Monday, 10 December 2018

On the @TES Blog: Saying No To The Non-Essentials (or Why Tweeting and Blogging is Bad for Me)


Perhaps the phrase "work-life balance" is a misnomer. Or at least it was rather too simple a term to help me to get things in check.

I’d always been very careful to attempt to preserve a good balance between work and life. Naturally, some weeks are fuller with work than others, but then the balance can instead be found longer term; when a quieter week presented itself, I made the most of it. But what I had been less cautious about was the "life" category.

Read the rest: https://www.tes.com/news/how-i-learned-say-no-non-essentials

Saturday, 8 December 2018

What You're Forgetting When You Teach Writing


Time in a primary classroom is at a premium: there are so many things to try to fit in. Even under the umbrella of English there is handwriting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, composition, reading, and more. It’s so difficult to make sure that everything is covered. And there are certain parts of the writing process which are either misunderstood or don’t always get a look in because of time constraints.

The 7 stages of the writing process

The writing process, according to the EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy In Key Stage 2’ guidance report, can be broken down into 7 stages: Planning, Drafting, Sharing, Evaluating,Revising, Editing and Publishing.

In a recent training session, when I asked a group of school leaders and teachers to write down elements of current practice in their own schools for the teaching of writing, we found that most of the time was spent on planning, drafting and editing. In fact, there were very few examples of how the other stages were being taught.

Click here to read more: https://bradford.researchschool.org.uk/2018/12/08/895/

In summary

  • Set a clear purpose and audience before beginning the writing process;
  • Teachers complete the task themselves;
  • Allow children to work at each of the seven stages of the writing process as they work towards a final piece;
  • Model each of the seven stages to the children using the I/We/You approach at each stage; and
  • Evaluate,share and revise by checking the writing fulfils its purpose.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Making Geometric Stars: An Investigative Christmas Maths Teaching Sequence

So Christmas is upon us and, as a conscientious teacher, you don't want the learning to stop (or the craziness to begin), but you also want to make the most of the Christmas context/the kids are pestering you for a 'fun' lesson. You've got something for writing (please don't let it be letters to Santa - so much wrong with that - go with writing a list of presents they'd like to give others, preferably not bought ones either) and RE is sorted - so's reading as there are so many Christmas-themed texts out there.

But what've you got for maths? Some Christmas-themed word problems? If I eat 24 mince pies over the Christmas season and mince pies come in boxes of 6, how many boxes of mince pies have I eaten? Bit tenuous. Let not mighty dread seize your troubled mind. Try this investigative teaching sequence which culminates in making some lovely geometric stars:

Step 1: Investigate the size of internal angles in regular polygons

Begin with triangles, discussing what they already know about the sum of the internal angles in any triangle. A tangent here could be to check a number of different triangles, not just equilateral ones, to see if indeed all the angles add to 180 degrees - doing this will also provide important protractor use practice for later on. It might be worth pointing out that the half-circle protractor also measures 180 degrees.

Move onto squares, rectangles and other quadrilaterals. Again, call on prior knowledge: all of a square's internal angles are right angles, right angles are all 90 degrees and that multiplying 90 by 4 is 360 so a square, and a rectangle, has interior angles which add up to 360 degrees. You could mention at this point that circles also contain 360 degrees. You could also get them to check a range of different quadrilaterals, reinforcing their names and other important shape
vocabulary.

Although probably too early, you could ask children to make conjectures about what the internal angles of a 5-sided shape - a pentagon - might total. Some may point out that from the triangle to the square the number doubled so may predict that a pentagon's internal angles might add to 720 degrees. Others may point out that from the 3-sided shape to the 4-sided shape the number of degrees increased by 180 and therefore predict that the pentagon might have internal angles totalling 540 degrees. If both of these conjectures are brought up you can discuss how it is too early to be sure of any pattern and that it is important to continue testing the hypotheses.

Provide a printed sheet containing at least a pentagon - it's also worth including a hexagon, a heptagon and an octogon (you could even include a nonagon and a decagon). Allow the children to further investigate the sum of the internal angles in these shapes. At the same time ask them to create a table to record their findings.

Shape
Number of sides
Each angle (in a regular shape)
Sum of internal angles




Triangle
3
60 o
180o
Quadrilateral
4
90 o
360o
Pentagon
5
108 o
540o
Hexagon
6
120 o
720o
Heptagon
7
128.57… o
900o
Octagon
8
135 o
1020o

After measuring and totalling (this could be by multiplication or repeated addition - discuss efficient methods) the internal angles of each shape they should make further conjectures about what the next one will total - before moving onto the hexagon they should be almost certain that each time a side is added to a shape another 180 degrees are added to the sum of its internal angles.

It should be noted that some of their measuring almost certainly won't be accurate and that some mathematical reasoning will have to be applied, for example:

"If I measured one angle as 107, another at 109 and another at 108, which is most likely to be?"
"I've predicted the sum of the internal angles to be 720 degrees but it is coming out as 723 degrees - which is wrong, my prediction or my angle measuring?"

Once findings are recorded in a table it becomes easier for children to begin to find a way of expressing a rule for finding the sum of the internal angles of a shape with any number of sides. I have worked with year 6 children who have managed to generate a formula for this. Even if they cannot yet write it down, some will be able to verbalise the rule:

"Number of sides subtract 2, then multiply that by 180"

To get to this point it helps to talk about the triangle being the first shape, the quadrilateral being the second shape, the pentagon being the third shape, and so on. With this as a starting point they can generate something like this:

Shape
Shape Number
Number of sides
Sum of internal angles




Triangle
1
3
180o
Quadrilateral
2
4
360o
Pentagon
3
5
540o
Hexagon
4
6
720o
Heptagon
5
7
900o
Octagon
6
8
1020o

Now that they have the shape number next to the number of sides in the shape they will much more easily be able to see that the difference is two therefore subtracting two from the number of sides results in the number that 180 must be divided by to find the sum of the internal angles.

If children don't have prior experience of writing this as a formula they can be shown how to record this:

Sum of interior angles = (n-2) × 180° (where n = number of sides)

And that each angle (of a regular polygon) = (n-2) × 180° / n

Step 2: Investigate drawing stars within circles

Nrich has a couple of great activities for this:

Path to the Stars: https://nrich.maths.org/1097 (their printable resources page has circles with pre-printed dots on it for this ativity: https://nrich.maths.org/8506)

Stars: https://nrich.maths.org/2669 (this is an interactive resource)

Round and Round the Circle: https://nrich.maths.org/86

In these activities it is worth drawing out rules such as:
  • if you draw a line straight to the next dot you get a regular polygon
  • with an odd number of dots, if you a draw a line which skips a dot you get a star shape
  • with an odd number of dots which isn't a mulitple of 3, if you draw a line which skips two dots you get a star shape with longer points than when you just skip one dot (doesn't work for 5 dots as there aren't enough dots - skipping two is the same as skipping one in the opposite direction)
  • if you skip just one dot when there are an even number of dots you get a regular polygon with have the number of sides and vertices as the the original number of dots
There are many more rules such as these to notice and discuss.

You could also experiment with Nrich's Mystic Rose activity (another great interactive resource: https://nrich.maths.org/6703) which does more than just create star shapes.

Step 3: Practise drawing regular shapes using a protractor


Model to children how to draw the shapes from step 1 using the angles they discovered and by deciding on a particular side length. Impress upon them the importance of accuracy in measurements - perhaps demonstrate how even being a few degrees/millimetres off once or twice will result in an irregular shape.

Children should mark a starting point and draw a line of the side length they have decided. Then they should measure the internal angle according to their findings in step 1 and draw a second side of the same length to the shape. This should be repeated until they reach their starting point again.

It will be best to do this exercise on scrap (and/or large) paper as often the children will find that their chosen side lengths lead to their shape becoming too big for the paper! In this case they will have to readjust and start again.

Step 4: Make stars!

Once children have mastered the drawing of regular shapes in step 3 they can move onto making their stars. Give children coloured/decorated card in festive hues/patterns to draw their regular shapes out onto.

From protractor to tree!

Once they have drawn out their shapes they can use what they experimented with in step 2 to join the vertices of their shape in different patterns to form stars.

If you carried out the Mystic Rose activity in step 2 you will need to ensure the children can identify a regular pattern where they will cut (there will be many options). It is a good idea to give them a pen to go over the lines that they want to cut before they take their scissors to their carefully drawn out shape. The mystic rose patterns that they have drawn will provide interesting decoration to their finished stars.

Alternatives:

If you don't have time to follow the whole sequence, or teach children too young to be able to do all aspects of it, there are alternatives to the above sequence which avoid the lengthier steps 1 and 3:
  • Just do one of the activities from step 2 then make large print outs of the Nrich templates on coloured card so that children can make their stars.
  • Teach children to use a pair of compasses to draw their own circles then teach them to use a protractor to divide the circle into equal sections by dividing 360 by the number of points they want ( 5 points = 72°; 6 points = 60°; 7 points = 51.42...°; 8 points = 45°; 9 points = 40°; 10 points = 36°). They can then use these to create star or Mystic Rose patterns on coloured card to cut out.
A colourful hexagonal mystic rose pattern - the green part will have been cut off to form a star.

A well-drawn nonagon with mystic rose pattern and a heptagon with mystic rose pattern that has already been transformed into a star.

If completed on plain card children can decorate their stars - perhaps in more festive colours than this one!

If children can draw a perfect hexagon then they can also make and fold shapes which can be cut into snowflake shapes which will have a realistic six lines of symmetry.

    Friday, 30 November 2018

    Book Review: 'Football School Seasons 1, 2 and 3' by Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton

    Knowledge-rich curricula are all the rage in schools at the moment, and rightly so. And what better than knowledge-rich books to supplement what's being taught at school? I'll tell you: really interesting, really fun knowledge-rich books. Such books as Alex Bellos and Ben Lyttleton have written together: the Football School books.

    The front cover of each of the three books carries the tagline 'Where football explains the world'. And although on each book the word 'explains' is crossed out and replaced (by 'rules', 'saves' and 'tackles') it really isn't just rhetoric. These books truly transcend football by using it as a conduit through which to explore a whole world of general knowledge as well as the football trivia.

    The three books all follow the same format, kicking off with a contents page designed like a school timetable covering traditional subjects such as PSHE, History, Geography as well as some more specialist ones like Psychology, Philosophy, Business Studies and Computer Science.

    Football lovers will devour the wealth of facts about football teams, players, team strips and will enjoy picking up playing tips too: there's a whole section on the psychology of taking a penalty, for example!

    But the books' really majesty is in the fact that they are full of general knowledge that is unrelated to football. From sections about World War 1 to profiles of famous footballing countries such as Brazil readers will come away knowing about much more than just football. Book 3 even has a whole section about sleep which introduces its readers to terminology such as 'transitional phase' and 'circadian rhythm'.

    And, just to make sure that some of the information is remembered, each section (or lesson) ends with a quiz about the chapter. With a multiple choice format these quizzes don't just focus on the football information but also on the general knowledge featured in the books.

    But this sort of book wouldn't get a look-in without illustrations - Spike Gerrell's cartoon style makes for that winning formula of facts plus funny pictures; that format made popular by the Horrible Histories books. Children who love those and who are fans of books such as Diary of the Wimpy kid will be immediately drawn to these books. And it's not just the illustrations and the texts that appeal - the layout keeps things fresh with every page has its own interesting layout. Boredom will not be an issue whilst children (or adults) read these books.

    With their simple yet engaging language the Football School books are pretty much an essential for any school bookshelf. Not that they would stay on the shelf for long - these are the exact sort of books that non-fiction lovers will be queuing up to borrow.

    Book Review: 'Roy of the Rovers: Scouted' by Tom Palmer

    This isn't just another football book to hook reluctant boys into reading. And it most certainly isn't a poor spin-off of the Roy of the Rovers comic strip which first appeared over 60 years ago in British comic Tiger. No, this is so much more and Tom Palmer has more than done justice to the Roy Race of old.

    As a non-football fan I approached the book somewhat hesitantly thinking that maybe it wasn't for me. However, that hesitance was tempered by the knowledge that Tom Palmer really does write a good book - if there was any football novel I was going to like, it was going to be this one.

    What this book, and its follow-up 'Kick-Off' (a graphic novel by Rob Williams and Ben Willsher), has made me realise is that one of the reasons why people love football so much is the narrative, the story, that goes along with it. It isn't just 22 players kicking a pumped up bit of leather around a piece of grass - it's everything that happens in between as well: the pre- and post-match analysis, the news stories about signings and finance, the drama of a game as seen from both the pitch and the stands, the rivalry between fans, the common ground it provides. It is the individual and interweaving human stories that make football the world's favourite sport - and Tom Palmer portrays that so well.

    But 'Roy of the Rovers: Scouted' goes much further than just the football. Roy's dad's brain tumour operation went wrong and now he's paralysed down his left side and can't speak. Roy's mum is trying to work enough to provide for the family and lots of the caring falls to Roy and his sister. This theme is explored sensitively throughout as Roy's loyalty to both his game and his beloved dad are tested. Themes of love, bullying, friendship and commitment are weaved throughout the whole plot making this such a rich, emotional text.

    There's also very strong female representation in the book - both Roy's sister, Rocky, and his new friend, Ffion, are excellent footballers and die-hard football fans - there's a great part near the end where Ffion calls Roy on his ignorance of women's football right before Rocky discovers that there is a team she can play for.

    Football-lovers will love the description of on-pitch action which is pacy yet satisfyingly detailed. Lisa Henke's stylish illustrations, in particular cases are works of art - it's a shame her bold and stylised images didn't make it onto the front cover.

    This is a book that I am looking forward to putting on the shelves at school - I know already that it will be a popular title amongst our football-loving children (not just boys!). The fact that is part of a growing 'saga', published by Rebellion, is another plus point - those who are hooked by the first two books will hopefully have more to access afterwards, not to mention Tom Palmer's own back catalogue of sport-related books.

    Tuesday, 20 November 2018

    Reading For Displeasure: 13 Books To Take Children Out Of Their Comfort Zone


    Reading for pleasure is all the rage in schools, but how often do we, and the children we teach, read for displeasure? Or, perhaps more accurately, for discomfort?

    Ask any number of readers what they like about reading and there will be plenty of replies on the theme of escapism. Internet memes carry lines such as "Books: a cosy doorway to paradise".

    Actually, for many, it should be that books are a doorway out of a cosy paradise.

    Click here for more, including 13 recommendations of books for a range of ages which will take children out of their comfort zone and into the shoes of others: https://www.tes.com/news/13-books-take-primary-pupils-out-their-comfort-zone

    Note: This article does not cover the whole range of uncomfortable life situations that people find themselves in. I have focused in this article on issues such as loss (of a loved one, of a sense of safety, of a sense of community) as well as racism. It is by no means a definitive list. I would suggest that there could be plenty more articles submitted to the TES highlighting books that will help children to understand other life circumstances.

    Monday, 19 November 2018

    Building Sticky Note Sentences

    The EEF's KS2 Literacy Guidance has as one of its recommendations that teachers should 'develop pupils' transcription and sentence construction skills through extensive practice' (recommendation 5).

    It states that 'it is important to promote the basic skills of writing—skills that need to become increasingly automatic so that pupils can concentrate on writing composition... this includes the sentence construction. If these skills are slow or effortful then this will hinder progress in writing composition. High-quality practice is essential to develop fluent transcription skills.'

    Writing grammatically accurate sentences is something that many children really struggle with. This is particularly so for those who have less exposure to the English language either orally or in print. As a result, children for whom English is an additional language and children from low income backgrounds, for example, may need a more step-by-step approach to learning how to write sentences.

    The EEF guidance goes on to say that'sentence construction can be developed through activities like sentence-combining where simple sentences are combined so that varied and more complex multi-clause sentences are produced. Initially, the teacher can model this, but pupils should go on to work collaboratively and independently. Pupils need to learn to construct increasingly sophisticated sentences, for meaning and effect, with speed.'

    Now, the activity that I am going to write about in this blog post is neither innovative nor complicated - it is a very simple activity carried out by teachers all over the world and it is not something I claim to have created (in fact, I'm very sure I've received training from Alison Philipson, Philip Webb and Jane Considine on very similar activities). However, the fact that it does seem to help children means that it is worth sharing here on my blog.

    The Context

    The lesson that the photos come from was with a mixed attaining group of year 4 children. They had been reading the beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the work completed in the session was based on Chapter 1.

    This activity could be adapted for any year group - more on this later.

    The Activity

    The purpose of this particular lesson was solely to help children to write grammatically accurate sentences. However, this could be used to cover many writing objectives, for example, using connectives, writing fronted adverbials, including parenthesis, using accurate punctuation, etc.

    To begin with, based on the chapter of the book, we generated some very simple sentences based on the summary of the chapter that they had written during their reading lesson. With one group I wrote all the words on the board - they had to transfer the words one onto each sticky note and then rearrange them into 4 sentences (they knew there were four as there were four full stops and four capital letters).

    Two children rearranging the words to write the 4 sentences.
    With the 4 sentences I deliberately demonstrated how simple and short sentences can be. We discussed whether or not a sentence with only two words was really a sentence - we decided it was although I didn't completely go into the language of 'subject' and 'predicate'! Instead we talked about it having a noun and a verb. Some children were surprised that two words could make a full sentence.

    Here are the four sentences we generated for use in the rest of the activity:

    The four sentences we generated as a starting point
    The first sentence edited to give information
    about 'where' and 'when'. This was written after the
    sticky note activity.
    For this activity we decided to help the children to think about the potential content of a sentence using some of the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When). We worked out that so far all of the sentences we had written contained the 'who' and the 'what' (we planned to leave the 'why' to another day as it would involve a greater range of conjunctions).

    Next, I modelled how to include the 'when' and the 'where' by adding information to the sentences. Once we had transfered the additional words onto sticky notes we were able to play with the sentence, moving parts and making changes to things like capital letters and full stops and adding in commas.

    By moving parts of the sentence around we were able to reinforce some prior learning about fronted adverbials.

    In our particular example we discussed how certain rearrangements didn't really sound right and didn't make much sense ('Sitting on a bank, Alice was on a hot day and she was bored'). Instead we opted for: 'On a hot day, Alice was sitting on a bank and she was bored.'

    The fact that the words of the sentence were written one on each sticky note meant that children were physically able to rearrange the words in order to find something that made sense. The children did not struggle to move entire clauses because they had seen the whole clause added at once (and knew that the purpose of it was either to add information about 'where' or 'when' something happened).

    The children worked in pairs - here is one example of the first sentence before the 'when' clause was added.

    Here is one example of the first full sentence before it was rearranged.

    My example on the board. An alternative way to model from the front is to use larger pieces of paper folded in half and
    hung over a 'washing line'.

    Once this had been modelled, and the children had had a go at playing with the modelled example, I asked the children to have a go at adding 'where' and 'when' clauses to another of the sentences: 'The rabbit ran'. Children first worked on sticky notes but were soon able to form their sentences orally before writing them in their books.

    Some children demonstrated an over-reliance on the use of 'on a hot day' so I challenged them to use either 'before' or 'after' to write about 'when' the rabbit ran.

    Adapting this activity

    This activity, or versions of it, could be used from the very beginning of a child's writing journey. Here are just a few ideas:

    • Ordering words in sentences
    • Adding adjectives or adverbs
    • Replacing nouns with pronouns
    • Improving vocabulary
    • Including action and/or dialogue into descriptive writing
    • Using commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, brackets
    • Joining two sentences with conjunctions
    • Adding relative clauses
    • Changing tense
    • Editing and revising to add/remove information
    With any of these as a focus the basic requirement is to have something to write about (a picture, a story, a video clip) and to start off by writing the simplest sentence possible (2-4 words is all that is needed). Sentences can then be quickly built to the point where the desired objective becomes the focus.

    I would love to hear from those who've done this kind of thing before and from those who try it for the first time.; please share examples of the work you and your class create!