Sci-Fi Convention: World Book Day 2017

planet

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:

sci-fi-convention-tutor-pack

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:

sci-fi-convention-posters

halo poster.jpgstar wars poster.jpgdoctor who poster.jpgstar trek poster.jpg

sci-fi-convention-posters

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

sci-fi-convention-planning-booklet

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.

220px-william_gallagher

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

Triwizard_cup

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.

IMG_0007

IMG_0006

IMG_0004

IMG_0001

We even decorated the bathroom signs!

IMG_0002 IMG_0017

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.

IMG_6768 (1)

IMG_6741 (2)

IMG_6815 (2)

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.

Sara Grant

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.

P1020083

P1020094

P1020060

P1020061

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

mockingjay 2

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).

Hunger Games Poster 1

Hunger Games Poster 2

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’).

Hunger Games Challenges

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.

P1010718

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

P1010760

P1010758

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.

Author-Marcus-Alexander-2013-Baldie-Headphones-560px-X-315px

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?

Nadia

Teacher’s Tax Rebate Made Simple

Income_tax_1630366c 2

As a foreign teacher working in the UK, it took me a couple of years to work out the tax system and how to make the most of it.

You mean I don’t have to submit a tax return each year?

The tax year starts from April 1st?

Once this is all said and done though it is a pretty simple system, so most people are happy to just let each year pass without much thought as to whether they are paying the correct amount of tax.

Now, where I’m from in Australia, teachers have the opportunity to claim many expenses as tax deductible. Here are some of my personal favourites; as hats are compulsory for students and teachers in Australia’s sunny climate, you can claim for a wide brimmed hat; you can also claim for a personal library as long as you don’t sell your books for at least two years (hooray for tax deductible textbooks!); and as teachers need a workspace in their home, you can claim a percentage of the expenses used to set up a home office.

Sadly these same items are not available to claim for teachers here in England, but there is one that you can claim which is almost always overlooked: union fees. But before you say, “Why would I join a Union in the UK?”, you need to understand why not joining a union is a terrible mistake.

Why be in a union?

First, unions help protect you in the event that you require legal support regarding an allegation that occurs within your role as a teacher.

Second, unions work on your behalf to petition the government for change to legislation and challenge proposed legislation that could adversely affect you at work.

Third, unions provide a forum from which you can meet a entire network of teachers; the NUT in particular has an excellent presence on Twitter and runs many events for young and beginning teachers.

Fourth, unions are able to provide members with a variety of financial benefits, including discounted shopping, insurance, and holidays.

Then there’s this little chestnut; the entirely of your union fees can be claimed as professional fees and subscriptions, and therefore you can get a percentage of those fees back!

Not in a Union yet? Visit the following pages to see what each of the major unions have to offer:

National Union of Teachers (NUT)

NASUWT

Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL)

Getting your Tax Rebate

It is this simple (make sure you have your P60 form from your employer and your bank details with you before you start):

1. Go to the p87 form page on HMRC website.

2. Fill in your details – you are asked whether you are claiming a number of expenses, but the only one you will need to fill in is professional fees and subscriptions. (Please note: if you are a PE teacher, you can also claim some of your clothing items).

3. Submit the form and open the preview option.

4. Print, sign, and post to the following address:

Pay As You Earn and Self Assessment

HM Revenue and Customs

BX9 1AS

Best of all, you can claim for the past four years, so if you haven’t done so yet, but have been in the country longer than a year, you can fill in a form for each year back to 2012. You may need to claim these for different employers if you worked at more than one school.

What if I work for an agency?

If you work for a teaching agency, you are already able to claim these items and others (because you are self-employed according to HMRC), so you are not able to use this feature. However, if you did not claim union fees from your agency, you can register for Self-Assessment Online Services, and this will allow you to add expenses to previous year’s tax records (and more importantly, to this year’s records as well).

Happy unexpected payday!

“A Teacher’s Work is Never Done”: The Work-Life Balance Dilemma

justice scales
When I started my teaching career, to say I was overwhelmed by the workload would be a major understatement. I’d survived a practicum placement that at times made me feel sure I was having a nervous breakdown, so it was with a heavy heart and a slightly broken will power that I sought the advice of colleagues at the end of my first year. “How,” I asked impassioned with despair, “am I supposed to survive 40 years in this job? I can’t see myself surviving three!”

They were kind and supportive. One such colleague, a ten-year tenured drama teacher smiled at me warmly and assured me that this is just how it is…but it does get better. You’ll have resources you can use next year, your behaviour management skills will improve, and you will find your marking speed increases.

What she said is not exactly untrue, but don’t be fooled; if someone is telling you this they are all lying to you! Yes, you will have resources, but in most subjects you have to teach new units or will need to adapt your lessons to new classes. Or there is the most obvious issue, which is you will change the lesson because you discover that you can make it better than last year. You WANT to make better lessons. You get faster at marking but want to trial new techniques to improve your level of feedback. You definitely improve your behaviour management, but every year you will work with new students and you will have to learn to deal with each one as an individual in order to ensure they meet their true potential (and teenagers are some prickly pears).

The reality is you will never have enough time to get everything done. I’ll repeat: you will NEVER have enough time to get everything done (keeping in mind that many teachers’ interpretation of getting everything done involves going way above expectations). So here I have compiled a few techniques and strategies that I have tried myself or seen others use in order to ensure a work-life balance. They may work, they may not. But if you spend time wondering how long you can stay in the job because of being highly stressed and overworked, it’s time to take action. The education system of any country will not survive on a workforce made up of people who will leave in five years or less to enter other industries. Institutional memory should be the goal; there is no point wasting the vast knowledge you gain each year in the job.

1. Are you ready for tomorrow? Then don’t stress:
I went through a long period of guilt during my first five years where if a sufficient amount of work on my ‘To Do List’ was not completed, I heavily self deprecated and felt like I wasn’t good enough. How ridiculous. You’re a human being, not a robot. At the end of a long day if you are tired, you will need rest to be effective in the classroom tomorrow. The solution is simple; make sure your lessons are planned for the next day, then go home. If you are too tired then go home and get some rest so you can get to work early the next day and do it then. This is a better long term solution.

2. When you go home, work stays at work:
This is one I’ve only just started doing myself, after years of nights where the laptop was ferried home only to sit in the backpack while I took a nap on the sofa. This occasionally means there is a night you have to work late and only exit the building when the site team start jingling keys at your door, but there is an excessive relief in walking into your house without the burden of more work to do. It can wait until tomorrow.

3. 90% of being effective in the classroom is being well rested:
You can work as hard as you like, but an overworked, exhausted teacher who has planned heavily will never be as effective as the well-rested teacher who put their lesson together in fifteen minutes adapting a PowerPoint from the TES. Why you ask? 90% of being effective in the classroom is being reactive to what is happening. And trust me; a student can spot a weary teacher at 20 paces. More than that, teaching is about relationships; no one wants to learn from someone who’s grumpy.

4. Weeknight Club:
It’s sophisticated in its elegance; you and your closest friends go out to dinner or a film one night during the week to break up the monotony. I’m not talking about a big night out, just a couple of hours trying somewhere new or visiting your favourite local for a pub meal or a curry. I can imagine non-teachers thinking this ridiculous as an option, yet the reality is that teaching is not the kind of job where you can slink in at 9:30 in the morning with a bottle of water and ibuprofen after a big night. It will do wonders for making you feel like a grown-up and break up the hum-drum of the week if you can enjoy the company of your friends beyond a Saturday.

5. One day on the weekend is yours:
In my beginning years of teaching I would work both days of the weekend, essentially having a seven day workweek. Naturally I couldn’t maintain this and a weekend without working is practically incomprehensible. A common solution to this is to choose either Saturday or Sunday and make one of them your workday. This means the other day must be work-free. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and do something expensive or elaborate; a day of relaxing at home with your favourite TV series will recharge your batteries better than almost anything.

6. Your health matters:
Teachers place excessive stress on their backs and upper arms. We often don’t drink enough water during the day due to limited toilet breaks, and develop unhealthy eating habits due to lack of time to prepare healthy meals.
The solution is simple, but hard to implement. On Sundays I now spend about an hour making delicious and healthy vegan treats for breakfast and break times. I make a salad or put leftovers in Tupperware for lunch the following day. Knowing my meals will be healthy ensures I have more energy.
I routinely get a back massage and I joined a gym near my house. I’m not saying that I go as much as I should, but paying each month encourages me to get there as much as possible. A friend of mine went one step further and signed up for a class; on Mondays she leaves to make her class on time, no matter what.

7. Sometimes you have to get away from it all:
I understand that this will contradict Item 5, but sometimes you will need to take a weekend and get away from it all; a road-trip to a favourite spot or spending the night over at a friend’s house. I know some will ask, “Isn’t that what holidays are for?”, but the reality is that sometimes you will need to work through your holidays, and sometimes the thought of getting through four more weeks to the end of term is far too terrifying. The other obvious consideration is that an opportunity may arise to spend time with non-teaching friends across a weekend; what are you going to do? Miss it so you can get more work done?

Remember: this is your life. You need to be content within yourself and well-rounded as an individual to be the best possible teacher. So stop making excuses, the work will always be there, make sure you still enjoy your life. Your students will thank you for it.