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A look back at 2014, and forward to 2015

December 30, 2014 7 comments

This time last year I wrote this post reviewing 2013 and looking to 2014. In the summer I looked again at it here, and discussed my year so far. Now, as the year draws to a close and I am reading all these #Nurture1415 posts it feels like a good time to reflect again.

My 2014

At home

I’ve had a good 2014, I’ve spent some great time with my family, watched my daughter grow from a baby/toddler into a real little person and seen a lot of other family.

Studies and the blog

I’ve continued to work on my masters, and to write this blog. Both of which have helped me improve as,a teacher, and both of which have been enjoyable. There has been a higher proportion of maths puzzles finding there way onto the blog this year. This hasn’t been a conscious decision, but I have really enjoyed working on them.

Maths

I’ve managed to read a few more maths books, and I have managed to get deeper into topology, as I had hoped to this year. I’ve also delved deeper into group theory, another old favourite of mine, and I particularly enjoyed exploring the tests of divisibility.

Teaching

When I wrote the post last year, I thought I’d be in the job I was in for a long time to come. In reality I’d decided to move on and found another job by the end of February (I think). This was a massive change. I moved jobs, schools and authorities and there were some real challenges. I had a full set of new classes to build relationships with, and a full set of new colleagues to get to know. The new school is similar on many levels to the old one, but it is also infinitely different too. I feel I’ve joined a great team, and that I’ve already made some great friends amongst my colleagues. I feel that with most classes I’ve built up decent relationships and am making progress, and I feel I’m getting to grips with the new role.

CPD

I’ve been on some great CPD events this year. I’m on a Teaching Leaders course, I attended ResearchEd York, Northern Rocks, Maths Conference 2014 and teachmeets (I even presented at one!) The key messages for me is challenge everything, don’t just accept anything, ensure there’s something to back it up, and even then don’t just assumed it will work in all contexts.

Education in 2014

2014 will forever be remembered for that day in July when the news that Gove had gone shocked the nation. I wrote about my feelings at the time and you can read them here. I can’t say I’ve seen much difference in policy since he left, and I feel the move was made purely to detoxify the brand in the run up to the election.

It was also the year we got to see the draft maths A Level curriculum, which looks good, but not radically different, and the approved specifications for the new maths GCSE. I’m excited about the new GCSE as I think it addresses many if the short comings that the current one has, although I’d have liked to see calculus and Heron’s Formula make an appearance.

The Sutton Trust released a report in 2014 entitled ‘what makes great teaching”, it was my favourite type if report, one that backs up the things I thought with plenty of evidence. The crux of its finding being “great teaching is that which leads to great progress“. You can download the report in full here free of charge.

It also saw the first teaching of the new “Core Maths” suite of post 16 qualifications. We are a pilot school, and I’m quite excited by the prospect, although it’s not been without teething problems so far.

Hopes for 2015

Last year I hoped that the new curriculum would increase the rigour of the maths being taught and that it helps prepare learners for A Level. I still hope this, although I realise now it is a longer term hope. As is the hope that the new GCSE system will eliminate the threshold pass and the gaming we have seen with early entry and other such things. And I think it’s too early to tell if the new routes into teaching can bring down the high turnover we experience.

I still hope that the inherent inequalities present in the UK education system, and wider society, can be addressed.

I hope to find more time to spend with my family, to read and investigate further areas of maths this year.

I hope to continue to improve my practice and to get better at my job.

I hope to see an end to the ridiculous pseudo-context “real life” problems we often see in exams.

And I hope to make a real difference to the learners I’m in front of in 2015, to increase their maths knowledge and skill but also their respect for, and love of, mathematics. A number of my Y13 learners have applied for maths degree courses, and I hope they enjoy them.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post, and have had a great year, and festive period, yourselves. Here’s hoping we all have a happy new year, and a fantastic 2015

Mid year review

July 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Right at the end of January I wrote this piece reflecting on 2013 and looking forward to 2014. There were a lot of others doing the same and it was nice to read all the reflection going on and to see people’s hopes for the year ahead.

A week or so ago Jill Berry (@jillberry102) tweeted to say shed enjoyed those pz
osts and would love to hear,some mid year progress updates. Again, many others have done this and I’ve enjoyed reading them so I thought I would jot a few things down here.

A review of those plans

Family

I have continued to watch my daughter grow, my partner and I have both enjoyed the education we are receiving and I do feel it is positively impacting my classroom practice, so they’re all ticked. We have also finally set a date and my daughter is looking forward to being a flowergirl.

Educational Events

I have been to more teachers, I did attend northern rocks and I also went to the ResearchEd York conference. All of which have been great and have helped. As you can see, I have continued this blog and I feel that us helpful too.

Reading and Maths

I have managed more reading and to investigate more areas of maths, but not as much as I would have liked, I guess this is still a target!

Education Policy

I’m fairly pleased with the new Maths GCSE Curriculum, it’s more rigorous and challenging than the previous one. I’m also pretty stoked about the proposed Progress 8 measure which I hope will take us away from the threshold pass. Now that Gove has gone all bets are off! I’m worried about the new Education Secretary, but am prepared to wait before making a judgement. It’s too early to tell if the new ITT systems will help retention, but 2014 hasn’t yet seen the amount of teachers I know leave the profession as previous years, so that at least is positive.

What else?

When I wrote that blog in December I had no idea that I’d be sat here today having spent my last day at the school I was at. It’s a crazy feeling. It all happened so fast, and although I’m majorly excited about the new challenge that waits at my new school I’m also pretty say about leaving too.

I wrote briefly about leaving here, but even then I didn’t quite realise what it would feel like when it finally came.

Saying goodbye

Saying goodbye was hard. It was really hard to say goodbye to year 13, the yeargroup included some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known, but at least this was inevitable. I would still have had to make those goodbyes, with my other classes it felt like a premature goodbye.

My year 12 class have spent the time since I told them I was going guilt tripping me, to great effect I might add, and it was incredibly hard saying goodbye to them.

My year 11 class was another particularly hard goodbye. It’s a strange one this, it’s one that in one teaching years has felt a natural goodbye, but this year the vast majority of them are staying on at sixth form and around three quarters of the class have provisionally chosen maths Alevel, so it did feel premature. Two of them called into see me on Thursday and that was really nice.

All my other classes were hard too, but particularly my coaching group. I’ve been their coach since they started the school in year 7 and I’ve seen them all grow from timid little children into confident young adults. I feel really guilty that I’m leaving before they have finished year 11, and I know they were all upset, but I think they understand.

Then there is the staff, over the years I had been there I have build many great friendships, and I will miss seeing those friends on a daily basis. And I will miss the afterschool joint planning and chatting sessions that happened on an almost daily basis too.

The last day was emotional, especially the last coaching session and the speech my friend and (now former) colleague gave about my leaving that had me both in hysterics and on the verge of tears. I think I need the holidays to recover.

Looking ahead

Looking forward I see excitement. I’m starting a new role. The school seems like a good fit for me, the role us definitely a good fit and I think the team I’m working in will be too.

I’ve got more responsibility, and a brilliant timetable. I’m already excited about some potential conferences and I’m really looking forward to the second year of my masters course.

But that starts in autumn, the summer is about recharging the batteries, spending time with the family and making sure I’m ready (with a couple if trips into the old school for results days if course!)

A Life in Books

May 10, 2014 1 comment

Today I read this phenomenal post by Tom Sherrington (@headguruteacher) about books he has read over the course of his life. He mentioned in his post he hoped others would follow. I then read this incredibly moving piece by Chris Waugh (@edutronic_net) who spoke about the literature that had a massive influence on him over his life. This made me think about reading, and the things I’ve read. I love reading, both fiction and non-fiction, but I don’t find as much time as I would like to engage in it.

When I was very small I apparently used to insist that “the three billy goats gruff” was read to me every night, I reckon I still know it by heart! At primary school I read Asterix books, and very little else. The teachers I had at primary school didn’t appreciate the genius of Goscincy and Underzo so made me read other things. Most of which I’ve forgotten, but I do recall a series of factual books I loved. It included the story of Edward Jenner and James Phipps, and the story of tightrope walker Paul Bondin. These two stories stuck with me more than any other from my primary school days. Thinking on it now, I don’t think my reading repertoire actually was that limited, and that was thanks to my mum. She took us on regular trips to the local library to take books out, and bought us a veritable library of our own. I remember loving the Railway Cat series by Phylis Arkle, the Professor Brainstorm books by Norman Hunter and the complete works of Betsy Byars (The only one of hers I didn’t like was “The Animal, The Vegetable and John D Jones” which bored me), Ruth Thomas and Nina Bawden (Carrie’s war is amazing). Blimey, that’s actually quite a lot! There were many more too, so clearly my earlier claim was clear nonsense.

When I reached high school I had lost the buzz for children’s stories, and for a time read nothing but autobiographies. Musicians, Sports stars and actors. I remember reading Eric Cantona’s in its entirety in one sitting on Christmas day. Then one day my friend Matthew handed me a book and told me: “You need to read this, it’s phenomenal.” The book in question was “The carpet people” by Terry Pratchett and it was, indeed, phenomenal. This was the first of two books Matthew did this with. This one was when we were in Y7. The next would be two years later. After reading the carpet people I was hooked on the writing of Terry Pratchett, and I spent the next couple of years reading his back catalogue and nothing else. The only none Pratchett book I remember reading during this period was “The Cuckoo Sister”, which we studied at school. I quite enjoyed it, but it didn’t leave a lasting impression. I assume we read other stuff during this time, but I don’t remember it!

Then Matthew handed me another book, “Of Mice and Men”, with a similar line. He gave me it on the bus home, I missed my stop because I had become engrossed in it. I thought it was brilliant, and have read it many times since. This sparked an interest in other books. My mum has a collection of classics which included “Grapes of wrath”, another fine book. I read “Tom Sawyer” (a great book) and “Huckleberry Finn” (a truly amazing book). My reading had widened but I was still reading Pratchett, Gaiman and the such and was enjoying the contrast.

There were also many texts to study at school, some I’ve forgotten entirely, but some stuck with me as I thought they were brilliant. I loved MacBeth, The importance of being Earnest, The Speckled Band, Examination Day and Lamb to the Slaughter. I loved the poetry of Healey, Armitage, Owen, Byron and Hughes.

About this time a modern day retelling if Great Expectations, starring Ethan Hawke, was released. I loved this film and so read the book and was totally blown away (not quite as blown away as my English teacher, Mr Gibbons, was when I appeared at his room to tell him I’d read it, loved it, wanted to discuss it and wanted his advice on which of Dickens work to read next!). I read A Christmas Carol, Bleak House and The Pickwick Papers and loved them all. I then read a tale of two cities, and was disappointed. I had heard it was his finest work, but I didn’t think it was a patch on the others I’d read.

These books helped me understand the world, and the people in it. As I grew up I read many books and plays from many genres. I had a classics phase, where I read Metamorphises, Aeneid, Illiad and Odyssey, truly living them all, but preferring Homer to Virgil and Ovid. I had a real Gothic phase, reading Daphne du Maurier and Mary Shelley, I read a lot of Marx, Swift, Orwell, Huxley, Miller and Foot. I continued to read Sci Fi and fantasy, really enjoying Douglas Adams and Hg Wells. Its not only classics and Sci Fi though, I also love thrillers, particularly the work of Dan Brown, Lee Child and Stephen Coonts.

I love to read science and maths books too. Simon Singh’s, Ian Steward’s, Stephen Hawking’s and Richard Dawkins’s especially. I thoroughly enjoy “The science of the discworld” series, where Pratchett weaves a novella around some real hard science from Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen, combining two of my favourite genres!

These days I also read a lot about education, blogs, articles and books, all of which I find interesting, fascinating and enjoyable.

I thought I’d end this post with a top 5. My favourite books:

At 5: The Carpet People, Terry Pratchett : A phenomenal and funny book that got me back into reading fiction and opened my eyes to a whole new world.

At 4: Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck: A phenomenal book that entertained and moved me. I have often said this is my favourite book, but in writing this post I have realised there are a few I prefer. Again, this book opened my eyes to q whole branch of fiction I was unaware of.

At 3: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain: This book is amazing. It is a dark satire on all that Twain viewed to be wrong with the world. It is hilarious, thought-provoking and entertaining. When I finished reading it, I read it again, straight away.

At 2: Great Expectations, Charles Dickens: this book is immense. It made me realise that even though the world has changed so much since then, the relationships and interactions still have relevance in our world. It made me thirst to know more about the time, and it made me seek out my English teacher to discuss it at a higher level. What more could you ask for in a book?!

At 1: Fermats Last Theorem, Simon Singh: Maths, that’s what! But seriously, this book is amazing. It isn’t just about the maths, it’s also about the mathematicians and the time. It follows the progress of mathematics from its inception and the stories the emanate around it are thrilling, funny entertaining and at times stranger than fiction. A truly brilliant book. (Read my fuller review here.)

While writing this list I’ve changed my mind numerous times, on the order and what should be included. I’ve settled on these because I think they are brilliant, and some of them led me to whole new genres. Some of the ones that nearly made it: Death of a Salesman, Hitchhikers Guide, Odyssey, Demons and Angels, Wages of Sin, Good Omens, Rebecca, MacBeth, The Time Machine, Henry V and there are many, many more.

Categories: Books, Commentary, Family Tags: , ,

The maths of the playground

May 4, 2014 Leave a comment

Since becoming a parent I have seen maths in many places I wouldn’t necessarily have thought I would have. The playground (or park) is one source that just keeps giving.

A week or two ago we were at a new playground and I found this abacus, and of course the maths links to an abacus are obvious, but what else is there?

Last year I was pushing my daughter on a swing and I couldn’t help but see the swing as a pendulum and wonder whether we could take a physics and maths cross curricular trip to the playground and investigate the simple (or more likely damped) harmonic motion on display from the children’s swings. I think the mechanics involved would be interesting and different swings could be tested to see which ones are more efficient. Given that some swings are extremely noisy, I would assume that these are the least efficient and would love to test this hypothesis.

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Today I had another thought about playground maths. My daughter was playing on the roundabout, and after a while she got off and decided to start picking up the bark chips that cover the floor and plonking them onto the roundabout. We told her to stop and to spin the roundabout as that should make the chips fall off. She did this but the chips didn’t move. This was due to the fact her spin didn’t have enough speed to generate a centripetal force big enough to cause a reaction (or whispers centrifugal force shhh) larger than the maximum frictional force acting in the bark. This made me wonder how large the coefficient of friction would be between the painted metal roundabout and the bark chips and what the minimum speed required would be to move them. Again, I figured a cross curricular trip would be great to investigate this too. I didn’t have my phone handy, so couldn’t photograph the chips on the roundabout, or film the sight of them flying off quickly when I gave the roundabout a spin!

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There you have it, children’s playgrounds, the perfect school trip for A Level maths and physics!

An Abacus that works!!!!!!

April 11, 2014 7 comments

Those of you that have read previous posts on Abaci (Here and here) will realise that I have been on the lookout for one that works in our base 10 society. All the simple abaci that are available seemingly anywhere in the country have 10 beads per line, but this doesn’t work. You move zero beads for zero, one for one etc and then when you get to ten you move the nine back and one from the next row across. These ten bead abaci have a bead on each row that will never move!

Today I took my daughter to one of the local parks, as she was playing on the slide I looked across the park and noticed this:

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I was in a state of shock, at first I couldn’t believe my eyes, so I went for a closer look, and sure enough, there it was. An abacus with 9 beads per row. Finally one that makes sense in this society!! well done Leeds City Council.

Parabolas and televisions

January 11, 2014 1 comment

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Last night, while watching the TV I saw an advert that both intrigued and insensed me.

The advert in question was for a curved TV. It claimed to be curved in order to give you a better viewing experience. My first thought was “Parabolas are coming up with my further maths group, perhaps there’s a lesson in here?”, this was the intrigue, and it was quickly followed by the anger, but more on that later.

Presumably these TVs have been designed to give the viewer the best view, when sat at the focus of the parabola. This is a fantastic real life use of a parabola, and means that this year I will be able to contextualise a lesson that was pretty abstract when I taught it last. I intent to investigate these TVs this week and build them into lessons if possible. I wonder if there is any benefit to positioning them so the wall behind them us the directrix? If there isn’t, I might decide that the folk in my contextualised question want it that way for aesthetic reasons, and/or because they are maths geeks!

The annoyance came while thinking this through. I thought, “how have they calculated that?”, then, “ah, yes, Parabolas, I can see that sitting at the focus could in theory make it all look better,” then, “but what if there is two of you?!” As far as I can tell, the boffins behind this have taken an already anti social activity and made it more so.

As a general rule, I will turn off the TV and put music on if we have guests round. (Obviously, if the purpose if the visit is to watch a rugby match or some other such TV event then it stays on). This is something I have done since the end of the last millennium and started when I was in sixth form. It was prompted by the realisation that TVs killed conversation. This realisation came because a friend of mine lived on her own without a TV and her flat was much more conducive to conversation and good socialising than anyone else’s. It was due to there being no TV to such the life out of the conversation.

So TVs can be antisocial, but people often watch them together with friends, with family etc. But if your TV is parabolic, then the person at the focus benefits, but everyone else loses out!

The logical conclusion to this new “advancement” is that everyone will have their own TV, families lined up watching their own TVs presumably with headphones, to enable them to all watch different stuff. It’s not how I’d want my future!

Of course, I don’t really envisage the world ending up like that (although I suppose I can imagine it). I doubt they’ll take off large scale. Some will fall for the marketing and regret it, most will ignore them and these parabolic telly’s will wind up being forgotten by all. With the possible exception of gamers, who already spent hours locked in isolation only communicating through headsets to the other members of their online world’s.

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” (http://www.rcpch.ac.uk/PCHR). 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.

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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).

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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

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• 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!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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