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Friday, 27 September 2019

Two gifts from me to you, lovely people who read my blog!

Hello everyone!  I am feeling slightly manic this week, as I have started my MA in Educational Assessment at UCL on top of earning enough money through teaching to stay alive.  It's all very exciting.

Image result for busy busy
My calendar right now.

Anyway, we are all life-long learners here and we are all time-poor so I thought I would share a couple of game ideas that you can use at home, in the classroom, in your cosy space with the gentle wallpaper (it's NOT a padded room)...  One for maths and one for English.

Let's begin with the English, shall we?

This is a twist on an old meme, really.  My wife and I were WhatsApp-ing the other day (we are a professional couple; this is how we communicate - don't judge!) and she mentioned that Cinderella, played backwards is the tragic story of a princess who loses everything after making a deal with a cruel fairy.


So this got me thinking, instead of re-writing traditional tales as newspaper articles or diary entries, why not flip them around and write them backwards?  There are some excellent examples on Reddit here.  I think it's a really fun idea and I bet there is at least a week of solid writing, discussion and drama; maybe even two.

If you try this and end up with some great examples, I'd love to read them!  Please send them to me (tragiclantern@gmail.com)!  It'll be great to curate a selection online to inspire other classes.

So that's English, now for maths (I'm very excited about this)...

I have invented a game!  It's a fun card game that uses arithmetic to attack and destroy your opponent's defences.  It can be played with 2-4 players (you could play with more if you have multiple decks of cards) and is good for any age because players differentiate based on their ability.  It can even be played in teams, encouraging discussion and explanation of arithmetical ideas.

Battle Maths!

This is a competitive maths game for two people to test their skills at manipulating numbers by using basic arithmetic to outsmart their opponent and destroy their castle!

You will need:

1 x deck of playing cards
1 x piece of paper or whiteboard for each player

Aim:
The aim of the game is to battle through your opponent’s defences and destroy their shields by creating number sentences using the cards in your hand.

How to play

The set up:
  • First, sort the deck into black and red cards.  Each player takes one colour set. If playing with four players, sort into suits.
  • Each player is dealt three ‘shield’ cards.  These are placed face-down in front of the player.
  • Each player is then dealt five cards which they can look at.  These form the player's hand.
  • The remaining cards are placed face-down on the draw pile.
  • Make sure you have enough space for a discard pile.
  • In this game, An Ace is  1, and a Jack is 0 (very important place-holder!)
  • Queens and Kings are operator cards and can be used as +, x, - or ÷.
How to play:
  • The person who went to the bathroom most recently gets to go first.
  • Take the top two cards from your draw pile.
  • Using the cards in your hand, you have to create a number sentence.  Place the cards into the Active Area and explain your number sentence to your opponent (it is a good idea to write the number sentences down as well).
  • If you manage to create a valid number sentence, you get to turn over one of your opponents three shield cards, ‘breaking’ it and leaving their defences vulnerable to attack.
  • Place all used cards in the discard pile, your turn is now over.
  • If you use all of your cards, take the top card from the draw pile and place it as an extra shield.  Then draw a bonus three from the draw pile before your turn is over.
  • If you cannot make a valid number sentence, your turn is over.
  • When the draw pile is empty, shuffle the discard pile and use it as the draw pile.
 
Winning the game:
  • When all the shield cards have been ‘broken’ you can begin to remove them completely.  
  • To remove a shield card, you must use it in one of your number sentences.
  • The ‘broken’ shield card can make up any part of your number sentence, including part of a compound number.
  • You can only use one ‘broken’  shield card per round.
  • Once used in a number sentence, the shield card is placed in the discard pile with the other cards. 
  • When a player loses all three shield cards, they lose the game.

Restoring shields:
If a shield card has been broken, you can choose to ‘fix’ it by: 
  • During your turn, create a successful number sentence, using the shield card you wish to fix.
  • Turn the shield card used in the number sentence back over (instead of attacking your opponent).
  • This ends your turn.
  • You can fix a broken shield at any point in the game. 
You can only fix a broken shield.  You cannot replace a lost one.

Example:

My hand:


5


A


K


7


9

I begin my go by drawing 2 extra cards:
5
A
K
7
9
Q
3

From this hand, I can make the following number sentence:

9 + 3 = 5 + 7  [ 9 K 3 = 5 Q 7 - remember, the King and Queen are operators]

This is a valid number sentence so I can break one of my opponent’s shield cards by turning it over.

I then discard the cards I used and am left with:

A

It is now my opponent’s go.

Remember to draw two extra cards at the beginning of your turn!

Removing a broken shield:

My hand (after drawing two to begin the turn):

4
A
Q
8
9



Opponent’s Shield Cards

2
8
3

I can make the following number sentence:

8 ÷ 8 = 1  [8 Q 8 = A]

These cards are discarded and turn ends looking like this:
My hand (after drawing two to begin the turn):

4
9


Opponent’s Shield Cards

2
This shield is now destroyed and can never be fixed!
3

I've trialled this game with children aged from 6 all the way up to 15 (and some of them have gone on to teach their parents), so it definitely works for all ages.  It's really fun.  It's a great way to reinforce arithmetic.  Please use it and let me know what you think.  I'm looking into having it manufactured and made all pretty, but that's a while away and I wanted to share it now.

Thank-you so much for reading these posts.  I have no idea who any of you are (feel free to tell me in the comments below!) but I really appreciate it.  Have a great week and keep smiling - you never know who needs to see it!

Carl Headley-Morris

@Mr_M_Musings     bit.ly/carlslearningplace     tragiclantern@gmail.com

Friday, 20 September 2019

Does Homework Help?



When I was in primary school, I had to do homework.  In fact, homework was a deal-breaker when my mother was choosing between the two schools available (it was Cornwall, there wasn't a lot of choice).  Her argument was that I would have homework in secondary school, so it was important to get used to it.  And I didn't even question it.  It wasn't onerous; Monday and Wednesday were English (10 spelling sentences on Monday; 10 comprehension questions on Wednesday); Tuesday and Thursday was maths (usually a textbook exercise or a blanket 'work on your SPMG books for 30 minutes); Fridays were homework-free for the weekend.  What's more, the homework only ever lasted until the Easter break.  The headmaster was very keen on children playing outside in the spring and summer months.  

Now, this was in the 80's (I started secondary school in '92), so it mostly pre-dated the National Curriculum.  I can remember a year 3 (then 1st year of Junior's) afternoon that was set aside entirely for 'bubble' colouring.  Where we drew an underwater scene and had to colour it by drawing circles instead of shading.  It actually looked pretty cool.  Come to think of it, one afternoon a week was set aside exclusively for colouring.  Like I said, pre-National Curriculum, so maybe the homework had to change to stay inline.  But I don't think that's the case.  I think homework changed to allow for the amount of time teachers are expected to spend on a given area.  I've been to various conferences on very specific subject areas and the take-home message is always 'you should spend at least an hour a week on...'  This has included things like:

multiplication tables, division skills, spelling, reading, basic compass skills (yup), free writing, free reading, discussion, debate, child-led personal projects, group reading, paired reading, mixed-year buddy reading, arithmetic, British values, International children's rights...

The list goes on and on and I don't think there is a single thing that doesn't deserve its place.  But time at school is finite, so some things are relegated to the 'do this at home' bench.  But why?  If it can't be covered in school then should it be covered at all?  Or, if it is so important that it has to be covered, then shouldn't something else give way?

Homework doesn't help

I have been a teacher for over a decade and spent the entire time in inner-city schools with above average mobility, free school meals, minority children... you get the idea.  They are schools where we are lucky if the children even turn up.  Often with these children, English is not the first language and is rarely spoken at home.  The parents try their best, don't get me wrong, but they just don't speak the language.  

Why are we sending work home?  What happens if the child gets stuck, or needs to ask a question?  Who are they going to ask?  Not their parents, they can't even read the instructions.  So what happens?  The child doesn't do the homework.  In some classes, they were punished with missing playtimes (never in my classroom; I didn't see the point).  

This is not a scenario exclusively of the ESL children either.  There are pleanty of English-speaking children and parents out there who don't have a clue how to complete the homework, especially if the homework in question is a downloaded worksheet from Hamilton or Twinkl (nothing against them; I've used them myself).  These worksheets are often not properly checked beforehand (because, let's be honest, who has the time?) and can be pretty tricky.  If a child is already unconfident with their maths, being unable to complete a maths investigation for homework is not going to improve their situation.  They can't ask their parents because their parents are just as scared of maths as they are.  So either they don't do it, or they spend hours getting it wrong.  These situations create an enormous amount of unfair pressure among families.  

On the flip-side, you have the children who excel and enjoy being pushed that little bit further.  The new curriculum dissuades us from simply giving them harder stuff (although that is often what the parents want), so we have to think of ways to deepen their understanding and push their education without sacrificing our lesson plans for the rest of the week.  I'm not saying this is impossible, I'm saying that it adds to our already full workload.

And the homework is rarely even marked because, again, who has the time?  I'll be honest, I never marked homework.  I knew how the children were doing, I had marked their work books.  The whole system is a train wreck, insisted upon by management (who never have to set or mark it themselves) because of a probably outdated policy that they now have to maintain because there's an Ofsted inspection due anytime between now and next century.  And heaven forfend we change the policy; what would the governors say?

It is a useless, archaic relic and it is high time we sent it away to 'live on a farm.'

Having said that...

I am one of those teachers who will allow children to email me (professional email only, of course) until 7pm with any questions about the day's work.  This is very useful as it allows them to ask questions about their homework and I have been able to either quickly write some advice, direct them to a YouTube video that will help, or even tell them not to worry about it because we'll go over it in class.  I've also encouraged the children to talk to each other about the homework.  In latter years, they have created homework WhatsApp groups to help each other.  What a bunch of losers, right?  I'm so proud of them!

The homework has been closely linked to the work begun in class and therefore is more of an independent assessment and we mark it together the next day.  This is a great system provided two things happen:
1) The child is in school to do the initial work and receive the homework;
2) The child does the homework and remembers to bring it in.

I was able to mitigate the first condition slightly by posting the homework on my website but the second is always a lottery.  However, it did allow for greater workflow and it engaged the children because we were able to structure lessons together based on how well everyone was getting on.

It was very successful for foundation subject homework as well as I could pose open-ended questions and the children could bring in their answers, which would form the bulk of my display.  One year we reached the point where the children were setting and answering their own questions.  It was great.

Is the traditional view of homework the problem?

For me, the problem isn't homework in and of itself.  It is the type of homework we traditionally set.  What is the point of giving children more maths problems to solve if you're only going to do more the next day?  There is no point.  Similarly, why set grammar or comprehension homework if you know you're going to focus on it for the week anyway?

I'm going to channel Simon Sinek here, if we're going to set homework, we need to start with why we're setting it.  If the answer is 'because we have to' then there is no point.  Get your union in, argue with the SLT, have it removed from the school policy.  Ofsted can't criticise it if it doesn't exist.

If, however, the answer is 'to give children ownership of their education; to encourage them to be active learners and engender a sense of metacogniscence within them' then I think we're on to something.  But we have to address how we think about homework.  It can no longer be a 'complete questions w - z' or a 're-write the passage without...'  It needs to be open-ended.  It needs to be exploratory.  It needs to be child-led.  It doesn't need to be marked.  In fact, I would argue that the most useful homework should never be marked.

I set the same homework every Friday for years, and I invite you to steal it and pass it off as your own.  I'll use Anglo-Saxon settlers as an example because I've bulied maths for too long already.  Here is it:

Watch this video on Anglo-Saxon homes.  Come to school on Monday with QUESTIONS!

That was it. I also used popplet.com to create a 'wonderwall' for Science and History/Geography topic and encouraged the children to post any facts, questions, videos or pictures that they thought were worth exploring.  To make this even more fun, I added a password to the popplet (it was 'secret_handshake' but could be absolutely anything).  Within days the class had populated them with so many facts; had done so much research; I had a small group of children who had created a shared Google Slides about the planets that they wanted to present in assembly.  This was homework I had never set.  This was homework in its purest form.  It was work they had done at home because they wanted to do it; they had been inspired by their school-based learning and had taken it into their own hands.  For me, that's what homework should be.  

So, to conclude this rather bumpy ride of opinion, I think homework has a place, but that place has to have children at the centre.  If it is set merely to tick a box, it is never going to be worth anything, and if it isn't worth anything then we shouldn't waste time on it.  Keep it open-ended; keep it child-led; keep it marking-free.  I highly recommend the six-week project.  Set it on the first week of term and refuse to collect it in until the last week of term.  I used the eight areas of experience mentioned in Ian Gilbert's brilliant book Why Do I Need a Teacher When I've Got Google? (an absolute must-read) but only asked for four of them to be completed.  The children had a due date and could provide handwritten or digital examples.  If they did it all in the first week, they had five weeks off.  If they left it all until the last minute, they would have alot of work to do later.  It encouraged a sense of independence.  It encouraged the children to think about how they best approach tasks.  I sent letters home to parents encouraging them to join in.  I allowed collaborative work (they had to state who did what).


I got back so much!  I had to keep two days free at the end of term for the children to present their 'research project' and the marking was done by the class offering real-time feedbackWhat's more, the extra research filtered through into their school work, so I was reading mini-essays in geography that included information I hadn't taught.  It was fantastic.  It was easy.  It, for me, was how homework should be.

I would be very interested to know what your school's homework policy is.  Would they allow this sort of project-based approach?  Are they digital?  Do you even have to set homework?  Let me know in the comments below or @ me on Twitter.  Have a great day and remember to give yourself a break - you deserve it!

Carl Headley-Morris


@Mr_M_Musings     bit.ly/carlslearningplace     tragiclantern@gmail.com



Since most of the UK are either just finishing a half-term or just starting one, this week's post is going to be a little more concise ...