Monday, 30 January 2017

Visual Maths + Loose Parts - Go Together Like Bert and Ernie :)

The beauty of Number Agents...
"Mathematics is a subject that allows for precise thinking, but when that precise thinking is combined with creativity, openness, visualisation, and flexibility, the mathematics comes alive." - Jo Boaler

The beginnings of our loose parts area....

During 2015/2016 our staff did a lot of finding out about maths, we had not engaged in maths PLD for a while and it certainly was an eye opener for us.  I am lucky I work with a reflective, innovative and open staff, as many of the ideas really challenged what we were doing at the time.

  Visual maths wasn't an area I had ever given much particular thought to, but the value of it quickly slotted into place in my thinking.  Obviously as junior teachers we use a lot of materials and encourage visual strategies.  However I was surprised to hear our maths facilitator talk about the imaging stage, and how some children would never get there, and that was ok, just to move them on.  As a learner myself I know that I never really fact my fingers are my friends.  I am not sure who else remembers hiding fingers under the table or behind their back to work out problems....because we were never allowed to use them.  I remember looking at those 100's 10's and 1's blocks we were given to help us work on place value and not having a clue what they meant.  I don't remember drawing pictures and I don't remember using any other materials.  In fact I don't really have any memory of directing any of my learning, or creating anything unique that wasn't teacher prescribed.

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

Could this be why I never made solid connections in maths until I allowed myself to again use visual strategies that worked for me as an adult?

It was a total lightbulb moment for me to hear that fingers are awesome and materials are amazing.  Not something to work away from, but something to continue using  as and when needed.  Now I am not saying here that children do not need basic facts...of course they do, and I think this is an argument that gets thrown in our faces all too often...moving towards materials, is moving away from basic facts.  In fact that couldn't be even close to the reality, but 'knowing' and 'understanding enough to use' are two very different things.  I will however argue that speed should never, ever be brought into the picture, some of our best mathematicians are slow and deliberate.  

Obviously Number Agents is based around materials and encouraging the active use of these, along with drawing or patterning to problem solve.  It is always awesome to hear that this is now something as a school we can and should continue encouraging.

Children must be given time to experiment with materials, to see the beautiful nature of maths in the world around them, to interact with it, to generate their own thinking, to make their own connections in this way.  This allows them to make solid connections.

"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." Jo Boaler

And then, just like dominoes falling into place I could clearly see why play-based learning and particularly the use of loose parts allows children to do this.  Loose parts provide incredibly authentic opportunities to create patterns, to interact with patterns, to discuss patterns and make groupings.  This solid base then allows children in Number Agency to really interact with Agent eyes, to pose problems for investigation and to use materials to solve the problems posed by the villains.  Play-based learning with an emphasis on loose parts is a huge part of why Number Agents works so well. 

"In a ground breaking new study Joonkoo Park & Elizabeth Brannon (2013), found that the most powerful learning occurs when we use different areas of the brain. When students work with symbols, such as numbers, they are using a different area of the brain than when they work with visual and spatial information, such as an array of dots. The researchers found that mathematics learning and performance was optimized when the two areas of the brain were communicating (Park & Brannon, 2013). "

"Visual mathematics also facilitates higher-level thinking, enables communication and helps people see the creativity in mathematics." 

Extracts have been taken from Jo Boaler's work on mathematical mindsets.  Full article can be found here.

"We owe it to our children to be innovative in our approaches to mathematics, to ensure they see what a beautiful area of learning mathematics is.  Because mathematics is so much more than remembered facts."  - Agent 81
Some lovely loose parts :)

Further reading here.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Our Number Agent Wall

Once we kick into agency for real, we will create a number agency wall.  This will be a place to locate villains, store tool boxes, check in and check out, and display our company profile and any awards we have won.

How you set up your Agency wall is up to you and the children.  Our wall appears over time, meaning on day one it will look like this:

Basically just a large question mark on an open space of wall.  In itself this is a hook, to get children wondering and imagining what will this wall be?

I know some people go back to school next week, so thought I better post this, so you too can be prepared with your Agency wall.

Children - How can they really be experts?

I often get asked this question, how an earth can children be 'experts' in number agency, when really they are just starting out as learners in this maths business.  I think this article by Tim Taylor answers those questions really well.

Casting children as experts in the 'play' does not mean that they are 'expert' they are simply cast in this role.  Being cast in this role allows them to 'play' at being responsible, meeting deadlines, solving allows them to explore tensions and bring about resolution that no child would ever experience in their day to day life.  It takes away the role of teacher and child, and very much casts you alongside each other as 'equals' in the play.  This I believe is the real power of Mantle of the Expert....and in turn Number Agents.


This is what I think Number Agents and Learning Through Play does for our learners.  Let's all be the teacher they remember for the right reasons :)

Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Power Of Play

I have written a short book about my journey into play based and the ingredients that I have found make this programme run smoothly.  It is only 30 pages, but answers many of the questions that I have been asked about play-based learning.  It will give you an idea how play-based learning can work in a practical sense and hopefully help you to get started on your journey.

Click here to purchase from TPT store.

Friday, 20 January 2017

New Resource

I have developed six word problems that could be used in Stage 2 of setting up agency...the hooking in phase.

It can be found here.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Getting Agency Ready - Post Two

If you have not purchased my book and would like to know more please visit here for a PDF or email me on for a hard copy version.  There is a lot more in the book to provide you with detail of this process that I will not go into with these blog posts.

I have posted a few of these ideas in my first getting ready post, but thought I revisit the specifics of the first 5-6 weeks to help you with the direction your agency may take and how it will come into being.

Step One - Right, thinking about the first two-three weeks back at school.  Before any agency is opened children need to be confident and comfortable expressing themselves and an environment of playfulness, creativity and acceptance needs to be built.  The best way I have found to do this is through simple drama games.  I have put several of my go-to games in this resource.

My plan when going back is to set up a positive classroom environment with children happy to take risks using these games.  I always start with the space game.  I enjoy this game particularly because it is very non-threatening.  From the space game I build to the trading game and move on from there.

Within the first two-three weeks (or even four if the class takes longer) I will use a variety of these drama games as brain breaks daily.  All of mathematics initially will come out of self-directed play based and we will take our cues from children here.

As I begin to feel that a culture of acceptance and confidence in drama has been set up I will move on to more specific agency tasks.

Step Two - THE HOOK - From here I will start to send in some maths challenges...these are likely to come from nursery rhyme/fairy tale characters and I am working on creating a resource of these at the moment.  They will come from a variety of mathematical areas.  The idea of these challenges are that they are short, fun, and achievable...they should invoke some talk and discussion and ideally they should be done in mixed groups so that children become accustomed to working together.

Step Three - BUILDING BELIEF - By week 4-5 we should be up to building belief.  At this stage I intend to introduce head agent.  He/She will come in via voki.  Drawing our attention to the fact that they have had many good reports about our mathematical ability and he would like us to set up an agency so that we can defeat mathematical villains that are lurking around the world causing havoc.  He will ask us to set up a company building and we will do this using our imaginations and drawing a space that we would love to work in.  This can be as big, or small as you like.  Depending on the age and ability of your children, head agent could even give them a sample of furniture they can order and price values of each thing along with a budget....this would be fun if they are able to do this.

....This should take us to week 5 or 6 and we will be ready to learn how to go in and out of agency and actually start work in agency.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Ingredients of my Play Based Classroom

My teacher inquiry last year was around PBL and within that I wanted to think about the crucial ingredients that made my programme work.  I think that often teachers think (as I did) that creating a play based environment means throwing the baby out with the bath water.  In fact this couldn't be further from the truth...I am teaching much smarter than I ever have and my PBL environment still includes everything it always did....children are not missing anything, in fact I see that they are gaining so much!

I have created a mind map here, not sure how it will come up, but you should be able to zoom

This is just my thinking and there could be a lot more that I have missed, but I am going to use it as a starting point for my planning this year.

A lot of people as about planning...the reality is I do have a direction and there is a method in the madness, but to be honest my planning is very skeleton and most of the important planning happens day to day and moment to moment.  I would love schools to start trusting teachers and their ability to notice and adjust...not to have to document each little plan and to have to prove what they are doing and that it is working.

My wish is that the happiness and success of children on an individual level would hold more weight than the constant and life sapping assessments that usually only prove what you already knew.

I am in an incredibly lucky position...being Principal with a fabulous BOT I have the opportunity to provide this trust...I just wish more teachers were in this position.

I have put together a short book based on these ingredients which can be purchased here for $8.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

How To Purchase

Number Agents is an approach to teaching maths that I developed out of the Mantle of the Expert Approach.  In essence Number Agents is an imagined company that work to defeat villains on behalf of clients.  To defeat the villains they must solve math related problems.  Number agents is an approach for juniors (year 1-3) however I believe with a little modification the concept would work brilliantly for senior children.  Number Agents combines drama, play based learning and problem solving to engage, motivate and excite learners.  This imagined world fits with how children love to learn and gives an authenticity and purpose to maths.  It is also a huge amount of fun!

You can order a hard copy of the book (spiral bound with the back of each page blank for your own notes) for $20 and $6.50 postage using this form.  Payment details are on this form and I will be in touch with you via email as quickly as I can after getting your order.  Hard copy books are only available to orders within New Zealand.

Alternatively you can email me directly and I will give you payment details.

If you would like a PDF copy of the book, the easiest way to do this is to visit my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.  This is very much a store in development and I am still working on developing and refining resources.    This PDF version can be accessed here.

Maths Warm Ups - My Thoughts

In Agency maths warm ups are an important part of what we do.  They are a great way to reinforce important elements of number sense and strand and explore various concepts in different ways.  In agency maths warm ups usually take the form of games, songs are visual problems such as agent eyes.

As warm ups traditionally (as the name suggests) happen at the beginning of the session they are a great way to hook children in, engage them, excite them and motivate them.

I am always really sad to see this time used for monotonous recall of facts or speed tests.  I'm not sure about you, but if at the beginning of each maths session I had to recall with speed lists of basic facts I wouldn't be excited, engaged or is highly likely I would be stressed and not in a great state for learning.  In fact I still have memories of these lovely warm ups that I dreaded as a learner...they did little to warm me up, and a lot to turn me off maths.

It is my belief we need to be very careful about the message we give children about maths.  Warm ups are a great opportunity to show children that maths is everywhere, it is not just numbers to mindlessly add up, subtract, multiply or divide...but it is about patterns, problems, questions and wonderings, it has real world purpose.  Warm ups are short, but very important, they can either open a child up to learning that day, or they can completely stress them out and shut them down.

Our most reluctant/struggling mathematicians will often pose the question "where will I use this, what is the point?"  I know I hated maths and this was one of my main arguments for completely shutting my mind off to an adult, with a new understanding of maths and the part it plays in our world I am constantly seeing how it is used, its purpose and why everyone needs to open their mind to this fabulous part of learning.

I now see maths everywhere around me:
*At the orthodontist while he was measuring the angles of my son's teeth on an x-ray working out how much movement he needed....incredible
*Watching my daughter get her eyebrows done, watching the beautician line everything up just right.
*Watching the caretaker as they working out how much mulch they will need to cover a certain area
*Looking at the calculations spray painted on roads just before maintenance happens.
----and so on and so on, maths is everywhere!

...I want this for our children (my agents and your agents) I want them to understand what maths actually is and it is not a narrow line of basic facts on a page.  I am certainly not undermining the importance of number knowledge, but I am saying there are ways we can teach this without alienating many children from mathematics forever.

Visual maths was a real lightbulb moment for me last year...yep it has probably been around for years, but it was quite new for me.  This along with the work of Jo Boaler really helped me to see maths in a different way.  I now use 'agent eye' images in most agency sessions and really want to keep a record of all the problems agents pose from these images.  I then had another lightbulb moment and wondered...what if we all did that, what if I opened up a google doc with an image for the week and each agency spent some time posing mathematical questions around this same this would be an awesome resource, a great way of making agencies aware of each other and what amazing problems we would then have for later exploration.

I'd love for all those establishing their own agencies this year to join fact I'd love to work out ways of us sharing with each other, ways of making each number agency aware that there are lots of divisions around New Zealand, what a super way to make connections that would be.

I have linked the first visual image I was thinking of using below.  We don't go back till the seventh, and it is likely our agency wont be up and running till week 3 or 4, but once we are I'd love to start sharing weekly links with different images.

As it is a google doc, questions/problems that the agents come up with can just be written underneath the image.

So my challenge to you is are your math warm ups exciting and engaging learners?

Agent Eyes Number One

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

So Where Am I Up To And Where To This Year With PBL?

This is a basic timetable of what our play based day looks like.  Our days become quite fluid and often we do go off on tangents if children are interested in something in particular.

I see play in two forms in our classroom, self-directed by children where they self-select what they would want to do and teacher led play when we are working through Mantle of the Expert and Number Agency.  I call it teacher led because within the process of mantle and number agency we are very much a part of the play, the setting is negotiated and we are very much an equal player.

Children self-direct their play and the most popular things for them to do seem to be:

Creative time, cutting,gluing, painting
doh and kinetic sand
Building with blocks and mobilo (they usually take these outside)
Sheets and loose parts, building huts etc.
Daily 6
Puppets - making up stories etc
Pretending to be number agents and play the games we do in company.
Use counters, popsicle sticks etc to make patterns
Using our outside chalkboard
Playing shops on our deck
Making picture books (A4 paper halved and stapled together)
*Water Play
*Chalk in the concrete
*Bush play (if we are all outside)
*Biking and scootering
*Kicking and throwing balls with a partner, making up their own games.
*Cardboard boxes when we have them.

The more open ended the items they have in the classroom, the more likely they are to take part in truly imagined play, which is so amazing to watch.

Daily Six plays a big part in our class and I want this to continue in 2017.  Basically this is daily five, with one added in by our children (writing with someone)  At the beginning of the year we take the time to carefully teach each part of this...
*Read to self
*Read to someone
*Work on writing (in our individual journals, actually starts out as drawing pictures.)
*Word work (magna doodles, paper and felts, writing on windows, on whiteboards, using a clipboard and a pencil)
*Listen to reading
*Write with someone (on an A3 piece of paper, drawing and writing together)

Once children have these cemented they are often spotted working on these during play based time.

This year I really want to work hard on my understanding of the different types of play.  I want to organise my classroom space into 'collections' making areas of play with collections of common things in them to encourage children into different types of play and to play with items they may not commonly play with.  As a school we are also aiming to work further on our outside spaces and hopefully in Term One we will have an outside kitchen.

I have discovered that there is absolutely no need for expensive play equipment and actually the more open the items included in your classroom, they more open the play will be and the more children will engage in the process of play.  So this year my aim is to get rid of everything that they just don't use.  I also want to take a leaf out of ECE's book and eat together at lunchtime, rather than sitting with the rest of the school.  I see this time has real potential for sharing and learning.

Teacher-led play, we are very much part of the play.

The blank books, children love them.

Working on writing

We love using our bike track during play based time if we are outside

We are lucky to have a small native bush area that they children love

Lots of negotiation of play goes on :)

If we are interested in something we just go with he is creating a life cycle for a butterfly as we had spent the morning in our lovely butterfly garden and were lucky enough to see a caterpillar make its way into chrysalis.

Love being creative at play based time

word work on the windows and reading to someone at the same time :)

Fun making patterns and pictures with popsicle sticks

Outside with the chalk

Water play

Hunting for dinosaurs with our mobilo creations

Working on writing on our brilliant outside car

Reading to someone.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Sharing How Far I have Come With Play Based Learning

2016 was a massive year professionally for me and I thought it may be useful to some if I shared my professional blog posts from my appraisal journal.  These obviously are not all of them, but they are the ones that centred around play based.  The are in order, and just reading them through it becomes obvious just how far I have come.  How does number agents fit into this....beautifully, seamlessly, I love it!

I can not wait to see what journey 2017 will take me on!

Post 1
It was fabulous to be able to really talk about my where my journey with PBL has taken me so far with particular focus on writing.

 Lets think about my assumptions prior to this journey:

1. PBL is just children choosing, it has little to do with learning and is lazy teaching.  Foundation learning and developmental discovery time has a place for new entrants, but only for a certain time period each week, or in a special group run by Shelley.
2. Writing needs to be modelled daily, children need to write in books, they need to be taught to draw a picture first, we all write about the same thing and the same motivation.  Children write in silence and at a specific time of the day.
3. The day is separated into times ...reading...writing...maths...and other areas.
4.  Children need strong direction when working on tasks that will extend their learning.
5. Play does not equal learning.  Yes imaginative fun directed learning...not to free play...that is for early childhood, once children are at school they need greater structure.
6. PBL is noisey, behaviour is a problem.

If you had told me that the concepts of PBL and growth mindset would become an absolute passion for me in such a short time, I probably would have believed the growth mindset facet...but play based, really....nah early childhood just need to be doing their job better.

Where am I now...what have I found?

Through the implementation of PBL I have also explored a lot of student agency and been able to see how important choice is in learning.

Writing no longer happens in a slot.  Yes I do run 'clinics' but no, children may not write afterwards and that is ok.  Play based learning has become a huge part of our morning.  Daily six has given children the opportunity to see ways they can extend their learning.  During play based time we will pull our reading children out and do our testing.  We can also use this time to rove around and initiate some talk about what children are doing. 
Writing happens a lot, but it is more based on an invitation to write...boys choose to write...they love writing from pictures, but these are pictures they select.  Children hardly ever write in their books.  They write in their blank journals or on paper or with clipboards.  They no longer get put off by not being able to sit their letters between the lines.  They write their own little books, they write about their play, they write about quiver, they write together, they talk about their writing...but the most important thing, I don't tell them what to write.  They don't have to write, but they do....some spend a huge amount of their day writing.  The less I control...the more they show me what they are capable of.  
They are more independent, they love having choice...and to my shock horror, they are much better writers...!  Wow how does that shatter my assumptions...I don't need to be driving writing...they can do it!

-Don't get me wrong...we still spend 15-20min each day teaching phonics :)

Play based learning has been incredibly successful so far.  It has certainly shattered  my assumptions.  Children love the freedom of being able to work on something till completion, even if this means they work on the same thing for a whole week.  They love revisiting learning through their play...they often explore strand maths concepts that we have been learning.  The talk is huge, they are more socially aware and best of all I think I know them all better.  

Play based learning has prompted me to explore choice.  Not just you can do this...or that...but actually what do you want to do, how do you want to respond...genuine choice.  

As for lazy...I've never worked harder!  I go home exhausted, the classroom is busy, a hive of activity, I am having to think on my feet far more often and respond to the need at that moment....the reflective process has been huge.

So what next...what are my next steps:

1) Invitation to play...I want to explore this concept more and see how I can build areas in and outside of the class.
2)How can play based learning or the concepts behind it be used further up the school and in other classes?
3)How can I now build more deliberate clinics in to my writing programme based on the various levels in my class.
4)I want to grow the play areas outside of Room 1.

Post Two

Daily six was the start of our journey into exploring choice.  This has played an integral role in children knowing the options they have to extend on their own learning.  The challenge for us is that children come in in dribs and drabs throughout the year and we have to go back over things again and again...I guess this is a good way of reinforcing, however it does get a bit monotonous for us.

The addition of a strong play-based programme this year has seemed to make starting school a little more seamless.  Children seem to be absorbed quite naturally into the morning as I guess it seems more familiar to them.

When I started out I had a hunch that taking the pressure of standard writing sessions away would be beneficial to boys and recently this has become really apparent.

A is a typical boy that may start in any new entrant class.   He has limited understandings of alphabet and numbers, but a keen wish to play and experiment.  A sees writing as part of play-based learning and because of this chooses to write as part of this process.  As A does not go to Kapa Haka, he gets to choose what he does for half an hour....he chose to write...I was so impressed.  In fact I think he wrote 4 or 5 different pieces today.  A has lovely oral language so I am quietly confident he will find writing development a natural process.

Those boys like R who still do not have great oral language do not naturally choose to write, but I am hoping with continued exposure they will start to self-select writing as an activity they would like to do.

And as for the acceleration of those natural they continue to blow me away.  They write, write, then write again.   The natural writers don't really need me at all!

So what does this mean:

Well as I have already discovered, take away the pressure, set up an environment of exposure and implement short to the point 'clinic' based learning, with no requirement to fit into a 'mould' and you reap rewards.

Now to continue building the oral language of the other children who are not yet using their language to effectively convey a message.

Post 3
I have not posted for a while, but I have been thinking a lot about this topic.  I had a little lightbulb moment, which probably seems absolutely obvious to others, but was something that I had not really thought about.  I posted a photo of our lovely 'car' on the learning through play face book page.  The children happened to be using the car for writing time.  One comment on the post was along the lines of..."wow those children are going to love writing as research shows the importance of emotional connection to learning..."

The lightbulb came on and the penny dropped.  We talk all the time around successful strategies and situations for learning, but when I started ticking off all of the things that have worked so well for me this year, emotional connection was something they all had in common.

So obvious, and yet so powerful.  The transition to a more fluid, play based classroom has allowed children to form a strong emotional connection to their learning.  Therefore as a result their writing has improved because of this.  They are authentically connected to what they have been doing, therefore writing is more natural for them.  We are formally teaching writing a lot less (once a week) but children are writing more and the teaching is happening when and as it is needed for each child.  They can all talk about what they are working on and what they need to do next.  For example L is working on sounding arrows and dominant sounds, while A and Z are working on adding punctuation.  While R is writing her own little Non-Fiction books.

In the past when I have taught writing through motivation I have used a motivation like a cameo that I am connected to, that I loved, and I presumed they would connect to it to.  I was driving this connection and it simply didn't work.  Don't get me wrong, cameos are superb for clinics, for exposing children to vocab, for giving children an idea of how writing can work.  For some cameos were enough of a motivation to encourage them to write.  However add the emotional connection and the cameo together and wowsers it will be a totally different story.

For the motivation to work effectively this authentic connection needs to be encouraged.  So my inclination would be to use experiences and a cameo that link together if using a cameo as a motivation.

Experience based writing works too, but only if the children really brought into the experience, if they emotionally connected the writing will be that much better.  That is why play works so well, because they are driving the experience.  We can check in with them at any time...and this time is usually while they are emotionally engaged in what they are doing so they are ready and primed to build on our feedback.

Children can have an emotional connection to writing too, by simply choosing where they write...that element of choice (I guess student agency) seems to switch a button and connect them to the process.

I'd love to build places around the school that all children could use for reading and writing outside of the classroom...the ultimate MLE and along the lines of a nature school.

Lightbulb moment - play based and Number Agents works so well because of the strong emotional connection (well one of the many reasons anyway.)

Emotional connection can be made in so many ways.  
When thinking about why Number Agency and Mantle of the Expert are so effective I think the single most important thing is emotional connection.  Elevated to expert with many moral tensions children are innately linked into the story, they are living their learning.  This link makes the learning strong.  I constantly say how amazed I am by how much the children remember while working in Mantle...that's the emotional connection coming through strongly.  This is why integrating curriculum areas as much as possible through Mantle works so well.

It also amazes me how deeply children remember the strategies and connect so strongly with the Villains.  The want desperately to defeat them because of the connection that have to being 'agents' because they need to defeat them, the maths becomes authentic...:)

The worrying thing is that emotional connection can possibly go the other way...any negative connections to specific learning such as reading can lead to a real brick wall.  This is where growth mindset comes in strongly.

I think for us as teachers it means we always need to be conscious of helping children form an emotional connection to what they are learning.  To be conscious of the activities we are providing and why, if these activities are making a connection for children, or if they are just doing it because they feel they need to and we want them to.

 To me this means challenging myself as a teacher and ensuring that my default is always to put student agency and choice at the centre of everything I do.  Challenging myself to not just put activities in front of them realise that activities will probably be completed and they will look engaged, but they are unlikely to remember the learning.  

Emotional connections are the key to getting them started with learning earlier and ultimately we are that emotional connection.  Relationships with children help us to build and foster that emotional connection.  

Post 4

I am so much more focussed on the power of play and the link between that and brain and vocab development.  The way I set up my class for the days learning journey has completely changed.  Maths eyes also plays a huge roll in that.  I have come to realise the power of visual strategies and presenting open ended problems.  Picture books are awesome for this and so far my maths has come out of titles like 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' and 'Ten Apples on Top.'  They are a wonderful warm up in Agency.

I am so very aware now of the power of conversation and the way I can help children to make connections in their learning.  I am also really aware of the dispositions I need to be actively encouraging if we are to see learners have success later in their schooling.  Growth mindset plays a huge roll in this, along with the power of kindness and empathy.

I have come to accept that I can not force a brain that is not ready...I can however provide invitations to learn...and to develop the connections to be ready.

L comes to mind here.  He entered school not ready.  For L the connections were not quite there.  Classified early on as a struggler, L would probably still be battling away at red level in reading and stage one in maths.  In a play based, growth mindset inspired, vocab rich environment L has flourished.  The programme put in place has enabled him to build strong connections and to be ready to learn.  The front loading of the play based learning, along with daily 6 has meant that now L is ready, he has a head start...instead of battling away to catch up, he is soaring ahead of previous expectations....yes we can all be smart!  However it is us, as much as the children that need to believe that, we can accelerate, but sometimes we just need to be satisfied in laying the foundations, establishing the connections and lighting the fire!

Post 5

So all of these developments this year that are based around play based learning have had positive achievement benefits for all children.  The developments have worked particularly well for boys and Maori children.

But why...

I have been doing a bit of reading here. Based on the work of Vygotsky

Some points that resonate with me:
"Imaginative play is a crucial component of a child's normal development.  What may seem to be a simple and uncomplicated way for children to entertain themselves is actually a complex process that affects all aspects of a child's life.  Play shapes how children make sense of their worlds, how they learn thinking skills, and how they acquire language. 

"Children have dialogues with themselves when they engage in imaginative play.  Role-playing means creating a story and giving a voice to the different characters in the story.  When children imitate others, they are developing a vocabulary that allows them to name and navigate the world around them.  Less verbal children may talk more during imaginative play than in other settings. "

-This would explain why it has had such positive impacts for children like Dylan, Cypress and Honor...they are able to participate and engage on a whole different level, in turn developing their language acquisition.

"Children at play are making sense of the world through a process of "inner speech" - that is, they are often talking out loud to themselves.  As adults, we lose this capacity because it is not socially sanctioned. "

The beauty of self-talk to process things.  This very much impacts on our just in time teaching.

"Imaginative play is essential to cognitive development, but it is becoming endangered by our busy lives.  Children who do not engage in imaginative play because their time is overly structured or spent watching television or other forms of media are not developing the language and reasoning skills that are so critical to early childhood development."

This gives weight our belief that play based programmes such as number agency and mantle are really tapping into this power of the imagined.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Must have materials and authentic contexts!

I am a big big believer in the importance of materials when teaching all levels.  I don't know about you, but I have always used my fingers, even today I will default to using my fingers if unsure of an answer - but boy oh boy I feel guilty every time I do it as if it should be forbidden and I am breaking some unwritten rule.

 I was one of those children who struggled with maths, maths was so abstract for me, I have memories of memorising my times tables (had no understanding of what was actually happening when we multiplied, but boy was I the fast, third in my class!)  I also have memories of mindlessly adding up numbers, filling in worksheets, I have no recollection of being given any materials to use, other than those horrible 10's 100's and 1000's blocks which I had absolutely no clue about.  My place value understanding was non-existent, but I knew that rule of carrying the one brilliantly!  Never mind that I actually did not realise that one stood for ten.

I also remember struggling, feeling guilty at having to use my fingers and being assigned a 'buddy' who happened to be outstanding at maths and probably hated having to explain everything to me.    Maths had no purpose for me, it had no real world value, in fact I came to hate it and carried that hate through to high school with me, where I was lucky to get 51% and pass the fifth form.  The year after I took what they called dubber maths.

It was not until I started teaching it that the veil of maths started to be pulled from my eyes and I gained an understanding of what was actually happening to the numbers when I was mindlessly filling in those worksheets, low and behold I also learned what the one actually stood for when I carried it.

The sad fact is that I grew up believing maths was hard and I was just plain stupid when it came to this day I will shut down if suddenly challenged to answer a maths question with any speed.

This brings me back to the actual point of this post.  I believe materials are crucial, visual maths strategies are a key to unlocking a real depth of understanding for children and I believe would have done wonders for me.  Linking the use of materials, with authentic contexts that appeal to children and give the maths a purpose are the key to appealing to all learners.  Number agents is a way I have found to do this, adding in a play based approach sees children's number sense and ability to interact with maths in the world around them grow.

This has become a big business, many companies are making a lot of money out of making pretty materials to be used in our maths programme, but my go to maths materials are not the expensive materials that can be found in the big thick catalogues we get sent.  My materials can usually be found in any Variety store around the country.  If you are anything like me, this is a good thing because budgets are tight.

Dice, amazing for a range of activities and can be used in so many ways.  Fabulous for helping children develop their awareness of patterns and groupings.

Playing cards are amazing, once again they can be used for a range of things and raise children's awareness and understanding s of groupings, so cool to lay playing cards out on the mat and ask agents what they notice.  My agents also love making groups with the bean counters you can see in this photo.  

Popsicle sticks....I love popsicle sticks.  Amazing for groupings, but also for geometry. We make a lot of shapes with these and children love using them at play based time.

Joining blocks are my go-to for making sets, I love them!  These are brilliant to help agents see that when we count it gets bigger by one.  These are also brilliant for measurement.

Laminated numbers are brilliant, we keep bags of them for agents to take away and work with independently.  The pattern cards are also fantastic!

Abacus - I love these, brilliant for place value awareness.  We have enough for each agent, but if the budget does not stretch a few larger ones are a good start.  

Dominoes are fabulous, we love them and use them for a range of activities.  

Everyday classroom items are brilliant for grouping.

I love these counters, red on one side and yellow on the other.  Relatively cheap for a large amount of them.  Great for creating number stories and helping children to understanding number stories for a specific group.  We use them a lot of making up friends to ten.

And of course fingers.  We use our fingers all of the time, I will never discourage an agent from using their fingers if this is the most effective strategy for them.  Fingers are one of the first tools that help the development of number sense.

Natural bits and pieces encourage children to count and sort.  Natural materials really help to bring out their creativity and imagination.  Having small containers to sort objects into is a great way to store them, but also allows children to find their own items and add to the collection.

Children don't need bells and whistles to develop their understandings in maths.  In fact the more simple the materials, the more you can do with them.  Children love extending their use of these items into their self-directed play based time as well.  There is so much that can be done with the cheapest of items, keep the budget up your sleeve for purchasing puppet villains :)