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

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

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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!