Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Primary Literacy - The Paralympics

Whilst the Paralympics would seem to give us plenty of scope for activities in sport and in maths, there’s a lot of English work that can easily be drawn out of it, linking to other curriculum areas. In the following activities we’ll show you how to use the event for some thought provoking English.

Activity One - Overcoming adversity

LO: To be able to ask relevant questions to obtain information
       To be able to plan an interview and take notes on the answers given

One of the overriding features of the Paralympics is the courage and motivation that athletes have had to enable them to avoid self-pity and to achieve a goal despite the adversity.

Many of us are faced with adversity in our lives and it’s the way we deal with it that defines us. In this activity the children develop interviewing techniques as well as gain an understanding into what it is like to be unable to compete on the same level as able bodied people.

The Organisation England Athletics supports disabled athletes in their sports and encourages local athletics clubs to do the same. 

Invite a member of your local club to visit school and to tell the children their story. The children should prepare questions beforehand to ask the athlete and focus on the level of determination it took for them to be able to compete in their chosen sport.

Follow this up with a citizenship lesson on facing and overcoming adversity, not necessarily a physical one but maybe one in learning or in social situations.

Ask the children to talk about things they find difficult to do, perhaps a particular subject or a topic in the subject and find out from them what their response is to facing the problem. Ask them to write a short piece comparing the difficulty they face with that the athlete did and identify similarities and differences.
At Home: Can the children find examples from other fields where people have overcome great adversity to be successful – examples could include Helen Keller, Beethoven, Einstein or Franklin D Roosevelt.

Activity Two – Biography

LO: To be able to write for different purposes and audiences
      To identify relevant information in research activities and make notes on it

There is often a tragic, yet ultimately heart-warming story behind the lives of disabled athletes. The website

lists some of the world’s greatest and best known disabled athletes and tells a little of their story.
Biography is a great writing skill to acquire and this activity helps the children to develop it.
Read the children the brief biographies given on the website and ask them to choose a disabled athlete that they want to find out more about. Use the internet to research key information in note form and ask them to write a biography of them.

Begin by reading a brief biography of a famous person to the children and ask them to tell you the features of the biography. They are likely to include that it’s chronological, deals with their family life to begin with then lists their achievements. It uses a lot of description but is still concise. It also uses no dialogue.
With younger classes you can use this template:

What is their name?

When and where were they born?

When and how did they become disabled?

How and when did they become interested in their sport?

What were the difficulties they faced?

How did they try to overcome them?

What successes have they had?

What are their hopes for the future?

Older children can still use the template as a guide, completing their writing as a passage rather than as a series of statements.

At Home: Ask the children to find out what the difference is between biography and autobiography and think of a way in which the two might differ in terms of how the subject is perceived.

Activity Three - Empathetic Poetry

LO: To be able to use the structure of a poem to help express the emotion of empathy
      To be able to respond empathetically to expressed emotions

Empathy is a difficult emotion to develop but by listening to stories of someone’s life and experiences together with the opportunity to talk about it afterwards, you can help children to develop empathy. Use one of the biographies from a previous activity, either one of the athletes or one of the other famous people who overcame difficulties or disabilities.

Questions are important here and you should begin by asking the children to think of what they’d like to find out more detail of about the person. Encourage them to ask questions which use emotion words such as ‘How did you feel when…?’ ‘What did people think when…?’ or ‘Did you think you would ever…?’
These kinds of questions elicit responses which the children can take a position on, either they will feel sorry for the person, pleased that they overcame the problem, in awe of their determination or proud of their achievements.

Poetry can be a very expressive way of showing emotions and no less so than to display empathy.
Depending on the ability of the children you can start them at different stages of the process in this activity.
For the less able, give them a template where they need to make a response to a statement. e.g. 

When I found out that I couldn’t walk...
When I found out I couldn’t run to play with my friends…
When I found I couldn’t see…

The responses could be in the simplest form as a verb such as ‘I cried’ or in a longer sentence.
More able children could use a template that allows for more detailed information such as…

When I see children running I..
When I hear children playing …
When a friend picks up a puppy …

The responses to these encourage a longer sentence with more emphasis on how they might feel if they can’t walk, don’t have functioning arms or can’t see.

Finally, the able poets in the class could really get to grips with feelings, either if it’s them in that position or if they see another with disabilities by starting their poem off with how they feel.

At Home: Use a dictionary or thesaurus to find words which convey feelings. Use them in the next English lesson to improve the verbs in your poem.

Primary Literacy - The Cultural Olympiad

You’d be right in thinking that the Cultural Olympiad would include many works by Britain’s most famous poets, writers and playwrights. Performances of plays, readings of extracts of famous books and recital of great poetry have all marked the Olympiad. In this series of activities you will introduce the children to some of Britain’s best loved poetry, the world’s most enjoyed stories and help them to use recognised plots in creating great stories of their own.

Activity One – Poetry Recital

LO: Be able to confidently recite a piece of poetry to an audience using expression, pace and dynamics
       Be able to learn a piece of poetry or prose off by heart

Reciting poetry develops speaking and listening skills, confidence and an understanding of poetry and prose. Children get too few chances to express themselves through performance these days with the crush of the curriculum but spending some time working on poetry recital is very worthwhile across the curriculum as it gives children the confidence to speak out and offer opinions.

Children are mainly exposed to modern and often humorous poetry but have little experience of more serious or classic poetry until they reach KS3. Begin by reading a poem to the children that is in a style and on a subject that may be unfamiliar to them. Suggestions include Christina Rossetti’s ‘A Birthday’ William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ or for something a little different, Benjamin Zephaniah’s ‘Talking Turkeys. You could also choose pieces from the LAMDA syllabus

You can of course choose your own poems but try to aim for ones that express ideas from other cultures or countries.

Begin by reading it in a normal voice avoiding emphasis and dynamics. Ask the children what they thought of the poem. Now read it with feelings, expression and dynamics and ask the children what they think now.
Write a simple phrase or sentence on the board, for example ‘No, I won’t go’

Talking Point: Discuss the different ways the sentence or phrase could be said.
Under what circumstances might we say the words in each of those styles?
Now choose one of the ways the children have suggested the words could be said, for example, in a whisper. Suggest to them that if this was a line in a poem, what lines might come before it and after it. You should find that they’ll suggest lines that indicate a secret or a desire not to be heard, for example…

Will you go with me?
‘No I won’t go’
I’m too scared

Ask the children to use the way they suggested ‘No I won’t go.’ might be said and to write the line before and the line after.

Talking Point: Ask the children to read out their work using the style they suggested. Ask the rest of the class if they think it worked with the additional lines.

The next step is to get children to practise a piece of poetry or prose for recital. You can do it formally by entering the children into the London Academy for Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA) Speaking and Listening Exams or more informally, choose poems or prose from their syllabus and do it yourself in school. The document also gives guidance as to what the performer needs to do to recite it perfectly.

It’s good to give the children an audience so try to arrange an assembly when they can perform their pieces to the whole school.

At Home: It’s important for the children to practise their pieces and setting practice for homework means they get to perform it to family where they are likely to be more confident.

Activity Two – Using Plots in Different Settings

LO: Be able to identify the plot within a story
Use a recognised plot as a scaffold for rewriting the story in a different setting

Many of us will have been to performances of plays or operas, or seen them on TV where the original setting has been changed giving a freshness to the play or opera. One of the favourites of Hollywood is to use the plots from Shakespeare and place them in a modern setting.

For this activity, unless you’ve been studying a Shakespeare play in detail, you’ll need to start simply. Choose a play from the BBC Animated Shakespeare series and watch it with the children.

Talking Point: Ask the children to tell you what the plot of the story was. You may have to explain the word plot to younger or less able pupils.

Map out the plot on the board avoiding using specifics that tie it to the original setting and ask the children to think about how that plot could be transposed into say, the school playground, or a soap opera.

Write the story as a class on the board as a precursor to the children writing their own. Read out the class story and check with the children that they think the plot is the same.

Now choose a different play from the animated series and after identifying the plot, ask the children to write their own story using the plot.

At Home: Shakespeare’s plays had characters of different shades. Give the children a list of the ‘dramatis personae’ from the plays they’ve watched and ask them to sort them into good or bad characters. Many of his characters were influencers or influenced by others. Ask the more able children to decide which of these labels they would place the characters under.

Activity Three – Shakespeare’s Sonnets

LO: Identify and translate unfamiliar language in classic poetry using contextual clues
      Be able to identify the metre of sonnets and use it to maintain the style in work of their own

Shakespeare’s sonnets are some of the earliest forms of poetry that children will come across in school. They are quite hard to access but they provide a useful tool for decoding language and understanding the meaning of words and phrases.

Choose one of the better known sonnets such as…

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d
And every fair from fair sometimes declines
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Or lose possession of that fair thou ownest
Nor shall death brag thou wanderest in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou growest
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
So long lives this and this gives life to thee

Read the sonnet to the children and ask them who they think it’s from and to.

Go through the poem and explain the meaning of thou, thy and thee.

Now ask the children for their ideas on the meanings of some of the more difficult words which are underlined. Encourage them to use contextual clues to help their suggestions.

Can they spot the use of metaphors in the sonnet?

Finally, give them a copy of the sonnet, double spaced, so they can try to turn it into modern language. Some of the less able may need help and it can be useful here to use learning partners.

At Home:  You’ll find that the translation will make the sonnet a little clumsy. As an extension activity or for homework, ask the children to rewrite their translation to make it flow better.

Secondary Maths - Did you know? Notes from the history of Maths

Keeping it in the family

It seems to be often the case that mathematical aptitude is not evenly spread in families. Parents often say they can’t help their gifted child at home, as they were rubbish at Maths themselves. There are exceptions and here are some notable ones from the history of Mathematics.

Theon and his daughter Hypatia of Alexandria, lived in the 5th century AD. Theon is famous for his versions of the works of Euclid. In fact, his was the standard version of Euclid’s Elements used for over 1500 years. Euclid’s treatment of geometry fundamentally changed the nature of the subject, making proof central to future mathematics. Hypatia helped her father with this and also wrote versions of the work of Diophantus and Apollonius. She is particularly known for her explanation of the latter’s work on conics. She is also known for the manner of her death – she was killed by a mob of fanatical Christians at a time of political and religious conflict.

Euclid’s Elements was also central to the work of Farkas Bolyai (1775-1856) and his son János (1802-1860). They lived in what is now Romania. Farkas struggled to make a living as a mathematician. He was paid so little as a teacher, he ran the College pub. His main work, Tentamen, was an attempt to give a rigorous and systematic foundation to Mathematics. Euclid had done this for geometry; proving results from basic, self-evident axioms. One of these axioms, the fifth, stood out as it looked like it should be proved from simpler ones. An equivalent of this axiom, called Playfair’s axiom, states that you can draw only one line parallel to another line through a point not on the line.

In 1804, Bolyai thought he had deduced this from the other axioms. He sent this to his life-long friend Gauss, who discovered an error in the work. Farkas attempted to stop his son carrying on with the same work. János explored the geometrical implications of not assuming the fifth postulate was true – this heralded the understanding of non-Euclidean geometries. In Bolyai’s geometry no parallel line can be drawn. Such a geometry is wholly consistent and turns out to be that drawn on a hyperbolic surface (like a saddle). In this geometry the angles of a triangle sum to less than 180º.

The greatest family of mathematicians has to be the Bernoullis. In three successive generations, this family had eight members who made significant contributions during the 18th century. They were a wealthy family of Swiss traders but the two brothers Jacob and Johann resisted their father’s wish that they take over the family spice business and they studied mathematics instead. Jacob invented polar co-ordinates and calculated the value of e.  In 1690 he renewed interest in the problem of finding the curve made by a loose chain hung between two points. Amongst those coming up with a solution was his brother Johann, who showed that the curve was a catenary:
where ‘a’ depends on the mass of the chain.

Jacob was also interested in logarithmic spirals. These are sometimes called equiangular as a line from the centre is cut by the curve always at the same angle. He asked that one be included on his grave with the words ‘Eadem mutate resurgo’  (‘Though changed, I shall arise the same’). Unfortunately, the artisan engraved the wrong type - an Archimedean spiral (equal gaps) rather than a logarithmic one.
The wrong Spiral on Jacob Bernoulli’s plaque

Of Johann’s sons, Daniel is the most famous for his work on fluid mechanics especially the inverse relationship between the speed and pressure of a fluid – the basis of aeroplane wings.

Don Hoyle
Mathematics Matters

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Secondary All - Back to School Icebreakers

With the start of a new academic year fast approaching, now is a good time to be thinking about what to do in those first lessons back. Despite how busy you will inevitably be and how little time you will have to teach everything your students need to know, it is always worth dedicating part of the first lesson to some icebreaker activities. They have the following benefits:

  • Helping a new group of students to get to know each other. 
  • Diminishing any first day nerves.
  • Encouraging cooperation and listening skills.
  • Building a good rapport between teacher and students.
  • Helping both the teacher and students to learn names. 

None of the suggested activities below claim to offer anything particularly new; they might instead be a reminder of activities you used to do, but have since forgotten about. In addition, they all require little or no preparation time. A word of warning: if you are meeting a new group of students on the last lesson of the first day back they have possibly had a whole day of icebreakers so save your most exciting activities for that class!

Truth and Lies
This is my favourite icebreaker and it requires no preparation. Ask the students to introduce themselves and then to tell the class two statements about themselves, one that is true and one that is not. (Give the class a few minutes to think about their choices). The rest of the class then vote on which statement they think is true before the truth is revealed. It is a good idea for the teacher to join in too. Over the years, this activity has revealed some very interesting facts about my students. For example, in recent years I have discovered that a very shy female student is a weightlifting champion and that another holds a black belt in karate!

Every student has a grid on a piece of card with a different statement in each box ( for example, find someone in the room who… is not on Facebook/ plays a musical instrument/ can speak French/ has a tattoo). The students need to talk to everyone in the class to try to complete their card. The first person to write a name in each box is the winner. It is then interesting to ask the students to share their answers to learn more about the group.

Five facts about my new friend 
Ask students to get into pairs with someone they don’t know and have a conversation. After five minutes, ask them to reveal five facts about that student to the rest of the class.

Name chain
This is a very simple way of learning names, but it requires a lot of concentration! Sitting in a circle, each student introduces themselves and every other student in the room who went before them. This is of course very easy for the student who gets to go first and far more challenging for those who go last. After the students have done this I find it very useful to then have a go myself at attempting to name everyone in the room correctly.

Guess who
Everyone writes down one interesting fact about themselves on a slip of paper. Put the slips of paper into a box and read them out (discarding any obscene ones if necessary!) The class need to guess who wrote it. After three incorrect guesses the student should identify themselves. (This activity works best at the end of the first week when the class knows a little bit about each other.)

Spin the bottle Q&A
A classroom appropriate version of the teenage party game! The students need to sit in a circle. Spin the bottle to select the first student. They will then spin the bottle and ask a question to whomever the bottle lands on. It is a good idea to have a box of suggested questions, but the students can come up with their own. Questions could include: if you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? If you could live in any period of history, when would it be? If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Coat of arms 
Give the students an outline of a shield on coloured paper divided into four or six segments. In each segment the students can draw something that is important to them or that tells the class something about themselves. For example, their favourite food, band, or book, where they have a part time job, where they went on holiday, their favourite subject or anything that they are interested in. Ask for volunteers to explain what they have drawn. This can make a nice classroom display for the start of term.

Emily Painter
Sociology Teacher, Cadbury Sixth Form College