Sci-Fi Convention: World Book Day 2017

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Image credit: Belle Deesse

To give a bit of context, I work at a truly wonderful, secondary school called Wilmington Academy, a non-selective school in North-West Kent, and part of the Leigh Academies Trust. The school had gone into ‘Special Measures’ in 2009, but with hard work and perseverance, the school was able to rise from the ashes in 2012, when we were rated as a ‘Good’ school during our Ofsted Inspection that year. The majority of our students are male, as there are more schools for girls in the area than boys. We also have a higher number of students with SEN needs than the national average , while also seeing anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of each year group behind in their chronologically reading ages. Our students struggle with literacy, numeracy, the use of thinking skills, and developing a self-sufficient work ethic. But like most things worth accomplishing, it is not impossible.

For the last four years, Wilmington Academy has produced a World Book Day Festival to celebrate all things literacy. After last year’s successful Tri-Wizard Tournament and 2014’s Hunger Games Festival, it was a challenge to think of what could possibly compete; however, the trick was to not choose a book series, but focus on which kind of genre could engage the highest number of our students.

Enter Science-Fiction – one of the most beloved genres in the known universe. With the recent releases of the new ‘Star Wars’ films and the ensuing release of new canonical literature, the reboot of ‘Star Trek’, and the continued popularity of ‘Doctor Who’ on our screens, there was little reason not to make this our central theme. But the nature of these two week events has been to promote competition, creative thinking, craftsmanship, problem solving, and collaboration. How were we going to do that?

An Inter-Galactic Congress of course. Our school is divided into three distinct colleges with 14 tutor groups (form groups) in each. They receive 30 minutes each day to work on SMSC related tasks, so they are the perfect vehicle for this kind of project and the main source of delivery for our World Book Day Festivals.

The premise was simple: each college would become their own galaxy, and be invited to an Inter-Galactic Congress by the High Chancellor of the Inter-Galactic Senate (our Headteacher). The purpose is to share technology, write galactic law, resolve inter-species conflict, and have a bit of fun in the process. There would be 20 challenges: 10 group challenges that would allow students to work collaboratively and 10 individual challenges that would give individual students the chance to shine. The challenges included creating a planet, an apex species, short films, designing spacecraft, and taking part in a Senate hearing on a newly discovered planet on our borders. Full details of the challenges can be found here:

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The convention then had to be promoted across the academy and in assemblies to really get a buzz going. For this I enlisted the help of a great website called  ‘Star Wars Intro Creator’ to create an original ‘Star Wars’ Intro crawl for our event:

And to keep the convention in the students’ minds we also created posters involving their favourite Science-Fiction universes:

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We also made a resource for students to use to brainstorm, research, and draft their competition entries.

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One of the other key factors that makes these events so successful is that we use them as opportunities for extra-curricular experiences. Each year we have invited in a published author or artist. For the last two years we have had the amazing Sara Grant and  Marcus Alexander run creative writing workshops with our students. This year we chose the amazing William Gallagher, one of the playwrights for the iconic ‘Doctor Who’ series and a published author to do scriptwriting with our students on World Book Day.

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The convention will run from Monday 20th February to Friday 3rd March. Regular updates will be made to this blog post to include student work, special events, and community involvement in the convention.

Have an amazing World Book Day 2017!

The Tri-Wizard Tournament: World Book Day Festival 2016

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Anyone who has read the iconic ‘Harry Potter’ series by J. K. Rowling has wanted to go to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The robes, the quidditch matches, moving staircases, and wizard duelling; but sadly no such place exists.

Until now.

Unsatisfied with the lack of viable wizarding school places available in the South East of England, here at Wilmington Academy we turned our school in Hogwarts for our two week Tri-Wizard Tournament in celebration of World Book Day 2016.

Wilmington Academy is a non-selective school in North-West Kent, and part of the Leigh Academies Trust. The school had gone into ‘Special Measures’ in 2009, but with hard work and perseverance, the school was able to rise from the ashes in 2012, when we were rated as a ‘Good’ school during our Ofsted Inspection that year. The majority of our students are male, as there are more schools for girls in the area than boys. We also have a higher number of students with SEN needs than the national average , while also seeing anywhere from 1/4 to 1/3 of each year group behind in their chronologically reading ages. Our students struggle with literacy, numeracy, the use of thinking skills, and developing a self-sufficient work ethic. But like most things worth accomplishing, it is not impossible.

The main goal of the Tri-Wizard Tournament was to create an event that not only promoted literacy, but allowed students to apply a variety of thinking skills (creative thinking, problem solving, drafting, crafting, proof-reading) to a single task inspired by literature. The tasks allowed all students to shine, with all types of intelligences represented by at least two activities.

Preparations started weeks ahead, with teachers receiving entry packs for the Tri-Wizard Cup. We have 32 tutor groups in the school of mixed ages, so each group was given a country from around the globe and tasked with creating 15 relics (items of great historical importance to their school), and competing in 10 Champion Challenges. The relics included a Founder’s Wand, a Marauder’s Map, a school uniform, and models of the school grounds. The Champion Challenges included a Spelling Bee (‘Harry Potter’ vocabulary only), a Horcrux Hunt, and a Quidditch Cup. Tutor groups were given six weeks to prepare for the event, with a judging timetable to let people know when to compete.

Tri-Wizard Tournament Judging Timetable

Tri-Wizard Tournament Tutor Pack

We also launched the event in assembly to really get the students excited about participating.

Tri-Wizard Assembly

Before the festival started, the entire school was decorated with Hogwarts crests, banners, and classroom signs by the amazing Printed Instinct on Etsy.

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We even decorated the bathroom signs!

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To make the event even more magical, we sent every Year 7 student their own acceptance letter to Hogwarts over the February Half Term and included a ticket on the Hogwarts Express.

From there, on the second day of the Festival, we held a Care of Magical Creatures workshop for all KS3 students, with a visit from Eagle Heights for a falconry workshop.

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We also invited fantasy author Sara Grant in to do a creative writing workshop with our students. They were able to learn how to improve their own writing, as well as the exciting world of a career in professional writing and publishing. She also read students passages from her books ‘Half Lives’ and ‘Chasing Danger’, which comes out in early April.

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More than all of this, our students produced some amazing items, many made from recycled materials. Their use of creativity, ingenuity, and craftsmanship was exceptional.

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Despite being a secondary school, we also saw a number of staff dress up for World Book Day on Thursday 3rd March, along with students who came dressed in their wizarding school uniforms.

So what did the students think?

We had almost 70% of students competing in the available competition slots, up almost 20% from last year’s participation in the Hunger Games Festival. If that doesn’t seem impressive, it is important to note that 70% of our student body means over 500 students took part.

Students also spoke to their tutors about how much they had loved the event, and that maybe they had to admit that reading was “awesome”, “cool”, or even just a little “okay”.

So if you work in a secondary school and don’t think there is a way to motivate and interest your students in the world of reading, I implore you to consider a reading festival like the one we produced here at Wilmington Academy. It has the power to change minds, promote teamwork, and help shed light on talents students may not have known they had.

Happy World Book Day everyone!

World Book Day 2015: The Hunger Games Festival

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When I first suggested a Hunger Games Festival for World Book Day this year I was met with a variety of opinions:

“Interesting . . . how would you go about doing that?”

“Awesome! I can’t wait for that!”

“Riiighht . . .”

‘What are The Hunger Games?”

What are “The Hunger Games” indeed. For those who have been living under a rock, The Hunger Games is the dystopian trilogy by Suzanne Collins that follows the journey of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year old young woman who volunteers to take the place of her younger sister Prim, whose name is chosen to compete as tribute in ‘The Hunger Games’. This barbaric tradition is overseen by the Capitol, a ruling class among 12 poor, subservient districts. Katniss is from the Mining District 12, the poorest of them all. She will be put in an arena with 23 other tributes and forced to fight to the death until one victor remains. Her chances look slim, but heroism can blossom in unexpected places.

So, the challenge was simple; how do I motivate over 60 staff and 800 students to compete in a two week event based on a book/film series they may/may not have read? More than that, how do I stay true to the story origins while making the competition safe and challenging (obviously we couldn’t have students fight to the death despite several staff protests).

The answer was simple; use the festival as an opportunity to promote the literacy inherent in all the subjects, as well as giving students the chance to use a variety of creative thinking skills.

To promote the event we began with putting up posters around the school to generate a buzz and gets the students talking about it (we had students volunteer to take part weeks beforehand).

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Hunger Games Poster 1

Then we ran an assembly three weeks out, which included a trailer of the film, a run-down of how the points worked and a brief introduction to the challenges available.

Hunger Games Assembly

Our academy has vertical tutor groups so we made all 32 of them their own districts for the duration of the festival. We then made 25 separate challenges across all the learning areas. The challenges also gave us a chance to promote British Values (in a challenge called ‘Panem Values’).

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Each student who competed in an event would earn one point for their tutor group; the runner-up would earn two points and the victor would earn three points. There would also be a grand prize for the tutor group that achieved the highest points total and a runner-up prize for the second highest points total. This meant that it wasn’t about how many victors a district had, it was about how dedicated to participating the group was as a whole. All victors and runners-up were also able to visit the LRC and exchange a winner’s card for a prize that was Hunger Games related.

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Tutor groups could track their progress during the festival on giant points trackers in the LRC (Library) window.

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From there, all tutors were provided with a pack that included challenge information to be given to all students if they volunteered for that task. There was also a list to record names of students for each challenge, and a timetable of when they would be competing.

Hunger Games Tribute List

Hunger Games Judging Timetable

From there, 26 members of staff and 8 Post-16 students were mobilised to run all 25 events across lunch times and after school. The results were amazing. Over 400 students invested their own time and resources to compete in the games. Here is just a fraction of some of the amazing work produced by our students.

An entry in the 'Raise Your Flag' contest.

An entry in the ‘Raise Your Flag’ contest.

A stunning cake in the 'Capitol Cooking Contest'.

A stunning cake in the ‘Capitol Cooking Contest’.

An arena for the Games created for the 'Build a New Arena' Contest.

An arena for the Games created for the ‘Build a New Arena’ Contest.

We also used the Festival as an opportunity to have an exciting author visit and provide workshops for key students in creative writing and supporting reluctant readers. We chose the charismatic and adventurous Marcus Alexander, a world traveller and former kick-boxer who has studied extreme sports across the world and uses these as inspiration for his fantasy book series, “Keeper of the Realms“. His work with the students inspired many to take their own writing and reading more seriously, and the three books in his series (‘Crow’s Revenge’, ‘The Dark Army’, and ‘Blood and Fire’) have been flying off the shelves since his visit.

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Wondrous Reads Keeper of the Realm Images

At the end of the Festival we had seen a spike in reading across the academy and many students felt the event had given them a chance to develop their creative thinking and problem solving skills in a safe and positive environment. It is proof that with a little inspiration, all students can be encouraged to be excited and motivated about the Literary World.

Also, who would pass up a chance to dress up as Effie Trinket?

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Review of ‘Horns’ by Joe Hill

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After the grief suffered after the murder of his soulmate, Ig Perrish finds himself recovering from one of the worst hangovers of his life. There are the usual signs: migraines, muscle pain. Yet unlike the other times he finds himself also addressing the issue of two tiny horns protruding from his forehead. Along with this he seems to have developed some unusual powers. Suddenly his world becomes instantly clearer as well as unrecognisable in a second, so he does what any man would do; he goes in search of his lost love’s killer.

‘Horns’ is a powerful modern allegory of the struggle between good and evil. It asks questions of faith, love, sex, devotion, while also placing extraordinary events in characters and places that could not seem more mundane and accessible. We are encouraged to hate the menagerie of characters that flank Ig; his horn playing and charismatic brother Terry; his mysterious and elusive nemesis Lee; and his ethereal love Merrin. All are broken and fallible in their own way, but somehow redeemable. Their resurrections and falls are heartbreaking and never cliche.

The book is also rife with religious symbolism. The ideal of theology as a construct within the mind is expanded into a construct of our entire being; mind, body, and soul. A far more dynamic interpretation in my opinion.

In short, I loved this book. It reads easily with excellent pace. If I’d had the energy and time I would have read it in one sitting. Its conclusion may confuse some readers, but remember that it is open to interpretation by design. Enjoy!