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Small Schools Week – The Importance of Governors

The last week in June was National Small School week, fittingly for us it was an incredibly busy week and I thought I would use the opportunity to highlight the importance of our governors.

I’m sure you will have met some of our governors here at school – they regularly attend events such as open evenings and coffee mornings. You can find out more here. 

This Small Schools Week saw two meetings involve our governing board. The first was a committee meeting with the ‘premises, ethos and welfare’ committee. At the meeting (which we hold every term) we were looking at a health and safety audit that the school recently undertook. There were no immediate and serious concerns, so the governors were able to look long term and consider how best we could support the school in the future. We talked about the adventure playground and the cost to fix or replace our tyre structure and we discussed the parent / career questionnaire and when best to undertake the next one.

The other meeting this week was with parents. The governors invited parents in to explore our structure for next year and address any questions. This was attended by a few parents – it is always hard to encourage parents to attend these meetings – and we were happy that we did try to attend to their concerns and answered their questions.

Small schools rely on their governors.

Here at Castle Carrock our governors are part of school life. They regularly attend school functions such as Parents’ Evening, Open Evenings and Coffee Mornings. They also attend day-to-day life at the school – coming in to see reading, or to take part in Assemblies. The governors have attended e-safety sessions and our ‘Racism: Kick it Out’ sessions. Governors come in to see how relationships are with the children; how our systems work and to talk to the pupils about their learning.

Governors are a vital part of leadership and management – forward thinking and challenging, exploring options and, importantly, holding the school to account for the outcomes for the children. Governors are volunteers, and as far as possible they need to reflect our community whilst at the same time providing skills and perspectives that are useful.

Maintaining a governor board can be tough and can be a big issue in small schools with a limited community.They serve a fixed time – and here at school we will be recruiting parent governors again in September.

 

Class 4 Trialling an Electronic Response System

Electronic Response System in Class 4

… or ‘Pods’ as we call them.

This year we have begun trialling some new electronic gadgets in the classroom. The scheme is being run through the University of Cumbria and we are amongst the first schools in the country to trial these, although they have previously been used in universities.

What do the gadgets do?

Essentially, they look like a small Blackberry phone, and are used to communicate with the teacher’s laptop which links to the Smartboard at the front of the class.

At a basic level, the teacher can set a task with different levels of questions and the children work through the task at their level. As they do so, their progress is immediately displayed on the teacher’s screen, so the teacher can see immediately if a child is struggling with a particular type of question and know to go to them and assist.

A teacher can also ask spot questions and allow the children to respond on their Pods. This is particularly useful in maths, where responses can be shown anonymously in a graph, so children can see if they have got a different answer to the majority without feeling embarrassed about having given an incorrect answer.

 

How can we use them in  advanced ways?

In literacy, we have found the Pods particularly useful for developing word banks. A picture can be displayed on the screen and the children think up adjectives to describe the image. Their adjectives can then immediately be displayed on the screen for use by the class. Children could then, for example, be encouraged to think of an alliterative phrase including one of the adjectives. Again, these could be displayed and then children could be asked to put one of the phrases into an opening sentence for their work.

The advantages of using the Pods over ‘hands up’ is considerable. All children are engaged in the activity at the same time and the teacher is able to direct thinking in any direction they choose, for example they could direct children to expand and improve the sentences on the board by adding a semicolon. Children have the security of responses being anonymous to the rest of the class, but the teacher gets an immediate assessment of which children know, for example, how to use a semicolon correctly.

What about the fact it’s a trial?

As mentioned above, the trial is being run by the University of Cumbria. They are gathering data, through myself, about our use of the Pods including frequency of use, the type of tasks, and children’s opinions about the gadgets. Evening sessions for teachers are run at the university to direct our data collection and to help use use the software and the Pods to their full capabilities. Future developments of the gadgets will be based on the research of all schools involved in the programme.

So far, the response to the Pods has been mostly positive, with children engaging well with activities. A few technical difficulties have been identified, which will go towards the research and development, however most children are becoming increasingly confident in using the gadgets.

Thanks for reading,

Mr Tyrrell

Aspirations!

It’s that time of year again!

Each year I ask our Year 6 children to think about what they would like to do with their education.

We have a lovely conversation all about careers and their plans and we think about what we know about the adults around us and the jobs they do.

I then try to find people who do these jobs, or who have experience of these careers, to speak to our children. Answer their questions, talk about their journey and, possibly, inspire our children to aim high

This is year we are already planning our visitors. I have had the privilege of a fascinating chat with Year 6 – and they had some brilliant questions all about a wide range of careers.

Of course, you know what I am going to ask now…

We need you! More specifically, do you know anyone who is or are you..

  • an interior designer?
  • Working in computer game design…
  • A chef?
  • A small business owner..? (This was non-specific and was based on a discussion about how you would set up your own shop, or internet service)
  • Astronaut?
  • archaeologist

Or perhaps you know someone with an interesting career who has a story to tell?

If you can help us with this, please do get in touch! 

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Why World Book Day?

At the last Governors’ questionnaire a few families expressed their reservations about ‘dress up days’ at school – telling us that they could be expensive, and for some, a lot of work.

I understand this; and this year we have cut back. Last year, we held a Shakespeare Day in the first term and the year before that a World War II day (in addition to World Book Days and any School Council themed ideas). However I can’t give up on World Book Day, not yet anyway, and I thought I would write and explain why.

When I started here – nearly three years ago now – I asked the children what they enjoyed about the school and what they would like more of. Reading came up, the children loved it! But with two problems: the older children told me that they often bring in their own books as the school doesn’t have a great selection and the younger children didn’t always enjoy reading at school as much.

We thought about this, interestingly the younger classes have always celebrated World Book Day with Class 1 taking advantage of their love of dressing up. Chatting with staff we realised that yes, our Library could do with an update (and we have done just that!) and maybe a ‘love of reading’ focus would help the school. Hence the first year of my time at Castle Carrock was a ‘Year of Reading’. That year the whole school dressed up for the first time. The children absolutely loved it – we had such a variety of outfits and characters that I spent all day talking to the children about their choices and what their book character would do in this situation, or how their character would react in other situations. We had World Book Day food and held a parade in the afternoon – it was a real sense of occasion!

In the second year we toned down the sense of occasion slightly – it was ‘A Year of Science’ after all and we had other things to do… you may remember the 3D Printer and the online lessons with Tim Peake on the International Space Station. It was still a dress up day and we had some fantastically inventive ideas. The staff had a theme of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ (let’s not think too much about the peach costume!). Both adults and children celebrated all the different worlds that books can take us to.

Work Book Day 2017

This year we have a theme of ‘Heroes and Villains’ – and, more importantly for the older children, a World Book Day sleepover on the Friday night. The school council mention a sleepover every time we ask them what they want – so I had to do something eventually!! Our year is a focus on a ‘Year in the Life of Our school‘ – and books are a huge part of any Primary School! In our busy curriculum it is a luxury to devote time to books, old and new, fact and fiction, for a day!

World Book Day allows us to remind children that we all love books, that books give much to our culture and our future. We explore character and narrative and we can be a bit silly with it. It’s a national occasion and we share what we are doing with schools across the country; across the world; (and last year) across Space! Classrooms are transformed for a day – and for some children who may not always enjoy school all of the time it is a different kind of day.

I know not all children enjoy dressing up and there is no penalty for not joining in! And every year I try to convince our older boys that a ‘generic footballer’ is not really in the spirit of the day.. But I feel the chance for the school to pull together in the ‘spirit of the occasion’ is worth it. I hope you agree!

Saying this – we don’t get want to get stuck in a rut – maybe next year we do something instead of dressing up? I’ll ask the school council…

Do you have any photographs or comments? Please share them below!

Maths Journals

We’ve been trying something new in Class 4 these last few weeks.

As you know, as part of the old a school wide focus we have on Maths we have been looking at how we teach maths and the best way to get children thinking mathematically. Some of this has been a huge push on knowledge – e.g. Knowing their time tables by heart, knowing their number bonds to ten etc. However some of it has also been around their application of mathematics – in other words can they take their knowledge and then apply it to problems and to investigations.

Recently I went to a conference looking at new ways of assessment within the new curriculum. At this conference I happened to speak to another Head Teacher all about ‘Maths Journals’ – a different way of getting the children to explore the way in which they think mathematically. This involved leading investigations each week; asking the children to think about a seemingly simple problem – but then take it to a deeper level. Also to explore the different way of working and, crucially at this age, to work together exploring the ideas of their team mates.

We have been leading this weekly sessions with Class 4 now for about half a term – and have been really pleased with the quality of their work. We started by exploring place value – looking for patterns when adding tens and ones together.  This was a simple start but it gave the children the chance to practise the crucial skill of writing their thinking and explaining their ideas. This is harder than it sounds and is the reason that we are using journals instead of ordinary maths books. The journals allow the children to write their ideas, and to explore what they are doing. We work in group – on large bits of sugar paper – and then we distill this thinking to our journals. How far we can take our thinking depends on what we are working on.

Next steps? We want to share what we are doing with other schools  –  and I already have plans to share some of our work with schools throughout the country. A few Skype chats with other pupils ans I hope our children realise just how hard they are working – and crucially just how much they are learning!

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Try this at home – start simple thinking about times tables. What pattern can you see between x2 an x4 tables? Can you predict a pattern? What about x8? Write them out side by side and see what you get.