Experimental Experiments

I was struggling to make science exciting. I lacked confidence in it when I was at school and my subject knowledge could of been called “passable” but not extraordinary.

Steve Spangler  though has helped to change my science lessons and made them exciting, inspiring, engrossing and fundamentally unrecognisable from what they were a few months ago.

I have used so many of the experiments from this site to teach my children science in a much more creative way. Now, they do a different experiment every week and the children, when they realise it’s Wednesday afternoon, go “Yes! Science!”.

This page here, containing various experiments about states of matter, has proven to be the biggest hit with the children so far. We have made disappearing ghost eggs and explained the science behind them. Seen how many drops of water we could fit on a penny and explained the science behind it. Made square bubbles and explained the science behind it. Made our own quick sand and explained the science behind it.

The second part of all those “explained the science behind it” has proven to be the key. The children have learnt so much through doing these fun experiments that they don’t mind that they have to write up their findings as they have had their mind blown by something just half an hour before.

The presentation in their science books is exquisite as they have enjoyed what they have had to do and their books now consistently contain, prediction – about why they think what is happening is happening. Diagram – reflecting what they had to do. Most importantly though – conclusion – after I have explained the science behind these unusual occurrences, they then write it up in their own words. Lower ability get a writing frame.

I wrote the other week about the Times Table Challenge changing my classroom the most this year, however, Steve Spangler is a close second.

Thank you Steve, you are loved in my classroom.

To all you teachers, take a leaf out of Steve’s book and really blow your student’s minds. Their learning and their love of school will improve because of it.


The Unsung Hero of My Classroom

Smiler1729 of TES I salute you!

Unbeknown to you, you have had a huge hand in improving maths in our school and creating a great “team” in my class. You sir/madam created this –

“The Times Table Challenge” 

At the start of the year, one of my year 5s was attempting to simplify a fraction. The common number was 4 but she didn’t know her 4 times table and had to write it out on a whiteboard, via counting on her fingers, in order to know it. I sat there aghast as this year 5 couldn’t chant off the 4 times table instantly. “Something must be done about this” I said in a not so discrete (but jovial) way. “I’m not sending you to year 6 not knowing your 4 times table or any others for that matter.”

I trawled the internet looking for ideas. I stumbled across the above file. I gave it to my class the morning after to see how many times table questions (up to 12×12) they could each do in 5 minutes (with division facts as well). Not one got all 180 questions right in the allotted time. Our focus child only scored 29. This was early September.

For the next 6 months we have done this challenge every morning. It only takes 5 minutes a day but it is proving to be a fantastic find. Scores have ballooned and knowledge of times tables is now one of my class’ strongest attributes. Parents said to me at parents’ evening last week that it was the best thing about their child’s day! I was amazed. Times tables?

I gave my class a scorecard to track their progress as the year goes on – instant evidence for OFSTED and self satisfaction for the pupils. We have a league table in the classroom to show who has improved the most – Not who has the biggest score overall. I was expecting grumbles from children and parents alike about competition in the classroom. It became clear that children only really had one competitor they were going up against – Themselves! If anyone beats their score the class give them a huge round of applause. Competition – what competition?

The majority of the class now get 180 everyday. Some I have even moved onto doing questions up to 19×19 just to keep pushing them (I know I shouldn’t be, but they love the challenge and what harm is it for five minutes a day?).

I can recommend this to any class, any age group. We now do it as the children walk in every morning across Key Stage 2. It will make your children better at tables, it will boost their confidence, it will make a huge difference in other areas of maths and it can even unify your class when someone gets a good score. Download it and give it half a term, you will see the results!

Smiler1729, whoever you are, wherever you are, thank you. I’d like to shake your hand and buy you a drink. As would all the children in my school.

Thank you!

PS – Focus child scored 180 on the Friday (day before half term) She is going to spend a few more weeks getting 180 every day and boosting her confidence before agreeing to try up to 16×16 in a few weeks.

She (and her parents) are very grateful too.

Class 5 Assemble…


At the beginning of this year I wrote a blog post about the nightmare of levelling a piece of writing without having any levels to level the writing with or without any examples of worked that had been levelled without levels to see if my children’s writing was on the level I thought they were at; without there actually being any levels to level the children with as we are now no longer using levels. (I’ve read that back ten times and it does make sense!) Here it is.

The writing we were trying to level was based around our watching of The Snowman just before Christmas and never before had I used film in this way in the classroom. The children had to write a diary entry for what young James (no I didn’t realise he had a name until I watched it with my class, but it was written on his Christmas present from Santa) had experienced that day. My class excelled themselves! Their writing was phenomenal!

So, I thought to myself, lets use film again. Sure enough, after Christmas I did two weeks of creative writing on the planet Jakku from Star Wars, inspired by @ICT_MrP and his Star Wars writing. Again, my class excelled themselves. Their setting descriptions and story openers were excellent.

Then I started thinking about Literacy in Spring 2. Being the huge Marvel Comics Film fan (MCU – Marvel Cinematic Universe to those of us in the know). I am employing my knowledge of that and the fact that my class 99% enjoy the films as well to write persuasive texts along the lines of the up and coming Captain America: Civil War film. The film sees Captain America and Iron Man fall out over whether superheroes should be registered by the government or not in order to stop them doing more damage when stopping evil villains. Cap thinks they shouldn’t, Iron Man thinks they should; cue all kinds of trouble kicking off, superheroes picking sides and lots of loyalties being split. (This is the premise in the Civil War comics that the film is based upon, how true to the comics the film will be is anyone’s guess but the trailers look promising).

What better way to introduce persuasive arguments I thought than to use this premise with my year 4 and 5s. Consequently, I wrote this WAGOLL (What a good one looks like) using common features of a persuasive piece that I will use as a basis for the unit.

Along the way with this unit I have planned in activities where the children turn themselves into superheroes, recount how they became that hero, write a diary entry of someone that they saved and the experience they had. Before eventually getting their superhero alter ego to pick a side and write their own persuasive piece. Culminating in a superhero rally where each of the children will dress up as their hero and deliver their persuasive piece on a podium surrounded by other heroes who boo or cheer accordingly.

In conclusion, here is my first attempt at sharing a resource that I myself have made. I have based it on a strategy that I know works by tapping into my class’s interest and adapting it to fit a unit of work without shoehorning it in. It’s challenging to read but my first session with the class will be inspired by @MrsPTeach and her whole class reading sessions so the class get to grips with it and understand it. Also, if it is more challenging at the start the children’s final product should be excellent. If you like it, please use it, but let me know how I did so I can feel I am making a difference.

It just doesn’t add up sometimes…

UntitledWho remembers this…?

Yes, the old National Numeracy Strategy Medium Term Plans. Now, how easy the objectives are is a discussion for another day. My issue at the moment is the fact that this is for the Autumn term and tells you how many days to spend on each.

The current maths guidance looks like this…

(This is obviously just a snapshot)

Now my question is: When do I teach this? The beginning of the year? The end?

This isn’t a moan, just a question. I am completely behind the idea that schools can design their own way of doing things. I don’t want the government to come out and tell me that I have to do bar graphs for 3 days in December. I’d just like some guidance from someone for right here, right now. I have identified a number of gaps in my children’s knowledge which keep me ticking over trying to plug them. For example we spent all last week using hundred squares to learn tenths and hundredths which worked a charm. However, when it comes to Sunday and I am thinking “What shall I do in maths next week?” I find myself getting a bit worried that I might be doing the wrong thing; am I the only teacher in the country who has done shape this year?

The White Rose Maths Hub have released materials to inform planning and I strongly advise people to get these resources as they are proving invaluable and I cannot thank the people behind them enough! However, the plan for Spring tells me to do fractions, decimals and percentages all term. Had I not done (what I thought would be enough) work on FDP before Christmas I would definitely be following them. “Why don’t you do what the plan told you to do while you were doing FDP before Christmas then?” you ask. Well, the plan says to do addition and subtraction which I did in September.

So, just recap things? Sure, no problem (not sarcastic) but the children that “got it” last time will question why I’m doing things again. It will only benefit those who didn’t comprehend last time.

“OK, move those higher children onto the next level and teach the lower ability.” How? Most have proven mastery and you aren’t supposed to move onto the year above like we did in the days of the NNS.

“Introduce the new things then that you haven’t covered” That’s fine for now but what about June when I might have covered everything?

I think I just need to relax and think that as long as my children are making progress it doesn’t matter. I also, haven’t got round to the idea that I can be as creative as I want and focus on what my class need, basically, bask in the freedom that I have been given in my classroom. I just haven’t gotten used to it yet!

Note to self: Relax, it’s all a bit new and you’re doing fine!

Today, we celebrate our Independence Day


Since returning after Christmas I have tried to encourage my more able groups be a lot more independent. I keep reading about how the children should be the hardest working people in the room, not the teacher. As a result I thought I would give it a go.

My first query when I sat down to plan this was “What, in my head, would a class of independent learners, working harder than the teacher look like?” After some contemplating I came up with a number of guidelines but the one I had the main issue with was…

  • Children receive instructions for a source other than the teacher’s mouth allowing them to put their own spin on what they are being asked to do and not be influenced by the adult in the room.

How would I get the children doing what I wanted without me stood in front of them for 20 minutes! It’s all I know! I talk, children work. That’s the way it’s always been! “No” I thought to myself, must resist the temptation to talk at the start. Let them do it themselves.

As they walked into the room this morning I had written a decimal number to three places (0.451) on the whiteboard in a cloud. Coming off the cloud I picked out everything that the children in Year 4 and 5 might be asked to do. I halved it, doubled it, partitioned it, converted it to fractions amongst plenty of others. Basically, everything I could think of that they might need to know. Then, on my interactive whiteboard, I wrote instructions explaining what I wanted to see evidence of by break time.

Some were baffled, why isn’t the teacher talking to us? Some didn’t read the instructions, but eventually I cleared up any misconceptions without having to stop the class. So, off they went.

My TA and I couldn’t believe it. They were analysing the whiteboard, attempting to work out what it was I had done on each of the arms. Delighted, I circled the room asking more probing questions about the way children were working and what they were understanding.

By the end of the lesson all the high achievers had discussed what difference having a number other than 0 in the units column would make (although we will go over this again tomorrow) having also done their own three decimal place number in their book. The middle ability had done their own three decimal place number in their book but hadn’t quite got to changing the 0 in the units column. The lower, middle worked collaboratively with my TA and had understood about 75% of the arms through discussion with her. (They need more work on converting to fractions.)

All in all it was an enlightening experience that I will most definitely be attempting again. I encourage those who have never tried teaching like this to try it, even if you don’t like it, you’ve tried it!

I’m off to plan another lesson like it for tomorrow!

Writer’s Block


So, there we were, 15 of us sat round at our INSET day. Trying to work out whether the writing that our children had done before Christmas was at a level appropriate for their age. We were supposed to say whether that the writing in front of us was either below age expected, at or exceeding but none of us were entirely sure.

Why not? We decided we were in no position to say where we thought the writing should be placed because we had no basis for comparison. Yes, we had a top, middle and bottom from each year group but how are we supposed to know yet if it is what the children are supposed to be composing. We need to see the perfect example of an “At Year 4”. I vaguely remember a bank of example pieces under the old levelling system that one could download off the internet and see what a 4c piece of writing would look like. That helped!

This is the writing guidance given in the National Curriculum for children in Year 3&4.

I’d like to put my neck on the line and risk being corrected but to me it’s a bit vague. There are mentions of fronted adverbials (which, according to spell check, isn’t even a word) and using direct speech correctly amongst other things. Is this all we are supposed to assess our children on? Have my children got mastery in writing if they can tick all those boxes? How do I know I am assessing to the same standard as someone in another school?

One teacher in this meeting was discussing that they think most of their children already have mastery in writing for their year group. Where does that teacher now take their class? I for one don’t believe that all their children have mastery already. But, when it comes to their pupil progress meeting, would it not play out like this…

Head: So, in December you said all your children had mastery, where are they now?

Teacher: Well, they still have mastery.

Head: So, where is the progress?

Teacher: err? I moved them onto the year above curriculum.

Head: OK but Year 3 and Year 4 need to learn the same things, did you move your Year 3s onto Year 5 then?

Teacher: err?

This thought prompted me to think, no child can surely have mastery of the year group yet? All these new things to cover, no teacher is that good that all their Year 3 children are using fronted adverbials with no difficulty whatsoever at just over 1/3 into the year.

As a result I wondered, what do we as a teaching community currently use to assess writing? Is it just us who are struggling to find a basis for assessment? How do I know if my children are below where they should be or flying high above the rest?

Pie Corbett offered this as to what he thinks children in each year should know and I’d rather be using this as a kind of new form of APP grid than the National Curriculum guidance that doesn’t tell me much at all.

Reassure me that it isn’t just us that are unsure, tell me there are others out there as well…

The year to come…

make a difference phrase on blackboard

2015 was good.

2016 will be even better.

Reading other people’s new year resolutions has put a desire in me to first of all think of my own and second of all to scribe them down.

1. Make a difference to new people

OK, as teachers we all make a difference one way or another every single day, sometimes whether we mean to or not within our schools but more specifically within our own classrooms. I though, would now like to expand my influence to the online community. Over the last few weeks I have read so many inspiring articles by teachers and people in a similar position to me that I read them and think “I’d like to try that”. So I am going to give it a go and try to make a difference to other people out there in the world be it through writing, providing resources or giving advice.

2. Make a difference to myself

This desire to improve other people’s situations has only come about thanks to all those people I have read articles by over the last few weeks. They have had a huge influence on me and I aim to find more people and more writing that will help make me a better teacher and a better person. I really enjoy this new community I’ve found and I hope it continues to grow and helps me develop as a teacher and a person.

3. Make a difference at home

My daughter turned 1 the other week and the year I have spent with her has been phenomenal. I go out of my way to make time for her and not let my work suffer. I am on the way to finding the correct balance but it could still be better. There is never enough time I can spend with her and my wife, so I will be hunting out more of it.

4. Make a difference to the children in my class and the staff at school

I adore the children that I teach and already make a large difference to their lives (I hope so anyway!). For the coming year I hope that this continues and that the ideas I use and the lessons I do mean that they go home raving about both what they have learnt and the fact that they are in my class. It fills me with pride when a child from another class says they can’t wait to be in my class as they have seen all the exciting things we do.

Staff wise I hope to pass on my ideas and influence and to greet every single one of them with a smile and a “Good morning” I want to be the one that everyone feels they can go to when they need someone be it for help or just a chat

5. Enjoy it

All of these just won’t be worth doing if life isn’t fun. So I will try and make the most of every minute and quite simply, enjoy myself.