Saturday, 31 December 2016

Getting Started In Agency - Resource Ready

This year I plan to post about my journey in agency, how I get ready, how I hook the children in, what it looks like in the setting up phase and then the successes and challenges I have throughout the year.

I thought this may be useful for teachers starting out with this approach, however it is also very useful as professional reflection for myself.

Firstly as we begin the year, on this the first day of 2017 I ask this challenge question for myself and all teachers:

-Where are the children in what you are teaching?  Where is their voice, their say, their agency?  Where is the playfulness, the creativity, the imagination...the fun?  If you were a child taking part in this 'lesson' would YOU be engaged?

I intend to check myself with these questions each time I sit down to 'teach' belief is that the narrowing of the curriculum (which is an absolutely amazing curriculum if used as intended) has led to children being thrown out of the curriculum.  It is my absolute mission to bring children back to what we are teaching.  I see number agency as one way I can promote this.  It is one cog in my play based classroom, but it has become a very important cog.

If you would answer no to that last question, if what you are teaching wouldn't have engaged you as a child, stop what you are doing and do it differently...

I am lucky enough to teach in a school where the curriculum has become one lovely beautifully authentic entity.  We have done this through Mantle of the Expert and I encourage others to look at this approach too.

Getting Ready For Agency:

At the beginning of the year there is not a lot that can be done to get agency ready before the children come back.  The whole intention of number agency is that the children are the driving force in forming the it will evolve throughout the hook and building belief phase.

However there are some things you can do to prepare:

1) Tool boxes, this is one of the most costly items in agency.  I purchased mine from the Warehouse on special, however you probably can pick up these second hand if you have time to look.  Each mixed problem solving group had a toolbox, with each group having between 3-5 children in them.  This is a lot of toolboxes if you have a big class, but they are worth it.  The other spin off is children love using them at play based time, as long as they are kept tidy this is great.  The tool boxes with the small drawers at the top and then a big compartment at the bottom are the best.  Materials to go in them can also be gathered (number lines, counters, joining blocks, small abacus) basically anything children can manipulate and use to solve problems.
The agents have a lot of fun setting these up when you come to that point in 'setting up' usually I will have them delivered by 'head agent' when we are ready for them and let each group take charge of filling them up with what they need.

**Obviously you do not have to have toolboxes, and big containers would probably do the job absolutely fine.  Toolboxes are simply a gimmick and a prop that builds a picture of what I want agency to be in my classroom.

2)Clients - You can have these ready and laminated.  Feel free to make up your own, or to purchase here through TPT.

3) File box and lead agent handbook - The file box will be added to with the secret files as you come to them.  However the talk moves (which we use for problem solving) can be found here and put in the file if you want.  Obviously you can make your own as well.  I just purchased a file box from Warehouse Stationery and found a free to use clip art to make the top secret sign.  We use the agent handbook to store our planning, so games that will be used etc could be filed in here for future reference.  I do have some of the games I use here.  As you encounter each new villain it is important that a photo is taken of this villain and the agents help to write a short bio about this character.  I then place the photo on our agent wall and place the bio we have written together in the file box once it has been laminated.

4)Starting out in agency will look like 'hooking' the children in, so you might like to consider what kind of problems the children may encounter and solve before they realise that they must be 'experts' in solving maths related problems.  I usually have a mixture of problems and try to relate them to nursery rhymes or fairy tales.  E.G an urgent message from the little old lady, she has not got enough pebbles to make the gingerbread mans buttons....she has one, but needs five, how many more does she need?  Having these kind of problems ready is a good idea.

5) Checking in and checking out - I did describe some ways of doing this, but it is worth considering what will work best in your situation.  I have found that having buzzers on the wall works best labelled check in and check out.  This seems to be the fastest way of moving children in and out of agency.

6)Before even starting the 'hook' phase it is useful to start with drama.  I use a lot of drama in the first few weeks and it really helps to get children used to this way of working.  These are my six favourite ones.  I am sure you can find many more that suit your needs.  The biggest element you want to establish is a playful classroom, where every children feel confident and happy to participate and know that their offerings will be accepted in a positive manner.

7) Puppets - obviously I use puppets a lot.  You do not have to have your villains represented as puppets, when I first started my villains were just represented as a still image.   Find a way that you feel confident as working.  This year I would like my villains to take a larger role in other areas of our learning...e.g. having an actual world map with pins to represent where in the world they currently are, and having postcards written by the villains to us when they are away...this is just a germ of an idea, but the children love these characters so much I see a greater role for them in the classroom as motivators for reading and writing.  I purchase my puppets from trade me, amazon and mighty ape.

8) Of course if you have not purchased the book, you can do here  The book is also available in hard copy and you can email me on or contact me via my facebook page.  It is important that you read the book so you understand more fully the philosophy and ins and outs of this approach.

The first few weeks of setting up agency is an evolving process and children should be involved in as much as possible.  This phase is really important  and if the children have not worked a lot in this way before it is even more crucial to ensure agency is established well in the classroom.

***If you don't feel like your class is quite ready for problem solving and needs more development of number sense as a beginning, starting out as an agent academy is a good place to start.  This has all the facets of agency, other than the villains, clients and problems.  It allows time to build up number concepts without the problem solving side of things.  Think Monsters Inc - agent academy is where agents go to learn how to be number agents.  If this is what you choose to do I would only keep children in this academy for five to six weeks as the fun is in the clients and villains and agent academy can start to feel too much like normal 'maths.'

I have also been giving some thought to how this may look in an ILE.  We operate with two teachers in our agency.  Both teachers are lead agents and what largely happens is that we take turns being lead and being support.  The support teacher will support those in our class that struggle particularly at problem solving time.  In bigger ILE I would envision that during professional development each teacher could technically work in the same way and on the same PD, but perhaps breaking the bigger agency into three or four seperate 'classes'  just so that the group is smaller.  This could also work for games etc, playing the same game but in three or four different 'classes.'    Each lead agent (teacher) could have a 'division' of agency that they are responsible for and these divisions could be given code names.  This would still need to be mixed ability as this is a very important part of agency.
Problem solving time would be lead by one teacher and then supported by the two our three others just as it is in our smaller situation.  So whilst maybe being a little different management wise I think it is entirely possible that this will run just as smoothly in an ILE.  In fact it is probably a lovely fit.

We also like to take photos of what the 'agents' are up to during professional development and problem solving as a record of their lead agent could also take responsibility for this.

I am so excited to hear about all of the agencies setting up around NZ and am only to happy to help if needed.  Please free free to contact me.  Perhaps there is a way agencies can start communicating with each other?  Wow how authentic would that be!

We are in Whangarei and happy for others to visit at any stage.  :)

All the best getting ready for agency!

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Why I use puppets and why you should too!

I have always been a lover of puppets.  I remember going to the Winter show and seeing the puppets for sale, I loved them, they inspired such creativity....they now do the same in my play based classroom.

I'm no drama expert, but give me a puppet and suddenly I can hold a floor.  It is the same for children, often the most quiet of children will suddenly come alive and grow in confidence when talking through a puppet.  There is something about a puppet that gives you freedom to be who and what you want to be, to speak in a voice that is not your own and to speak with confidence.

Through puppets, children feel empowered to speak and behave on behalf of the character they are portraying. Children can pick up a puppet, begin speaking in a different voice, and quickly adopt the personality of the character they are portraying. (Often this personality is very different from his or her own). Children can also take part in performances in which the teacher acts as narrator, telling the story while pausing for actions and dialogue to be performed by the child’s puppet. The opportunities for fun and learning through puppets are unlimited.

In number agency children are only too happy to become the villain, they also speak with great confidence to the puppet.  Puppets are playful and unthreatening, they can be given any personality and will not judge :)

When I first started number agents the villains were simply represented by a static image.  Children responded well to this, but their reaction to the new puppet villains this year were beyond fantastic.  I must film them sometime, but when the villain comes out the children absolutely come alive, the puppet sparks their imagination and they are enthralled.  The puppets have given a totally new level of excitement and play to our number agency.

Given that the puppet villains have been so successful I am going to trial having puppet heroes next year.  Believe it or not the children will listen to and interact with a puppet more readily than the teacher.  I am hoping that setting up a puppet as a talk move expert and as a professor to work through strategies with us will add a deeper dimension to this side of agency.

The other beauty of the puppets is that if the villains are left out while children are playing children will quickly go into role as these puppets and so maths comes alive again through their play.  

Puppets don't just work well in agency, in fact I am a bit of a puppet addict and a range of puppets are readily available for the children to use during play based times.  It is often the newest children that spend the most time with them just storytelling and making up a game with the puppet.  Puppets are a great social aide, often sparking lovely friendships between children...the puppet is the go between.

I taught health this year through puppets and loved it.  I purchased the puppet family from Kmart and made up an empathy family...their was a lovely backstory to the family and it brought a lovely depth to our learning about friendship and feelings.  Those puppets often spend time out in the playground with our children.

The Gruffalo is my best friend at writing time....he helps to teach writing and shares time with me during writing workshops....the children respond beautifully to him.

I also have a spark of an idea for next year filming a journey of a child learning to write using the puppet, I'll them show these short videos to help explain the process of learning to write. The puppet will use a growth mindset to help him/her with his/her writing and will speak out loud about what they are doing and remembering as they learn to write.

Puppets have a huge place in my Play based classroom.  They are absolutely wonderful for bringing learning to life and for inspiring confidence and imagination in children and something I couldn't do without.  If you are not using puppets yet, maybe it is something you could add to your classroom?  I can promise you will not regret it!

This is not one of my puppets...but I so want him isn't he gorgeous!

Lol - The villains as caught on our agency security cameras...

The Role The Clients Play In Agency

For those that have used a Mantle of the Expert approach you will understand why adding an outside or external client works so well.

The clients role in agency is to alert us to some sort of havoc that is going on in their workplace.  This havoc will directly relate to a villain.  We must then work out who this villain is and when we do, we will have a chance to hear the problem.

This external client takes the job of setting a deadline or purpose away from the teacher and gives it to this imaginary client.  The problem that they have recognised in their workplace hooks us in to the need for problem solving and gives us a commission.  The villain then steps in to provide some tension to the story.  In fact it is very much like a good story, a beginning, middle and end and within that there is a problem, climax to the story and resolution.

While the client and villain may be completely imagined, they give a very authentic purpose to the maths for the children (agents.)  Not only does it give purpose to the problem solving, but it also gives a real purpose to the daily professional development that they take part in, because if we are to be leaders in our field and real experts, we must keep up to date with our mathematical knowledge, we must be a step ahead of those villains.

The clients are not puppets, they are still images.  They enter agency usually through a phone call or email, are represented by the still image, but given a voice by the teacher in role.  One of the clients is an agent just like us, but is on location, enabling them to keep abreast of any havoc they may see the villains getting up to...this character in particular is good for using to introduce strand related problems.

I have just put a pack together of my clients.  It can be found in my TPT store here.

The of our clients in agency.  He's always having problems sorting his paint orders or tracking down his paint cans... :)

Friday, 25 November 2016

Play Based Learning - Why do it? How does Number Agents fit?

This year has been a major year of discovery in me.  Play based learning has completely changed the way I think about learning and new entrants.  Learning has become flexible, individualised, fluid and firmly student driven.  Devices as something to consume have disappeared, they are only used if used to share or transform our learning.  I feel myself more relaxed, less burdened by a timetable and less bothered by the mess that play based brings.

Number agents was an approach that I developed before play based learning, however it has strong correlations and similarities.  Number agents is an imaginative and playful approach that places the child in role, there is negotiation and defining of roles just as the children would do themselves.   The teacher is also in role, is an equal in the play and while the roles are strongly defined, they are also negotiated within the play.  Basically when children step back into agency, they step back into the play and continue the narrative, every day they build on this narrative and create a story around the play.

This is why I love Mantle of the Expert.  It is a playful approach, that allows children to define and negotiate roles.  It elevates them to expert and takes away any perceived barriers of being a child.

And so these approaches have come together to form something I am very proud of in my classroom...we can teach maths without stepping out of the play, but actually stepping further into the play, into our own little narrative, and the results have been real.  Children are confident, elevated to experts they feel capable of solving the problems that the 'villains' present us with.  This playful approach feeds into a world that children love, where goodies defeat baddies.  The children who experience most success are those who are often disengaged in the normal way of 'teaching' maths, dare I say it, they are usually our low level boys.  Those children who love storytelling are engaged in this process...everyday our story has a beginning, middle and end.  In essence each day of agency could be a different chapter in a story book, with the children taking the role as the main characters.  I see Number Agents has a real potential for transforming maths for all of our children.  Maths becomes 'real' for them in this 'imagined' world.

Obviously, as in any school our timetable often gets thrown out the window...however in a perfect world with no interruptions where we can do what we want each day...this is what our day looks like and how number agents fits.

The fluid nature of play, means there is a lot of just in time teaching that goes on...learning is authentic and often is guided by the children.  For example the children found a huhu moth the other day.  They were intrigued and so much learning came out of it, we ended up learning about insects, drawing the moth...this spun off into learning about butterflies, observing our butterfly garden, drawing life cycles and because insects have six legs, learning all about the number six and posing problems around this.  Wow, heaps of learning.  This was all shared on our blog so children can go home and share all of the wonderful authentic learning they have been part of.

Play based learning...why do it?  Put simply, because this is how children learn best and while it may not look it on the timetable, every day is different, all learning is valued, and children become equals in the learning process.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Agent Eyes

I can't say enough about how much using visual images has strengthened agency this year.  The questioning skills and problem posing skills of children have increased hugely.  They are brilliant for helping children to see maths in the world around them.

I love what this has added to my programme so much I have put a set of 23 photos together that I think will work beautifully for anyone trying my approach.

I have added it to my TPT store here.

What questions can you pose from this picture for further investigation?

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Maths games

I have put together a pack of my favourite maths games.  These all use everyday classroom materials and are based on strengthening number sense.

I have them for sale in my TPT store and they can be found here.

This is an example of one of the games...all based on cool games that I have modified and used over time.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Maths/Drama Games

A lot of the games I use through agency come out of my head and just grow and morph and change.  If you are after some ideas I have put together a very small pack of games here.

Mathex in agency

My approach to mathex in number agency has been inspired by a senior version I used to use with older children.
Usually as the agents get more independent and better at working in multi-level group I will add the challenge of mathex.
This approach is usually introduced by the brain drainer (who as yet does not have a puppet form...just me in role as yet)  I am on the search for a brain drainer - or perhaps a riddler to take on this role.
Mathex is quick and once agents get used to the approach it flows beautifully.  I design the sheets to complement the problems the agents have encountered during the week.  It is great for some just in time teaching as you see the common gaps each group has.
This approach is also brilliant for developing team work, growth mindset and comprehension.
I have been working on creating a set to go along with my number agent book.  At this time of the year it can be incredibly hard, however have designed a starter set with two mathex sheets to give you an idea.  I have uploaded it to teachers pay teachers here.

Have a go at this approach, great for this time of year and a lot of fun!

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Maths Eyes - A Fabulous Addition To Agency

During Maths PLD this year we came across an approach called maths eyes.  The website can be found here

I am a massive fan of Jo Boaler and love her work.  So this idea of maths eyes linked in beautifully with the research I had done.

I absolutely can not take credit for this idea, but it has had lovely spin off effects for agency.

This year I have used maths eyes separately from agency, just as quick activity that can help to develop children's visual problem solving.  I have been giving some thought to how it will work in agency, but did not want to implement it till I had a full handle on how it could work.

Quotes from Jo Boaler's work on visual maths I love....
Visual mathematics is an important part of mathematics for its own sake and new brain research tells us that visual mathematics even helps students learn numerical mathematics. -

Mathematics is a subject that allows for precise thinking, but when that precise thinking is combined with creativity, openness, visualization, and flexibility, the mathematics comes alive

When we don’t ask students to think visually, we miss an incredible opportunity to increase students’ understanding and to enable important brain crossing.

whole article here.

After playing around with maths eyes this year, I have some initial ideas of how it will fit with agency and think I have a character to specialise in this.  I am unsure of his name yet, but I think this wizard fits well with the concept.  He will be used at the beginning of agency during our warm up.  Basically maths eyes can either require agents to solve a problem using the picture, or my favourite way to use it is for agents to pose their own questions.  It is a great way to integrate strands.

I know as a staff we have been really enthusiastic about maths eyes.  At a junior level it is pretty basic, but once you start looking for it you see it everywhere.  It is also great for agents to go and take photos to capture their own images for maths eyes.

Some examples of maths eyes I have used this year:
Basically these questions are generated by the children themselves....there are far more challenging ways you can do this, but starting simple gives them a good idea of the process.

(youtube is great as you can pause a number rhyme and take a screen shot)

How many pieces of fruit in the photo?  What groupings
can you see?  What number stories can you pose for another

Can you find a pattern?  Can you make your own pattern?

Friday, 4 November 2016

talk moves and our newest member

This is cowgirl calculation, I am excited for her to arrive from Amazon as I have big plans for her.  Rather than be a villain this puppet is destined to be a professor.  She will help us to nut out solutions to problems and help us to understand strategies by reinforcing the talk moves.  I find the puppets are such a great hook for children and really engages them in the process.  
The talk moves image below is not mine, just popping it there for anyone not quite up with what the talk moves are.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Where it all began...and where am I up to

Number agents was a germ of an idea that grew in my head after a Mantle of the Expert summer school in 2014.

I have always loved teaching maths, but had the usual issues of those children who felt they couldn't do it, found it hard and became disengaged.

The emphasis on imagination, play, creativity and drama in Mantle of the Expert really resonated with me, and I started thinking about its possibilities in maths.

I had a go in 2014 and found that children immediately responded.  It was a little clunky as anything is when you start out, but it worked and worked well.

During 2015 we worked hard on our problem solving approach to maths, this fitted beautifully with number agents as children as agents are charged with solving problems to defeat the villains.

This year in 2016 I took the props and villains one step further and created files, and established character descriptions of specific villains that related to a mathematical operation.  These have added to the 'drama' and 'play' of Number Agents and children have lapped it up.

The results so far:
1)children speak openly of their love of maths, in fact it is their favourite area of learning.
2)awareness of mathematical language and thinking is greater.
3)children are better problem solvers, framed as experts they have no fear of getting it wrong.
4)children are hooked in by the authentic nature of the imagined world, their is a purpose to what they are doing, they are working for clients that need their help.
5)After one full year at school most of our children leave are at stage 3 or 4 in maths.