Who is the Secret Walker in your classroom?

Secret Walker 2

#teammagicaleducator @samschoolstuff

Who is the Secret Walker in your classroom?

Let’s get this straight from the start, what follows is not my original idea. Like most teachers, I consciously and unconsciously soak up ideas from colleagues, the internet and, well, anywhere really. I only wish I could give full credit to the person who I got this idea from (who probably got it from someone else anyway) but the source is lost in the mists of time…

Secret Walker 2

So, Secret Walker. It’s a pretty simple idea and its success basically hinges on choosing the right person to be the first Secret Walker. Once you get it up and running you can use lolly sticks, or a random name generator or even go all old school and just tick names off a list when they’ve had a go. But the choice of your first Secret Walker is crucial because it has to be someone you know can pull it off. If not the whole thing falls flat on its face leaving you with two equally unsatisfactory options – either “let them off” and give out the prize anyway, undermining the entire idea, or refuse to name the Secret Walker, thus setting it up as an impossible task.

Secret Walker couldn’t be simpler to set up (one of the reasons I like it so much). You need a writing implement, a small piece of paper and some kind of whole class reward. That’s it. The rules are equally simple. It works well from Year 1 up, although towards the end of Year 6 they do tend to roll their eyes a bit.

Here’s how to play.

One person is chosen by an adult to be the Secret Walker. That person’s name is written on a piece of paper which is folded up and pinned up on a display board, out of reach. On the first game, you need to set aside a couple of minutes to explain the concept, after that, they usually ask “Can we play Secret Walker?” as soon as you line them up.

Once the class is ready to leave the room, say “Secret Walker starts now.” and the game is on.

Naturally, the children are expected to conform to the normal expectations about moving around the school, taking part in assembly etc. If the Secret Walker’s behaviour is of the required standard for the entire time the class is out of the classroom, the whole class gets a reward. At our school it’s house points, could equally be a marble in a jar or whatever reward system you are using.

On returning to the classroom, I usually favor an X factor style reveal, insisting on complete silence and an over-long pause to build the tension. I then ask the Secret Walker to confirm that they have indeed walked silently down the corridor, listened in assembly, etc. (of course I know they have because I’ve been watching them), before awarding everyone the prize of 5 shiny housepoints.

You’ve no doubt spotted the flaw in this plan. What if the Secret Walker has a chat in the corridor? What if they spend the entire assembly pulling the plaits of the child in front? What if, heaven forfend, they have to be moved by a member of staff?

In the event that the Secret Walker doesn’t manage it, I rip up the piece of paper and put it in my pocket. Not the bin, as that gives someone the opportunity to fish it out and be unkind. I say that unfortunately, the Secret Walker didn’t manage to be quiet while moving around the school and therefore no one gets a reward today. I never name the Secret Walker (I say never, it’s only ever happened once).

Since I mentioned this game online (in an interview with  @bbcTeaching  ) I’ve had a really positive response. I think there is plenty of potential for using this idea in other contexts. @LMisselle1 has already suggested a Secret Talker. If you like this idea, please take it, adapt it and make it work for you.
Sam is a primary teacher in Devon and the founder of schoolwell.co.uk. Should you want to, you can usually find her on twitter – @samschoolstuff.

Posted in Behaviour, Educator Toolkit, G Post, Primary

How do you Make Effective Cross Curricular Links?

crossing road pokemon go

#teammagicalmaths @PrimaryMathsRes

How To Make Effective Cross-Curricular Links.

The Cross Curricular Approach

The phrase ‘Cross-Curricular’ is often used to describe an approach to lesson planning whereby links are made between subjects rather than segregating them entirely. It is understandable that when subjects are separate some receive more emphasis than others, Literacy and Maths for example. Other subjects can then be seen as less significant to the students which reduces engagement and development.

While there are advantages to complete subject separation, it can create a mental distinction between similar or identical skills use in different subjects, for example pupils who can draw graphs in maths but struggle to use them in science. So how are effective links between subjects made?

Effective Links Between Subjects

A cross-curricular approach aims to reduce barriers between subjects to increase student confidence in applying skills in a different way and to help surround the student with the subject. It has been shown that when used well, this approach helps pupils to see the transfer-ability of skills and a gain a deeper understanding of their learning (See ‘Is Cross-Curricular Crucial?‘). For links to be effective and worthwhile they should be:

  • Meaningful – Provide some context for subjects or show a skill being used in a slightly different way.
  • Explicit – The link and purpose behind it should be clear.
  • Motivating – Subject overlap provides an opportunity for a wider variety of fun activities.

See ‘Implementing a Cross-Curricular Approach‘ and ‘Making Cross Curricular Links

But how are effective links made?

Some subjects are easier to links. For example, writing a brochure for a location covers Geography and Literacy in a meaningful way and doesn’t give preference to either subject with regards to its importance or value. Other subjects are more difficult to overlap without spending a lot of time resourcing and planning. So how else can subjects be linked?

Linking Maths and History

When I was in school, Maths and History were my two favourite subjects but were kept distinctly separated. Providing an overlap between these subjects can help pupils to see a different context in which their skills from Maths can be applied while spending more time surrounded by the historical subject to help pupils remember terms and names to reaffirm their learning. This was the inspiration behind developing www.PrimaryMathsResources.com , a free maths worksheet generator with the unique option to apply a historical theme to any worksheet. Historical themes, such as Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt and the Vikings, are easy (and free) to apply to any worksheet generated using the site. Many options are provided to tailor worksheets to the needs of the class meaning that lessons can be resourced for a wide range of abilities across many school years. The website is completely free to use in an unlimited capacity and for each worksheet generated a full answer sheet is provided.

The aims of PrimaryMathsResources.com are:

  • Help busy primary school educators save time on their maths resourcing.
  • Provide fun maths worksheets to help nurture a love of the subject.
  • Enable teachers to generate resources which provide a cross-curricular link between history and maths.

The worksheet below is a Shopkeeper’s Orders division worksheet with an Ancient Rome theme applied which has been produced using the Division worksheet generator.

Division Worksheet Generator Example

With this worksheet pupils help a Roman shopkeeper fulfil their orders by calculating how many boxes of each item are needed to meet the customer’s demands. The primary skill used in this worksheet is division with remainders, but the student must understand the reason behind the task in order get the answer correct. For instance, Customer 1 requires 72 parchment rolls which come in a box of 7. A pupil may understand that 72 / 7 is 10 with 2 remaining, but they may miss that in order for the Roman shopkeeper to meet the needs of the customer, they must send 11 boxes. While completing this mathematical task the students are seeing examples of items that they can associate with the era of Ancient Rome to reaffirm their learning of the subject.

So has an effective link been made? Well, the link is meaningful as it requires division to be used in a context outside of ordinary questions and provides a context for the task in line with the historical subject. The worksheet provides a clear link between the subjects and is benefiting the learning of both, so it is explicit. Presenting this puzzle in the historical context (hopefully) provides a fun variation on division which the pupil will find motivating and engaging.

Below is an example of a Word Problems Addition worksheet with an Ancient Egyptian theme, generated using the Addition worksheet generator:

Addition Worksheet Generator Example

Again, this worksheet requires pupils to apply a common skill (addition) in an unusual context while surrounding the pupils with terms that they may have come across during their History lessons. Names like Horus and Set and terms such as slinger and embalmer remind the pupil of these words which they will associate with the historical topic. All while they apply a skill from their Maths lessons.

Currently, themes can be applied to any worksheet. With basic, ‘Plain Question’ worksheets, the application of a theme decorates the worksheet with images relevant to that theme and, depending on the subject, sets a context for the task such that a character (Zeus for example) needs help with the questions.

The full list of themes is shown below:

  • Ancient Romans
  • Ancient Greeks
  • Shakespeare’s Macbeth
  • Ancient Egyptians
  • Vikings
  • Cowboys
  • Christmas
  • Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream

So please give PrimaryMathsResources.com a try. It’s free to use, so what have you got to lose? I love seeing the worksheets in use, so send a picture to me via twitter (@PrimaryMathsRes) or post it on my Facebook page (/PrimaryMathsResourcesSite).

Happy Teaching!

Posted in Educator Toolkit, G Post, Mathematics, Maths Toolkit, Primary, Resources, Worksheets

The wonderful world of writable surfaces!

writable surfaces

#teammagicaleducators @PaulWat5

The wonderful world for writable surfaces!

Hi-tech isn’t always ICT based, sometimes it is a well thought out piece of design that transform a classroom. Writable surfaces are a must in every classroom as they engage the children and encourage collaboration while learning.

Using writable surfaces is a fantastic way to improve teaching and learning. Those tricky two mark questions were we have all been frustrated 😤 at the lack of working out displayed is overcome as sharing your method is so easy to do. Memory is improved if you take a photo (we all have those childhood photos were we can picture the time based on the 80s wallpaper) to share at a later date making it ideal for learners. The ideas are on display for all to share and use so learners can engage in discussions. Even teacher feedback can be jotted down directly on the desk.

writable surfaces

Don’t take my word for it, trust in my class who all delight when I allow them to draw on our tables.

Some to recap:

  •  Greater collaboration
  • Aids memory
  • Is just cool to do and kids love it
Posted in Educator Toolkit, G Post Tagged with:

Battle of the “Wrist Bands” ! A great way to engage your students in lesson!


#teammagicaleducator @_Stacey_English

Battle of the Wrist Bands! A great way to engage your students in lesson!

“Not Animal Farm again.”

“This novel is awful.

“Why do we have to analyse language anyway.”

Just a few statements from Year 11 class during their studying of the novel Animal Farm. Like a lot of teachers, I was trying and doing EVERYTHING to ensure engagement but they simply disliked the novel.

So, one Saturday night as I was entering a nightclub I was given a wristband as proof of payment- and this is where the initial idea of wristbands came about.

My brain went into overdrive with colours and success criteria and that word Ofsted love: PROGRESS.


To the lesson. I decided first of all to print and cut out key quotations from the novel which varied in difficulty and length. I placed these quotations inside balloons, again colour coordinated in terms of differentiation with purple being the most difficult quotations to analyse in detail and pink being slightly easier. Naturally, this means you can distribute the quotations according to ability.

Now, I ordered green, yellow and pink wristbands which I linked to the success criteria of the lesson.


Pink: correct language terminology is used throughout analysis including entire lines and individual words.

Yellow: correct language terminology is used throughout analysis including entire lines and individual words with an explanation of the effect on the reader.

Green: correct language terminology is used throughout analysis including entire lines and individual words with an explanation of the effect on the reader and a link to the context of the novella.

Students started the lesson by popping the balloon which in this instance had them instantly hooked. There was a buzz about quotations in Animal Farm. They proceeded to analyse the language used in the quotation from inside the balloon, whilst attempting to secure wristbands according to their analysis. The boys were extremely competitive here and naturally wanted to ‘win’ all three colours.


Students strived to ensure that their explanation of the language included the correct terminology, focused on the impact of individual words, used the Russian Revolution where possible and there was marked improvement in the answers of those so-called ‘weaker’ students. The discussion in the room was one of enthusiasm; students actively helping and assessing others, “if you add this then you can get a green wristband”. There was self-assessment and peer-assessment at all times!

The main task involved an exam response. The big question now was could students apply the success criteria to an exam response without any balloons, without any wristbands on offer? And, yes they could. By incorporating balloons and wristbands the students were engaged, hooked and most importantly improved on their analysis of language in a book they so disliked.


Finally, I placed a quick finisher in envelopes which I attached underneath the students seats. Sounds silly I know, but again, a quick way of engaging the group. The ‘finisher’ was used to consolidate what had already been done and inside the envelopes were singe words from Animal Farm.

In pairs, the students were timed on each word to see how well they could explain the effect of individual words under strict time constraints and also if they could place this word in to the context of the entire novella.

Entering the staff room at break and there was a buzz amongst the teachers who were asking why the students had the wristbands and what the lesson involved and commenting on how the students were ‘buzzing’ about English all day.

And, it did make me smile to see the Year 11 students still wearing their wristbands on the way out of the school gates at 3.15.

Battle of the wrist bands – a clear winner!

By Stacey Reay (Teaching and Learning Consultant – Greenfield Community College)

Posted in Educator Toolkit, G Post Tagged with:

Helpful Hacks for Math Test Takers

maths hack

Helpful Hacks for Math Test Takers

As complex and mysterious math may seem for those lost in a forest of equations, formulas, and figures, take comfort in knowing math may have started with just the use of our ten fingers. That may be cold comfort for you if you’re preparing for a math test. Yet, you are not alone. Many have gone before you.

Hands-On Learning

Those fingers of yours may be used for more than just counting to 10. Our hands can offer shortcuts to multiplication! Other hacks have been used successfully in math tests because they make the complex more simple. Just for fun, let’s visit some shortcuts and hacks which pull us out of the forest so we can see the trees:

maths hack

Multiplying 6, 7, 8, and 9 just using your hands. Spread the fingers of each hand as wide as you can. Now turn your spread hands vertically so the palms face you, and the fingers on one hand almost touching the fingers of the other hand. According to Instructables.com, you should ascribe the pinky with number 6, then climb up the hand with each finger ascribed to the next number in order. So, each pinky is 6, and each thumb will be a number 10.

When multiplying any of the numbers between 6 and 9, just touch the tips of those numbered fingers together. Count the touching fingers and any fingers below those touching fingers. (Don’t add their ascribed value, just add the number of fingers). The total number of these lower fingers will be the figure in the “tens” place of your multiplication answer.

Next MULTIPLY the number of fingers above the touching finger on your left hand with the number of fingers above the touching finger on your right hand. This product will be the number in the “ones” column in your answer. Try it! Example: If you are asked to multiply 7 x 8: The finger ascribed to 7 in your left hand must touch the tip of the finger ascribed to 8 in your right hand. Counting these fingers and all fingers below them equal 5. So, the number 5 shall sit in the tens column of your multiplication answer. Next, multiply the number of fingers above in your left hand (2) with the number of fingers above your touching finger in your right hand (3). This product of 6 shall sit in the ones column of your multiplication answer. 7 x 8 = 56.

Multiplying Percentages

When asked to find percentages of three digit numbers (ex. 30% of 500) use this hack:
Drop the last digit of each side and multiply them together (3 x 50 = 150).

Multiplying by Nines

Here is a hack for testing the multiplication of nines. The product of 9 times each number through 10, starts with zero in the tens column, and 9 in the ones column; then progresses up through each sequential number up in the tens column; and cascades down from 9 in the ones column. (Ex. 9×1=09; 9×2=18; 9×3=27 etc..)

Get the Fraction of Whole Numbers

If you are tested on the fraction of a whole number, try this hack. Divide the whole number by the denominator of the fraction. Take this quotient and multiply it by the numerator of the fraction. (Ex. ¾ of 24 can be calculated by dividing 24 by 4, which equals 6. Then take that 6 and multiply it by the numerator 3, which answers the question as 18!

If Only We Had 11 Fingers

Multiplying by 11 is easy if by single digits. But what about double digits? It’s a split decision. Take the number you are multiplying by 11 then split the digits so that you can insert another digit between them. Get that other digit by adding the two numbers you split together. Your sum is inserted between the split digits to create a new three-digit answer! Ex. 42 x 11: Split the 4 and 2. Add 4 + 2 = 6. Now insert the 6 between them. (462)

Crush the GRE Test is an online resource dedicated to promoting learning and simplifying the learning process. They provide reviews of GRE exam study materials and unmatched study strategies to fast track each student’s success. Learn more at http://crushthegretest.com/.

Posted in Uncategorized Tagged with:

The secret behind Wellbeing Bags! #Teacher5aday


#teammagicalmaths @MrMcLoughlin_PE

The secret behind Wellbeing Bags!

It was a gruelling first term at the British International School, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It started during the rainy season in mid August and finished on 16th December. I am a PE teacher and in an international school setting that means an extremely long list of extracurricular clubs, fixtures, swimming galas, local and international tournaments.

Last year during the same period I worked 21 days in a row, a real test of my physical and mental fortitude. This year I was responsible for leading a U15 sports trip to Shanghai and delivering a whole school sports day to 850+ students, an easy term in comparison. My colleagues had the same test of physical and mental stamina as I did last year, and from what I recall by the end of those 21 days after such a hectic term you only felt one thing, exhaustion!


So our PE department, which consists of 4  PE staff, 1 TA and 3 coaches in the last 6 weeks of term went from Shanghai to Phuket, Pataya and finally Bangkok all the time giving all our emotional energy to students competing not to mention the physical exertions of coaching and managing students.

I needed to do something to show my friends and colleagues that there was light at the end of the tunnel and we could make it. The idea was originally suggested by @abbiemann1982 as part @MartynReah #teacher5aday. If you don’t know #teacher5aday is a movement, a group of wonderful educators who are concerned with improving the work life balance that so many of us struggle with. There have been so many different initiatives all of which can be found if you search the hash tag #teacher5aday on twitter. The wellbeing bags are just another layer to an ever increasing tapestry of interesting, challenging and thought provoking initiatives.

So during the last week of term when everyone arrived back from all over South East Asia, a wellbeing bag was waiting for all PE teachers, TA and coaches. A small token to show them how I valued their hard work and support. To give them a little something to make it through that last demanding week. Most schools last week of term, things begin to ‘wind down’, not so in the international setting-inter house tournaments, whole school assemblies and yet more fixtures.

What did the bags include? I tried to make them personal to my friends, my colleagues but generally they had vitamin tablets, sweets, chocolates, tea bags, ice coffee (Vietnamese speciality) and other assorted treats. The aim was simple, make my colleagues feel appreciated and give them the little something to make it to the end. I shared my efforts on twitter and I was delighted to see how many people responded positively. So if your friends and colleagues need a pick up which might help restore some work life balance then go for it, wellbeing bags made me happy and I didn’t even get one!

Posted in CPD, G Post, wellbeing Tagged with:

Should we keep doing interventions?


#teammagicalmaths @Burrows_Physics

Should we keep doing interventions?

OK so on first reading, the answer to this question is a fairly obvious yes.

I find it strange that yes is my answer. I left school in 2008 and I had never even heard of intervention. From asking my colleagues, neither have they. Admittedly, it is a poor sample. We all have good degrees from “good” universities so we are unlikely have ever required interventions at school. But even that said, as far as any of us / any of our friends know, it never existed at all, less that 10 years ago.

Now as a teacher of 5 years, it is a bit different. Doing intervention sessions for exam students in evenings / holidays is just a given for most teachers. My question is, are we actually damaging our students by running them?


My frustration with education at the moment is that I feel that not enough of the responsibility is being placed on the shoulders of our students. We read about how our students are the most stressed / suffer the most mental health problems of any students ever but we never stop to ask ourselves a very crucial question: is the reason our students feel so out of control the fact we keep re-iterating to them that their learning is out of their control?

I for one believe that students need to be told that if they succeed or fail that that is for the most part their doing. (I would like to point out here that we as teachers have a responsibility to make sure students are not disadvantaged by factors outside their control e.g. personal circumstances, SEN etc.)

I feel great frustration that students now seem to feel that they have a right to success not that they have an opportunity for success that they need to work hard to achieve. To add a personal account to this story, I arrived at a school 3 years ago and significantly changed the way students were taught physics to a way that put more responsibility on the students to learn. This lead to a massive improvement in results at the school and overall in terms of improving students as learners which was great. How did the students react? The school was flooded with complaints from parents!?!?!

This is one part of education I will never wrap my head around. We all know as practitioners that to deliver effective learning, students must be engaged and an active part of their own learning but when this is actually delivered students / parents act against it, as they have (falsely) been lead to believe that teacher are supposed to deliverer learning neatly packaged into learners heads.

Ok, rant over, back to the original question.

Should we be doing interventions? In lessons: YES! Absolutely, that is our responsibility as teachers to identify students that are struggling with concepts and address it. In evenings / holidays: NO! Absolutely not. Students have been given a fantastic opportunity in lessons and in resources e.g. textbooks / revision guides / internet to learn and it is frankly ridiculous, the number of opportunities to make use of the professional there to help them (also known as a teacher). It should be clearly communicated to them that in addition to that it is their responsibility to play they part too and the best we to do that is cancel intervention sessions which basically say to the student, it is ok to check out of your education for weeks / terms / years, we will bail you out at the end.

Posted in Curriculum, G Post

Every second of this video is worth watching for any educator! The Truth about Millennials!

alarm clock

The truth about millennials – Simon Sirnek

Now if you watch this video all the way to the end and you want me to buy you an alarm clock please leave your details below in the comment box : ).

Every second of this video is worth watching for any educator! Simon Sirnek discusses the the truth about Millennials and gives a great insight  in the workforce!

Posted in Facebook, Social Networks, Teacher, TED, Twitter, Video, Video Tagged with:

Can I colour Maths?


#teammagicalmaths @MrLsMathsApps

Can I colour Maths?

The children in my class always love it when I connect the Ipad to the projector and then know we are going to play a game (if we had a class set of Ipads I know that would be the best reward for good behaviour ever!). There are lots of educational App games that the children like to play as a class (or at home and then they ask me to download it too!).


I think that most teachers would say that Maths is about confidence, probably due to the fact that you get a lot of instant feedback in most areas of Maths with your answer being correct or not. I also believe that as much as possible Maths needs to be fun and memorable. This makes sense to me as the best writing that children ever produce is on something memorable often that they have had first-hand experience of.

So, when a child asked flippantly can we colour Maths, my mind went into overdrive of complex Maths patterns in nature… However, they were actually wanting to know if we could colour in during Maths. I am sure that lots of teachers have used some kind of colour by number worksheets based on a variety of Maths facts, however nothing that useful was on the App store when I thought of colouring a picture together.

This set me off on a mission to make an app that could do that, which I have created (with some help from a team of coding experts!).


All the levels in my App are linked to Key Stage One learning objectives from the (new) national curriculum. My trialists (children of by ex-TAs and current HLTA) were all very engaged and excited by the App – even though 2 out of the 5 of them are in Year 3. They all love that facts that they are solving (painting) and picture puzzle as well and practising their maths knowledge. Most of their comment are about this being more fun that Maths and that they wish all maths involved colouring! The teachers that have downloaded the App and communicated with me have loved the fact it engages everyone in their class and motivates children to learn number better so that they can beat their previous time.

I enjoy teaching Maths and finding new fun ways to engage children and increase their confidence. I look forward to finding and using new ideas on Magical Maths and talking to teacher about Apps too!


Mr Locketts Maths Apps

Posted in Apps, Curriculum, G Post, ICT, Interactive White Board, Maths Toolkit, Primary, Resources, Teacher Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,

Soldering Projects as an Introduction to STEM


#teammagicalmaths @MrBlinkyBling

Soldering Projects as an Introduction to STEM

Over the years I have volunteered at the LVL1 Hackerspace, a free-to-the-public makerspace in Louisville, Kentucky, I have been involved in a wide variety of STEM outreach events.  To date I have personally seen the largest successes teaching youth and adults to solder.  Soldering is one of those tasks that seems hard and thus is popularly perceived to be difficult, however it’s actually quite easy… Especially if you understand the basics of what’s happening and how it is different than other forms of sticking things together.  Because it is actually quite easy students can walk away from a soldering workshop with something they made and with a confidence boost in their ability to be a Maker.


Over the years I’ve lost track of the number of folks I’ve taught to solder; I’m confident it is well over a thousand.  I have taught using a variety of kits and projects and I’ve learned what works better and what slows students down.  This has led to me co-founding a company to produce high quality kits designed with beginner students in mind (more on that in a moment).


As I mentioned a moment ago soldering is different from other forms of sticking things together and so it requires that the instructor re-frame the operation in the student’s minds in order to lead them to success.  Soldering is not like glue or tape where pressure is helpful to get things to stay together; in fact pressure will give your students a bad time.  It’s important to teach students that soldering is all about heat; solder wants to flow to the hottest areas and so heat must be applied event to both the pad and the leg of the part that is being soldered to the PCB.  Not applying the heat correctly is one of the easy mistakes beginners make that, once corrected, leads them to success.  The solder is then introduced on the opposite side from the heat (the soldering iron) and flows across the parts to be combined (both heated by the iron or there may be a bad connection) to the iron.  The student should then be directed to remove the solder-strand first and the heat (iron) last.


Some considerations to keep in mind when evaluating kits for your STEM courses:

  • Number of different components
  • Complexity of the PCB (printed Circuit Board; the base of the soldering kit) design
  • Size of the soldering holes and pads in the PCB
  • The final product

The number and type of components can influence the time and age-range of the project; a kit with 9 different parts will take longer to do than one with 11 if there are only 3 types in the latter.  Each different part is its own step but if 9 of your parts are all identical LEDs they can be done in a single instructional step.  Lower complexity makes it easier to avoid mistakes like putting in a part backwards or in the wrong spot.


The more complicated the PCB is the longer and harder it is to build the kit.  This has a direct impact on age range and project duration.  For first-timers and youth I highly recommend a simpler kit with a simpler PCB layout and a lower number of different parts.  This keeps things easy and the duration of the project within their comfort zone.

An often overlooked consideration in modern soldering kits are the soldering pads themselves.  Often the holes they drill are just barely large enough for the components.  Sometimes they are a touch too small!  This leads to legs being bent as students struggle to insert the components making everything more difficult than it needs to be and building frustration rather than satisfaction.  On the other hand a hole that is too large lets solder drip through the PCB which can be unsightly or, on particularly badly designed PCBs, a short on the front of the board.

Bordering the hole itself is the soldering pad, where the solder connects the PCB to the component.  These pads are often too small for beginners.  Small pads are harder to rest the soldering iron on as they heat up the pad and the part in order to form a good solder joint.  Small pads that are close together are also much easier for students to bridge together, leading to a failure in their project (electricity, like water, takes the shortest and easiest route thus bridges will cause the kit to not perform correctly).  I have also seen pads that did not match the silkscreen indications on the PCB in one amusingly bad kit.


The final consideration I put forth is the final product itself; is it something your students will want?  Will they be excited to make it?  Does it have broad gender appeal and fit your student age range?  In short: is it cool?

Now that I’ve told you all about how to find a good soldering kit for your STEM program I’d like to take a moment and tell you about the kits we’ve been developing at Mr Blinky Bling.  My co-founder and I have taught soldering all over the region; we get invited to several events a year where we volunteer to teach adults and youth to solder and we teach many classes locally every year as well.  We’ve taught folks using dozens of kits over the years and after a couple of years of talking about what we liked and didn’t like about these kits we decided to develop our own.  I was invited to speak at the Bowling Green Idea Festival last year and we decided to bring our first kit there to teach the youth attendees.  Though we were only able to teach kids from around 9 am to around 3 pm we ended up teaching more than 80 kids to solder.  We had kids skip lunch and a solid line all day until they literally started busing them home.  It was a smashing success and we decided to focus on bright LED STEM kit development due to our unexpectedly good results (soldering programs we’ve volunteered at previously were nowhere near that popular).

Due to this success we have developed LED-based soldering kits that both kids and adults of all genders consider “cool.”  One of the first questions we get when visiting a class to teach soldering is “Do we get to keep these?!?” (depending on whether or not the first question is if they can have our “megabling” wearable LED based projects we wear to events).

We have developed custom silkscreen art on our PCBs to make it easier for students to find their own system for orientating the LEDs (which must go in the PCB in a specific direction); we have 4 different visual indicators they can use depending on their preference.  This makes it easier for students with different learning styles to place the components.  We use a larger hole that is easy to insert components in without being so large as to cause problems on the front of the board.  We use larger pads that are easier to heat up and have custom pads on the back that discourage solder bridges by drawing excess solder (one of the simple mistakes beginners make) away from the center.  These combine to make it easier for students to gain confidence as they correctly assemble their kits; I’ve watched dozens of folks (both youth and adults) go from being scared of soldering to confident they can solder anything they want to and frankly that is why we do this.

Our goal is to make kits that are designed with the beginning student in mind making it easier for STEM programs to reach their students and make them into Makers.  We offer a variety of kits to suite various price points, time and age limitations, and even some moderately complex kits for advanced classes and adults.


Oh, and there’s one last difference between our kits and others on the market; we will happily put your logo on your kits so the students remember that they took your class and not who you bought the kits from.  We do charge a one-time design fee for this service, starting at $50.  We’re putting together a web-based tool that will allow you to customize kits yourself as well.  We also can create completely customized kits at your request, again with a one-time design and setup fee.

If our kits interest you please feel free to contact us via our website, facebook, or twitter.

There are plenty of great kits out there but watch out for the bad ones.  Together we can train a Nation of Makers.

Posted in G Post

What Literacy strategies make the most impact in Mathematics lessons?


#teammagicalmaths @MrsHsNumeracy

Literacy in Mathematics

It was when I was teaching a GCSE group recently that I realised the extent to which poor literacy can be a massive barrier to students when it comes to fulfilling their Mathematical potential. I had just started talking about “proportion” when one of my Y10 students enthusiastically piped up, “Oh Miss, I know that, like in a proportion of rice.” Funny in one sense, but desperately worrying in another especially when it was one of a string of vocabulary issues that included confusing “correlation” with “like what happens to the Queen.”


Poor oracy, and a lack of Mathematical language and vocabulary, are inevitably going to limit our students’ ability to excel in Mathematics. If they cannot understand what the question is asking them, how are they supposed to start applying their Mathematical knowledge? And yet as teachers of Mathematics, developing our students’ language of Mathematics is often low on our priority list. How often do we ask ourselves how well our students understand Mathematical vocabulary? When analysing assessments question by question, how often do we stop to think whether a student not attempting a question stemmed from not being able to apply Mathematical processes or whether instead it was down to not being able to understand what the question was asking in the first place? When setting assessments, for example a GCSE paper for Year 7 students, do we actually stop to think about the reading age that the assessment is orientated towards, and whether we are unfairly penalising students by not preparing them for the level of literacy that such an assessment requires?

It can be very tempting as a teacher to “dumb down” our language to make our teaching more “accessible” to weaker students and yet by doing so we do a massive disservice to them. The gap between students with poor oracy and their peers is simply widened by this approach. The way a child develops language is by being exposed to an increasingly complex level of vocabulary by those around them. We also have a duty as teachers of Mathematics to expose our students to an increasingly complex level of Mathematical language. Sure, at first they will struggle with this, but over time this is the only way that their Mathematical language will develop. If you mention the words “product” and “sum” frequently in Mathematics lessons over time, even the weakest of learners will then associate them with the Mathematical processes of multiplication and addition. When asking students to improve their scores, why not talk about “increasing” them instead. There are countless opportunities to use key vocabulary in our everyday conversations with students.


It is also important to insist on correct explanations from students, giving support for students to develop these as needed. For example if a student is talking about substitution, insist on them using the word substitution rather than “swapping it in” or “changing it for”. If a student is talking about reflections don’t allow them to use the phrase “flip it”. Our expectations for correct Mathematical vocabulary should be high for all our students, not just for our more able learners.

I have tried various strategies within the classroom and across our department to improve our students’ literacy within Mathematics: I have set up competitions for the “explanation of the week”; given our students assessments specifically aimed at testing their Mathematical vocabulary; developed form activities that reinforce key words; covered walls and display boards with the vocabulary our students need and made sure to list key words and reference them in lessons. All these have taken a fair amount of effort on my part. (http://www.mrshowardsnumeracynetwork.com/index.php/mathematical-literacy)


However ultimately, simple, small changes in how I word my questions and explanations in the classroom, and what I expect in terms of responses from my students, are what is having the biggest impact on the oracy of my students. I have noticed more resilience when tackling unfamiliar wording in questions and a much more confident use of correct vocabulary when giving explanations. Students refer to the mathematical dictionaries they have created at the back of their exercise books and, over time, words that they previously struggled to recognise have become part of their everyday Mathematical vocabulary.  As a result I have started to feel that I am teaching not just students, but Mathematicians, and that is a very rewarding feeling indeed.


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Posted in English, G Post, Literacy, Maths Toolkit Tagged with:

Have you ever considered deconstructed role play in your classroom?


#teammagicalmaths @LagomEyfs

Deconstructed role play

After reading numerous blogs about deconstructed role-play over the past year, I was really excited about developing a stimulating learning area within the classroom environment. I wanted an area or space, which truly promoted children’s independence, imagination and most importantly freedom of choice in his or her own creativity.

Alistair Bryce-Clegg from ABCdoes.com (@ABCDoes) highlights that sometimes adults set up spaces that are not suitable to the children’s ages or experiences and therefore do not extend the children’s imagination or participation in that particular theme. For example, I often see travel agent role play areas yet how many children would honestly have any experience of going to a travel agents? Most adults book holidays online and many have never been to a travel agents at all so how can we expect a child to draw from experience and extend their imagination to play the various roles required for a travel agents?


The most compelling advice I found in his blog was ‘you create a space that is full of things that can be anything.’ This message is so powerful yet so many of us fail to do this on a daily basis. Many settings tend to limit children’s imagination by only allowing them to engage and play with ‘what’s out’ or ‘on the table.’ This is a fear of ‘they will only make a mess’ or ‘I’ve spent ages setting up this supermarket and they just come in and put the play food everywhere.’


So with all this motivation, passion and energy I decided to create an area, which encompasses not just role-play but also small world play and construction.


The results have been absolutely amazing! I didn’t think I would ever observe so much creativity, imagination and collaboration. The children are engaged, in control and most importantly, happy! The depth of language and thinking is astonishing. The children have complete ownership of their ideas and what they produce is outstanding and different everyday.



In relation to the Characteristics of Learning free access to a variety of resources allows children to tick every box. Through this type of play the children demonstrate numerous ways of achieving learning outcomes. The list below shows how this approach embraces child-led learning and promotes all areas, which intertwine with the characteristics of learning.

Playing and Exploring –

They are:
• Showing curiosity
• Engaged
• Using imagination
• Taking on roles in the play
• Taking risks
• Seeking challenges
• Initiating activities and ideas


Active Learning-

They are:
• Staying focused
• Displaying high levels of fascination
• Staying on task
• Keep trying
• Using different approaches
• Bouncing back
• Displaying Self achievement
• Enjoying
• Taking pride in their work

Creating and Thinking Critically

They are:
• Thinking of ideas
• Solving problems
• Finding new ways of doing things
• Making links and patterns
• Making predictions
• Testing ideas
• Developing ideas
• Changing strategies
• Reflecting
• Making own decisions


This is not a ‘must do’ guide but simply how I achieved a ‘free choice creative and imaginative area.’ In order to set this up I needed to take account of:

• Space
• Resources
• Adult interaction (both intervening and giving guidance as well as letting go/standing back.)



Selecting a good sized space is preferable but a corner of the room will do. It’s important to select a space, which is not a walk-way or an area that needs to be tidied up after every session or at the end of everyday. After spending up to an hour working on a ‘superbase’ or ‘Ariel’s cave’ its important the children have the opportunity to go back to their creation after lunch or even the following morning.


Most early years settings already have a large array of resources, which would be ideal for this area. I have listed resources, which are very popular within my setting and are easily attainable.

• Different lengths of wood (both natural and painted with chalkboard paint)
• cable drums
• wooden blocks
• logs (better if they have holes)
• sticks
• tires
• bowls
• trays
• baskets
• stones
• shells
• pine cones
• dice.

It’s also essential that the children then have free access to all small world and construction resources. I organised my small world baskets into; sea animals, wild animals, dinosaurs, fantasy characters, medieval figures, farm animals, people, minibeasts and transport. There are lots more ideas you could use such as pirates, space, fairies, construction site etc but that is depending on your children’s interests.


The construction resources were organised into larger baskets which consisted of; Lasy, stickle bricks, Lego, Duplo, Gears, Mobilo, 3D large plastic shapes and Popoids. Again, this is your classroom so just use the resources you have, with a bit of imagination the children can create and construct with almost anything. Please see @cosydirect for a wide range of natural excellent resources and @CreativeSTAR for inspiration to take this approach in the outdoor environment.

The area could also be enhanced even further if children have free access to maths resources. I’m all for natural play with natural objects but its nice for the children to make their own choice and develop their play into different paths using a variety of materials such as plastic or coloured metal. I have a maths/fine motor resource trolley placed next to the area. Sometimes the children will use these within their creation and sometimes they will use them on their own. The trolley includes; compare animals, clever sticks, multilink, chain links, 3d wooden block shapes, octagons, Interstar rings, coloured plastic straws and magnetic objects.

Within the classroom I also have a large assortment of cultural and intriguing objects and artifacts to stimulate wonder and conversation. These include unusual shells and stones, a boomerang, Russian dolls, assortment trays, a statue of Buddha, Diva lamps, Japanese wooden dolls, African baskets, Turkish coffee pots, Brass and copper tea pots, a candelabra, bronze milk jugs, an Afghan rug. I have probably forgot a few things but you get the idea. (I recommend ebay, car boot sales and charity shops for these resources.)

I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog about my journey into creating spaces that are open ended, accessible and don’t restrict the children’s ideas, imagination and creativity.
The most valuable advice I would give, is to allow the children freedom of choice in selecting resources to enhance their learning by providing opportunities for them to be independent, problem solvers, team players and creative.

If you enjoyed this and would like more ideas follow me on Twitter at @LagomEyfs or click here

Posted in Classroom, Curriculum, G Post, Mathematics, Number, Primary, Resources, Shape and Space, Teacher Tagged with: , , , , , ,

Have you seen these Ideas for after school maths clubs that don’t suck?


#teammagicalmaths @ChrisWorthington

Ideas for after school maths clubs that don’t suck

It’s an unusual child who doesn’t find maths dull and boring at some point during their school life, no matter what their natural aptitude for the subject might be. Children who have less natural ability for maths may also find it at first baffling, then later quite scary as they fall further and further behind. An inspirational and fun after school club can help children of all abilities and mindsets over maths. Here are some ideas which could help you to seek one out that doesn’t, in the words no doubt of your child, ‘suck’.


  • Don’t make it like school – encourage children to be relaxed and comfortable, and dispense with the need for school uniform. The less the child sees it as being part of school and more like a social club with friends, the more receptive they are likely to be.
  • Make the maths practical – a frequent cry, especially from older children, is that what they learn in the classroom isn’t useful to them, and this automatically makes them switch off. Concentrate on important arithmetic skills, such as adding up shopping items, or how to budget their allowance effectively, so that they start to learn skills that they will use when budgeting for their home in later life. Do introduce concepts like Venn diagrams (useful for anything from gift buying to food shopping!), fractions and equations almost by stealth; the more relevant they appear, the better.
  • Make the maths fun – apply maths to their everyday lives; children who are keen watchers of any programme with phone votes will enjoy learning how the public can overturn any scoring or comments by judges, and working out the maths for themselves.
  • Show how maths is part of every other subject – show how maths is part of everything from PE to Art; how footballers will have to calculate angles when they take a shot at goal, and how artists have to understand perspective to paint and draw realistically. In other words, show them how maths is most definitely for them, as it’s part of everything they do!
  • Develop maths problems that are multi-level – this will encourage children with less natural ability, and stretch those that are more able to solve complex questions. Encourage children to explain their working in their own words; sometimes peer help is more effective than assistance from a class leader.

After school clubs can sometimes be stressful for a child that is already overworked; if regular attendance isn’t possible, but you feel they still need extra maths help, consider a holiday club. Many schools, such as Rossall School, run holiday clubs that are for children that aren’t already pupils as well as those that are. The social element of these, including the excitement of meeting new friends, can often make them very appealing, and make learning easy as the children are more relaxed and receptive.

Maths might seem like a mystery, but there are many ways to make it fun to learn.

Posted in G Post, Maths Toolkit, Uncategorized

Art and writing activities to try with kids


#teammagicalmaths Bethany Taylor

Art & Writing Activities to Try with the Kids

Art and writing are important. As well as learning subjects such as maths and science, the more ‘creative’ lessons broaden children’s minds, strengthen their imaginations, and even help them to understand themselves and others better. If you’re wondering how to engage children this year at home and in the classroom, give these activities a go. Just be sure to stock up on stationery supplies from an educational supplier before you get started (such as this one here, for instance), as all of these activities require pens, paper and other arty materials!


For helping you understand who they are

Whether we’re a teacher responsible for a class, or a parent responsible for a child, we think we really know the children we look after. But is this true? Ask the child to draw a love heart on a large piece of paper. Their job is to fill it up with all the different things that they love so that you can get a real insight into what really matters to a child. For instance, they might want to draw sections that represents their parents, siblings, friends, pets, hobbies and bedroom. They can write or draw each section, filling it up with colour while taking care to present it nicely. If this is an activity you’re doing in the classroom, hang the posters on the wall to create an eye-catching display, and if you’re doing it at home, fix it in an area where your child will feel like you’re proud of their artistic endeavours.

For building relationships

This is an activity beloved by teachers, perfect for the beginning of the year when they have a class full of new faces. It helps teachers to get to know their new pupils, but more importantly, helps children to make friends with one another. Task children with writing their own ‘personal ad’, explaining what kind of friend they are (fun, loyal, and sometimes a little bit quiet because they’re thinking) and what they’re looking for in a friend (someone who likes playing football at lunchtime and is happy even when disagreements happen, for instance). While this is a good writing activity for the start of the term, teachers make a point of doing it throughout the year to help smooth rifts among friendship groups and encourage children to give their peers a chance.


For encouraging their imagination

Finally, history lessons are a part of the school curriculum, and children love learning about history at home too, be it through documentaries, films or books that are set in historical times. Ask them to pretend they’ve visited the place they’re learning about, and then they’ll need to write a postcard or a letter to a friend or family member, explaining what they’ve been doing, what the place looked like, smelled like and sounded like. What food did they eat, and what surprising things did they see? This is a useful writing activity for promoting creativity and imagination, and will prompt children to use lots of descriptive words while really delving deeply into what it would be like to time travel.

Posted in Product Review, Uncategorized