Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Mr Taylor's Toolbox Challenge

Last Easter my wife and I headed off on our honeymoon - we flew to New York, spent a few nights there, and cruised around the Caribbean before returning to less sunny shores and continuing with our more mundane existences.

We cruised with Royal Caribbean on their 'Anthem of the Seas' ship which was just lovely, but the reason I mention this is because I started making plans for a puzzle solving competition whilst we were on board.

Before we flew, my better half was on a cruising forum and booked a few excursions whilst we were in port and added us to a group taking on their 'Escape Room'. I took some students to one a few years back, and we had also done one after my brother bought us a gift voucher for Christmas.

Having made some plans, drawn some diagrams and got my hopes up, I came back and promptly did nothing about it.

More recently, I saw a tweet from an American teacher linking to this page, found some of the items on Amazon and eBay, a Stanley toolbox for £4 at Halfords and started to put some puzzles together.

My intention is to invite groups of four to do it at lunch time, with a leader board displayed prominently in my classroom window. I'm hoping to have 3 sets of the challenge for different half terms (maybe 2, 4 and 6) so that groups can have another go at a different challenge.

If you'd like me to share the resources, I am happy to (e-mail me, d.taylor3142[AT], but will not be adding them to my web site in case students happen upon my online space by accident. If you do, you'll need the following:

  • a box (a toolbox) that can be locked using a combination lock, 
  • a hasp, 
  • a directional multilock, 
  • an alphabet combination lock, 
  • three 3-digit combination locks (although I hope to change these a little in future, and get a few different locks), 
  • a key lock, 
  • a UV torch,
  • and a UV ink pen.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

How do you plan yours?

I'm writing this post in response to a conversation I had with a colleague on Thursday evening. It is advice aimed at them, as well as others who are at an early stage of their career, but I hope that others can take something from it too.

We were talking about staffroom politics and gossip and discussed something historical. The details aren't important, but the general topic of the conversation was...

I've been teaching for 8 years. In those 8 years, I've worked in challenging circumstances for 9 of them. I feel as though this is where I'm needed and where I want to be, to have an impact, to change outcomes for our less fortunate. In those 8 years, I've never had a results day where I was personally disappointed. Whether this is through indifference in my earlier teaching days, a lack of remembering those days, or that they haven't happened (as my recollections seem to be...). I've brought our departmental results up in each of those years, and I'm proud to say that.

In my 8 years of teaching, I've worked with some great guys, some wonderful women, some fantastic practitioners and some who were less so. I've worked with teachers who over time don't start a fire and always churn results out, and I've worked with those who, day-to-day, do all the right things and the results just don't happen. I think the latter is an issue in the schools in which I've worked and I think it all comes down to a lack of thought and planning, and that by changing the way you go about your lessons in the short and medium term can have a fantastic effect in the long term.

The advice I'd like to give my colleague, those at an early stage of their career, and others who might think that the results aren't coming despite their hard work is to consider the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.

I'm likely to oversimplify this, as I'm not much of a researcher. I like to skim read and take my own conclusions from things. If I oversimplify this, and this hurts you in any way, please accept my most sincere apologies.

The Forgetting Curve says that the greater the number of times you repeat something, the more likely you are to recall it at a later date. That every time you revisit it, you forget it less. This has been a large part of my planning for a few years now, but not quite so prescriptive as I'm about to lay out.

I sat down over Christmas to plan my lessons until half term. I did a lot of jotting in my electronic planner (I use Microsoft Excel), simply noting a 'Settler' activity for each of my classes. This settler was chosen rather simply - I looked at what I'd taught them at the beginning of the year and assigned the activities in the same order. A week or so later, I added a note to set them a homework on that topic, as well as the topics they'd recently covered.

My classroom is not a place where I sing and I dance. Sometimes I sing, but there are seldom children present. It is a place where my knowledge is laid out and my students are expected to take this in. It is a place where I give students the opportunity to revisit things a number of times before I expect them to have understand.

To paraphrase my ramblings, my advice is: Think more about the diet your students are getting and how they probably need to try things a few times to taste it properly. Teach your students a topic, but make sure they're get a suitable amount of practice on it, and a few weeks later drop it in a homework, and a few weeks later drop it in a settler activity (or 'Do Now', or 'Bell Work', or 'Mr Motivator's Morning Maths Madness' or whatever it's called in your school) and give students 3, 4 or 5 opportunities to revisit a concept. In the long run, this will pay out much greater dividends than your card sort activity or your follow me cards that you spent an hour or two printing on coloured paper, laminating and cutting out.