Archive for February, 2013

New books and World Book Day

February 28, 2013 6 comments

Look what arrived in my room today!:


This is my new classroom library display. A while ago I noticed that the maths section of our school library was very “minimalist”, and when I mentioned it to the librarian she told me she was hoping to expand it and asked me to suggest some books. She also mentioned she was hoping to get subject specific books into displays in classrooms around the school to promote the reading and library in general, which is fantastic, so I promptly volunteered to be the maths room!

With world book day arriving next week it is great to get the display up and running, and to know there are more in the library as well. I’m hoping some of the younger “fun” maths books may appeal to the pupils in the lower years, and I am hoping the ks 4 and 5 pupils may be encouraged to pick up some books and read around the subject. Embracing recreational maths and hopefully getting driven to take up maths at HE level.

Now I just need to think up a costume for world book day. Maybe George, from “Of mice and men”…. Failing that, I could bob on a dressing gown and go as Arthur Dent!

4 Pics 1 Word

February 25, 2013 7 comments

So, over the past few weeks the entire world seems to have become obsessed with the smart phone app – “4 Pics, 1 Word”. Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask for my help on one they’re stuck on, whether it be in person or online. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives you four pictures, and you must find the word that connects them. I figured that it could be used extremely well in the classroom, and have set about creating my own versions to use as starters. Here are the ones I’ve come up with so far:









Fellow maths teachers Dave Gale (@reflectivemaths) and Paul Collins (@mrprcollins) have created their own versions, read about them here:

Dave Gale:

Paul Collins:

Connectivity and Personal Learning Journeys

February 7, 2013 Leave a comment

A while ago I signed up for #etmooc ( ) to gain ideas to further my own teaching. I have recently been reading many entries on the etmooc hub ( around Personal Learning (PLNs PLEs etc) and thought I might take a few minutes to reflect on my own personal learning.

I think life is a personal learning journey. All aspects of life have learning attached, and currently I am on a few Personal Learning Journeys (PLJs). The one with the steepest learning curve is probably the PLJ attached to being a first time parent, each day has new knowledge and new worries, but the same can be said for any PLJ.

Professionally, we are all on constant PLJs, we learn more about our teaching with every lesson. Pupils will throw up a misconception we never conceived of, or will behave in a way we’ve never seen. These are the day to say constants that help us improve. I think these are good, but I like to take this further, which Is why I am keen to observe as many other teachers as possible and to get involved with as many other projects as I can. This blog, the blogs of others and twitter conversations have extended my PLN in a big way and given my PLJ an extra gear. The world we live in is amazing; people from all “corners” of the earth are connected at the click of a button. I can post on twitter something like “Anyone got any good ideas for teaching matrix multiplication?” and get instant responses from teachers in Singapore, Australia, the USA and many other places. This connectivity is mind-blowing.

I joined up to etmooc to further my own personal learning journey, and have received some great ideas on the use of tech in lessons. I have found loads of new blogs to read and I am excited to see how it all progresses.

My PLJ currently includes these other projects, which I will write about in more detail later.  Firstly, a project with a PE teacher where we are observe each other;  a project with a science teacher, which is set to include joint planning and team teaching; a project with a maths teacher and an English teacher, which also involves joint planning and team teaching and a project with a maths colleague which currently involves observing each other, but who knows where it may go.  Each one of these projects excites me, as I am sure they will all help to improve my classroom practice and give me ideas to use in future lessons.

Categories: etmooc, Teaching Tags: , ,

Enjoyment in the classroom

February 7, 2013 3 comments

Over the weekend my twitter feed was lit up by a debate around enjoyment in the classroom. It was good to hear some opposing views and made me reflect on my own views around enjoyment, so I decided to set a few out here.

One of the views I hears was (and I paraphrase) “Enjoyment is not important to progress, hard work is”. I disagree, I remember when I finished my first postgraduate study and worked as a temp for a while, one of the jobs I took was a rather dull data input role. I was a fairly hard worker, but boredom often crept in and i didn’t get too much done. There was another chap, Neil, who was also a temp on the job and he came up with a game, the game was to see who could do the most each hour. It made it fun and we got really competitive. Our productivity increased. I think that if you want pupils to work hard in lessons, you need to be doing something they can gather enjoyment from. If they are bored, they will not work hard; they will procrastinate and avoid work. Enjoyment and hard work are not mutually exclusive events, they are intertwined. I find that if I enjoy a lesson, the pupils tend to enjoy it and they therefore put more effort in. If I’m bored, they will no doubt become bored, disengaged and do less work.

I also heard the view (paraphrased again): “You can’t expect them to enjoy it is it’s a subject that isn’t enjoyable”. I misinterpreted this at first and questioned the poster around why they would become a teacher of a subject they didn’t enjoy, but further discussion let me understand that he didn’t mean the subject wasn’t enjoyable, but perhaps a topic. This struck home for me a little, as there are a few topics that I find a little dull that we have to teach on the syllabus. (Numerical methods, such as Trial and Improvement and iteration, and some data topics – I prefer the more abstract topics associated with pure maths….)  It got me thinking about my classes and what they enjoy. My low ability year sevens LOVE algebra. (Honestly, I’m not making it up.) When we do shape or data topics they get upset and ask “can we learn more Algebra?” I have thought long and hard about this and think the reason for it must be because I love algebra. It MUST be my enthusiasm for the topic that comes through and rubs off on them. My year 11 class also like algebra best, and have a dislike for data. It MUST be my own opinions on topics rubbing off. My Year 13 further maths class love Complex Numbers, Differential Calculus and Matrix Algebra, but hate numerical methods. The same as me! This has given me cause to look at the way I teach the topics I dislike. I need to put on a show, I need to teach them as if I love them, to gain the same level of love from the pupils as the topics I love, which will in turn produce the same level of work as they put in to said topics.

Lessons need to be enjoyable for all concerned. If you are teaching, and not enjoying the lessons, you will go mad. If the pupils are not enjoying the lessons, they will become bored, do no work, not learn anything and fail to make progress. One last paraphrased quote from the twitter debate: “Enjoyment should not come at the cost of progress” – It shouldn’t, I totally agree, but I feel that enjoyment is the best tool to secure progress. Enjoyment and progress are complementary.

In the words or Samuel Johnson: “All intellectual improvement arises through leisure”.

Observing others

February 1, 2013 1 comment

This week I have been extremely lucky. I have been able to observe 3 other teachers teach lessons. I have for a long time held the belief that observing others is the single most effective way to improve one’s own teaching and I feel I have gained a lot by doing this this week.

I regularly seek out opportunities to go on see my colleagues teach, obviously this is in an informal setting and the purpose of this is for my own improvement. Last year I mainly observed senior teachers and/or teachers who taught classes which were similar to the ones I was having trouble with, and I continue to do this. But in the run up to Christmas I had the idea of asking my classes who they thought were the best teachers. I figured if the pupils thought they were the best then they were definitely worth seeing. I contacted two members of staff whose name kept on coming up to see if I could observe them. One of them had non-contact time in all of mine, so I couldn’t see him, but the other was happy for me to come and had a great idea. He asked me if I could write the observation up and give feedback as if it were a real observation so that we could both gain more of an insight into the grading/observation process. So I did this and he is going to return the favour after half term. The lesson itself was a PE lesson, I really enjoyed it, was torn between a one and two grading, and it gave me a good insight into how PE lessons run (it’s very different from when I was at school!). It also brought to light a problem that I would not have considered before. “How do you show progress over time in PE?”

There are a few issues with this: firstly, how can you evidence progress? And secondly: with the carousel nature of PE topics, how do you avoid the star L7 footballer from term one who can’t play badminton seeming to have regressed in term two because his badminton level is L5? We had a long discussion during the feedback on this topic. We had a few possible ideas for the first problem. One was to have the pupils keep a self-reflection journal and enter each week “I have achieved level ________ today by_______ next week I hope to achieve _____ by ____”. And the other idea was to keep spread sheets holding data for each week. To tackle the second problem, I was drawn to the mats of it. I figured that the pupils could be assigned a level for each topic at the start of the year based on prior attainment. So one pupil might have, say: Football L7, Badminton L5, Tennis L6, Cricket L7 and Fitness L5. The mean average of this would be a L6. Then each time a unit was completed the base level would be replaced and the mean would steadily increase over time. This would take into account levels for all sports and give a more holistic level for PE to report to parents. I figured this was fairly similar to maths, where a pupils might be working at L8 in algebra, but L6 in shape and number and L7 in data, but would gain a L7 overall.

The next opportunity I had to observe this week was a maths lesson. We had a teach first trainee come for a week’s placement from another school within the city. He was a top bloke and had asked to see some low ability lessons, so I welcomed him into my Y9 class. After observing the first lesson he said he would quite like to try teaching them, so we agreed for him to take one of their lessons that week on reading scales. The lesson was great, the class are brilliant, but I was worried they might not respond to another teacher in the same manner, this was a worry that turn out to be pointless, as they took to him well. He had a great mix of competition, AFL and consolidation and made me think about how I would teach scales in future.

This week’s final lesson observation was a Y13 English Lit lesson. The teacher is a senior teacher who I have observed before with a KS4 class and whose name was mentioned by some sixth formers I asked as someone who teachers A Level well. A Level teaching is something I feel is one of my strengths, and something that has identified as a strength by others, but I have never seen anyone else teach it. (Well, except when I was studying A levels myself!) I felt the lesson was great, and the atmosphere in the room was similar to the atmosphere in my A Level lessons, in fact, the lesson itself went very similar to the way mine do. Only the content really differed, I managed to take a lot from the lesson.

I feel I have a good week, as far as my own learning journey is concerned, and hope to build on this even further in the coming weeks.

Flip Cameras

February 1, 2013 Leave a comment

This week we had a twilight session focussing on progress over time. One part of the session was dedicated to flip cameras, as school have just purchased some and will be distributing some of them to each department. We had a quick chat and came up with the following ideas between us:

  • Debating (e.g. should we be taxed?) in a Maths context
    • This came from a discussion I’d had with my year 8’s while teaching percentage change. This was great SMSC debate, but there had been no evidence.
    • Filming students gathering data for surveys
    • People positioning loci and real life constructions (such as marking out a football pitch.
    • Songs
      • This was based on the ATL’s idea. At a previous school she had videoed her class singing the “mean is average” song and thought this was an idea that could be built on. Pupils could write their own revision songs and these could be filmed.
      • Creating starter activities that other year groups can then do
      • Revision videos – worked examples at the board or in groups
      • Maths in real life – students can interview members of staff asking them about how they use Maths in real life
      • Video presentation as opposed to a poster presentation
        • This was built on from a project we did recently around famous mathematicians, the output was a poster that each group displayed and spoke around.
        • A further idea I had around this was a sports report. Pupils could analyse the data of a football or rugby season and present a sky sports news style report/season review. This could be a good project to cover data.
        • Alternately, they could analyse the stock markets etc.

If you have any more ideas, or if you’ve successfully used Flip Cameras in maths, I’d love to hear those ideas.

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