The PK is in the building. Have you seen the PK?

When I was still teaching I noticed that my Year 4 class had a few children who really had no experience of weighing. They admitted to not really using scales at home –why would they, cake now arrives in packets and it’s not exactly something children choose to do for fun. I spent a while thinking about what I could do to change this but I wanted something fun that would fire them up and not just a lesson that would make them think ‘we’re weighing because it’s good for us –boring!’ I was at home (with 4 other trained teachers I then shared a house with) when I had an idea. I immediately set to work cutting up newspapers and making poison pen posters with various words and phrases on…

The first Monday I went to school early and started sticking a few of my posters to the glass doors all around the school. They were cut in the shape of a crown and had ‘Have you seen the PK?’, ‘The PK is in the building’ and ‘Long live the PK!’ The children came in all excited as to what on earth these crown shaped poison pen notices were. For a few days I changed them each morning until I put up a sign that said ‘All hail the Potato King!’ and my Year 4’s got it, it was something to do with potatoes! In the staff room my colleagues were all talking about what the heck was a ‘Potato King’ and looking at me whilst rolling their eyes saying ‘this is you isn’t it! I said ‘erm, yes, I hope that’s okay?’ This was my first job and I was the youngest on the staff by some 20 years so while there were some amazing results being produced by the school there weren’t many ‘different’ ideas on how to teach.

Eventually I stood in assembly and showed the children a throne I’d made from Dienes maths apparatus. It had red shiny paper on it, arms made from the tens strips and although it did the job it looked very homemade! I told the children that I had found the heaviest potato and it now was the Potato King, could they find a heavier one? That was it. The competition was on and for the next few weeks the children thought about and talked about nothing but potatoes…

My class especially wanted to win as I think pride was at stake. The potato king was in their classroom so they had no excuse not have found him. Every morning they watched whoever came in the classroom door that day with eager eyes to see if they had been beaten and yes, sometimes they had but sometimes they hadn’t.

What was the point of all this? To get them talking about weighing. To get them weighing in a way they hadn’t even realised that they were weighing. It was an activity that was differentiated so all the children of the school could take part. The reception children appeared with bemused parents in the mornings with their massive potatoes (‘is this right? She said she needed a big potato..?’) They then stood there with a potato in each hand being the human balances that would determine which of the potatoes were the heaviest. 5 year olds can think, make decisions and have opinions just as well as they older children I find given the chance. The year 2’s upwards could confidently use the balance scales that show which item is the heaviest and the older children used the ordinary scales that you or I have at home to let everyone know precisely how much the potato weighed. All the results were recorded in a table so it wasn’t just the mathematics skills of weighing that the children were using. But do you know what? We were all having fun and learning can take place inside tried and tested lessons taught year after year by confident and experienced teachers but it can also happen in the maverick lessons of a rookie teacher who had so much energy that cut her and she would have bled enthusiasm…

I loved my job. I loved enthusing the children, seeing their faces when they really had got something was, to me, way better than making another million for shareholders. This was real life and though it can be incredibly tough it can also be amazingly rewarding. ‘B’, the child who had no experience with weighing, became a fantastic estimator and someone who could use a set of scales accurately and as far as I was concerned that was my job done. But there was an added benefit the Potato King idea had created a buzz around the school for an activity that everyone joined in. The reception children could feel which potato was the heaviest by holding them; the slightly older children could see which one was the heaviest using the simple balance scales and the
much older children knew which one was the heaviest by accurately weighing. Each child participated at their own level and if they wanted to use the scales, they did best of all they did it with a smile on their faces, they’d got their parents involved on the weekly shop but the triumph that was a surprise to me was that they took their learning outside the classroom and into real life. They were using scales in the supermarkets and at home and that’s what really we want from our children when we teach. Learning isn’t just in the classroom it relates to their own lives and by giving the children a simple idea they then ran with because they wanted to meant that we all thought weighing was something fun and just a little bit cool.

So I have fond memories of the Potato King (I have one ex pupil in that class who reads my blog, I wonder what she remembers?) For a few weeks the children in the school were all a little bit crazy about potatoes and a lot crazy about weighing. The owner of the potato king was congratulated and adored for the time they reigned and I think if I can remember properly, the overall potato king was bought in by a reception child which shows that you don’t have to be an older child to win a competition about weighing.

Why not give it a go at home or at school? I’m going to do it with my boys next week; I’ll let you know how we get on…


About littlewhitecottage

Emma is a qualified teacher with 14 years of teaching in many different settings. From teaching adults and children at a music school to choosing to work in a demanding primary school that was failing (which meant moving from an outstanding school – her colleagues were aghast!) to running her own sewing business for the last 5 ½ years teaching all ages how to sew: Emma loves to teach.
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2 Responses to The PK is in the building. Have you seen the PK?

  1. Claire Chatterton says:

    Fab idea! I’m definitely going to do this at my school in September. I teach Y2/3 but think the whole school would get involved. Fab! Thank you!

  2. birdieno1 says:

    It’s amazing the sort of buzz you can create with the simplest of ideas! I love this, I will share it on my work facebook page ( I know it’s maths but it’s a great idea. I used to love the faces of older colleagues when I was a rookie teacher…you are going to what? Charlotte (A Little Birdie Told Me)

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