Producing a School Production – Top Tips

Following a recent post about choosing productions to put on in my school I began reflecting on what I’ve learnt over the years of producing, directing, choreographing, etc numerous shows, musicals, plays and concerts.

Here are my tips for putting on a successful production and, hopefully, staying sane at the same time.

  1. Get help. You need costumes, props, dance routines, lighting, sound and staging, not to mention singing and acting practice. This should not be attempted individually by anybody, let alone a full time teacher. Ask for help. I was fortunate enough to have a student teacher with a dancing background one year and this was a great help. I’ve also been lucky enough to make the most of some talented staff members who are both artistically creative and generous with their time. This may not always be the case and should not be taken for granted, but given enough time and a clear role, most people who work in schools will like to help if they can. Failing that, get your Head to ‘assign’ help.
  2. Plan ahead. Get to know the script well before casting. This will avoid giving the confident but tone deaf child a solo you hadn’t spotted. Make some kind of rehearsal schedule so you know what scenes you’ll be working on during each session and who you will need. Identify the big scenes with most of the cast members in to rehearse at Drama Club or such like, it is easier to snatch moments with key cast members to rehearse smaller scenes as the performance date approaches.
  3. Learn the songs. Obviously. But learn them as far in advance of the production as possible so the children can dance and act freely without worrying too much about the lyrics. This also means the whole ensemble will sing loudly, confidently and hopefully tunefully come the big night.
  4. Keep it simple. Well, as simple as you can. No-one watching is expecting a Tony Award winning production. Most parents just want to see their kids say a line or 3 and they are hoping the show isn’t too long! If it’s actually quite funny as well then that’s great. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to deliver something that is perfect because that is impossible. It’s really, really hard work to put on any production, it’s more important that as many children as possible feel they are part of it, have contributed and most important of all, that they have fun doing it. Speaking of which…
  5. Have fun. This is one of the precious few times in school where your children get a chance to perform. For some, it might be the only thing at school that they feel any good at. It can often be the thing they remember most about school in the years to come, so make sure they have a positive experience.

Producing a School Production – Moving to Musicline

When I joined my current school they had a growing reputation for fantastic, memorable and somewhat lavish productions. Famous shows, big, outdoor staging, expensive costumes and hired sound equipment including radio mics for leading cast members.  It all meant for fantastic and enduring performances for the children involved and the audiences alike. I was very impressed with what I saw, and was part of, in my first year we put on ‘The Lion King’ and in my second year it was ‘Footloose’. Doing shows the children had heard of meant there was a buzz about the productions long before any performances.

However, as staff changed, budgets tightened and I became responsible for the Summer Productions, I felt the burden of responsibility to produce a quality performance, just, with less lofty ambitions. Searching for a show to put on I came across www.musiclinedirect.com. A company who write shows specifically for primary schools. Although their stories are often well known, they do not have the famous named productions that we had used in the past, but that means the rights to put them on are considerably cheaper (like hundreds of pounds cheaper). Conscious that cheaper shows may mean poorer quality I was keen to sample the script and music, these are readily available on their website. The scripts are funny (actually funny to grown ups and everything) and the music is good, not ‘Mercury Prize winning good’, but ‘catchy pop song good’ and the songs are largely easy to sing and learn. This a massive bonus.

So we went for ‘Shakespeare Rocks‘ (well it was Shakespeare’s anniversary that year wasn’t it?). The script and music didn’t disappoint. With speaking roles for over 40 children it was a real ensemble piece. This meant more children had more lines and felt more involved than in previous years. While the songs weren’t previously known to the children, they certainly had a familiar sound to them and some were incredibly catchy.

The following year we went for ‘Robin and the Sherwood Hoodies’ and again the show was fantastic. This year I also invested in the dance routines. These are very simple, but it was just one less thing I had to worry about. We had different groups of children in at lunch times and could just play the clip for their dance and crack on. Simple but effective. All of the moves are well within the children’s capabilities which enables them to focus on doing the simple things well which is important in making a coherent production with a bit of quality.

With both shows we have done the humour shines through. Many jokes the children understood and enjoyed sharing with the audience and more than a few were just for the parents. If you enjoy a cheesy pun, then you’ll love a Musicline production.

One gripe is that Musicline could do something about having more female leading characters. Logistically it would help as I have many more girls than boys auditioning for parts. But more importantly I think it sends the wrong message to our children that males are the heroes of all these stories. To be fair, this is a problem in theatre on the whole, as it is in films, literature and other art forms.

Having found, enjoyed and grown to trust Musicline musicals I look forward to exploring more of their catelogue of productions and seeing what they come up with in the future.

Bridging the reading gap

I have been writing reports and holding parent’s evening of late. I have found myself saying and writing the same sort of things about reading. ‘They would benefit from reading more at home.’ Or words to that effect.

As teachers, particularly in Primary schools, we know reading is important in accessing an awful lot of the curriculum. Building confidence, understanding and enjoyment in learning for the children. It’s also really obvious which children have been read with from an early age. Obvious because they can, you know, read well.

Teachers across all phases and schools all over the country, and probably the World, plan special reading interventions, groups and one to ones for reluctant or struggling readers. These help. A bit. In some cases quite a lot. But, really, some children have got an awful lot of catching up to do. So how do we solve this problem and raise literacy standards? We must encourage all parents to read with their children.

I would like to see a national campaign to make the many benefits of reading with children clear to everyone. Some campaigns are already happening. They just need to be happening, louder.

What can they do? (Nicky Morgan, the DfE, Government in general)

If I had any sway with Nicky Morgan or at the DfE I’d like to see…

  • Glossy, heart-warming adverts on TV showing the simple joy of a bedtime story.
  • Segments on talk radio and daytime television. Politicians being interviewed about reading.
  • Libraries promoted in supermarkets.
  • Books given out on maternity wards and at community centres. Investing heavily in and expanding BookStart.
  • Teachers going to antenatal classes to preach about reading.
  • Oh and stop bloomin’ closing libraries!!!

As a parent myself I find cuddling up on the sofa and reading with my children to be a highlight of my day. In turn, my children associate books with quality time with their parents. They associate books with love.

We should do all can to make this experience possible for all parents. Give parents the confidence and the books to make reading an important and enjoyable part of their relationship with their children.

I understand, those parents who themselves have struggled with their literacy skills may well be reluctant and embarrassed to share their vulnerability with their children. Maybe begin with picture books, something awesome like Tuesday, and discuss what on Earth might be going on. What can be more powerful and inspiring for a child than learning and sharing with their parents?

What can we do? (teachers, people who care about education, parents, humans)

  • Collect and donate books to charities to redistribute to increase children’s book ownership.
  • Hold parents reading workshops.
  • Share the simple message #ReadWithYourKids.
  • Visit parents groups in the early stages of a child’s life and share the message about the power of reading.
  • Share the books that you and your children enjoy.

This is not about class or social standing or wealth. Children’s books can be really cheap. Bundles from carboot sales, jumble sales or charity shops can be an affordable way to fill a book shelf and instil a love of books and reading from a young age. It’s all about sharing some precious time with your children and giving them a very precious gift.

Sussex Maths Hub Conference 2016

I had the pleasure of attending the Sussex Maths Hub Conference today and the following are some of my reflections on the day.

  1. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit this but my previous approach to the new curriculum was to try and get everyone to ‘At Expected’ and the ‘Beyond/Mastery/Deeper’ bit was for the more able. Well, poppycock. Everyone can, should and must get a deeper understanding.
  2. Shanghai, Shanghai, Shanghai. They are good at teaching Maths in Shanghai. We should be more like them.
  3. Andrew Jeffrey is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker. If you get the chance to hear him, do. At his ‘You can’t learn arithmetic without learning algebra’ workshop he reminded us that we must learn first in the concrete, then the abstract is added. This is because maths is a secret code and we need to give it a context. From this premise he introduced us to Cuisenaire rods and gave us time to explore them. The rest of the session centred around how to use Cuisenaires to help children explore mathematical concepts and make their own discoveries. It was the sort of training experience that all teachers and teaching assistants should have regularly to understand how to make the most of resources that are available to us to aid the children in our classes to better understand the abstract code of mathematics. IMG_2917 IMG_2912 IMG_2916 IMG_2909
  4. I’ve always known it’s good practice to make use of physical resources in lessons to help children visual the problem. However, the nugget of wisdom I picked up today was to ‘use resources to help children understand the concept, rather than simply find the answer’. It’s all about deepening the understanding.
  5. Stress to your children the meaning of =. It is not the answer, but rather the same as. 3+5 is the same as 8, rather than 3+5 the answer is 8.
  6. IMG_2911As I am a Year 3 teacher, Emma McCrea’s ‘Building challenge into maths lessons’ was certainly challenging. The examples were pitched at a slightly baffling level for me but I still got a few important ideas out of it. The question of when learning happens in your classroom is an important one to consider. The answer offered by Coe, above, is ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’. One of the over-ridding themes of the day was that of the need for children to explain their understanding, whether that be through ‘Concept/NotConcept’, or any of the many other useful ways she recommended to help ‘Make learner think’. I’m sure if you ask nicely on twitter (@mccreaemma) Emma will share her ideas with you too.
  7. Children will struggle to solve problems if they don’t know their times tables. Inside out. It’s got to be worth considering focussing on place value, the 4 operations and times tables in year 3 giving children a basis for achieving in the rest of key stage 2 and beyond. It’s a ks2 curriculum after all and not all of it needs to be covered in year 3, so why not give our classes the best chance of success by year 6?
  8. Lunch was nice.
  9. Find out more about the Sussex Maths Hub at their website and on Twitter.

When a Sphero comes along

A few months ago I wrote about my desire to get some Spheros in school and learn how they might be used in lessons to meet the ks2 computing curriculum in a creative and engaging way. Since then I’ve taken delivery of 10 new Spheros and started a Coding Club with children from each class in the school. I wanted to begin with a club so I could iron out any teething problems before introducing them across the school. While I made sure each class was represented so that when they do go into the classrooms each teacher will have a few experts to call upon to help them out, should they need it.

The purpose of this post is to give an update on where we are now and pass on the things I’ve learnt along the way.

You need a lot of space.

It turns out 16 children and 8 spheros in one classroom can be a confusing squeeze. The robots are controlled by iPads via Bluetooth and sometimes keeping them all connected can be an issue as can finding enough room for each child to explore the capabilities of the apps we have been using.  It was great fun when we got into the school hall and had a race!

Be organised.

Have a designated iPad for each Sphero. I began by getting any iPad and searching for devices to connect via Bluetooth. This is fine if you only want to connect one or two, but will take ages if you want to connect 10. Each device has it’s own 3 letter code. I’ve written these on to each Sphero and also made a note of them on the designated iPads. This has simplified the logging on process and keeps the children engaged.

CYwwhVYWAAAscXJ

Keep it simple.

During our Coding Club sessions I set the children a variety of challenges. By far the most successful ones were the simplest. The challenge in the video above was to race up the hall, turn around past the cones and then race back. This allowed the children to use the Tickle app to create their own algorithms and debug them in order to accomplish a specific goal. Other challenges included being the fastest around a chair and following a paper path on the floor.

It does the job.

We purchased the robots to help meet the ‘design, write and debug programs that accomplish specific goals, including controlling or simulating physical systems; solve problems by decomposing them into smaller parts ‘ bit of the KS2 computing curriculum. I’m very happy that we fulfil our statutory requirements comfortably here. But more than that we are discovering many cross-curricular possibilities and the children absolutely love them.

What next?

The next challenge is to plan a scheme of work that can be delivered to the whole class. I’ll probably write another blog post as and when that happens, I’ll just have to think of another sphero based pun first.

Starting a School Council

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about British Values. What they are? How they can be taught? What makes them British?  The last question I’ve been particularly struggling with, so I’ll leave that for now.

All this pontification lead me focus on the British Value of Democracy and how I could best give the children in my school an understanding of what it means. As a result, I set up a School Council. It’s something that, I’m told, has happened before, but just seemed to fizzle out.

Having not been at a school that has had a Council before I needed to do a bit of research. A quick Google search offered a good range of ideas and video clips, but asking Twitter was particularly helpful. I was put in touch with Sue Smith  who was able to give me the benefit of her wealth experience. This gave me loads of ideas for how to run our School Council and what they can actually do.

The first step was to give an assembly and let the children know what was going to happen and how they could be involved. I knew from early on the interest was going to be high because the behaviour throughout that assembly was fantastic, with the children completely engaged and eager to find out more.

Next the children that were interested had to ask their teacher for an application to register their interest and explain why they would be a good class representative. This meant that children were not just standing on a whim. They went home, thought about it and discussed it with their parents.

Once the nominations were all in we held a hustings just prior to the vote. We ask all of the candidates the same 3 questions and gave them chance to take them home, to once again give a considered response. This was the highlight of the process for me. I was very proud to see so many of the children in my class stand up and present their ideas so well to their peers. A brave thing to do and a valuable experience for all of them.

The hustings questions were…

  1. What is the best thing about out school?
  2. What do you think could be improved?
  3. What will you do to make our school even better?

The ballot itself was a done in secret when all of the class had to put a X on the ballot paper next to the name of the person they wished to vote for. As all of the candidates had been through a fairly vigorous process they all took it very seriously. This in turn meant that other members of the class took it seriously also. We didn’t just get they usual voting for friends. They seemed to actually consider who would represent them well on the Council and voted accordingly. Some of the losing candidates were a little miffed, but all saw the election process as being fair and so no tears. Not even in Year 3!

We’ve just held our first full School Council meeting. The Head was invited along and asked the Councillors to write a report for the Governors, they elected a Council Leader and they set an agenda of issues to be discussed at the next meeting. They will be launching their blog page in assembly later this week.

I’ve found it a very positive experience for the whole school so far. They have gained a good understanding of the democratic process and hopefully will soon begin to see the impact the Council is having around the school.

I need a Sphero

I have been struggling with the bit in the computing curriculum where it talks about ‘controlling physical systems’. I can see the importance of applying the coding skills we’ve be learning on Scratch and the like, to something with a more physical presence. Something tangible. But I don’t want to spend loads of money on something that will only be used occasionally and require a lot of staff training.

First we researched RaspberryPi as they do seem to have a vast range of applications across the curriculum.

It is a single-board computer the size of a credit card. You can get a starter kit for around £50 from Amazon, and this means a whole class set is certainly reasonable. For early computer science, RaspberryPi looks very good. But it all seems a bit complex for the majority of our ks2 pupils and I worry the staff would also require a lot of training and support. It is something I may well return to further down the programming line, as the children’s knowledge and expertise has developed and they need the next challenge.

Next, we looked at Lego Education.

They had a big, shiny stand at BETT so we had a look. It’s certainly a brand our children have heard of and connected with themselves. This would no doubt help with engagement. The two stumbling blocks as I see it are that it is bloomin’ complicated and can be expensive to get some of the better, more interesting kits. As with RaspberryPi, Lego Education is great for those children who have an interest or some talent in coding, but when it comes to whole class engagement I worry it might be ‘a bridge too far’ for some. Both would be great for a ‘Computing Club’ though.

Then we heard about Sphero.

It’s essentially a programmable ball. It’s controlled using a tablet via Bluetooth. We are lucky enough to have iPads in school and these do seem to have the better apps currently available to download. As there are so many apps available, differentiation is quite straight forward and it can be used in ks1 and ks2.

Potential Benefits…
  1. It’s instantly engaging, with wide raging applications across the curriculum, particularly in Maths.
  2. The ‘Tickle’ app offers coding in a familiar format to those familiar with Scratch.
  3. Differentiation and progression is straight forward given the range of apps available.
  4. It’s relatively cheap. Around £90 a go on Amazon. While the apps I’ve used so far are all FREE to download.
Potential Problems…
  1. 10-15 robots being controlled by Bluetooth could well lead to a drop off in connectivity and lead to confusion.
  2. As apps like ‘Tickle’ are currently not available on android, you do need iPads to get the most our of Sphero.
  3. This will not stretch our more able year 6 pupils when they become more proficient with coding over the next few years. This is when we might need to look at the other options previously discussed.
Our story so far…

I ordered one for school at the end of the Summer term and took it home to experiment with over the summer. I found it straight forward to use and when I shared it with children of friends and relatives aged between 5 and 15 I got very positive responses.

Learning journey.
  1. Begin using the original Sphero app as a remote control to allow the children to see what is possible. Set challenges and get to grips with the controls.
  2. Use the Drive ‘n’ Draw app to instruct the robot what you want it to do.
  3. Use the Tickle app to programme Sphero to follow paths, complete mazes, etc…
What next?

Order 10. I wanted 15. We compromised. When these arrive I will introduce them initially to Coding Club. This will allow us to iron out any teething troubles we may encounter and mean that many classes across the school will have pupil experts able to help out when they are used in lessons. We can also try out a range of the many apps available, to see which ones are best suited to our needs.

By January I will have trained the staff how to use them and hope to see them being used to across the curriculum. By the end of the year the whole school will have completed a module in controlling physical systems. I best get planning.

Making the most of the Summer – #Summer10

This is my #Summer10 offering. Thanks to Rachel Jones for the inspiration.

Life has significantly changed this week as we welcomed our daughter to the world on Tuesday, so my summer will probably involve a lot of family time.

TBBL

Kids. Spend as much time as possible with my family. I’m lucky enough to love my job, but it can be all consuming at times. This summer I plan to properly switch off from school life by having at least two weeks without doing anything to do with work. I know I’ll find this hard as my mind wonders and I get ideas, but I know my family and myself will benefit from this.

Move house. It’s been a saga to say the least. We’ve got the the ‘sale agreed’ stage 3 times now, and we’re hoping it’s 3rd time lucky. It’s pretty much out of my control now, but if it does happen soon it will be a huge relief and great for all of us.

Run. I will go running 3 times a week. There, I’ve said it. Now it must happen.

Play football. Following a ligament tear last year I had to stop playing football for a while. That while is still going on. I enjoy it and it’s good for me, so I really need to get going again.

Look at my phone less. I really don’t want to get to the stage where I need to quantify this. I probably wouldn’t like to outcome. But it’s safe to say, for one reason or another, I look at my phone too much. Well no more. It’s time to put the phone down and engage with those around me more. Unless there is no one around me, then I can look at my phone.

Build something. Not sure what yet. But something. Something awesome and from scratch. Maybe  a bench, or a toy, or a brick BBQ surround. You know? A thing. Made by me.

Read ‘The Magic-Weaving Business’ by John Jones. I was given a copy by someone I used to work with because she thought I would get a lot from it. So it’s time I found out.

Perform. I used to play gigs a few times a month but this has taken something of a back seat in recent years. This summer I will perform again, somewhere.

Swim in the sea. I have no idea when I last swam in the sea, and I live really close, so I need to sort that out.

Learn to use Sphero. This is my proper ‘school one’. I need to get better at coding in order to plan for it and support other staff in teaching it. For the ‘controlling physical systems’ bit of the computing curriculum we’ve got ourselves some Spheros and a Ollies, so I’m planning to become an expert. If I achieve this goal, a blog post will surely follow.

 

 

Podcasting with Spreaker

People communicate in many different ways and in the modern World it seems that new avenues of communication are being created all of the time. As a teacher, I think it’s important to make as many of these avenues available to our children as possible to allow them to choose the way they wish to express themselves. It doesn’t matter if it’s music, mfl, coding or anything else, what’s important is that they are able to say what they want to say, and make their voices heard.

I have always had an interest in radio and was lucky enough to attend a college and university which both had student radio stations. Growing up, my Dad also spent many years hosting a show on a local radio station, so I have long had an affinity with the medium.

Since becoming a Primary School teacher I have wondered how I might use radio in the classroom. I have made radio adverts during persuasive writing modules and written scripts before, but it’s all been rather hypothetical as we didn’t have the hardware.

I have looked at a few school radio station providers (namely School Radio and  Anderton Tiger Group) and they offer some fantastic equipment which is very child friendly, of a professional standard and even rather sexy! Like I say, I’m into radio.

However, I had a few problems with these options. The main problem, and if I’m honest, the real problem, was the cost. It’s very hard to justify that sort of expense when it’s unclear how much it will be used and how much impact it will have on results. Practically speaking, the equipment takes up space, quite a bit of it, so you’d need a room to house and use it in. We don’t have much free space. Also, given the money spent, it could/should take up valuable curriculum time. So I kept on looking…

Then, Rachel Jones was speaking about interesting stuff at TeachMeet Pompey, and she happened to mention Spreaker.

spreaker

Spreaker ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s a FREE on-line podcasting app. It’s available on iOS and Chromebooks (as well as others) so we can use it on all of our school devices. As it’s on-line, it takes up no room and as it’s free, we can use it as much or little as we need without feeling like we’re wasting precious and limited resources.

It is fairly straight forward to use and importantly can be shared easily.  We had our first go today. I borrowed a couple of Year 6 children and talked them through the plan. They wrote a script and had a couple of run through practices before asking our Head to come in for an interview. This seemed a suitable topic for our first episode as he is leaving us at the end of term, so it was a chance for some of the children to ask him some questions. We added a simple effect at the beginning and got on with it. Once recorded we uploaded it to the school website and then played it in assembly.

Within an hour we’d gone from no script to published on-line and played to the whole school.

I realise it’s not always that simple and Spreaker has a far greater capability than we’ve used today, but it’s got me thinking and planning for the new year. School Radio Station here we come.

Using ICT in Primary Music – with Musical Futures

As the music leader at my school I was on the look out for some training that would give me some ideas that I could use in my own teaching and pass on to other members of staff.  Thanks to twitter I came across a course called Finding Your Voice, run by Musical Futures. You can find out all about them by visiting their website for yourself (and I recommend that you do) but given the course outline it seemed perfect for my needs.

Today I attended this training and was not disappointed. They gave us loads of practical tips and activities to try in our schools but also a range of different ICT that they use to support Music teaching. This was particularly helpful for schools with limited resources and budgets. Again, check their website for the resources, including some excellent vocal warm-ups, but I wanted to use this post to share some of the ICT used and suggest some that I use already.

LOOPY – app

loopy

Loopy, as the name suggests, is used for looping sounds. There are a few looping apps available for iOS but this one is particularly child-friendly. I’ve long since been a big fan of Keezy, but Loopy offers quite a bit more. Unlike Keezy, Loopy allows you to actually loop, making composition easier and you can also get a rather handy metronomic count in. Create music by layering looped recordings of singing, beatboxing or playing an instrument.

A top tip is to go to settings and switch the ‘monitoring’ and ‘live input recording’ to off before recording, in order to avoid feedback. Loopy is available from the from the App Store for £2.29.

SoundCloud

soundcloud

 

We all worry about how we show progress. James Emberley, the secondary music teacher who delivered the Musical Futures training, presented SoundCloud as part of the solution. It is an online audio distribution platform that enables the user  to upload, record, promote and share their originally recordings.

Record at the start of a scheme of work as a baseline and then record again a few weeks later. Hey-presto PROGRESS recorded, without the need for the student to write anything down. If you record using the free AudioCopy app, you can upload directly to SoundCloud.

Launchpad – by Novation – app

launchpad

I have been using Launchpad for a while to create compositions across a variety of genres including Hip Hop, Trance and Drum & Bass. You can build layers and make arrangement without the fear of going out of time.

We’ve used it this year with our Year 3s as accompaniment to their performance poetry. It’s been great for teaching the children about tempo especially, but also dynamics, structure and texture.

Others…

As I come across more apps and tools that I particularly like I will update this post, but for now, here are some other apps worth exploring. GarageBand, Drummer (by Keezy) and the guitar and piano apps by Smule. While these other blogs have more useful suggestions Musical Futures and a couple from Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.