Mark the Maths Monster!

Mark the Maths Monster!

I started the year with a group of Year 6 children who were frightened of maths and so set myself the task of making maths fun!

Their Year 5 teacher had introduced Maths Monster to the children and they had really responded, solving problems for him and helping him get into Monster University by helping him learn maths. They obviously loved him because when he came back for a visit, one maths lesson, they were so excited to solve complex investigations and buy into the concept of this poor creature that couldn’t do maths.

From this, I decided to adopt a Maths Monster of my own (because they’re real you know!) and along came Mark, Maths Monster’s more confident, but clumsier, younger brother. Mark often rushes through his workings and doesn’t get things right and so the children have to sort out the mistakes he makes.

The children also had the idea that one of them would take him home at the weekend and do maths with him, taking photos and recording their maths in Mark’s diary.

This is adding an extra layer of maths for the children and on Friday they are so eager to see who is taking him home. The maths they are doing is complex and in a real life context, such as recording how many minutes Mark was asleep, tracking the average speed on a bike ride and measuring and converting ingredients when cooking for Eid celebrations.

I would recommend this, it’s great and the children initiate most of the learning so are totally invested.

Have fun!

Alice and Mark the Year 6 Maths Monster!

Mark the maths monster


The power of pine cones!

The Power of a Pine Cone!

About 3 Sundays ago I suggested an afternoon walk to my husband. He has 30 years experience of being married to a primary school teacher so his question, as he collected his carrier bag, was not ‘where are we going?’ but ‘ok, what are we collecting today?’ ‘Pine cones’ was my reply and off we went to the woods. An hour later we had 2 bags of pine cones of all shapes and sizes.
Why? Because a simple pine cone can be one of the most useful resources in a classroom and it’s free! As I say to my staff, stay with me, I haven’t lost it completely!

I love natural resources.

A basket of pine cones in your role play can become any type of food the children imagine, how much more creative than the bright coloured plastic pieces that are standard? Pine cones can be currency in a shop, children will work out their own denominations and values, 5 small pine cones might be worth 1 large one. Think about the mathematical possibilities!

A basket of pine cones in your creative area. I have seen them turned into animals, wheels, people or just decorated for the satisfaction of adding decoration. Resist the temptation to add googly eyes with the suggestion of hedgehogs as you will end up with 30 formulaic hedgehogs and lose the opportunity for individual creativity.

I think you’re probably getting the idea! Pine cones in small world will become people, trees etc. In construction they will be added to structures and models.

I used my pine cones in a whole school assembly to talk about uniqueness. We marvelled at the uniqueness of each pine cone. How pine cones look the same but each one is different and amazing. This led us to think about the uniqueness of each of us, how we are all different but each of us is amazing. I gave each class a pine cone to take back to their classroom to remind them to value themselves and each other.

Over the last 2 weeks it has been very special to receive gifts of pine cones from the children. A little girl knocked on my office door with a pine cone wrapped up in home made wrapping paper and a label ‘To Mrs N love from A x’. She said ‘I know you like pine cones and you gave us all one to remind us how special we are so I found one for you because you are special too’.

The power of a pine cone, need I say more!
Oh and by the way it’s conkers this week, get your carrier bag Mr N!




Magic Potions for Learning

Magic Potions for Learning!
As a Head Teacher I have the privilege and pleasure to spend time in many classrooms across the course of a week. Reflecting today on the week gone by I felt I had to tell you about some joyous learning that has been happening in one of my KS2 classrooms.
Firstly to set the scene:
As a school, over the last year, we have been working hard to develop active play-based learning across all key stages. This has involved examining our curriculum, our environment and most importantly our shared pedagogy of how children learn.
At staff meeting this week I gave a reminder of what we believe about how children learn with quotes from some of the theorists whose work underpins our approach. I have included these below.
Children learn through:
• Movement- ’thought in action’ Margaret Donaldson (1978).
• Curiosity- ‘I am neither very clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious’ Einstein.
• Imagination- ‘Imagination is not just a cute faculty that children use to weave fantasies: It is one of the most effective tools in the learner’s toolbox’ Guy Claxton.
• Creativity- ‘Creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty but a characteristic of our way of thinking, knowing and making choices’ Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia).
• Hands-on experience- ‘Playing around with materials or ideas just to see what happens is a powerful way of asking questions’ Guy Claxton.
• Play- ‘In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play, it is as if he were a head taller than himself’ Vygotsky.

This week in my Year 4 classroom with one of my youngest teachers who has just completed her NQT year I have witnessed all these things!
The children came into the classroom on the first day of term to find a Potions Lab all set up ready for experimentation and an Alice in Wonderland themed book area amongst other opportunities in the classroom provision. Over the last 8 days they have created potions, written spells and recipes, learnt about measures through weighing and measuring ingredients for their potions, learnt about solids, liquids and gases, engaged in role play in the potions lab, written poetry, listened to magical music, worked out prices of potion ingredients, designed potion bottles, started to read Alice in Wonderland and learnt about imperative verbs. All this in a context that allows children to move, talk, be ‘hands on’, be curious, be creative, use their imagination, be creative and most of all to PLAY.
I have been popping in and out during the last week and the children have been fully motivated and engaged on each occasion. There have been many magical moments. A little girl writing a potion recipe on specially prepared tea stained paper told me ‘this is special potion paper and we’ve got a whole basket of it over there!’
On Thursday evening the teacher transformed her classroom ready for Potions Day. The children arrived dressed as witches, wizards, Harry Potter. The staff transformed themselves into witches and mad scientists! The children walked into a magical environment with spiders, webs, bats etc.
Another of our whole school aims is to:
Create an ‘irresistible learning environment’.
Margaret McMillan describes it as ‘an environment where learning will almost be inevitable.’
Or Reggio Emilia ‘an environment that itself teaches the children’.
Or Tina Bruce ‘A truly enabling environment provides the stimulation and the positive relationships that support children to feel safe enough to explore. But it has to be the kind of environment that allows children to ‘wallow’ and take as much time as they need’
I would challenge any adult or child to spend a day in that kind of environment without learning anything-impossible! They were immersed in exciting, irresistible provocations with adults who were allowing freedom to explore, the children had time to ‘wallow’ in everything on offer. They spent the day going to the nature area to collect sticks to make wands, designing and creating potions, following potion recipes and creating edible magic wands. They brought science, maths and English work to assembly to celebrate with the rest of the school.
I am thinking of putting this notice on every classroom door!





When is a wine rack not a wine rack?

When is a wine rack not a wine rack?

When you give it to a class of children!

No, I haven’t gone completely mad. Yes, I did give a wine rack to my class for their small world area.
It came from my parents house one weekend when they were clearing out and I thought it looked a bit like a castle. That was about a far as my thinking went. I would put it out with the small world resources and see what happened. Considering that we also had a ‘proper’ plastic castle, complete with firing cannons, working drawbridge, knights with swords, I wasn’t expecting much interest.
As usual, my class proved me wrong!
It started with the characters living in/on it as a classic castle with some fantasy stories being told. Then it became a ‘fantasy cave castle’ complete with experimentation with patterns and glass beads. Each child that played brought something new to the story. But my favourite idea came completely child-initiated from a group of boys. I should note, these boys were the ones previously arguing over the plastic castle. They found some wooden lolly sticks and set up a challenge of how many they could weave and balance across the beams. A fantastic opportunity to develop those fine motor skills! We enhanced the challenge by adding in the wooden people. How many people can you balance on the lolly sticks? Clip boards were found, tables drawn up, scores recorded, rules decided…they were hooked! They sat and concentrated on this task for the best part of the morning session. Over an hour of concentration from 5-6 year old boys is a thing of beauty.
Oh and the plastic castle? That was packed away because “there’s too many bits, Miss.”
Well, you can’t argue with that.


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D.T. or Literacy?


D.T. or Literacy?
As you know I have just completed my NQT induction year. I was recently flicking through my evidence file when I came across some photos that I thought I would share.
First let me set the scene. It’s second term of my NQT year. I’m tired, stressed and up to my eye balls in assessments and the numerous other facets that make up our job as teachers, when observation time comes around again. The year group: Year One. The lesson: literacy. The topic: houses and homes. My children need to work on their descriptive writing, so what can I do to encompass all of these?
My frazzled brain’s first thought: “I know! We can design a dream house, draw it, label it and write about it.” Sorted, right? Wrong! Whilst that probably would have been a perfectly okay lesson for the few children who enjoy drawing and writing, how was it going to engage the children who don’t enjoy sitting down and writing or hate drawing or just generally have no interest in the topic?
So I opened up my trusty Pie Corbett ‘Talk for writing’ book for some inspiration and re-read the ‘warming up the word’ section for possibly the hundredth time since starting my teacher training. And then it came to me. Why DRAW the houses, when we could BUILD them?
So here’s how the lesson went. We started by looking at some amazing houses from around the world: fairy tale castles, desert island paradise, jungle tree houses, bat man’s house…the list went on. In the background I played the song ‘Little Boxes on the Hillside.’ After thought-showering the describing words we had thought of so far as a class, off the children went. The challenge: make your dream house. I laid out the classroom with natural resources, junk modelling, gardening resources, paper, pens, post-its; the works. They could choose how to present their dream house either through drawing, collage, junk modelling, small world… the choice was theirs. The floor was covered with ground sheets for those that wanted to work on a larger scale. The only condition: their model had to include labels and adjectives ready for their ‘Big Write’ the following day. What followed was a morning of creativity, discovery, collaborative working, problem solving, language and vocabulary development and all-round enjoyment (from children and staff!)
The photos below show just some of the work that was produced that morning. The writing that followed the next day was descriptive, creative, and a true reflection of what those children could do when given the chance to engage with something and the time to ‘warm up the word’ properly.
So in answer to the title question: ‘D.T. or literacy?’ I say, “Why choose?!”


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