run, students had the agency to choose from three contemporary issues: Sustainable Architecture, The Colonisation of Mars or Marine Biology. They could choose any aspect that interested or intrigued them, delving into research, and exploring and developing a deep, personal and well-articulated understanding of the topic of their choice.

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They also had to think about how robotics could be used to help them explore their chosen issue. And with the support of Year 6 Teacher, Mr Pomfrett, they had to design a Lego EV3 Robot to perform a specific task. Each student recorded their robot as it worked through a series of increasingly difficult coding skills using the Lego Mindstorms app.

For the students, it was an opportunity to challenge their thinking in new and exciting directions and re-examine their ideas and beliefs. It was incredible to see the original ideas they generated and listen to the way they took ownership of their explanations, passionately explaining what they’d discovered in the course of their inquiry.

Bravo to Year 6 and their teachers!