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Making classwork a fun challenge

Why does Karen Miller's P2 class think math and language lessons aren't classwork?

Primary Teacher, Carlogie Primary School, Angus

I spent the first few weeks as a probationer in awe of my P2 stage partner's active math sessions. Her class could be heard chatting away and having a great time, the evidence of learning was evident in their drawings and written and spoken responses. They were all engaged and on task: something next door was working! I spent one of my out-of-class times observing the active math session and it fired me up to get started on some of my own.

My challenge challenge

At the start of the second term, with help and advice from my stage partner, I had six math challenges prepared and ready to go. Each was written up in simple language with attractive, interesting resource packs and open-ended learning anticipated.

The children were set up into six mixed-ability groups of four, and we spent time at the start of the first session looking at each challenge as a whole class to make sure that at least one person in each group felt they understood each challenge.

The groups then had one of the challenges each to complete using at least some cooperation within the group. At the end of the session each group fed back to the whole class on their particular challenge and the learning they could identify (with prompting!) within it.

Record of learning

We took lots of photographs to record the learning and the fun. Some of the recording of learning was done in drawing form, some on wipe-clean boards and sheets, some as playdough models. Photographing these made the evidence available to keep for my records, for the children's enjoyment and for parents on parents' night.

But the majority of the learning evidence was in the children. We progressed through the challenges by giving each group a different challenge each week and feeding back to the class. The vocabulary and understanding that the children developed was amazing.

Exceeding expectations

They took many of the challenges beyond my anticipated goals:

  • They changed simple adding challenges into adding multiple figures together or take away challenges. (One of my weakest pupils added together a string of 25 figures correctly! Luck? Don't know and don't care, the confidence boost and kudos it gave her was phenomenal.)
  • They took the "Numbers within 100" challenge well beyond 100, and were even challenging each other to find the numbers before or after up to the 900s.
  • They invented a colour-mixing challenge from the "Rubik's Cube adding challenge" I had devised.
  • The "Pirate treasure challenge" resulted in them adding up into the pounds, not the pence I had anticipated.
  • Some playdough flowers had dozens of petals on them not just the stories up to 20 I had hoped for.

From math to language

I was delighted with the results and the application the children brought to the challenges. I began setting a few language challenges to the children, basing them on the reading system in use in school and on the anticipated arrival of Santa. They enjoyed these as much as they had the math challenges, so I decided to include language challenges as a timetabled activity as soon as possible.

Teamwork

For term three, my stage partner and I have planned our math and language challenges together, sharing the work of devising and resourcing them and timetabling our use of these materials not to coincide. These will take up almost a whole morning each for the next six weeks, and many have a spring/Easter theme to them.

Worthwhile

I for one can't wait to get started and see the children's reactions to the new challenges. They have been a challenge for me, which has involved: devising active, open-ended learning tasks; providing useful verbal formative feedback during the activities; accepting that evidence of learning comes in many forms; receiving children's criticism of the challenges during feedback and adapting the challenges/resources accordingly.

However, apart from the obvious reward of the learning benefits to the children, I have to say the total lack of marking is a joy too!