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On-the-fly

February 6, 2016 4 comments

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft agley – R. Burns

There are many reasons that a lesson goes awry, and being able to deal with that is key. During teacher training a lot of weight is put on planning, pikes of lesson plans are produced by student teachers and often they are very helpful and certainly aid development and allow us to consider the subject we are teaching, consider the questions we need to ask and what exactly we want our students to take away. But the heavy emphasis on planning can make some teachers too reluctant to deviate from said plans.

I remember during my NQT year being told about hinge questions and how I should include them in every lesson, a deputy head said I could come to his y11 class and see how he used them, but I was left underwhelmed as the result wasn’t any different to how the lesson would have been without it. He just had a “hinge question” in the middle and carried on regardless. Hinge questions are useful, but only if you then have 2 separate paths for the students to take.

Similarly starters that check prior knowledge are good, they’re useful for filling in gaps and they can aid a lesson,  but you need to be ready to change your plans on the fly if needs be.

This week I had a lesson planned on cones and spheres, some of the questions towards the end of the lesson included cylinders and prisms as well as spheres, cones, pyramids and frustums, so I set a couple of cylinder and prisms questions in the starter. I was met with blank faces. Totally blank. I hadn’t taught them this before, but I had assumed they had met them in previous years, but they hadn’t  (or at least if they had they’d lost their memory of it). At this point I jettisoned my plan and started over.

I talked through some examples, explaining how they had got it and then set them off on some tasks I had saved on my hard drive while circulating to check the understanding. It was an enjoyable lesson and the students now have a good grasp of cylinders and prisms, plus I have the added bonus of one less lesson to plan next week now.

It can be terrifying when this becomes necessary. During my NQT year we lost all the power from sockets in the school – the lights were still on but the smart boards were unuseable. When they went off I was 5 minutes in to a year 10 lesson on constructions with a class who had a reputation as the worst in the school. It was my first time being without the presentation I’d planned and my first time teaching construction. I did my best to demo on the boards, then set them doing simple constructions while circulating and teaching the more complex ones. It was a success, but it was a terrifying ordeal.

Being able to adapt on the fly is key, and it’s something we need to prepare new and trainee teachers for. I’ve had thoughts about how to do this, but nothing concrete. One idea is to have them “wing it” occasionally- ie show up to a lesson every so often unprepared. Do you have any ideas on how we can help prepare for the times when we need to act on the fly.

Core, Decision and the new GCSE

February 6, 2016 Leave a comment

Well January went by in a flash, and as we enter February 2016 seems rather light on posts so far. It’s always the way at the start of the new year, mock exams create piles of marking and it’s all coming at such break neck speed it’s hard to find time to write anything. So here are a few thoughts:

Decision maths

It’s a real shame there’s no content from these modules on the new A level. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying certain aspects this year, as usual. I won’t shed any tears about flowcharts, bubble sort and binary search (etc) but I will very much miss the graphs and networks section.

Core Maths

I’ve enjoyed teaching this subject this year and I hope to carry on with it. It has, however, been massively frustrating at times, especially when trying to assess the students and try to gather evidence to make a prediction on what they will score.

The new GCSE

The frustrations with core maths are all applicable to the new GCSE which I’m teaching to year ten, we still have no way to grade them on it, and in a culture where grades need to be entered regularly this can be contentious. I’d love to hear any bright ideas you have for grading CORE maths or the new GCSE spec.

The bonus of this time of the year is it tend to be when those exam classes (and all in bar y10 are) start to short it up a gear. I’ve been impressed by the change in attitude from some of the most challenging pupils and I’m hoping for more of the same.

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