Maths Conference 2014

September 27, 2014 1 comment

Yesterday I attended the Maths teachers conference in Kettering. Here I intend to share some thoughts on the day, and on the workshops I attended. I won’t go into too much depth, and will come bacTo k to these topics in later posts.

The event was hosted by Mark McCourt (@EmathsUK) of La Salle Education (@LaSalleEd) which, to my disappointment, has nothing to do with Dr Benton from ER. The event was in Kettering, and due to an overestimate of my travelling time I arrived an hour before the start. Luckily I wasn’t the only one, and found some similarly early maths teachers to chat with.

The event started with coffee, pastries and an exhibition of stalls from examboards, book suppliers and other such folk. This was another nice opportunity to chat and to learn more about the specs for the new GCSE. It was then off to the theatre where Mark give an intro to the day, and then Andrew Taylor from main sponsor AQA (@AQA) give a short speech to kick us off. It set the tone well and had us all ready for the first main headliner.

Vanessa Pittard (@vanessapittard) – Department of Education

Vanessa gave a great overview of the current changes in maths education policy, and the rationale behind it. She touched on many topics that would be met again throughout the day, such as the importance of mastery and curriculum design. She gave me many starting points from which I hope to learn more and gave me a better understanding of the China/England maths exchange which seems to have been majorly misreported by the press. She spoke about the Maths curricula in the highest performing countries, and something that surprised me was to hear that pupils progress through at the same pace, regardless of ability. She neglected to include the status than in high performing countries teacher spend 30% of their time teacher, with the rest spent planning, preparing and assessing as well as working on improving their practice. Compared to the UK, where it’s 90%.

Mark McCourt – A maths teacher’s network

Next it was our host, setting out his utopian vision for a better world for all maths teachers. This vision is encompassed in his new product “Complete Maths”. It’s an online resource that aims to help with lesson planning and sharing resources. It’s a big idea. It allows a personalised curriculum and the part of it that builds assessments looks particularly interesting, but I have my concerns. Mark said that when you upload a resource it goes to the design team who vamp it up and publish it with your name on it, that worries me. What if I don’t like the way they make it look, or if they make a mistake on it, and then there’s a resource with my name on it that I’m not happy with. Also, if every maths teacher in the world does get on this programme, can you imagine how many resources would be available for each lesson? It would take forever to wade through them to find the good stuff. It’s a product that has masses of potential, but it also has a massive price tag and it currently unproven. I shall look forward to hearing reviews of it once it’s been up and running a while, to see which way it goes.

Mel and Seater from Just Maths (@Just_Maths)- KS4 intervention.

This was the first of the workshops I picked. Like all the choices it was tough, and I had to miss out on seeing a lot of people throughout the day who I would have loved to see. I chose this one because I feel that it could benefit my pupils.

Mel and Seager form the perfect double act, they’ve worked together for a long time, and they bounce of each other superbly, it was a thoroughly entertaining presentation. They spoke about the intervention policies they’d put in place in their previous school, and what they’re doing now. Some of the things they do, we do, but some were ideas I’d not heard, so will feedback to my department and discuss whether we can get any benefit from them. I was particularly interested by the one to one tuition they were offering, and the strategic take on early identification of those in need of support.

They also highlighted some of the resources on their website. Some I knew about, and some I didn’t, so I left the workshop with plenty of new info to work with. I am especially excited by oops sheets, and the bread and butter sheets.

Johnny Ball

I won’t lie, my decision to choose this workshop may have had more to do with my childhood memories, than a belief I would gain much out of it. And to be fair, that’s what I got. A charismatic entertainer who made me laugh and told me some interesting facts about maths, some I already knew, and some I didn’t.

Bruno Reddy (@MrReddyMaths) – The King Solomon Story

I have been following the fortunes of Bruno and his colleagues at KSA for a while now, and was excited to learn more about the school who hit 93% 5 A*-C including English and Maths with 75% of the intake Pupil Premium.

Bruno presented very well, I learned a lot about KSA and their strategies, that he calls the 1% things. The principal ones being that culture is king and consistency is queen. I think there are a few things I can take away from this session and a few that are common sense, but there was also a lot that may work in a 60 pupil intake where pupils are in lessons from 7:15-4:30 everyday, but logistically couldn’t be transferred to a larger school with a more normal school day. There were also things I don’t think I could buy into, such as the finger clicking and chanting! The latter of which has a real cultish feel to it.

He briefly touched on the mastery curriculum that they use in maths, which is something I’m extremely interested in. I’ve been advocating mastery for a while, and the results from KSA suggest that that advocacy may well be correct.

Kris Boulton (@Kris_Boulton) – Curriculum Design

Kris is one of Bruno’s (now former) colleagues at KSA and he spoke in much more depth on the mastery curriculum that they have pioneered there.

For me, this was the session I most enjoyed and found most interesting. He delved into the theory behind mastery well and used it to explain why they had decided to back it at KSA. This was intriguing, and I hope to look further into the studies he mentioned myself.

He also gave an overview of the curriculum itself, which helped me understand what it is in more depth. It’s incredibly simply, but makes a ton of sense. Cover less topics in more depth, separate minimally different concepts and build in opportunites to practice and embed knowledge.

I enjoyed each session, and enjoyed the day immensely. I have written this from memory, and without notes. I have made notes and I will, at some point in the future, be reading through them and looking deeper into each parts. When I do, I will share more on this blog.

It was great to meet so many new people at the conference too. Some who I’d already spoken to on twitter, and some entirely new. Unfortunately, there were some I didn’t get to meet, so maybe next time. If you went, and have written your reflections, please let me have a link, I’d love to hear what others thoughts are on these issues, and to hear in detail about the workshops I didn’t manage to attend.

Decending powers of x

September 26, 2014 3 comments

I was in one of my colleagues lessons this week.and he was teaching the class to expand quadratic brackets. As the lesson went on he noticed that a number of pupils had been writing the X squared term, then the constant term then the X term so he pulled the class together to tell them that conventionally we write quadratic equations in decending powers of x. This is excellent practice and something we all should be encouraging, but it made me think “Why decending powers of x?”

When dealing with quadratic, cubics and quartics up to GCSE and A-Level level we use the convention of decending powers. This is common in all sorts from expanding through long division, even in linear function we use descending powers. However, when we start with series expansions, such as binomial or Taylor’s, we switch to ascending powers. I’m also fairly certain that everything in my second and third year university modules on polynomials was in ascending powers too.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the fact we have different conventions here, and I’m not against using them. I’m just inquisitive, and would love to know if there is a reason, and if there is what that reason is. If you do know, I’d love to hear it!

Core Mathematics

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

I was intrigued when I heard of plans for a new qualification in maths that would be for those post 16 students who had attained a C or above in maths but we’re not going on to study A level maths. I think this is an excellent idea, I feel that the thinking skills, life skills and employability skills that this offers will be of massive benefit to a vast number of people.

I was excited, when I interview for my new post, to discover the school were planning on putting a bid in to become early adopters of the qualification. We won the bid and we have since been waiting eagerly to discover the exact content of the qualification which is due in full in November.

In September, when we started the course we had very little available, there was no syllabus, the core maths support programme (cmsp) had some initial info about projects but no examples and we were left to start teaching in the dark, as it were. From the info we got from cmsp we managed to create a list of topics, some from GCSE and some from A level, which would be requirements of the course. We then planned the first few weeks around these.

Our cohort is entirely made up if pupils with C grades, so it was certainly beneficial for them to cover the topics from the higher GCSE syllabus first and they have all made progress. In this area.

Last week the cmsp put up some example projects, and so this week we tried the shockwheat one. I really enjoyed it, and the majority of the learners did too. They found the Maths fairly easy, but it was good to show them an introduction to modelling that would be used in a non-mathematical environment in the world of work.

I am still quote excited about the course, and can’t wait for the full details to be published in November. In the meantime, I’m attending an AQA course on Monday which I’m fairly excited about and hope will give me more info!

From Here to Infinity, Ian Stewart – A Book Review

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

I finished this book a while ago, but haven’t got round to reviewing it yet, so thought I would jot down my thoughts belatedly.

Ian Stewart is an author whom I first discovered through Terry Pratchett. Together (and with Jack Cohen) they penned the “Science of the Discworld” series of books which use stories based on the Discworld to explain the science of our own world an universe, if you haven’t read them, I would certainly advise you do! I enjoyed them, and so I thought I would enjoy this one too.

From here to eternity had me hooked from the opening salvo, a paragraph so powerful it made me stop and write this blog post. Here is an abridged version:

“One of the biggest problems of mathematics is to explain to everyone what it is all about. The technical trappings of the subject, it’s symbolism and formality, it’s baffling terminology, it’s apparent delight in lengthy calculations: these tend to obscure its real nature. A musician would be horrified if his art were summed up as ‘a lot of tadpoles drawn on a row of lines.’….. The symbolism of maths is merely its coded form, not its substance…. Mathematics is not about symbols and calculations, these are tools of the trade….  Mathematics is about ideas…. It is about how ideas relate to each other….understanding why an answer is possible…. good mathematics has an air of economy and an element of surprise. But above all, it had significance.” (Ian Stewart)

I was nodding along from the get go and my mind was entirely hooked from the get go. Stewart uses humour and anecdotes to weave an engaging tale around some really heavy mathematics, and all the elements add up to a thoroughly enjoyable book.

While reading it I found my love of group theory, graph theory and knot theory rekindled. The booked took a surface view of the topics and I found these tasters made me yearn for more. There were also area’s I knew little about, such as non-euclidean geometry, which I now have the desire to research further.

The book is exciting, and informative and I would urge anyone with an interest in maths to give it a read. Especially those embarking on a degree in maths who don’t yet know the area’s they want to investigate, it will give them a great taster.

Categories: Maths Tags: , ,

Damaging short cuts

September 10, 2014 6 comments

Yesterday, my year ten class were doing Standard Form (Why did we drop the word index? Standard Index Form is much better!) During the lesson it became very apparent that they were nowhere near fluent in the use of negative numbers, so today I taught a lesson on directed number to fill in the gaps.

The first few examples were of the form – a + b, or a- b, and were easily dealt with, but then I gave them an example which blew their minds. The example in question was:

-7 – 4

I talked through it to nods of agreement but then I got this:

“It can’t be -11, there are two negatives and Miss so and so said that two negatives always make a positive”

AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!  went my internal monologue. Others in the class murmured agreement. A long discussion ensued, about where this fallacy comes from and why it’s entirely wrong. We got there, and now the class have a deeper understanding of negative numbers and how to deal with them, however,  I think this could have been entirely avoided if this short cut just wasn’t taught. If they had just been taught how to handle negatives in the first place.

This isn’t the only topic that falls foul of this. I’ve written before about “BIDMAS“, Tina Cardone (@crstn85) has put together a superb book on a variety of similar things and just yesterday Michael Tidd (@michaelt1979) tweeted “Can we all just agree to stop using the crocodile inequalities analogy”.

This is one that infuriates me. Every year I have to unteach this because a number of pupils have quite understandably changed the story in the head to “the big number eats the little number”. This seems sensible, as a big crocodile would certainly be more likely to eat a smaller crocodile than the other way round.

Why can’t we just teach the concepts and forget about the shortcuts? They are more of a hindrance than a help!

Happy New Year (2014/15)

September 8, 2014 1 comment

It’s funny that in most of the world the year starts in January, but in Education we start in.September. (Not to forget those finance types who start in April) But that’s how it is. My mind has always been set to a September new year. Probably because I’ve been around education for most of my life. I still work out people’s ages based on school years!

This time of year, for me, is one of new beginnings. I came across this post this evening. It’s last year’s happy new year post, and in it i set out some hopes and ideas for the year ahead.

This year is different, it’s not just a new year, but a new school. I do, however, have a similar feeling of excitement, perhaps more so.

Last year I wrote of wanting to ensure my lessons were as good as they could be, and I think I managed that on the most part. That’s not to say they were perfect, just as good as I could have made them. This year I want them to be better. I think that all teachers should be striving for those constant improvement. The way I plan to do this is to observe as many others as I can, to trail different things in my lessons, to use ideas I’ve seen and read about, continue to attend teachmeet and conferences (and any other CPD I can get) when given the chance and continue working towards my masters.

Last year I also spoke about wanting to read more. I have managed that, and the education books, journals and blogs I’ve read, and the Maths ones, have indeed helped my teaching. I even managed, fiction book! (Terry Pratchett’s collection of shorter writing entitled “A blink of the screen”, for those who are interested.) My “to read” list, however, is constantly growing, so I hope this year to be able to read even more from all categories, and hopefully these will improve my teaching too.

The new school brings with it a new role, and a move from TLR responsibility to leadership responsibility. This is exciting and I want to make sure that this side of my practice is as good as it can be too. My school have put me forward for a course which will help here and I have a lot of great people around to learn from.

Another exciting thing this year is purchased involvement with the core maths qualification. We are lucky enough to be a pilot school for the scheme and I’m excited by the prospect. We have a decent group of pupils who have signed up, and we are motoring along, even though there is, as yet, little information on the course. This new qualification is something that will be shaped over the next few years, and I look forward to being part if that.

All in all, I am excited about 2014-15, excited by its prospects and hopeful that I can improve myself, and the outcomes of the pupils in my charge.

Changing Schools

September 5, 2014 7 comments

I’d never done it before, changing schools. I had been to two schools as an ITT trainee, then moved onto employment at a third school, but that was that. I had been there since. When I left at the end of last term I had very mixed feelings. I was excited to test myself in a new classroom setting, I was excited to sink my teeth into the new role I had been appointed to, but I was sad to leave the place I had enjoyed working at so much. I was sad to be leaving my friends and colleagues, and I was sad to be leaving my classes. As summer drew on both these feelings remained. Had I made the right choice? Would I like it at the new school? Would I fit in to the department?

Now we’ve been back two weeks. That first week, when all the other teachers I know we’re still on holiday, was tough. But the thought of 2 weeks at October was certainly enough to keep me going! The first day was a training day, which was focused around the good results achieved last year and the challenges we face to keep them heading in an upward trend. I felt it was an exciting school to be at, and am exciting time to be here.

I get on with the others in the department, and there is a good team spirit which I already feel part of, so the worries I had there were unfounded. I’m still getting to grips with parts of my role, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the process and the challenges.

That leaves the lessons. The new school has promethean boards, not smartboards, so I had to get use to the new equipment and the software. The room layout is different too, so I’ve had to get used to that, but I feel I have made the switch well. I have met all my classes and I really like them. There have been one or two settling in behaviour issues, a by-product of being new to the school, but I feel that I’m on top of them.

All in all, I am enjoying my new role and the new chapter in my career. I feel I have made the right choice, and I look forward to the journey ahead.

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