Things I Think I Think … 1

I know I haven’t blogged for ages. Sometimes it’s a bit daunting doing a proper post with loads of resources etc. So I’m just going to jot some thoughts down.

  • 1. Craftsmanship Videos

I’m a bit obsessed with videos like this at the moment.

There’s so much wonderful about them, but I’ve come to have a realisation about doing things in a very deliberate way.

The woman takes care and attention over every part of her process. Nothing is done in a thoughtless way. She is not doing things automatically. It’s kinda how I aim for myself to behave as a teacher (not saying I always hit that height) and how I want my students to behave. Taking care. Thinking. Not just doing an automatic process.

I’ve noticed that sometimes pupils are particularly prone to slipping into automatic mode in a test. This year I’ve really tried to point out and develop self-talk but there’s so much more I need to look at there …

  • 2. Old Resource Issues

Talking of a lack of care, I’ve been looking at some of my resources that are a bit old.. and I’m quite embarrassed. I really need to do a full audit of the site to remove the junk (more on that idea later) . Let’s talk about a particularly egregious one. This is my Solving Equations (with brackets) PowerPoint. It’s terrible.

First, let’s look at this example-problem pair


There’s so many things wrong with it. Both questions can be divided nicely by the factor outside the bracket. What happens when this isn’t the case? Clearly not a huge amount of thought has been put into these examples

And then you have the problem set

I have spent 100x more time trying to design some sort of fun thing here than on the actual questions. They’re terrible. And the ‘fun’ thing isn’t fun. It’s just fluff. No one wants to do these questions more because of the rubbish around them.

The engagement comes from the thinking about the questions and their differences/similarities and ‘ahh’ moments to point out. This question set has NONE of that. Sometimes I look through my previous work and am very embarrassed. I know how long I spent looking for images I thought were cool when I should have been writing better questions!

  • 3. Mr Barton’s New Book

Talking of better questions, I’ve been reading Reflect, Expect, Check, Explain by Craig Barton. It is, again, amazing.

I absolutely don’t mean this as an insult (hang in there, Craig, if you’re reading), but it’s full of obvious stuff. As in, you read it and think ‘Oh that’s really obvious. Why have I not being doing that?!?!’. It’s really made me reflect on my practise and how to improve what I do. I think a lot of what Craig talks about comes back to that Japanese craftswoman video. Doing things deliberately. Thinking deeply about what you do. Caring about the details. Craig is the king of this and I’m so glad he wrote this book.

  • 4. I am making new resources…sorta

I’ve been trying to freshen up my resources. Give them a bit of a nicer look and also rewriting a lot of the questions. That process has been rather slow. I’ve done a few. You can see an updated version of my adding fractions resource here. I’m also trying to add a bit of etymology to my lessons. It’s actually been rather successful, especially thinking about links between words. And it’s interesting.

On the other hand, I’m not writing a lot of resources. I was all ready to write some circle theorems slides and then I saw the ones on mathspad which are fantastic. Lovely interactive and really clear worksheets and handouts. Why make something that would be worse?

I’m also a bit

  • 5. Fed Up With PowerPoint

OK, so that’s not true. I still think having a PowerPoint is a way I like to plan. It’s easy to plan the narrative of what you want to do with slides. But I’m definitely removing my reliance on it. I grew up with technology and fall back far too often, even when it makes me inflexible.

For instance, I had been giving my year 8’s a Corbett Maths 5 A Day starter (which I am not having a go at and I think are ace). However it wasn’t quite working for my class. So I decided to write my questions. On the board. With a pen. Again. OBVIOUS. But I did teacher training in the age where this was a bit of a no no (downtime and all). It’s been GREAT. I’ve just been picking 5 questions of stuff from the things we’ve done this year, just written up on the board as they come in. I can be really flexible with the questions. If they struggled with something one day, I can make sure to include it the next. If they’re finding something easy I can leave it for a few lessons. I can be adaptable!

I’ve been teaching 10 years and it’s taken me all that time to realise that you don’t need to plan half a term of starters at a time. That not everything needs to be projected.

via GIPHY

#Mathsconf14 Takeaways

I thought I would use a similar format to my ATM Don Steward takeaways. These are just some quick thoughts. They’re by no means things I’ve thought about for a great deal.

  1. My first session was Peter Mattock’s session on averages. It was great, although in sessions like this I worry I talk too much. On our table we kind of basically agreed we should stop using the term ‘average’ as it’s unhelpful. Mean, median and mode are also different skills. ‘Levelling off’ or sharing, centrality and frequency respectively. Maybe they should be taught as different units. I showed Dudamath, which I love as it has a lovely stats module that does ‘levelling off’ well. Here’s a little video:
  2. I was in Hinal Dhudia and Dani Quinn’s on ‘Making it stick’. They talked a lot on variation theory and questions that make students think. For instance a set of five questions, instead of looking like
    1. 2a + 3 = 7
    2. 3a + 10 = 13
    3. 7a + 5 = 19
    4. 9a + 1 = 10
    5. 6a + 3 = 15You might get something looking more like
    1. 2a + 3 = 7
    2. 4 + 3a = 16
    3. 10  = 2a + 6
    4. 8a + 1 = 5
    5. 5a + 3  = -2
    I’m not sure how I felt about this. I get that we need student’s thinking more. Students often treat work as their doodle. Something to keep their hands busy. And we can play into that by giving them ‘busywork’. Learning is the residue of thought, and all that jazz. I’m just not sure if this is the way to do it. I worry that too much intervention is required between each question, and I’m not sue where this fits in with variation theory.NOTE: This is not to say I didn’t enjoy Hinal and Dani’s session. Quite the opposite. It gave me lots to think about
  3. At lunch I did Martin Noon’s session on braiding. I found it extremely difficult but fascinating.
  4. After lunch came Jemma Sherwood’s session on building effective learning. Lots of good practice in this. I use Corbett Maths 5-A-Day with every class, every day. I really think it helps build up long term memory and it’s effective at building routines.
    Jemma talked about the idea of a three-part lesson being an issue. We fit things into an hour, even if that’s the appropriate amount of time. Not everything needs a plenary after every lesson. I agree with this generally, but I think the idea of ‘episodes’ of learning is useful. Something to ponder.
  5. Last, but not least was Craig Barton’s packed session. The man’s a flipping’ celebrity.
    He talked a lot about only varying one aspect of a question to make students predict what was going to happen. Having predictions either confirmed or rejected is powerful. I am thinking of building this into stuff that I do.
    He also launched two new websites! https://mathsvenns.com with rich tasks and the amazing SSDD problems, which I think are PHENOMENAL. He’s looking for more. I’ll get writing one this week.

As usual MathsConf was ace. I love the conversations you’re able to have and the enthusiasm of everyone there is inspiring and wonderful.

I’ll be going to MathsConf15. I’ll see you there!

Don Steward ATM session: 5 thoughts

I’m trying a new kind of post. I went to the ATM/MA Don Steward presentation on Saturday. It was excellent, and if you get a chance to see Don speak, go. Don has uploaded his slides here. Rather than the daunting task of writing a full follow-up, I thought I’d just write my thoughts down in a quick bullet-point format.

  • It was nice to do some maths.
    Part of the session involved doing some of the activities that Don had devised. It was nice to sit with fellow professionals and actually just do some maths. Lots of interesting conversations were had.
  • Don is a master of task design
    I love the way that Don designs tasks, in both meanings of the word. His worksheets are always beautifully presented, but also very well designed to introduce concepts of generality. I love the way he might introduce something simple like

    and twist it like
    this was in an introduction to the difference of two squares.It was nice to see these tasks introduced by Don, though. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell what someone means from a task by looking at it.
  • I was struck by the importance of subject knowledge.
    Don’s activities go off on interesting tangents, often only made possible because of Don’s subject knowledge. Subject knowledge is always something to work on. We’re all always learning.
  • Sometimes, a nice visual is useful. Here’s a lovely one showing the (n-2) \times 108 rule.
Everyone should read ‘How I Wish I taught Maths’

This isn’t a review. I’m about halfway through Craig’s book, so I can’t offer a judgement as to if the book is good or not. This is simply a suggestion: everyone should read this book, and everyone should read it ASAP.

The book chronicles Craig’s mathematics teaching journey, from being the king of tarsia, to the complete about turn he has taken.

I’m not sure I agree with everything I’ve read so far, but that’s what makes the book great. It’s sparked discussions. Several of us are reading the book at work (I’m trying to get the entire faculty to do so. I’ve persuaded 5/12 so far) and the discussions around the book have been, as Craig would say, flippin’ brilliant.

It’s the book’s willingness to get into the weeds that I really have appreciated so far. This is a book for maths teachers. It’s laser focused, which is what makes it so great. Ever sat in a CPD and though ‘Yes, but how do I do this in maths?’, well this book is the exact opposite of that. It’s full of wonderful examples I wouldn’t have come across (ie : \frac{6}{35} \times \frac{35}{3} \times \frac{11}{14} . These discussions have been gold dust. They’re enthusiasm generators.

One of the things that I think can get lost in teaching maths, is that we are learning along with our pupils. I am trying to teach my pupils maths, but I am also trying to learn how to become a more effective and better maths teacher. Every chapter so far has had me walking into class the next day ready to try something new, and reflect on why it did or didn’t work.

This book is, so far, a wonderful addition to the conversation and I really recommend you read it.

Interesting Questions

I’ve been thinking about meta-task recently. That is, the point of doing something. I recently created the task below for my year 10 class.

On the surface this seems OK to me. It isn’t just lots of the same thing, questions increase in difficulty and type by row (whilst still allowing a little bit of practice in each set) however it definitely lacks DRIVE and motivation to complete it.

I usually have a few tricks to work around this. One of these is using a code breaker. I have adapted these tasks from ‘Collect A Joke’ type activities. I like a collect a joke, but often the task is ruined by students just guessing the words. I’ve tried to mitigate against this by having the code be an assortment of letters and numbers. It still has the problem of one person getting the answer and sharing it, though, thus making everyone immediately stop trying to work out the answer.

Another thing I use a lot is ‘find the odd one out’. I think this works really well, however I can’t do this for every single task.

Maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe well designed questions that draw out learning are engaging in their own right, and by adding in ‘meta-tasks’ I’m making my lessons less about the objective I’m trying to teach that lesson.

I’d appreciate any thoughts that people have. Do you have any meta-tasks you like, or do you think meta-tasks are wrong?

If you click the menu at the top, or do a search, you can find all the lesson slides I’ve been talking about.

An update on Planboard. My thoughts

I said I’d post a few thoughts on Planboard when I got the chance, and I’d used it for a while, so here they are.

Firstly, it completely suits the way my brain works. When I’m planning lessons, little bits of pieces of ideas will pop into my head at random times. Planboard is really good for this and it even has an iOS app so I can jot down a note when I’m in Sainsbury’s. The great thing is, that no matter where I access my planning I have the exact same version of the document.

It’s also really delightful to be able to attach documents to my plan, so everything is one place and easy to find. It also means that if I’m doing something at home or at the weekend, I can quickly attach it to Planboard and not have to email it to myself. I can also add links into my plan really easily.

I’ve always found paper planners difficult. I lose them, I forget to take them home, I can’t easily add locations and resources. I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that I’ve never been more organised and it’s really helped me this year.

I suggest you try it. Also, it’s free!

A proposal: Numeracy

We all know the new maths GCSE is harder, but it’s interesting to look at HOW they are harder. There is some new content, but not particularly a massive amount (although I think the functions content will be harder for many pupils than it looks). The reason most people are pointing to the new GCSE being harder is to do with they new way it is being examined.

There are a lot of lot of new questions around interpreting. I think this is fair. It’s trivial to solve most equations (Wolfram alpha will solve a quadratic for you), the difficult bit is interpreting the problem mathematically. That is, reading it and deciding what to do.

To be clear, I think this is a step in the right direction, and a correct approach (although I think the idea that pupils should memorise trig ratios is crazy).

However, let’s be honest and admit to ourselves that this will mean a significant amount of pupils will fail. Those who have poor literacy skills, or SEN needs around comprehension. It is fair that they should fail this test. They should not pass it. But they should be offered the chance to pass SOME test that shows their basic mathematical ability.

This is why I’m proposing a new qualification: Numeracy.

The qualification would be pass or fail, and all questions would be set with as little text as possible. A typical question might read

586 * 5 =

With no text to support the question.

This will give students who have comprehension issues something to work towards that they can achieve (my SEN experience has told me that often the raw calculations aren’t the issue).

We should aim to make exams difficult. I don’t disagree with that. But we should also offer courses that allow students to achieve. If we let a large number of people leave school with no qualifications than we have failed them, and their negative experiences of school will get passed to next generation. The key is not just making exams harder, but matching students with the appropriate qualification.