Egg incubators, A famous David, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam are joined by Ed Parkinson and Angie Jones from Attenborough School in Germany who share their experience teaching the Maths — No Problem! Early Years programme, Foundations. How does journaling work at that young age? What is the role of the picture books? Plus, have Angie and Ed already noticed a difference in the children’s learning?
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is the School of School podcast.
Welcome to the School of School podcast.
Welcome back to another episode of the School of School podcast. The regulars are with us. Andy, Robin, how are you?
Very good, thanks.
I'm really pleased to say that we're joined all the way from Germany by Ed and Angie from the Attenborough School. Can I start off... Just, I want to ask you two to introduce yourself. But as part of the introduction, would you mind just letting me know, and possibly the listeners who are also interested in this, is the Attenborough part of the name of the school after the Attenborough, as in David, or does it come from somewhere else? But in the first instance, if you could introduce yourselves and answer my first question, it'd be much appreciated. Over to you.
No problem. Right. Hi, everyone. My name's Ed. I teach in key stage one. I'm the key stage-one leader at Attenborough School. Yeah, Adam. To answer your question, it is named after David Attenborough. I think it probably was about six years ago now. The school historically was two first school. They joined together and were amalgamated. Part of that amalgamation was deciding the new name. The children at the time were part of that. Where we are in Germany is really beautiful. But our school's set in lots of woodland. There's lots of nature around here. The name Attenborough School fell into place, really. We've been called that ever since.
I'm Angie. I am the FS teacher. I'm more so the EYFS lead. I've been in Germany since 2008, so a long time. We love it here. Ed's just said we're in a lovely school, which is in a lovely setting, so right in the middle of a forest. It's lovely.
Well, it sounds like you've got all the ingredients of a wonderful school. I think the naming is an excellent choice. I think David Attenborough is quite inspirational. It sounds like your location's magic. Angie, we've got you on. I think what I'm really interested in... I'm sure the others are, too, is your approach to the early years. How do you go about making sure that the children in your care/at your school get the best learning done?
Well, we are a very inclusive school. Certainly, within the early years, we very much use our setting as the basis of the learning. Our setting... We've thought very carefully about how the resources are set out. We make sure that it is an enhanced environment for the children. Obviously, going through plays... Well, it's the best way for our children to learn, the youngest ones. At our school, we have some dedicated group time. That's where the Maths -- No Problem! fits in because, as I said, we've got the dedicated time. It's a mixture of, I suppose, what people say the most... the formal learning but also the child-initiated learning. That really is very important to us. I think we've got the balance just right.
Can you just give us a way since... Sorry. Ed, there's a couple of things just to clear up because you talked about two first schools coming together. I've got to admit. I don't know what a first school is. I've never heard of that phrase. Can you just tell us that and also explain just a little bit, Angie, about... We're imagining... And I think Ed's answer will probably play into this, what your setting looks like because I'm always really interested in what the physical setting looks like for yours, just so we can make some comparisons. North America, UK.
A first school would be a school that only goes up to year four. Then, children would then typically go to a middle school. A middle school would be years five and six and then key stage three, so years seven and eight. I'd say about four years ago now, our school currently only went up to year four. We took children in reception. They would see key stage one with us. Then, they'd go up to year four. Then, they would leave us and go to a middle school. About four years ago, there was a change in the locality around here. The middle school closed. We became a lot smaller. Our numbers reduced, and we became a primary school. We now teach up to year six. There isn't a secondary school in our area. Pupils that come to us... If they finish with us, they would typically either go to a German school if their families are planning on staying here or another international school or a boarding school in the UK. Hopefully, that answers your question.
Crystal clear, actually. Yeah. Over to you, Angie. Again, just to get a sense of what your provisions are like, just to give us a bit of an idea if we're just listening and not seeing.
Yeah. When you walk into our setting, there is a concourse, if you like... That's what I call it, which we've made into an imagination station. There are lots of resources for the children to use. We've got wooden blocks. There's a lot of building and, as I said, imagination. We've got some small-world activities going on there. We have a lovely book area. We also have a self-serving snack area. Then, when you walk through the concourse, there are two classrooms: one of them, which is the group rooms, which is what I've said to you, where we have the dedicated group time sessions. Then, in the other room, we have got some... It's basically our environment, where we've got a creative area, play-doh station. We have our lovely, wonderful smart boards. We have a lovely writing area, which we call an office. There's also another role-play area in there as well. Then, as you go through that main classroom, we have a wonderful outdoor setting.
What does a day for the students/for the pupils look like when they first come in at the beginning of the day?
Yeah. When they first come in, it normally starts at half past eight. We've got a side gate. Obviously, where we're based, it's a gated area. The children come in through the side gate. Then, they've got about 15 minutes or so. It's a good chance for us then to meet the parents. We can have little chats. The children have some early morning activities that they can access. That, then, would take us up to roughly about 9 o'clock. It's a little bit different for the key-stage-one children because they might start their day probably at dead on quarter to nine. But we've got a good half hour. Then, we go all the way through until quarter past 10. Then, a quarter past 10 is where we have break time on the large playground. Again, as I said before, we are a small school. It's really good. We've got three-year-olds who are actually on the main playground with the year sixes. It's quite a nice little family feel that we have.
I don't know whether you can see behind me. We have a chicken area. That was one of the things one of our colleagues introduced this year was to have an area where the children could come and look after and take care of the hens. We've got two cockerels. We've been incubating eggs. All throughout the summer term, all the children in the school have been gathered around this incubator at periods because it's like hatching day. It's been fantastic. Like Angie just said, we are quite a small school. But it's really good because you've got children, like Angie was just saying, as young as three that are playing and interacting with older children. Everyone just cares for each other. There's a real caring family atmosphere. It's lovely. Yeah.
Then, after the play, we have a 15-minute break. We then come back into the main school. Then, that's down in EYFS. That's where we have our group time. That then takes us all the way up until midday. Then, we have an hour's lunch. Then we have afternoon provision, and then that finishes at three o'clock.
It sounds idyllic. I would like to send my children there. I think they're a little old for that now. But boy-
Yeah. I was going to say, Robin, I think your kids might [inaudible 00:09:01].
They'd still love it, I'm sure of it. Now, Ed and I had been chatting before we were recording. He talked to me a bit about the success he's had with foundations this year. Angie, you being the expert on that, how has that all played out throughout the year?
Okay. Well, I'll start at the beginning of our journey. Basically, it's probably this time last year, in the last summer two term. That's when we found out that the foundations was going to be introduced for the Maths -- No Problem! because, obviously, the Maths -- No Problem! scheme was already running in the rest of the school. Before that, we were doing an amalgamation of... There weren't schemes as such. It was just pulling ideas from here, pulling ideas from there. We were mix and matching, which took a lot of time, really, I suppose, with planning and making sure that everything is covered. But we were basically doing that ourselves.
Anyway, we were very excited to have the chance to have a look at the materials before we actually purchased them. I think that's one of the big things that, to me, was great. Before we even committed ourselves to it, I actually had the chance to have a look through. What I loved about it was, first of all, using the idea of the picture books. Because when you looked into the picture books, it was a good way of reinforcing the concepts that were being taught, what we were going to be teaching. In addition to that, there were lots of suggestions for different games that you could play, which you could put obviously into the continuous provision as well. Also, the assessment details, the information that you were providing for the assessment, asking the questions... That also was a biggie, I think, for us, having a look to see how the children were going to progress. That was a good thing for me to see which way it was going.
I had a chance to have a look at the website as well because how the activities work for the week... You basically get the weekly overview. Then, from that, that is then separated into the days, each activity per day. What I tend to use now is to use that as the main teaching input.
Anyway, going back, that's where I saw the scope, I suppose, for how it could be fitted in into our early years setting, how it would work. The website itself was really good because, as I said, it gives you the overview. It'll give you an idea of the area of learning. You'll have the objectives. Then, it will give you information about the vocabulary that need to be introduced. Everything was very thorough. Everything was there, all the explanations.
The thing about Maths -- No Problem!... It's all about the deeper learning, the deeper understanding that the maths mastery. But I could see that was going to be happening in the foundation's programme from where we were starting. Obviously, I'd become accustomed to how Maths -- No Problem! worked within the rest of the school because this is what we do when we have our staff meetings or inset day. Of course, there wasn't anything for EYFS if you like. It was just what we were doing, something separate. I was very familiar then with the way that Maths -- No Problem! was working in the rest of the school: the idea of the journals, the idea of the anchor charts, all of that. Therefore, I was able to think, "Right. Okay, how is that going to be the stepping stone for the rest of their learning?"
One thing I haven't mentioned actually is the children do actually have workbook journals. The workbook journals have been... Again, this was something that we didn't use before. We didn't really have any formal mark-making as such.
To me, initially, I think probably you would think, "Oh, gosh. Is that bit too much?" They are only four or five years old. However, what I have come to find over the journey, having this now... because we've gone through the whole programme for a full year, is that the children absolutely love those journals. It isn't something that they do every day. The way I've organised it is, and the way it's been suggested with Maths -- No Problem! on the website where it's very clear about when you could use them... I tend to use it midweek, on a Wednesday, and then also on a Friday. Normally, when I start it, I would always start the beginning of the week with a book because, again, there are lots of suggestions about different books that you can use, some which the Maths -- No Problem! people... They have created special books that really do enhance the concepts that you're teaching. But in addition, they'll suggest stories, which are familiar stories that we would normally use anyway in FS, in reception.
Can I jump in and ask you a question? Just to provide a bit of context for the listeners, this is Angie and Ed's second to last day at the end of the year.
I don't know whether this question.
I know. Sorry. My brain.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no. It's not that part. This question might even be better answered three weeks into the holidays. We actually get a time to breathe and take stock and stuff. But what I was going to ask was have you noticed any difference in the responses of your children over a cohort, say, from two years ago versus this year? Like I said, it's tough. You're right at the end of the year.
Yeah, no, definitely. When I was thinking about the successes of the programme, really, for this whole year... I mean, at the beginning, it was a little bit challenging for me, personally, not necessarily for the children but for me personally, just trying to get into my own groove, if you like. I remember when I went on the Maths -- No Problem! Training. They were very specific in saying that, yes, these are suggestions for the activities that you can use. These are resources that you can... We just putting in suggestions, but they're not set in stone. You are the practitioner. You'll know how it fits in with your setting.
For example, the activities that you've got... There was no suggestion that you had to do it whole-class as such. If you were in a big setting, then how you would do it... It wasn't dictatorial in that respect that you had to do it this way. However, the way it fits with us... As I said, we're a very small cohort. The way I've worked it for me, it had that flexibility.
Going again now to the successes, at the beginning, I said those were the challenges to try and find my groove. But the successes is that the children are very confident at being able to explain their reasoning and their thinking, so much so now that I'm actually using anchor charts in the classroom as well. I've decided that we use them now on a Wednesday and also on a Friday. That incorporates the workbook journal.
This fits in, then, with the rest of the school. When my children move into year one, what they will see on their anchor chart is going to be very familiar to them because that's what I've introduced. I had a little bit of expert help from Ed when he showed me how to use the 3D paint to change bits and pieces, which were on the workbook journal. It won't be exactly the same problem. But it will be something similar so that, then, when they go to their journal, that they can independently then work on the task.
As I said, they're very confident now. I've been able to explain. In the journals, I have actually begun to write down how they're explaining their thinking. I think Ed's going to talk about how we're going down that road with the journal. As I said, I was part of those staff meetings as well. That's something I've tried to adapt into the early years, not so much on a formal level. It's not the case of them having to write it. It's me getting their thinking out, which is probably the main thing that is going to help them when they move into key stage one. That definitely is a success that they are not shy of, and they don't clam up because they know what's expected of them in that respect.
The second thing is that they are very good at also mark-making. At the beginning, again, this was a challenge because you're teaching them initially that they need to fill a box. They don't know what the box is there for. There's all of those skills. That's reducing the cognitive load already. When they move into key stage one, they're not going to have that.
But I wanted to stress that it's not so formal because there is a lot of talk, at the moment, in the EYFS circles about buying into different schemes and that it's becoming too formalised and this, that, and the other. But I think what we've got is a perfect mix because, yes, there is that element of it. We will still do our whole class teaching. I would still do that anyway. Even if we weren't doing Maths -- No Problem!, I'd still be doing that whole class teaching. There's no difference there. But the successes are the fact that they are confident with that. They're definitely confident with their explanations. I'd like to think... And we're going to know. The proof of the pudding is when this cohort do move into year one, just exactly how much knowledge... how deep it's gone. As I said, we won't know for sure yet. But from what I can see, my assessment, I think it's gone very well.
Angie, one final question. I'd love to hear how you're incorporating the picture books into your teaching and the children's learning.
Okay. Well, the picture box... As I said, normally, at the beginning of the week, I always start with a story: something that is going to introduce that concept, that information that is what I've collected from the overview, which is on the website. When you sign up to it, then you can see that basically what the objective is for the week. Then, I would incorporate the picture book.
Looking again at the concepts, as I said, that you are going to be teaching, how they're going to be reinforcing those books. I will do that definitely at the beginning of the week. Now, there are opportunities as well to use those books. I'll use another book perhaps or revisit a different page maybe to gauge how it's going with the children to see how much they have an assessment, really, tool as well, just to see how much they've absorbed and how much they know.
But in addition, it's also just for fun, actually, seeing maths in a real context, just in a real world. The picture books have been very useful. The picture books are also... because got so many different aspects of those pages. When you go through, when you have one of the books, there are so many different concepts that you can use. You don't have to just focus in on one. There are so many. There's many opportunities for you to pick out the pictures.
What I've done actually is because I've seen the value in that, what we've done further down... In the FSS one, so your nursery children, actually, using pictures is a good way for those three-year-olds... When they're having their little group sessions, they're looking at a picture. They're looking at a book. But already, they're being taught to draw information out from looking at there. That is going to help my FS twos now to that reception. I say FS twos. But that's what we are. We have FS one and FS two, which is basic nursery and reception. It's going to help them, I think. Yeah.
Is there a favourite book?
I think I like Playmates. I think I like that one. Yes, I like that one.
Took us four years to make the first book.
Really? Yeah. That is honestly amazing. You don't realise when you look at every single page... Every single page. There's so much detail in there. So much detail. Yeah, well done. It was very, very good. They're very good.
It was really fun making them. But it's difficult, too, without making it look too forced.
Yes, I know. Yeah.
If you didn't know... I mean, you could just read those. But I guess the one with the 10 grammes is the most obvious mathematical one.
Yes. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.
Yeah. Well, thanks so much. Thanks so much, Angie, for your time and sharing all that with us.
Thank you for joining us on the School of School podcast.