Getting the Roamers out of the cupboard

Sally Smith
IT co-ordinator at Phoenix Infant and Nursery School, Gedling, Nottingham

This article won the Chris Robson Memorial Prize 1998 and first appeared in MicroScope 50, 1997

As IT co-ordinator even I groaned when my name came up on the rota to have one of the two Roamers in school. I was fine for the first week; I know how to start the children off using the Roamer, but then I become stuck at the same point each time. Twice a year we began with an introductory session in the hall. I am very happy with that session; I have even used a modified version for our staff on an INSET day, so no doubt the children in the older classes experience something similar.

Whenever Class 4 had the Roamer again, we took her into the hall, and gave her a name (they are now called Rosie and Wilma; the children know the difference but I forget every time). We learnt how to send her across the circle and we could estimate how far she needed to go. Then back in the classroom where the children were allowed to play with Rosie (or Wilma). For a few days they were enthusiastic, but soon they were choosing other activities and I gratefully handed Rosie to the next poor teacher at half term.

I tried to convince myself that we were making good use of the resources, and that the children were benefiting from their activities with the Roamers. But I knew that I was failing and that many of the other staff never even took the Roamers from the boxes when it was their turn. I had read articles about teachers who made models of streets and mazes and I was becoming convinced that that was what we should be doing, but the practicalities kept getting in the way.

But then I experienced a turning point. We had a set of plastic covers for the Roamers so I set each group of children in my class the task of designing a cover to change Rosie into a butterfly (to link in with our work on The Hungry Caterpillar). They all tried hard and we soon had five beautiful butterfly covers. So, what next? I cut out some card flowers so the butterflies could visit the flowers to collect the pollen, and as we played we developed a game. We put the flowers in a straight line on the floor one Roamer distance apart and sent the butterfly to stop next to a flower. If a child managed to make Rosie stop by a flower they collected the flower. No one was allowed to pick her up so they had to make her go backwards and forwards. The children tried to collect as many flowers as possible.

IWe were off into a new world, and soon other games were developed along the same lines. Rosie was going forwards and backwards collecting Roger, Billy, Johnny and Jennifer, or apples, or presents, depending on the topic. We varied things slightly, putting cubes on the flowers. Collecting cubes made the game longer, and helped the children see how far it would be to the next flower with a cube. This was particularly useful when the whole class played the games so everyone could collect at least one cube.

even found time to make a copy of all the games so a set could be kept with each Roamer for the other classes to use. These are now kept in plastic wallets in old National Curriculum folders. Our ideas were spreading and other staff were more willing to take the Roamers from the boxes. I realised that this was fine for the other younger classes, but the Y2 children would need something to stretch them, and to provide some progression. I did this by making the content of the games more demanding, and by extending the functions they would use on the Roamer.

The first new cards were the numbers to 10. This led to many new games. If the cards were put down randomly then the children had to make the Roamer visit the numbers in order. They could extend their IT abilities by making the Roamer stop at each number, or make a noise, or turn right round etc. If the cards were put down in order the children could shake a die to see which card to visit, and so the possibilities become limited only by the children's and the teachers' imaginations. I also developed a worksheet which was made of lines of six squares. The children put numbers in the first and last squares and then filled the other four squares with the buttons on the Roamer they needed to press to get from the first to the last. Some children predicted what they would use from their mathematical knowledge and then checked with the Roamer.

Another favourite activity that developed as the children's abilities grew was to start with Rosie on a small picture of a Roamer. The children had to program her so that she moved off the picture and then returned so they could no longer see it. The instructions could become more complex as the children gained in confidence, though initially I restricted the children to no numbers above three, (forward 10 backward 10 was becoming a popular choice and the classroom hadn't always got that much room).

Our latest game was developed by the children on the same lines as the earlier games. Working with a student Nursery Nurse they made cards showing different ways of going on holiday and wrote out the instructions, then tried the game on some children from an older class, who enjoyed it and will hopefully play it when it's their turn for Rosie.

So now I am waiting until our class comes up on the Roamer rota again. There is so much beyond the 'just play with it' stage that the children can get on with independently. Although they need reminding of how to use the Roamer they soon remember and are finding games for themselves and inventing new ones. When we can, we borrow both Roamers and play the games in teams (who can collect most cubes in 10 minutes?).

As IT co-ordinator I hope it will become harder to borrow the other Roamer, because it should be in use elsewhere, but as a class teacher I would rather the other classes didn't use it so we can enjoy having both!

The Chris Robson Memorial Prize (200) is awarded annually to the writer of the best article on classroom practice from the previous year's publications. It commemorates a former publications editor and MAPE stalwart, Chris Robson, who died of breast cancer in 1995.

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