Archive for January, 2013

An old favourite

January 29, 2013 1 comment

Last night, while planning for today, I was looking for starter ideas and I ca me across this:


This is a starter puzzle that was shown to me by a fellow trainee back when I was studying for my PGCE. It is a fun starter task that can engage quickly and get quite competitive. I used it on my interview lesson for my current post and the now head of school and vice principal who both observed that lesson loved it as much as I do. The first to complete the task that day was a young lady who is now in year 11. She came to the board and demonstrated her solution to the class really well. I know now, from colleagues who teach her, that she can be quite hard to engage, but I find that hard to imagine as on that day she was a total superstar!

I have used this starter at school before, but not for over a year, and I have mostly different classes now to the ones I had then, so I think the time is right to try it out on some new classes. I’ve only tried it on year 9 today, but am hoping to try a few more before the week is out!

Mathematical Concept Wall

January 25, 2013 5 comments

In early January 2013 I read this blog by Paul Collins. I immediately fell in love with the idea and decided that I wanted my own mathematical concept wall for my classroom. I went to the TES website and downloaded the card that Mr Collins (@mrprcollins can also be found on twitter) had kindly uploaded for me. I made some cards up and gave them out as starters to all my classes. I was very impressed with the quality of some of the responses, and I realised that I would soon have far too many for the display!

The next idea was to set up an e display ( and this has gone down well. This is a place where you can see all entrants. My favourite so far is:


I then thought, “what if I had a rolling display”, meaning it could be a constantly changing display. Here is a photo of it:


My next thought was to use my other board as a prize board, giving a pic of the term out, and a best in each year group:


In the bottom left you can see a holder I gave fashioned to hold blank cards, so pupils and/or staff/anyone can enter whenever they like! There is still space at the bottom, I hope to use that for a “best of past winners” section.

I have gotten the art department involved, so many pupils I wouldn’t normally see are creating art based on maths words, to enter in the display!

The display includes a QR code and a written link to the e display, and I’m thinking of procuring a photo album to keep the vest examples in as hard copies when they leave the wall.

Because we haven’t had a term yet, the “picture of the term” box was empty, so I put mine in it for now:


I’m loving the displays, and the pupils loved having a go, I will ensure each class get at least one entry per term. I think I might leave a stock in the library, and see how many come back, to enable more people to have ago. If people are thinking about maths, even in this abstract manner, it will raise the profile of the subject, and encourage creativity.

The mathematics of parenthood…..

January 25, 2013 Leave a comment

In July I became a father for the first time. This is an immensely wonderful, emotional and at times terrifying experience. After the birth you are very much left to learn by doing, and we have been enjoying parenthood ever since.

One of the things they give you when you become parents is “The red book” ( In this book the health visitors/midwives and Dr’s keep everything they write about your child, and there are bits for you to fill in. The bits that captured my interest the most were the charts at the back pertaining to baby’s weight and height (length). My daughter was born at the 50th percentile (the median) weight for a little girl, but very quickly jumped up to the section of the chart between the 67th and 91st percentile, and is now moving along at the 91st.


My partner and I were looking through the book last week and noticed that she (our daughter) had never been measured for length, I looked at the chart for her age and the 91st percentile and said, “she should be 68 cm long.” We then measured her, and she was ever so slightly over that (68.2cm).


We were quite amazed by how accurate the chart had been. I wonder how they work it out? I assume there is a huge bank of data records and that these were probably normalised and the charts derived from the normal distribution, but I would love to see the full report on the maths. The databank must be massive! All babies born since ”records began” !!!!

We then got a bit carried away and extrapolated some data, hypothesising the following:

• When she is an adult she will be 5’ 7” tall and weigh 11 stone 5lb


• If she were a boy she would be 70cm in length and weigh 18lb
• As a male adult she would be 6’ 1” tall and weigh 13 stone 4lb

Obviously hypothesis 2 and 3 are untestable, and as such a thought experiment. However, check back here in 20 years time to see how accurate hypothesis 1 is!

It made me wonder if this was relevant to my students. The school have had teen pregnancies, and the area we are in is a teen pregnancy hotspot. There are many pupils, generally female, who study health and social care and child development at our school, so there is cross curricular opportunities. The majority of the pupils will become parents themselves at some stage, as the majority of humans do. Given these facts I decided that this would be very relevant to them, and I am planning to investigate ways of incorporating this next time stats comes around! (Plus, it will give me an excuse to show off some baby photos!)









ETMOOC – An Introduction

January 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Ok, here goes: I’ve been signposted to ETMOOC ( by my colleague Richie Dunk (, with the suggestion that I might be interested. I’ve had a look, and he was right. I think ETMOOC is a great opportunity to become involved in a deeper discussion of educational technologies and I’m hoping to be able to share ideas, improve my practice and gain ideas on how and when different technologies can be used within lessons.

I am committed to a journey of continued development and improvement to help me become the best teacher I can be. That is why I started to write this blog and why I have signed up to ETMOOC. I believe that as the world is changing and technology is become such a huge part of the society as a whole, then it is certainly something we teachers must embrace as well if we are to engage pupils and deliver the best learning experience possible for them.

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“The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime”

January 23, 2013 6 comments

Last week a colleague ( “tweeted” me to tell me he’d signed up for something called a blog sync ( ), and suggested I might like a go at it. I had a look and despite initial reservations about deadlines etc I figured I’d give it ago. So the topic for the month is: “The Universal Panacea? The number one shift in UK education I wish to see in my lifetime”, and here we are.

Since signing up for this I’ve run hundreds of ideas through my mind to try and come up with an answer. I’ve discovered that there are quite a few changes I would like to see! And I have discovered that at the crux of most of them is “I would like to see an end to the inequality in the UK education system”.

Inequality is something I despise on all levels, whether it be racial inequality, gender inequality, social inequality or any other type of inequality. I usual dedicate a portion of time to discuss the SMSC aspects at the beginning of lessons on inequalities in maths, and find the discussions can be immensely fascinating.

By “an end to inequality” I don’t mean to say that I was everyone to receive exactly the same education, I want them to receive the best education from them. Pupils should be the focus of all education systems.

There are major flaws in our education system, and the first is the fact that fee paying schools exist. We live in a country where education is free for all, thanks to the work of James Kier Hardie and others like him. So why then, are people paying £9.6 billion in schools fees? (These figures are taken from Chris Hildrew’s post , which conveys a very similar view to mine.) I had planned to dedicate a whole section of this post to the why’s behind this, but I feel Chris’s blog sets it out so well there is no real need for me to go over it again, but instead I would urge you to click the link and read his post (also part of the blog sync) on the subject. In short, I feel the private education system gives people with money access to a network that those educated in the state sector don’t get, providing a barrier for state educated people. It also means that many pupils never mix with anyone from other social “classes”; this can breed contempt on both sides, and will perpetuate the “class war”.

Another barrier to equality is the current allowances made for “faith schools” within sector. I’ve long been an advocate for the separation of church and state, and the place where I feel this is most needed is in education. most “faith schools” are separatist in their make-up, and this idea of “only members of this faith can attend here” is what I take major issue with. Most faiths espouse the view “love thy neighbour” but how are children supposed to take this on board if they are not allowed to mix with those “neighbours” who are of different faiths? Should the tag line not then be: “Love thy neighbour, but they are not worthy of the same education as you”? Faith is not implicit in children, they are not born with it and they do not choose it, it is inferred upon them. Can you imagine the outrage if a school were to only accept children of one skin colour? Why do we not have similar outrage when they will only accept children of one faith?

On top of that, faith schools are heavily centered around “the propagation of the faith” and, as such, drive out the inquisitive nature that children instinctively have. They also have the option of writing their own RE syllabus which allows them to teach their faith as the truth and barely touch on others. Rather than a more secular approach to RE which is to teach the facts about the different faiths, what each one believes and then let the pupils make up their own minds. I feel the system would be better if RE was taught in this more secular way, parents could still bring up their children in the faith, but they would need to do that in their own time.

Then there is also the phenomenon of “Pew Jumping”, where wealthy families “convert” to a religion and move to areas near the better perceived faith schools in order to get their children into said school. This opens up all the same problems as fee paying schools outlined above.

The third worry I have around equality is the overly relaxed law on home education. In a nut-shell it is a legal requirement that all children “receive an education”, but there are no laws to specify what that is, and this worries me immensely. A few hours a day on “how to do chores” would satisfy the law, and this is not giving home educated children an equal opportunity to those in the school system. On top of this they are withdrawn from society, have no relationships with people their own age and have no authority figures in their lives but their parents. The social/relationship aspect of schooling is equally as important as the academic aspect, and schools need to ensure they are looking after the whole child.

In summary, I feel schools should aim to provide the best possible education for all pupils, whatever their faith, socio-economic status, race, gender and any other factor you can find. Over the past century and a bit we have made huge progress on this, but there is still a way to go. Both Chris Hildrew (mentioned above) and a colleague of mine, Richie Dunk (, have signposted me towards the Finnish education system as a model I would approve of, and the more I read about it, the more I agree.

To find out more about the Finnish system visit:

This is an excerpt from that site:

“Equal opportunities

The Finnish education system offers everybody equal opportunities for education, irrespective of domicile, sex, economic situation or linguistic and cultural background. The school network is regionally extensive, and there are no sex-specific school services. Basic education is completely free of charge (including instruction, school materials, school meals, health care, dental care, commuting, special needs education and remedial teaching).

Comprehensiveness of education

Basic education encompasses nine years and caters for all those between 7 and 16 years. Schools do not select their students but every student can go to the school of his or her own school district. Students are neither channelled to different schools nor streamed.”


This post is a response to the #blogsync topic for January suggested by Edutronic here:

All #blogsync entries on this topic can be found here:

Excitement and teamwork

January 17, 2013 Leave a comment

Today we took a delivery that got me rather excited:


Yes, that’s right, I’m a little sad, a little geeky but hey, what’s wrong with that?!

When I was interviewed for my current role I asked the panel whether further maths was offered as an A Level, when the negative response came back I asked if it ever would be. I was told that it was unlikely, but never say never. So imagine how exciting it is that less than two years after that interview I’m embarking on an AS level further maths course with my year 13s and look to be starting a full A level further course next sept for the (will be then) year 12s. We’ve come a long way in a very short time, and although the further maths numbers are still low, we can see a bright future. The A level maths numbers more than tripled last year.

As a school, we have gone in a couple of years from under 20% (around 30% when I started) maths a to c to around 60 last year and a target of even more this year. In the november early entry exams we achieved two A stars, the very first A stars the school has had in maths, ever.

We have achieved all this through hard work, as a team. My departmental colleagues are my single biggest resource. We often joint plan, share resources, share a kind word if someone needs it, act as a vent when someone needs to let of steam and as a sounding board when we have ideas.

Our school refers to the old fashioned departments as “area teams”, and this is extremely apt. The HOD is actually called the “Area team leader”, and again this title is perfect. She leads the team from the front, rather than manage from above. And the termly catch up meetings with staff are a welcome, informal setting to catch up and see where we are.

I feel both proud and lucky to be part of the team, and the wider school team which has a similar ethic and feel about it.

Here’s to an exciting future, more a* to c’s more A level candidates, more A stars, and more fun!

Happy Primes – Recreational mathematics

January 17, 2013 8 comments

My year ten class are currently studying a unit on “types of number” so for the starter of today’s lesson we looked at the number 2013. We used some basic divisibility tests to see if it was prime and then drew a factor tree and expressed 2013 as a sum of its primes (3 x 11 x 61). The class were also set the task of finding the next and last years that there were consecutive digits (not necessarily in order) in the year. A group of three boys motored through the task in seconds and we ended up having a discussion about happy numbers, and whether or not 2013 is one. These lads will often mess around in class and can sometimes be hard to engage, but this sort of a task and discussion always hooks them and has them working really hard. The lesson reminded me of this clip from Dr Who (Series 3 (of the rebooted series) episode 7)

The bit at the end of the clip is the reason I decided to mention it on here. The Dr says “Talk about dumbing down, don’t they teach recreational mathematics anymore?”, and I thought that perhaps more recreational mathematics should be involved. Obviously, the syllabus is there and needs to be covered, it also includes many topics that can be really fun, but topics such as these (the sort of maths I might do for fun on a weekend, the sort of task/puzzle/investigation that sparks questions I need to answer or just something with an intriguing name, such as a happy prime; a harshad number or sociable numbers) can be thrown into lessons as hooks, or even a full lesson could be given over to a more recreational topic if it is going to spark the enthusiasm that I saw in the three lads today. Getting pupils enthusiastic about Maths is one of my main goals in teaching, and I don’t see why that should be constrained just to the topics covered on the syllabus. I am going to endeavour to incorporate more of these topics into my lessons, and hope to be able to signpost pupils to places where they can study them further and read around the topics.

The librarian at school is keen to get pupils reading in all manner of ways and has approached me about having a display of maths books (not textbooks, but books about Maths pupils can read for fun, any suggestions are more than welcome) in my room. I am working with her to increase the maths section of the library, which is currently pretty dire, and hope that ideas like this will link in well and inspire the next generation of mathematicians. I hope that some of the pupils I teach can grow up and get the same enjoyment from Maths that I do. I see it often in my Year 13 class, and have seen it often in my top set year 7 and 8 classes. My year ten class are not the most motivated, but today is not the first time I’ve seen an activity spark this sort of interest! And I hope it will not be the last.


The sad state of the libraries maths section, you may notice a few “murderous maths” books, but nothing else!

UPDATE: The library now has a superb maths section, and an additional “satellite” maths collection in my classroom! (See this post)

Power Cut!!!!!!

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

Today, period 4 my year tens arrived as normal and I promptly handed out concept cards as a bell activity to get them engaged. (You can see their offerings at: ) As they were completing this, the power went out!, the lights , computer and IWB all went down (the emergency lights kicked in but they are still fairly dark. We opened the blinds and had just about enough light to continue. The lesson I had planned was on standard form, and was fairly reliant on the IWB. There was a show me activity based on IWB questions and  there were demos and questions for the class to be working on from the board. This meant I had to plan a new lesson “on the fly”, as it were. This happened to me once when I was training (that time I had left my memory stick at home and not realised to the start of the lesson – the host teacher stepped in and we team taught that day) and once last year as an NQT (I had save a lesson onto my hard drive at home, not my memory stick! That time I knew what the next topic was (factorising quadratics) and had another lesson I could use). This time I couldn’t use IWB stuff at all, so had to really think on my feet. First I set them the task of converting some numbers into standard form by writing them on a WB, this was to recap last lessons learning and to give me a minute or two to devise a plan of action. I then used questioning to lead pupils to discover how to complete calculations involving standard form. This was similar to how i would have done it anyway, but using an old-fashioned whiteboard and pen, rather than to more colourful IWB presentation i had planned. Then I still incorporated a show me activity, but wrote each question up on the whiteboard. Due to the nature of the activity this was fine, as they needed thinking time to complete each question. Then we moved onto a card sort activity I had (although hadn’t planned on using this lesson!). The lesson was quite successful,and the fact i managed to pull off the lesson despite the disruption caused by the power cut gave me a nice confidence boost.

The following lesson the lights were back on, but I still had no IWB. This lesson was a Y8 lesson on adding and subtracting fractions and the IWB presentation had some great visuals, so it was a shame that I couldn’t use it. I managed to again replace the presentation by using the whiteboard, and the kinesthetic tasks I had planned were still useable as they didn’t require ICT, so the lesson went well too.

The power cut made today a bit of a challenge, but it is these challenges that improve us and in a way I am glad that it happened to give me the opportunity to think on my feet and re-jig lessons on the fly in this manner.

S’no (w) way to behave…..

January 15, 2013 Leave a comment

The snow has come, not the 10 foot drifts the harbingers of doom suggested, but enough to cause a lot of KS3 pupils distraction. I was called boring the other day because I responded to someone who was “doing a snow dance” by saying that I hoped it didn’t snow. It’s not that I don’t like snow. If snow had fallen during the holidays I would have welcomed it, but during term time it is not something I want. Firstly, Years 11, 12 and 13 have exams this sitting, if the snow was so heavy they didn’t make it in then they would be heavily affected. Secondly, if pupils don’t make it in they are missing out on learning time, whatever the year. Thirdly, the risk of pupils (and staff even) coming to harm on their journey is greatly increased when conditions are bad, and finally, when snow falls outside a classroom window a strange phenomenon happens where pupils seem unable to avert their eyes from it. The last one is easily quelled by drawing the blinds, but it still causes a disruption to the learning experience I would rather avoid.

It’s been a week since I’ve written much on here, but I do have a few blogs in the pipeline, I’ve signed up to a “blog sync” ( ), which seems an interesting idea. It will also provide me with a new challenge of writing about a specific, predetermined topic, which is a little different to how I usually blog.

This week I have taken a brilliant idea from Paul Collins ( and run with it. I have made my own cards using his template ( and have set about giving them to various classes and seeing what they come up with. I will blog further about this later when the display is up and running. I have many ideas around it. For now, I have set up an e-display ( My favourite is:


I have been experimenting with collective memory tasks too this week, and have found these to be really engaging and versatile.

Happy New Year!

January 7, 2013 2 comments

So, the first day back has been and gone in what seemed like a bit of a hurry! I tried some of the 2013 starters suggested by Dave Gale’s blog ( ) and they went down a treat. I even added another for some of the more advanced classes where they were asked to express 2013 as a product of its prime factors! (This was also my question of the day to other members of the faculty.)

The first day back has been fun, although I’m not quite sure my body is as used to the early mornings as it was before the break! My favourite of the starter questions I’ve used to day is this (from Dave’s blog):  “The digits used in 2013 are consecutive (albeit not in order in this case). When’s the next and last time that happens?” This opened up a great discussion as to how amazing it was that this is the first time it has happened for nearly 600 years, but it will happen again in just 18. In particular, my lower ability year 8 class were enthralled by this prospect!

I like starter activities that I can use across year groups, and am always astonished by who manages to work out the answer quickest. The person who worked out when the last time the year had 4 different digits was a girl in said lower ability year 8 class, which really surprised me, given that the rest of the classes I taught today were top sets. This type of starter activity also works well as a hook to gather the attention of the pupils early, and in every class these activities worked a treat. Tomorrow I will try these activities on the classes I’ve not seen yet, and may try the “Wedding Maths”  ( ) activity on the classes I’ve taught today.

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