Monday, 28 August 2017

What an adventure!

The part I love about Agency when it has been well developed is the opportunity to have extended adventures.  To take a child's love for the imaginary and for stories the next step and cast them in their own story.

On Monday we received this message from Head Agent at the end of our session.  Voki is hard to infuse with emotion but the agents clicked that something had gone wrong.

This morning we entered agency for an extended session.  Once in agency we received a voice message from Head Villain.  His message went along the lines of this...

"It is Head Villain here.  I have your Head Agent.  He is locked up in my lair.  My Villains are wreaking havoc, the baker has too many cakes, the gardener is planting snails and the firefighters fires are doubling.  They are on their way to the others now.  You will not defeat us.  But try if you dare!"

Upon receiving this message I had set some children to play the role of some clients.  We were able to talk to them about the problems they were having and we worked out that more than one Villain was involved.  Upon checking the map we saw that four Villains were hovering over Whangarei.

Just to add a little bit of drama, before we started I used our time travel device.  We hopped into our 'pods' belted ourselves in, put on our helmets and travelled forwards to the next day so we could check how we had gone in defeating the villains.  Through storytelling I was able to share with the villains that their past selves had failed.  They had not listened to each other, been in a rush to solve the problems and had not got the right code to unlock Head Agent.  This had led to the villains winning and wreaking havoc for all of our clients.  The agency ceased to exist as we know it and was taken over by our nemesis Head Villain.  This gave me an opportunity to warn them about what we were about to do and to reinforce all those positive habits we would need.

(I love this strategy in drama and often use it in my Mantles)

Promising to do better next time we travelled back to present day.

Agent 81 (me) was then called away to the secret spy team that had been sent in to rescue Head Agent.  She left us in the capable hands of Peter the Policeman (me in character.)

What followed was a sequence of problems presented to us first by Subtraction Shark, followed by Knight Adder, Captain Fraction and the Doubling Dinosaur.

At the end of each problem we had to agree on the correct answer.  This then became part of a code that would unlock the padlock and free Head Agent.

After  we had the four answers, one of the agents was picked to communicate directly to Agent 81, who was outside the building where Head Agent was being held and had constantly been giving us updates via Peter the Policeman's phone.  It turns out Head Villain is nocturnal and had fallen asleep, Agent 81 could hear the snoring from outside the door.

Peter left and the agent selected communicated clearly with Agent 81 (me standing out the back of the class.) Agent 81 pushed in the code, but unfortunately the agent had given it to her backwards.  Luckily we got another chance and this time were able to free Head Agent.

81 came back to agency.  We celebrated with our chant, cleared the boardroom and then heard from our clients (children in role) who all reported that the problem was over.

We were lucky to hear from Head Agent who confirmed that he was free thanks to us.

We checked out of agency after a fantastically fun session...who would think it was maths!

The session took 1hr 30.  You wouldn't have known it though, children were so involved in being the heroes in the story and working to free Head Agent, they worked together really well and immersed themselves in the imagined.  Obviously I wouldn't do this too often, but it makes a lovely addition to our normal routine.

I love weaving these missions into our programme.  I think if I had the time to make them into story books the children would refer back to them constantly.  Something to think about :)

This creativity in delivering maths is completely changing the way children see themselves as mathematicians, I love it so much and so do they!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

What I love about this time of year in agency

I love this time of year in agency, by this stage of the year Agency is humming.  It is no coincidence that the name I have given to this approach includes the word agents and can be referred to as agency, because it truly involves a huge degree of student agency.

By this stage of the year children believe absolutely in the world that is Number Agents.  They know the characters inside and out, I don't even need the puppet on my hand to become the character...they know them so well by voice.  The know and love the characters so much that even when we are not in agency they blame the villains for issues we may be having.

By this time of year they truly love the heroes and have a love-hate relationship with the villains.  They look forward to being in agency so much that they will remind me if they think I have forgotten that day.  They also spend a lot of time inventing their own agent adventures during play-based time.

By this time of year they slip so easily in and out of agency that I can simply say "is it ok if for a moment we look at this problem as agents."

The strength of this approach clearly comes shining through at this time of year.  Children have a real strength in the imaginary.  They can exist in many different worlds and Number Agents feeds beautifully into this.  It is also at this time of year that parents notice how amazing their child's mindset to maths is and often tell me how much their child loves maths and being an agent.  Embracing this approach at home makes helping with maths easy.

I also love this time of year because it is absolutely possible to include a range of curriculum areas into the one approach.  Children equally love to read and write as agents.

While we have 42 children in our agency now, you often wouldn't know it, they are engaged and still work just as well as they did in the small group.  By this time of year many agents have a deeper understanding and flexibility with numbers and are able to 'teach' and support other agents.  The teaching and demonstrating is learning in itself.

I also love this time of year because talk moves are humming.  Agents engage in number talks and are able to clearly explain strategies and what they notice.

This time of year allows me to get a bit more creative with what we do.  Planning out adventures for the agents and going into character more myself.  This week I have a kidnap of Head Agent planned.  The agent's maps will have led him straight to the hiding place of Head Villain, unfortunately it was a trap and Head Villain is ready and waiting.  We will receive a message from Head Villain and the villains will be wreaking havoc.  We will need the assistance of Peter the Policeman to solve a variety of problems, getting the right answer to each one in order to crack the code to the padlock that is securing the door to where Head Agent is being held.  The agents loved the last time I was kidnapped I know that they are going to eat this adventure up!

I know that this approach can be a little confusing at first and for some I know it will seem a little unnatural for some teachers to use drama in this way.  My advice is to persist, the children love it and you will get to a place like me, where it all comes naturally.  I plan to create some videos of us in agency soon, so hopefully that will help others along their journey.  I have been using this approach for three years now and each year I get better!  I can use any materials I like to teach in this way, but the key is tapping into the imagined world of a child, this is the difference between agents and teaching maths in a regular way.  Anything that works well in your current approach will work even better through Number Agents.

Head Agent is in danger, will we be able to rescue him?

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Permission to slow down :)

We have been thinking deeply about the teaching of maths at our school.  In the last two years in particular we have transformed the way we do things, simply by being open to change.  The work of Jo Boaler has been revolutionary for us and transformative for our learners.  We only wish we had embarked on this journey sooner.

We would have said three years ago that we taught maths pretty well.  In fact the data would have backed this up, with almost 100% of our learners at their required stage each year.  However as we all know, children are not data, and regardless of the brilliant levels they were achieving, their mathematical mindsets were probably not quite where they should have been.  This is probably because ours were not either.  We streamed our classes from Year 2 up, we used timed tests, and we were pretty conscious of coverage.  The message we were sending to children about what maths is were misguided and unfortunately quite damaging.

I look back on this with dismay, aware of the learners that may not have achieved well in this environment.  Sadly we were doing what we thought worked well, the data showed we were doing a good job and the simple truth is we knew no better.

If asked I would have said that my teachers and myself were good teachers of maths.  I would not have been lying, but this judgment is very dependent on what you class as good and what you believe in terms of teaching mathematics.

The turning point for us was maths PLD and the massive lightbulb that was the work of Jo Boaler.  Has our data changed, no, it has always been good.  What has and is changing are the mathematical mindsets of our children and ourselves.  Do I care about our data, no not really.

The biggest change has been the elimination of any testing that will cause more timed testing that is for sure.  Secondly we no longer stream, we each have our own classes and use mixed ability groupings throughout.  Thirdly we use problems to develop knowledge and strategy in creative ways and are not afraid to repeat the same lesson in different ways several times over.  We have also redefined what a high achiever is in maths, it is not those that can come up with an answer quickly, but it is those that can take their time and see a problem in a variety of ways and persist to a solution even when it seems impossible.  We need to embrace mistakes and help children see how vital they are.  We also need to not be afraid of not getting a session quite where we wanted it each day, or worry if we didn't quite get the 'right' answer.

It is the third point that I want to touch on.  I am frequently asked about planning and coverage.  We seem to have a system that convinces us we must cover everything to ensure we are doing a good job.  This thinking often leads us to over plan, and aim to simply 'teach' to much.  This leads to frustration for us when we don't get everything done and also means we rush learning so we can get onto the next thing we have planned.

My learning over the past year in particular has shown me that the less I aim to teach and focus on each session, the better the session is.  The more I touch on the same concept, often in the same way, the deeper the understandings I am able to build in my agents and the more success they have, the more confidence they have.

If you think about it from your own perspective for a moment the more times you come back to the same task or learning opportunity, the more opportunities you have to see it and come at it in different ways, the more opportunities you  have to talk about it,  the deeper your understanding is and the more success you have.  This deep understanding allows you to make stronger connections and has a flow on effect to new learning.

This is the same for children, the more they are able to come back to the same activity, the same learning, the more they develop their understandings, the more likely they are to firmly consolidate their learning and be able to use it in different ways.  They are then likely to use these understandings to assist them in future challenging situations.

For ourselves as teachers I think we need to stop over-planning.  We need to slow down and perhaps revisit the same session over a few days.  Perhaps even allowing a problem to span over a few days.  If we do this the coverage will come naturally and be much more authentic.

I know across many  of our classrooms now teachers are using low floor, high ceiling problems in this way.

So my challenge for everyone is to explore ways they can slow down.  To allow children time to explore and revisit problems in deeper ways.  Slowing down and allowing ourselves and our children time also allows for more time to talk.  Maths is all about communication.  The more opportunities children have to share, convince, explain, question and even coach their peers, the deeper their learning will be.

I think if we can consciously keep this in mind we can help our children to become confident, capable mathematicians that see maths for what it is, patterns, relationships, connections that are all around us.  If we are able to give them this, then all that knowledge will suddenly have a place and make real sense.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

A Glimpse Into Mantle of The Expert

This post is a little different from my normal.  I thought I would write a little about what a Mantle may look like in a junior room (that is play-based.)  I get a lot of questions about Mantle of the Expert and find it hard to sum it up in one short statement, so thought it may be useful to share what I am doing this term to give you an idea.  Also a Mantle can look a little different in a junior room and often seems quite impossible, I want to spread the word that it is not impossible and that the benefits for children and how they view themselves as learners are huge.

Number Agents is based on Mantle of the Expert.  The beginning of the year sees us hooking in, and building belief.  I like to step in slowly as I find that children buy in so much more when you take time with this.  We also take time to build up drama in our room so that the culture of acceptance is just right.

The rest of the year with Number Agents is about our daily clients and professional tasks to grow our agent brains.  So basically for us Number Agents is a Mantle that runs for the year.  Just before I go further into this, I had to share this recent poster by Jo Boaler.  This is what I base Number Agents on maths wise.  So powerful when you add in the drama, games and playfulness of agents.  Obviously as my recent post suggested a lot of my foundational maths comes out of play...I feel that gives us the best of both worlds.  My children honestly absolutely love being Agents and I am happy with the balance of self-directed play and teacher directed play we have been able to achieve. In fact if we don't go into agency on a certain day, I get very loudly reminded that I have forgotten!

Anyway, back to the point of my post.  One thing I have struggled with this year is that I have not had a genuine Mantle going.  I say genuine meaning a Mantle that integrates curriculum areas, as opposed by Number Agents that is basically mathematically based.  I've put up a few barriers or you could call them excuses, for example we have 40 now, that is harder, we have children coming in at different times, that is harder, we are huge believers in self-directed play as much as possible, so that makes it harder....lots of excuses.  But I know the value of Mantle, so do not want to deny my children of that experience, so I have done a lot of thinking and found a way.

Firstly I know that my children are achieving so much through play.   In fact my Science has all come out of play very authentically this year and we have explore a lot more than we would usually do.  However I hold this approach to delivering integrated inquiry so highly in regard I really wanted to try to run a Mantle this term that allowed me greater integration.  I still feel confident I can fit this in around our self-directed play sessions and am just aiming quite small, basically I have given myself an hour a week, so what we are doing is bite sized.

Rather than getting children into another responsible team, I decided to try to keep children in their team of agents, but propose to them (through head agent) that there was someone else that needed their skillset.  

This formed quite a discussion, with agents debating if we should help or not.  At the end we used the fingerprint scanner (whiteboard with two circles) to either express yes or no.  Three agents decided no, they did not want to help.  We then entered a discussion to try to convince them.  This is what I most love about Mantle, moral tensions are great learning.  One agent managed to convince them by saying, It is the right thing to do, we should help!

And so we embarked on as Planet Protectors.  

Obviously if you do not have a responsible team already set up in your room like I did, you will need to do more work on the hooking in and building belief.  We have already established all of that through Number Agents.

Agents went home that night to draw what they thought the leader of Rong looked like.


Roger then communicated with us.

From this came our first task, to teach the council of Rong the difference between non-living and living.  Of course this is where Mantle is great, obviously we needed to develop this knowledge before we could teach them.  We completed a sorting activity and discussed our decisions, using some clear criteria for living things.   This will be something we revisit over time and then continue to build connections from onto our other scientific understandings.

Our portal is a little purple table and the messages arrive in a bottle....children love this, it makes the activity seem so much more important.

And so from here we will be weaving in and out of professional tasks and the drama of it all.  

Basically the backstory of Rong is that it is messed up.  The air is dirty, the water is dirty, rubbish is taking over.  The people are miniscule (think Horton hears a who)  the planet is the size of a large marble.  The storyline is much like the Lorax.

Time in Rong flies faster than ours, one month is ten years in our time, this will allow us to make real change.

Our next steps are to receive the last eggs of endangered creatures from Rong and the planet itself for safe-keeping.  The eggs are hatchimals and the planet will be a large marble.  I am interested in how the children will decide to look after the planet and animals (once hatched) but that is entirely up to them.  

From here we will explore ideas further through the Lorax and Horton hears a who.  We will also take a step out of our team to create the 'surveillance' video that the council of Rong has of the litter bugs who have been causing the havoc on their planet.  They will need to 'tame' and 'teach' these litter bugs if they are to be successful.  We will then step back into our responsible team and 'view' the surveillance video as if we have never seen it before.

I can see huge spin offs into our play already, but where this goes will be up to the children.

While I have a plan, it is important to remember that this will probably change according to the direction the 'team' takes us and the discussions that we have.

I keep any session as short as possible and we only have about an hour in our week to expand on the story.  Children will do a lot of thinking at home and we'll be sharing a lot through seesaw.  

Just like in Number Agents children love this approach because it is like they are characters in a storybook.    In fact it would probably be a very good idea to write a picture book based on the journey of the planet protectors, would be great to be able to revisit it over and over again..(think I just gave myself an

Mantle of the Expert works because although it is imagined, it is very authentic.  We could explore the science within it in any other fashion, but it would not have the same meaning to children.  We already have a child asking her mother if they can clean up their road and we have not even really started yet.  They make the connections to their real world so quickly!

I love this little visual from Ken Robinson, I see Mantle as having these same benefits.

If you are stuck in the same old cycle of inquiry like we used to be, where what you are teaching is great, but how it is being delivered is not quite cutting the mustard, I really recommend you find out more about Mantle of the Expert.  We started from a point of wanting to Engage and Motivate more, the spin offs have been far greater than that. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Combining Self Directed Play and Number Agents To Teach Maths

Below are a range of photos that to me demonstrate some of the absolutely vital parts of mathematics we want to de developing to ensure children have strong foundational understandings to build on.  

Through self-directed play based time and games and activities through Number Agents I am looking for children to make strong connections. Through play I can provide materials and invitations that can explicitly develop these things.  I can work alongside children coaching them with the correct language, posing wonderings and simply discussing what they notice.  It is incredibly important during this time that I feed in the mathematics language with at least three statements or things I notice before I pose some sort of question.  

I love to capture this maths on camera and when we come back together for a short maths time the whole class can benefit from what one child or group has been doing.  I find this then prompts them to move off and try the activity themselves.  

Through Number Agents I use a range of games that promote early understandings and find children will often use this equipment in similar ways through their play.  Sometimes the games we play can take up half or all of our session and this is ok.

The understandings I want to develop through play and Number Agents initially: (certainly not an extensive list.)

1) Grouping,  and sorting.  Exploring.
2)Exploring colour and shape, looking for same and different.  Exploring similarities and differences.
3)Looking at sets and estimating.  Comparing groups and items, bigger, smaller, more, less, longer, shorter.
4)Maths eyes - noticing visual patterns, discussing and exploring what we notice.  Beginning to apply this to word problems etc.
5)Measurement concepts such as heavier and lighter.  Capacity of containers etc
6)Sequencing numbers and ordering.  Understanding 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc  Understanding before and after.
7)Zero.  That zero is important, it is a place holder and it represents that we have no tens, no hundreds etc.  Although it represents that I can have nothing of something.  Without zero our system of counting would not work.
8)Awareness of ten.  Counting in tens.  Sorting into tens.  
9.)Subitizing.  Seeing a pattern and knowing how many.  Exploring these and noticing different ways of making that number.
10) Breaking a number into parts.  We can have a whole set of seven for example, but I can split this into groups and join this back together.
11)If I take some away I have less, if I add I have more.
12)Creating patterns and talking about them.  Repeated patterns and following or making up rules.
13) Symmetry, lovely to explore using loose parts.
14) Understanding that a digit represents a group of that many.  Deep sense of number and what the digits actually mean.
15)Time, yesterday, today, tomorrow.  Morning, afternoon, evening.
16)Giving basic directions.  Positional language.
17)Basic addition and subtraction understanding.
18)Number Bonds and the relationship between addition and subtraction.
19)Number Sense
20) Beginning to record number problems and illustrate with visual strategies.

At every opportunity we talk about the maths, we draw attention to it, children quickly begin to notice and certainly have 'maths eyes.'  My desire is for children to see mathematics authentically and to understand the very real part it has to play in our world.

Number Agents as an approach then builds on and from this play.  Developing on these foundations to explore basic problem solving.  It is authentic because the world of Number Agents while imagined is very real for the children.  The problem solving has a purpose.  We are helping our clients.  It is like a storybook, we are the heroes of the story and here to save the day with our brain power.  Combine this with a growth mindset approach and they are unstoppable.

The villains and heroes weave in the mathematical language strongly and it is one thing most people that observe notice really strongly, children have a strong command over and understanding of mathematical language and an understanding of how to use pictures or materials to help them.

Even better children LOVE the villains and heroes, there is a strong emotional attachment and in turn children from this attachment and connection with maths.  How they feel about themselves as mathematicians is strongly shaped through these enjoyable experiences.   

Talk is the key, we talk a lot.  The more we talk, the stronger the connection made.  The talk moves are an absolute must for any teacher to explore further.

The Heroes

 The Villains

The balance between self-directed play and the more 'teacher' directed playful approach of number agents is really having positive benefits for my learners and I am loving it!  I feel my own maths teaching going from strength to strength and my confidence flows through to my children.

Thursday, 3 August 2017


I do have a little bit in my book about planning, but it has to be the most common question asked of me, how do I plan?

The honest answer is less, but more...ha ha I know as clear as mud!

Over the years I have become much more inclined to think big picture and then specifically add details day by day, week by week as I see where the learning actually takes us.

This 'just in time' planning allows me to be responsive to need and responsive to learning urges.

When it comes to Number Agents I do use the progressions but more recently (over the last two years) have become more of a fan of developing Number Sense rather than ticking off a sequence of learning through stages.  I want my agents to have a deep understanding and flexibility with number.

To encourage my planning and teaching to reflect the effort to encourage and foster Number Sense I make a mindmap that is an overview of the things  I want my agency sessions to include.  Of course this is tweaked and changed as everything continues to evolve.

This mindmap is below and also in a shareable link here.