Assembly Books

This year I will be reading books in assemblies once a week. Sharing stories, discussing what we can learn from them and encouraging reading for pleasure. The books will be selected because of their suitability to the Primary age group and the time of year and their ability to make the readers reflect and enjoy. Headteacher and children’s book enthusiast Simon Smith pointed me in the direction of the hashtag #assemblybooks which has been a great source of research and inspriation for the books I plan to read every week.

The Squirrels who Squabbled – by Rachel Bright and Jim Field

A great story about the importance of friendship and teamwork. When the two squirrles eventually work together they find life much more enjoyable and they are much more successful. The book also touches on themes of laziness and greediness.

There’s Room For Everyone – Anahita Teymorian

At first I was reminded of the ‘Jar of Life‘ story, where the jar appears to be full, but more and more things are added to it. But this story goes deeper into the futility of war in a very child friendly way. There is room for everyone in this world and we should all get along. I particularly enjoyed the message from the author at the back of the book where she gives the reasons that she wrote the book and how angry she got when she watched the news. For assembly it is useful to be able to develop the discussion around the text by hearing directly from the author.

Perfectly Norman – by Tom Percival

A lovely book that encourages children not to hide their light under a bushel, but to be proud of what makes them special and the things they enjoy. When you let your light shine and are proud of who you are, you will give others the confidence to do the same. Life’s is for living.

On A Magical Do-Nothing Day – by Beatrice Alemagna

A great reminder to ditch the digital devices and get outside to experience the world around you. The girl at the centre of the story is stuck in the same old cabin, in the same old forest, in the same old rain while dad is back in the city and mum writing on the computer. She is encouraged to go and do someting by her mum and she reluctently goes outside where she finds nothing much to do apart from loads of exploring of the pond and stones and soil and seeds and plants etc…

Could be good for an assembly before a school holiday, during an internet safety week or to encourade a bit of cultural capital if you like. It certainly goes well with our Sidlesham 101.

The Sea Saw – by Tom Percival

This is the story of a toy bear who is lost at the beach by a little girl called Sofia. The bear goes on an epic journey to get back to Sofia, all the while being guided and protected by the sea. Eventually the bear is discovered in a stream by a little girl who turns out to be Sofia’s granddaughter. All rather lovely, and the moral of the story is, ‘nothing is ever truly lost if you keep it in your heart.’

The Dot – by Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti thinks she cant draw. He teacher thinks she can and encourages her just to try. To start. To make a mark. From the simple beginning of a dot and with some carefully nurtured support from her teacher, Vashti develops a passion for art and becames ‘a really great artist’, who is able to encourage others to take the plunge themselves. The Dot has a great message for pupils and teachers alike, encouraging pupils to be brave learners and take risks in their work to find their own style and enjoyment. It’s the role of the teacher in the story that I really enjoy though, she cares for the child and really values their work, making a special fuss of what they have done encouraging them to greater achievements.

Bedtime Stories

The joy of books

One of the best things about being a parent (and teacher for that matter) is sharing books with children. My children and I particularly enjoy bedtime stories where we have uninterupted time together exploring fantasy lands with fantasitical characters. I’ve written before about reading recommendations for short stories at bedtime, with suggests from a great range of teachers and parents.

The purpose of this blog is for me to have a place to share some of the longer, chapter books we’ve been reading at bedtimes, and add to it over time.

July 2019 – The Paninis of Pompeii by Andy Stanton

This is the first in a new series of books by Andy Stanton who is the author of the Mr Gum books. There is a lot more to it than the Mr Gum books and it’s more of a collection of short stories set in a ancient Pompeii. It would kind of work if you’re looking at the Ancient Roman Empire in class, but you’d have to get the children to work out which bits were historically accurate and which bits were artistic license and pure comedy value.

Like Stanton’s previous work, this book is chocked full of very silly humour (the main character is literally a fart merchant) and some fantastically named excentiric characters including Barkus Wooferinicum the family dog and a personal favourite Atrium Jamiroquai Tannicus. We look forward to the next installment in the Paninis series.

June 2019 – The Story of Matthew Buzzington by Andy Stanton

This story is great if you want to address bullying issues in class. Matthew Buzzington and his little sister move to the Big City and start at a new school. Starting at a new school can be tough at the best of times, but when you think you can turn into a fly and tell people that on a few occassions it doesn’t help you make friends. The trouble is that he fails to turn into a fly so is widley mocked. However, one thing leads to another and Matthew goes on quite the journey with the bully and his little sister.

While there are certainly funny parts to the book, it’s a departure from the usual silliness of Stanton’s books. Very much worth a read though and unlike most of his other work, this book has an important message too.

May 2019 – The Monkey Pirates by Mark Skelton

If you like Mr Gum books then the humour in this one will be right up your street. Emily Jane, the main protagonist, is a girl who goes on a time travelling adventure with a bunch of monkey pirates in a wardrobe. She’s on a round-about mission to find her long-lost Uncle Bartholomew. She may well under up finding him. But she’s not really sure. My son and I both thoroughly recommend this book because it made us chuckle on many occassions.

Previous reads…

Over the years we’ve read a lot of books. Many of the picture books are listed here. We’ve read a few of David Walliams books, a few Daisy and the trouble with… by Kes Grey books and most of the Roald Dahl books.

Taskmaster in school

Last November I wrote a blog post about how we’d been inspired by the TV show Taskmaster to run a week of problem solving tasks in my school to encourage team work and positive communication. Since then one thing has lead to another and I’ve been asked by many teachers on Twitter about running Taskmaster events in schools. This post is an update on the previous one offering some insight into why and when to run Taskmaster in school.

BUT WHY?

Ultimately, a major role of schools is to prepare children to be employees of the future. Key skills required by employers, and developed through Taskmaster in school, are communication, teamwork, resilience, problem solving and decision making. In an increasingly automated world, interpersonal skills are becoming more valued as explained by Belarusian American entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk who says, Emotional intelligence is about to become the single most important trade’.

The beauty of the random and varied nature of the tasks means that you can tailor the tasks to the needs of your class or your school. We needed to work on our children communicating more positively with each other, so it became all about team work and leaving no one behind when completing a task. So, if you’ve got a sports focus at the moment do more of the physical outdoor tasks. If your school development plan requires you to focus on writing, do more of the writing tasks. Yes, it’s that simple.

Another benefit is that Taskmaster is a real leveller. It doesn’t simply celebrate the same, more academically or physically able children, but rewards perseverance, lateral thinking and all the other things mentioned above.

BUT WHEN?

Wherever you like. It’s your school. But below are a few examples of when other teachers have used it in schools.

TASKMASTER AFTER SCHOOL CLUB. Darren Eales has been running a Taskmaster Club for some time now and has had a remarkable response. Where after school clubs at his school usually have an uptake of around 20 pupils, 80 children responded to the Taskmaster letter below and he’s had to limit numbers and allow different children to attend each half term.

Darren Eales Taskmaster Club letter source:
https://twitter.com/DarrenEales/status/1068772833558446080

Darren has kindly shared a load of resources in a Taskmaster Dropbox where you will find his Taskmaster after school club start up kit- Including over 30 tasks (borrowed from Taskmaster book) adapted for group tasks in schools and a simple ppt and scorecard etc.

TASKMASTER LUNCHTIME CLUB. Secondary maths teacher, Jay Sandhu runs a lunchtime club in his school and is even going to the length of having a bust of is head made as a prize for the victors. He is particularly keen on using Taskmaster as a leveller and enjoys making his top set mathematicians sweat over random tasks.

THINKING DAY. Just as everything stops for Sports Day in most Primary Schools, everything becomes Taskmaster during Thinking Day at Megan Savage‘s school. As an accredited ‘Thinking School’ they are known for encouraging thinking and how to organise thinking by using thinking maps, thinking hats and habits of the mind. This is celebrated during a whole school Thinking Day. The tasks are designed by Megan but run and scored by a group of year 6 children.

ANTI-BULLYING WEEK. In my school we were looking for ways to encourage the children to communicate more positively during Anti-Bullying Week. Being a big fan of the show I planned fours days of activities based on Taskmaster to get the children to work together and communicate well for the benefit of their whole team. I wrote about what we did in the previous Taskmaster in the Classroom blog post where you will find resources including loads of possible tasks you could attempt in school.

END OF TERM FUN. The last day of term can often involve tidying up, watching a film, playing games or a party, but for Ian Addison‘s class it was a day of Taskmaster fun. He has written about what his class got up to on his blog. I certainly believe that Taskmaster Day is considerably more productive and valuable in school than watching a film.

TRANSITION. Transition day in July or the first week back in September would also be an ideal time to introduce Taskmaster to your class. It’s a great way to see how different groups of children work together and approach these challenges in a fun and engaging way.

EVERY MONDAY. During term time, every Monday, @ClassTaskmaster set tasks for schools, classes, clubs, tutor groups, pupils, teachers, etc all over the country to be completed before the deadline using the hashtag #ClassTaskmaster. Test yourself against the rest to see if you and your team are the best. Winners announced at the end of each half term.

OVER TO YOU…

If you are planning to do Taskmaster events in your school I’d love to hear about them. Use the hashtag #SchoolTaskmaster and tweet me about it @JamesBlakeLobb. All of the teachers mentioned in this blog post are on Twitter and happy to be contacted with questions about what they did to make Taskmaster a success in their schools.

If you do your own Taskmaster activities in school, why not use this video from Alex Horne to introduce it? The password is schooltaskmaster. Enjoy.

Meeting Greg, Alex and the other Taskmaster teachers
At The One Show with Angelica, Matt and the Taskmaster teachers

Reading For Pleasure

There are strong links between reading for pleasure and educational outcomes . As well as the research evidence available on the matter, all teachers can read a piece of writing from children of any age and tell if they read widely or not. But how do we promote reading for pleasures in our schools? This post sets out of few of the measures we have put in place in our school, they are mostly simple and easy to replicate. Not all original ideas by any means, but our own interpretations and evolutions of ideas seen on social media, during visits to other schools and through other CPD.

  1. Read to the children. Hearing reading modelled is important for children to understand sentence structure, pronunciation, intonation, inflexion, fluency, and most of all, it makes the text enjoyable. Reading a whole class text everyday helps introduce the children to a wide range of authors and genres. We often choose high quality texts in line with our topics, but also we chooses books purely because we enjoy them. By sharing the covers on the doors of our classrooms we are further raising the profile of reading and encouraging discussions about books.

2. Recommend books. Adults and children alike are encouraged to share the books that bring them joy in some way. We recommend books by reading them, as in point 1, but we also share book recommendations through our weekly newsletter to parents and display these in our school library. Even more valuable though is when children recommend books to their peers. This happens through discussions in class but we also have stands around school that children put books on when they are empty to advertise books that they have enjoyed.

3. Radical Reading. I’ve seen similar displays in schools with the name #ExtremeReading, but we went for #RadicalReading because my Head really, really likes alliteration. We’ve just launched this in school, promoting reading, anywhere and everywhere. Although be warned, some radical reading on social media is reading of a radical nature, so it’s not all good.

4. Have well stocked book shelves. Each class has a dedicated reading area complete with a range of books. We recently had a generous donation from our PTA to update our in class collections. This was a great chance to discuss books with the class and they talked with passion about series and authors I’d not heard of. This gave us a chance to refresh our collection and made the new books sort after and valued. If you’re not fortunate enough to have any money available for new books in your school you could try the Foyle Foundation who provide grants for school libraries of between £1K and £10K.

5 Find time to read. During free reading time the teachers are encouraged to read as well. It’s always tempting to trim that sheet you need for the geography lesson or try and mark those last 5 maths books, but if the teacher demonstrates that they value reading, the children will place greater value on it. Also, allow time to discuss what you have been reading for a few minutes after this. Talk books, value books, recommend books.

We also have weekly reading time in our houses, where children from across the school meet up read to each other. It’s lovely to see them all sharing their books and a great confidence booster for everyone.

6. Find and use the good stuff. We’ve got a display at the back of our classroom where the children add awesome words, phrases and sentences as and when they come across them during their reading. Before sticking the post-it note on the wall they share what they have found with the class. I have plans to try and put them all together and see if we can write a story out of them that makes sense and is full of wonderful description. We’ll see how that goes!

7. Make books available for everyone. Outside of our Head’s office, just after you enter the school, you will come across some chairs and a basket or great books. So if you’re ever visiting our school you’ll have the chance to discover a new book and, if you’re kept waiting, you will get to enjoy a bit of reading. This basket is particularly well used when children are getting changed for PE. The ones who get changed the quickest, get to share a book with their friends for a minute or two. It’s great just to have books on hand, available, visible and valued.

8 Talk about books. We happen to have a radio station in our school and used it during World Book Day to give children the opportunity to talk to each other about their favourite books. We all plan to use it for children to read their own stories as well as stories they like. This way they can pass on their passions to others in school and further afield. I realise that most schools don’t have the luxury of a radio station, but most can make use of technology to record and publish reviews, interviews and story telling by making use of free apps.

An example of our World Book Day reviews of our favourite books

BEDTIME STORIES

A few years ago I wrote a post/rant extolling the virtues of reading with your children from an early age. To that end, I’ve been discussing bedtime stories with colleagues at work recently. Which ones were favourites and which they had less fond memories of.

The link below is a list of bedtime stories recommended by a range of educationalist from a range of experiences and backgrounds. All are also parents who have selected these books that they hold dear and have cherished memories of. The list contains details of the author, person recommending, review and link to buy. If you think there is a glaring omission from the list, get in touch and I’ll add it.

Bedtime Stories recommended by parents and educationalist.

As your kids get older, you’ll move on to chapter books. There are many great ones out there but my absolute favourites are the Mr Gum series from Andy Stanton. They are simply sublimely silly. I’ve also got some thoughts on Roald Dahl books if you care to read more.

Finally…

To finish, a rather personal rant. You may have seen a very popular book called, ‘Where The Wild Things Are’. While I love the artwork in this book, I just can’t bring myself to recommend it due to it’s remarkable lack of full stops. Perhaps it shouldn’t bother me, but it does.

Reasons to write

When do you write? Other than work related? If I’m honest, the answer is not too often. The same applies to the children in school. When I asked the children in my class the same questions, I was pleasantly surprised by the number who said they enjoyed writing stories away from school, but still, it got me wondering when else can children find opportunities to write.

So I made a list.

I shared that list with some children and their parents at parents evening. The idea is to give them some real life reasons for writing so that they have a real reason to practise and develop their skills. The children enjoy the autonomy of writing what they want. In school we often tell the children what to write in terms of genre, topic, audience, purpose, etc. This is just a list of reasons, the children have the freedom to decide which ones they want to do, what they write about and how many times they do it. There is no requirement for the children to bring in or show me the writing they produce. Just practise.

Any other ideas for writing opportunities to add to the list will be gratefully received.

I didn’t just give the list to everyone for two reasons. If it was given to everyone, then I felt it would have been done by the same children who diligently do as they are asked. This is not a problem in itself, any writing is good, right? But I really wanted it to be a challenge that only a few children had so they felt it was special, placing greater value on the writing opportunities for them. I was also worried that the individual ownership and autonomy over the audience and creative process might be diluted if everyone was doing it. We’ll see how that turns out.

Next step

During my research for this list I asked eduTwitter to offer any reasons for writing to add. One deputy head teacher and literacy specialist, Claire Tunnicliffe, shared a great idea about finding out when and where people use writing. Research local businesses and then write to them asking them when and why they use writing. I’ll give this a go next term when we are doing a local area study. Keep it real y’all.

IN-HOUSE OUTDOOR LEARNING

This post has been co-written by myself and Bex Connor, an experienced primary teacher who has worked in all primary year groups and is currently teaching a mixed early years/year 1 class and leading Literacy, Science and Outdoor Learning.

For the last 5 years children at our school have been taking part in Forest Schools activities. Different classes would spend either a whole morning or afternoon session on a Wednesday in a wood near to the school doing all sorts of lovely, engaging and exciting activities, helping them learn new skills and develop teamwork and resilience, amongst other things. Over the year each class would get 3 half terms worth of Forest School-ing. It was great. It was something the children looked forward to. It was something current and prospective parents liked about our school. It was very expensive.

Learning outside is important to our school ethos and the benefits of outdoor education are many and well documented so we didn’t want to stop altogether but we are a small school, with a small budget and we had to come up with another plan.

So with a heavy heart we ended our partnership with Forest Schools and took control of our own outdoor education. And thus, Welly Wednesdays was born. Money still needs to be spent, but a fraction of the amount that was being spent previously, and it’s being spent on our school grounds and developing our own team rather than going to a 3rd party. This means it is sustainable and securing excellent outdoor learning opportunities for children at our school for generations to come.

The other benefit of going ‘in-house’ is giving the teachers autonomy over the planning and delivery of the sessions. Our children are still able to build on practical skills they are taught week on week, but now what they are learning is much more closely linked to our own bespoke curriculum while also ensuring coverage of the national curriculum. In the few months Welly Wednesdays have been taught, we have covered areas of English, maths, DT, science, PE, art, music and geography. Ofsted noted in a November 2018 inspection, ‘Pupils enjoy a broad and balanced curriculum which takes advantage of the school’s rural setting.’

Funding wise we have used some of our Sports Premium funding to train staff as it: increases their confidence, knowledge and skills; engages all pupils in regular physical activity which supports a healthy lifestyle; and increases the profile of Outdoor Adventurous Activities across the school. We’ve also been able to take advantage of a few grants to help us with specific building projects – like making a fence and getting some solar powered lighting for our round house. Our school office (like most schools) receives emails on a semi-regular basis letting us know about various grants and funding opportunities. These are normally for specific reasons and to go towards projects, rather than just offering money for you to spend as you please. However, if you have projects in mind and can evidence how the money will be spent supporting an ongoing scheme, you might just find that no one else had the time to fill in the form and you win your school a bit of extra funding to support your vision. The trick is to make sure that initial email gets forwarded to the right member of staff, preferably one who loves a good form.

We are still developing how we plan and deliver the sessions, but the beauty of having different teachers planning their own sessions, means that the experience is very different for the children as they move through the school.

EYFS sessions are largely about discovery. They focus their learning around a book (e.g. ‘Superworm’) and each week they receive a hook, such as a letter. This letter sets out some of the activities the children may access during the session and also inspires them to write back when they return to the classroom. The benefit of not following the Forest Schools ethos so closely is that the learning can cover the NC more closely. Therefore, EYFS and KS1 have been able to cover seasons, weather and similarities and patterns in the environment. A sample week for EYFS would look like this:

Hook – A large dragonfly made out of pallets and a letter from ‘Superworm’. The letter introduces a Hero Insect – the Dragonfly. This becomes the focus of the week.

Activities – 1. Create a dragonfly using leaves, petals, seeds on the ground. There is an opportunity here to discuss classification of insects and their similarities. 2. Digging in the garden. 3. Sowing seeds in the polytunnel. 4. Creating a bug hotel. 5. A mindfulness area – a selection of books, breathing activites led by an adult, cloud gazing and tree hugging.

In KS2 we’ve been teaching children important life skills. As we continue to develop our outdoor learning provision, we plan to have a curriculum which builds on these skills each year so by the time a child has been with us from Reception to Year 6 they will be to achieve a number of tasks using a great range of skills.

We are very much in the trial stage of our Welly Wednesdays and are trying to get the balance right between covering the curriculum and allowing the children the freedom to explore our environment.

We are blessed with beautiful school grounds, with a range of different areas to take part in a range of different tasks and activities – vegetable patches, a pond, a tree ring, a field, a round house, a green house. While I recognise we are in a fortunate position, I also think that most of what we’ve done can be replicated elsewhere with a bit of imagination. However large or small your school grounds, it’s important to make the most of them and using them to help deliver a broad and balanced curriculum, bespoke to your area and your children’s needs.

More Than Wallpaper

‘More than just wallpaper’, is my aim for displays in my school. They should be interesting, they should be interactive and they should serve a purpose. The point of this blog post is to collect together all of the pictures I’ve come across in person or online that meet those criteria. I’ve previously shared my ideas for creating a number rich environment around school, these are for any and all subject. I hope the following are useful in someway and would be delighted if anyone reading this was to share more pictures of interesting and interactive displays with me through the hashtag #morethanwallpaper.

 

    

Taskmaster in the Classroom

If you have found your way to this blog because of Alex Horne, then hello and welcome. I am James, a deputy head and class teacher in West Sussex. If you just want the resources and link to a great introduction video then scroll to the bottom of the page. Otherwise, on with the post…

We wanted to improve the way our children communicate with each other and my Head suggested this could be achieved by doing some team building challenges. It didn’t take my mind long to turn to Taskmaster. Taskmaster is a British TV programme which has just completed its 8th series.  5 comedians are set tasks by Greg Davies (the Taskmaster) and his sidekick Alex Horne (the creator of the show) and much hilarity ensues.  And so, we held Taskmaster Week.

These sort of tasks appealed to me because of their random and varied nature, meaning that all children can access them and anyone could win. Those who did the best at each challenge were the ones who communicated the clearly and persevered, and sometimes they were just lucky.

My ideas for the tasks came mostly straight from the show and the brain of Alex Horne, but they needed to adapted to make them all team tasks, suitable for children, safe and relevant to our setting. I then put them into 5 categories: Challenge Tasks which take between 5 and 30 minutes; Physical Tasks for our PE lesson; Quick Tasks to be completed in under 5 minutes; Long Term Tasks to be completed over the week and scored on the final day; and End of the Day Tasks which the children are to complete over night.

Challenge Tasks
  1. Scavenger Hunt
  2. Paint a picture – blindfolded
  3. Take an impressive photograph
  4. Throw a tea bag into a mug from the furthest distance
  5. Get an egg as high as possible, without breaking it
  6. What is Mr Blake-Lobb’s age in minutes?
  7. As a team, build the highest tower on the field. You have ten minutes starting from now.
  8. Memorise the Highwayman poem
  9. Set a task for another group
  10. Draw an upside down self-portrait using crayons
  11. Make the most juice from these fruits
  12. Make the best picture, using only this toilet roll.
  13. Unveil a new handshake
  14. Make something spin for the longest period of time
  15. Make the best paper aeroplane. Furthest flight wins.
Physical Tasks
  1. Score a goal with a shopping bag, each team member must kick the bag at least twice
  2. CONNECTED TASK – Make the shopping bag as heavy as possible in ten minutes. It must then hang, unassisted, for one minute
  3. Make the most impressive throw of something, into something
  4. Do the most brilliant thing on a gym mat
  5. While holding hands, kick a rugby ball from the round house to the year 6 table
  6. Move the pallet as far as possible. You have 3 minutes. Go.
Quick Tasks
  1. Guess the number on Mr Blake-Lobb’s left arm.
  2. Vote for the team you wish to receive 5 points. If you vote for your own team and don’t win, then you will lose 2 points
  3. Write the lowest unique number on a whiteboard
  4. Stand up for 100 seconds
Long Term Tasks
  1. Bring me someone who was born on the 28th May 2011
  2. Surprise Mr Allen
  3. Impress Mr Wood
  4. Make Mrs Humphreys say ‘bubbles’. You cannot use the word ‘bubbles’
  5. Make Mrs Rowe laugh out loud. You must not touch her.
  6. As a team, stage a performance of a nursery rhyme
  7. Write a perform a song about this week
End of the Day Tasks
  1. Bring in a book to read to a younger child
  2. Tweet a joke to Penguins class, 1st joke wins (Bonus for best joke)
  3. Wear the most unusual hat to school tomorrow
Rules

We also needed to set a few ground rules before we embarked on the week:

  • Be ready, respectful and safe at all times
  • The Taskmaster’s decision is final
  • Points can be taken away
  • Do not put yourself or others in danger
  • You may ask The Taskmaster any question you like: questions asked publicly will be answered publicly; questions asked privately will be answered privately; but he does not have to answer the question
  • If you move something, put it back
  • If you make a mess, clean it up
  • Bonus points can be won
  • Do not argue with The Taskmaster, your team mates, or members of other teams
  • Any team member leaving the room must sign out
  • Always knock before entering a classroom and wait for a response
DAY 1

We carefully went through the rules, emphasising the need to be ready, respectful and safe at all times, then got on with the tasks. First up was a scavenger hunt, 18 items to find from all over the school. On a safeguarding note, each group had a sign out sheet, so if they left the room they had to specify where they were going. Groups had a point deduction if this was forgotten.

Next the children were asked to work out my age…in minutes. They all had a go. The closest was 15 million minutes out. Some work to do in maths, but I was impressed by their attitude and approach to the challenge.

They were challenged to come up with their own team name, but it had to include my year 6 colleagues favourite word. There was no way of finding out the favourite word of the teacher, so they had to guess. During lunch time, my colleague put the group names into order and point were allocated. Also over lunchtime, the children set to work on their long term tasks. Fairly quickly, one group persuades another colleague to use the word ‘bubbles’, cunningly following up another kids who got her to say ‘bubble’. They simply walked up behind and said, ‘what if their was more than one?’ A great moment, and a lesson learnt for all. The same group were able to bring me a child born on 28th May 2018. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they managed to do this.

In the afternoon, they were challenged to learn The Highwayman poem. This, as it turns out, is more of a long term task. We’ll see if and when they get that one done. Next, blindfold drawing. Once completed, the team captains lined them up and I chose the best collections of art work. A interesting array of work, mostly landscapes, pigs, stars and a Christmas tree. I should probably collect them in and submit them for psychological analysis.

The big task this afternoon was simply…build a tower. So they did. See pictures below. It had to be free standing, which wasn’t so easy on a rainy day, and everything had to be put back again afterwards exactly where it came from. Bonus points for the tidiest team.

To end the day, the children began their diary of the week. Reflecting on what was successful or not, how they felt about the tasks, all while using a range of conjunctions obviously.

Finally, I set the children their overnight task of bringing in a book to read to a younger class.

DAY 2

Great news this morning, as most of the children remembered to bring in a book to read to a younger class. More on that later.

Over night we received a messaged from Taskmaster creator Alex Horne, he was interested to see what we had been up to, and explained that the real Taskmaster had agreed to give them 6 points each. This, he explained, was particularly special, as no one ever gets 6 points.  A brilliant and encouraging way to kick off the day.

Next up a quick task, think of the lowest unique number. I specified that it had to be a whole number, greater than 1 (as they started thinking of -48 billion or 0.000000000000001). Maybe I should have let them, but hey, the Taskmaster’s word is final.

Throwing the tea bag from the greatest distance was interesting. Most just stood on the same spot for their attempt, until one girl walked up and dropped it in. ‘That’s cheating’, protested one boy. ‘Why?’ I asked. He didn’t know. Most surprisingly, this technique didn’t catch on! In the TV series, most realised that wetting the tea bag, made it easier to throw, none of the children thought of this. One did ask if they could get a new tea bag as their’s had got wet though. To be fair to them, most weren’t really that familiar with handling tea bags.

‘Guess the number on Mr Blake-Lobb’s arm’, was interesting. Most groups went for two digit numbers. One group went for 238, and got it spot on. You see, I’d written it the day before at the top of a cupboard at the back of the room. One boy noticed this, didn’t say anything, just wiped it off. This morning, I wrote the number up again, this confirmed the child’s suspicions that it was something to do with the tasks. As soon as I revealed the task, he wrote it down. Brilliant.

The ‘perform a nursery rhyme’ task was really interesting. While performing comes very naturally to some children, to others, it is far from their comfort zone. One group was struggling to get one member to join in. They asked me to help. So, we talked about how they could communicate positively in order to make the child, who wasn’t joining in, feel comfortable. I was really impressed and proud of how the team worked together and supported each. They come last in the task, but still got a point because they didn’t give up. They all learnt from it though.

After lunch we went to visit our Reception/Year 1 class to read stories to the younger children. It was a really heart warming moment. Children in my class who struggle with self-belief and confidence, were caring, compassionate and confident with their partners. This is something we will definitely be repeating.

Then we made a piece of art using a toilet roll. One group was struggling, but with a small amount of guidance, were able to communicate positively with each other to resolve their disagreement and understand each others differences. I think they are starting to realise they are learning about themselves, as well as practising a variety of skills over the week.

    

Another quick task next. Stand up for 100 seconds. They all said it was easy, until I pointed out it wasn’t meant to be an endurance task. They had to stand for exactly 100 seconds, and then sit down. We did this one group at a time, and the results we varied. All over shot the 100 seconds. Fifth place were over by 92 seconds. The closest team were over by 12 seconds. Some work on estimating time me thinks.

Our final task of the day was to get an egg as high as possible, without it breaking. I insisted we did this outside as the cleaners wouldn’t thank me for getting egg on the carpet. I gave them 5 minutes to prepare, this included regular time checks and a count down from 10 to 1. Yet, I was still told by the ground who were left standing next to a tower, holding an egg, that they, ‘didn’t have enough time.’ Bizarrely, they still didn’t come last as one group put theirs in a tree. Just really low down. Lessons learnt by all.

To round the day off I set the class their End of the Day task. Tomorrow they should all come to school, wearing the most unusual hats. I can’t wait to see what happens.

DAY 3

We had a brilliant start to the day when 22 children arrived wearing an array of unusual hats. I’m not sure quite what their parents are making of all this, but we’re having a whole lot of fun in class.

Today’s opening task was to make the best paper plane. Best being the one which flew the furthest. Very straightforward.

Next up, ‘take the most impressive photograph’. They all went their separate ways, to different parts of the school, but all came back with pictures of themselves. The most impressive, was the group who had photo of three children performing handstands.

After lunch was Taskmaster PE. The children had to do something brilliant on 2 gym mats. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most interpreted the brilliant thing as being something to do with gymnastics. I was presented with a range of flips, crabs, rolls, etc. One group though acted out a scene from a football match, with the winning goal being celebrated with a back flip. Brilliant.

Then, they had to make the most impressive throw of something, into something. They could get anything they wanted, but all chose to raid the PE cupboard. Logical, given that we were in the sport’s hall. A great range of throws followed. One group held bean bags in their toes, performed a handstand and flung it at the target hoop. Unfortunately, they all missed. Impressive throwing though. The winner turned out to be a (lucky?) trick shot. They threw a basketball at a bucket, missed, bounced it off the floor and wall and then it bounced back in. Impressive or lucky?

Lots more chat about positive communication and that people tend to respond better when you speak to them nicely.

The ‘End of the Day’ task was to tweet a joke to our class twitter feed. Funniest wins.

It dawned on me today that if much easier to be the Taskmaster, when there is a clear order of winners. When it’s subjective, it’s trickier, as their teacher, to explain why one piece of art is more creative or impressive than the another.  I need to get over that, but worth considering when devising tasks. Also, the children find it much easier to grasp what is required in the tasks with a straightforward outcome (biggest, tallest, furthest, etc) rather than those tasks where they need to be more creative in their thinking.

Final day tomorrow, lots to wrap up, a big range of tasks ahead, all to play for.

DAY 4

The final day and a chance to round off a whole bunch of tasks which have been ongoing for a few days. Over night we received a few jokes from members of the class and a few from our other Twitter followers. I tested them out on the class and the one they laughed at the most was…

– Doctor, doctor, I feel like a dog.

– Ok, just hop up on the couch and I will take a look at you.

– I can’t, I’m not allowed on the furniture

Next each group had to nominate a group to give 5 points to. If they voted for their own group and did not win, they were deducted 5 points. 3 groups voted for one house and one group voted for themselves. Interesting discussion and reasoning took place.

After that we all went outside. Each group had to join hands and kick a rugby ball the length of the field. Those that fell over or broke the link of hands had to restart. I was expecting carnage, but actually, it all went rather well. Only two groups had to restart, which was a relief as the field was quite muddy, so they didn’t get too dirty.

Then I gave the children some time to complete the ‘Long Term Tasks’. All failed to surprise my colleague, which was disappointing. My Head Teacher was impressed by the maths work of one child and another’s knowledge of tectonic plates. Another colleague was made to laugh out loud by one group, made to smile by another, but not so much as a snigger was caused by the others. The make Christmas silhouette for the window task was a great way to get festive, well it was for the two groups who did a brilliant job of it, two had less artistic merit, while the other explained that they didn’t have enough time. This was a complaint made on two occasions by the same group even though they had the same amount of time as the other groups, and in this case, 4 days!

Some made a valiant effort at learning The Highwayman poem, but if I’m honest, a 17 stanza poem might have been a bit optimistic on my part. It was based on the task of learning the names of every member of an Australian Rules Football team. I thought I’d try an link it to the curriculum and our topic. Definitely over stretched on that one.

The final ‘Long Term Task’ was to write a song about the week. I will forever regret saying that they could use instruments, but there you go. Lyrically, they were pretty good, and some reflected on how they had enjoyed the week and what they had learned. The singing was pretty good as well.

When they had to unveil a new handshake, I was back in the tricky place of being presented with 5 equally awesome creations and having to decide between them.

The final outside task was to score a goal with a plastic bag. Tricky on a windy afternoon. Each team member had to kick the bag at least twice before scoring. One team took a football with them, discretely so others didn’t spot it, and when I said ‘go’, they popped the ball in the bag and made light work of the task.

What I didn’t tell them, was that they needed the bag for the next task. They needed to make the bag as heavy as possible without it breaking. One group had a pretty large tear in their bag, but still managed over 4kg in the bag. The winning group had over 6kg. That seemed pretty good to me.

The final scores were incredibly close. Sycamore 95, Maple 94, Birch 91, Oak 75 and Willow 74. I had thought about making one of the tasks to make a trophy you’d want to win. But, in the end went for a certificate.

Final thoughts…

As the week went on I found it increasingly difficult to score the more subjective tasks, especially when the children all rose to the challenge and did their best. The other element that I found tricky was the timing. How long to allow for each task (this become pretty pupil led) and how long to reflect on what we’d learnt from tasks before moving on, or simply making them come thick and fast.

I will definitely do this again next year, possibly during the first week of term to establish these  positive relationships and considerate ways of communicating. In the mean time we will build on the successes of the week in class and look forward to the next series on TV.

If you do your own Taskmaster activities in school, why not use this video from Alex Horne to introduce it? The password is schooltaskmaster. Enjoy.

Taskmaster 2018 – Powerpoint of tasks

Taskmaster Sign Out Sheet – Word Doc

Taskmaster Scorecard – Word Doc

A Number Rich Learning Environment

At a conference I attended earlier this, Professor Stephen Heppell spoke of the importance of the environment which we teach and learn in. I wrote about the changes I made to my class as a result, in my previous post, ‘Improving our Learning Space‘.  One thing that he mentioned which I hadn’t done much about up to this point was the importance of creating a number rich learning environment. The vast majority of display boards in school have writing on, some display art work, but very few include numbers or maths in general.

So I have begun a mission to make the environment in my classroom and across the school more number rich (or should that be increasingly number rich?) The premise is fairly simple, the more present and visible numbers and mathematics are, the more relevant and familiar they will be to all of us.

A quick search of Pinterest will show you steps and stairs (what’s the difference?) from all over the world with numbers on them. So I did that. We’ve only got 8 stairs in the school though, which is not a lot, but alongside the numbers I added the Numicon image, a dice and the number written in Italian. We learn Italian in our school, so that’s not as random as it may otherwise seem. Also on Pinterest you’ll see loads of images of angles drawn on the floor beneath doors in the style of a protractor. I like it. I’ve not done it yet, so you’ll not see a picture of it below.

Drawing a scale up the side of a wall was a very simple thing to do, but has proved to be the one change that has caused the most engagement from the children. Several times a day I walk down the corridor and see children discussing and comparing heights. Thinking and talking about numbers. Real, relevant numbers.

I’ve put up a few chalkboards around the school in the last few months. Putting weekly number problems on them has been an effective way of encouraging numbers being discussed away from the classroom. It’s quite fun as well and a great way to get children to explain their reasoning and persevere.

Professor Heppell is a great advocate of writing on windows with chalk pens (specifically the Edding 4090 limo colour pens). I took this idea and added a hundred square (with different coloured odd and even numbers) and a multiplication grid (with different coloured square numbers). Then Professor Heppell came into my class and explained, it should be the children who are writing on the window. So we got on with that as well.

While in the class, Professor Heppell suggested an easy way of increasing the number of numbers would be to put numbers on the backs of the chairs. So I did that. The next day I began intergrating them into my practice: ‘Stand up if your chair is an odd number’; ‘go to lunch if your chair is a prime number’; ‘Sit down if your chair is a multiple of 7’…and so on. It’s been fun so far and ensures everyone is thinking and engaged.

I’ve put up a few sign posts around school as well. They have the distance to landmarks, near and far, in miles and kilometres. You could use these to order and compare, or calculate conversions, or double, or divide, or apply to whatever maths problems you want really.

Next up…I’m mulling over putting a large Venn diagram somewhere, I’d like to do a grid somewhere for life size coordinates, a massive bar model or two and I must put a floor protractor down somewhere.