## Constructions

One topics I have never been a fan of teaching is constructions. I think that this is due to a few factors. Firstly, there is the practical nature of the lesson, you are making sure all students in the class have, essentially, a sharp tool that could be used to stab someone. I remember when I was at school a pair of compasses being used to stab a friend of mines leg and this is something I’m always wary of.

Secondly, the skill of constructing is one that I struggled to master myself. I was terrible at art, to the point where an art teacher kept me back after class in year 8 to ask why I was spoken about in the staffroom as the top of everyone else’s class but was firmly at the bottom of his. I explained that I just couldn’t do it, although it was something I really wished I could do. He was a lovely man and a good teacher and he offered to allow me to stay back every Monday after our lesson and have some one to one sessions. I was keen and did it, this lasted all through year 8 and although my art work never improved my homework grades did, as he now knew I was genuinely trying to get better. I have always assumed the reason I am poor at art is some unknown issue with my hand to eye coordination, and I have always blamed this same unknown reason for struggling sometimes with the technical skills involved in constructions. Since coming into teaching I have worked hard to improve at these skills, and I am certainly a lot lot better than I used to be, but I still feel I have a way to go to improve.

For these reasons I chose to go to Ed Southall’s (@solvemymaths) session “Yes, but constructions” at the recent #mathsconf19. Ed had some good advice about preparation and planning, but most of that was what I would already do:

*Ensure you have plenty of paper, enough equipment that is in good working order, a visualiser etc.*

*Plan plenty of time for students to become fluent with using a pair of compasses before moving on.*

He then moved on to showing us some geometric patterns he gets students to construct while becoming familiar with using the equipment. Some of these were ones I’d not considered and he showed us good talking points to pick out and some interesting polygons that arise. The one I liked best looked like this:

*This is my attempt at it, I used different coloured bic pens in order to outline some of the shapes under the visualiser.*

The lesson was successful, the class can now all use a pair of compasses and we managed to have some great discussions about how we knew that the shapes we had made were regular and other facts about them.

Next week we need to move on to looking at angle bisectors, perpendicular bisectors, equilateral triangles, and the such. I hope to get them constructing circumcircles of triangles, in circles of triangles and circles inscribed by squares etc.

Here are some more of my attempts at construction:

“Constructing an incircle” – I actually did this one in Ed’s session!

“A circumcircle” – I drew the triangle too big and the circle goes off the page. Interesting to note the centre is outside the triangle for this one.

“A circle inscribed within a square” – this is difficult. Constructing a square is difficult and that is only half way there if that. This is the closest I have got so far and two sides are not quite tangent.

“A flower” – nice practice using a pair of compasses and this flower took some bisectors too.

*If you have any ideas for cool things I can construct, and that I can get my students to construct, please let me know in the comments or on social media.*

## Late tiering decisions

Last week year 11 sat their mocks. Some did really well, others did really poorly. It’s the latter group that has me purplexed. Students sitting the higher tier paper but only scoring single digits per paper, or even earlt teens per paper. What to do with them?

Some of them asked if they could move to foundation, I think its best for them. 1 student got 32 marks over 3 higher papers, did the 3 foundation and was well over 100. 1 student got 40 marks over 3 higher papers spent 30 mins in a foundation paper and got 60 marks. The grade 5s they want seem more achievable on foundation.

My issue lies with a few students desperate to do higher and try for 6s. Scoring around 50 marks over 3 higher papers it seems a risk. But having taught them both i feel that it’s within their capabilities. But from November to march they have made only tiny gains in marks. On the ine hand, foundation means they cant get a 6 and for at least one of them means rethinking post 16 choices, but on the other hand sitting higher means they might end up with only a 4 or less and thst would mean rethinking post 16 again. It’s tricky, any thoughts are welcomed.

## Oblongs

Last week while we were waiting for a swimming lesson to start my daughter told me that one of her teachers had got “higgledy piggledy” about oblongs. I asked what she meant and she said that she’d accidentally called one a rectangle and had to correct herself and had informed the class that at her last school she’d had to call them rectangles but at this school had to call them oblongs and sometimes got higgledy piggledy about this. I asked my daughter why they couldn’t call them rectangles and she said that it was because squares can be rectangles too.

This set off a lengthy chain of thoughts in my head. Firstly, I was quite impressed by the fact a 5 year old could articulate all this about knowledge about shapes so well. Then I thought, does it really matter whether they call them oblongs or rectangles? Then I thought, wait a minute, why are we prohibiting the use of rectangle because it can also mean a square, but we are not prohibiting the use of oblong when it can also mean an ellipse? My chain of thought then jumped down a rabbit hole questioning whether we should actually be referring to regular or equilateral rectangular parallelograms and non – regular/equilateral parallelograms. Why are we allowing children to call a shape a triangle, when it is one possible type of triangle in a family of triangles, but not allowing them to call a shape a rectangle when it is only one possible rectangle in a family of rectangles. These thoughts stewed around in my head for a while and I thought I’d ask the twittersphere for their opinions on the matter.

These opinions fell into a couple of camps. The first cam thought that oblong was a nice enough word and they didn’t mind others using it but preferred not to themselves. The second camp felt that it was important to distinguish between an oblong and a square so important to use oblong not rectangle and the third camp thought that actually it was better to use rectangles due to the elliptical oblongs. I questioned some of the respondents from the second two groups a little further to see why they fell into these groups. Those in the second seemed unaware that the word oblong also meant ellipse and those in the third thought it was more important to excluded ellipses than squares. Stating that it was easy enough to explain away the special case that is the square.

I’ve spend rather a lot of time considering this, and am now not really sure what I think on the issue. I can’t see a problem with using a rectangle and explaining away the square as a special case. We call all triangles triangles and expand as and when required. No one bothers about calling a non-rectangular parallelogram a parallelogram, despite the fact that that could mean a rectangle. But again I’m not sure I’m massively strongly against the term oblong either. It could open up a good discussion about the term and how it could apply to ellipses, although this probably is a little too much for a year 1 classroom. I think I’m leaning towards rectangle as a preference though, as explaining away a special case is, for me, much more preferable than ignoring a whole class of oblongs.

*If you have views on this, whichever way you lean, I’d love to hear them, either in the comments or via social media.*

## Group Work Issues

Recently I wrote this post (2017) that highlights various ways that I can see group work being of benefit to students study in mathematics. In the post I allude to there being many issues around group work that can have a detrimental effect on the learning of the students and I intend to explore them a little further here.

The benefits of group work can be vast, and are often tied to the discussion around the mathematics involved in a way consistent with the writings of Hodgen and Marshall (2005), Mortimer and Scott (2003), Piaget (1970), Simmons (1993), Skemp (1987) and Vygotsky (1962) amongst others. These perceived benefits give the students a chance to try things, make mistakes, bounce ideas around and then find their way through together. Seeing the links between the things they know and its application within new contexts or the links between different areas of maths.

So what are the down sides?

Good et al. (1992) warn that group work can reinforce and perpetuate misconceptions. This is an idea that is also expressed by von Duyke and Matsov (2015) who feel that the teacher should be able to step in and correct any misconceptions that the students express, although this would be difficult in a classroom where a number of groups are working simultaneously and it also goes against the feelings expressed by some researchers, such as Pearcy (2015), that students should be allowed to get stuck and not receive hints. This is a tricky one to balance. As teachers we clearly do not want misconceptions becoming embedded within the minds of our students, but we do want to allow them time to struggle and to really get to grips with the maths. I try to circulate and address misconceptions when they arise but in a manner that allows students to see why they are wrong, but not give them the correct answer.

Another potential pitfall of group work is related to student confidence. Some students worry about being wrong and as such will not speak up. This is an issue that transcends group work and that we need to be aware of in all our lessons and is discussed at length in “inside the black box” (Black and Wiliam, 1998). It is part of our jobs as teachers to create an environment where students do not fear this, and are comfortable with talking without fear of being laughed at. I try to create a culture where students know it’s better to try and be wrong than not to try at all. This classroom culture is discussed by Hattie (2002) as an “optimal classroom climate” and it is certainly a good aim for all classrooms.

The other main downside to group work is behaviour related (Good et al., 1992). Group work can be more difficult to police, and it can become difficult to check that everyone is involved if you have a large class that is split into many groups. This can give rise to the phenomenon known as “Social Loafing”, which is where some members of the group will opt out in order to have an easy ride as they feel other group members will take on their work as well (Karau and Williams, 1993). This is something that teachers need to consider and be wary of. The risk of these issues having a negative impact on learning can vary wildly from class to class and from teacher to teacher. I would advise that any teacher who is considering group work needs to seriously consider the potential for poor behaviour and social loafing to negatively impact the lesson and to think about how they ensure it doesn’t. Different things work for different people. Some people assign roles etc. to groups. Some set up a structure where students can “buy” help from the teacher or other groups. Often a competitive element is introduced. All of these can be effect or not, again depending on the class and on the teacher so it is something we need to work on individually. I’ve written before about one method I’ve had some success with here (2013).

So there are some of the worries around group work and thoughts on what needs to be considered when embarking on it. As mentioned in my previous post, I feel that group work is an inefficient way to introduce new concepts and new learning, but I do see it as something that can be very effective when building problems solving skills and looking at linking areas of mathematics together.

*What are your thoughts on group work? And what are your thoughts on the issues mentioned in the article? I’d love to hear them via the comments or on social media.*

**Reference list / Further reading:**

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. 1998. *Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment*. London: School of Education, King’s College London.

Cavadino, S.R. 2013. Effective Group Work. 5^{th} July. *Cavmaths.* [online] accessed 14^{th} July 2017. Available: https://cavmaths.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/effective-group-work/

Cavadino, S.R. 2017. Student led learning in maths. 13^{th} July. *Cavmaths.* [online] accessed 14^{th} July 2017. Available: https://cavmaths.wordpress.com/2017/07/13/student-led-learning-in-maths/

Good, T.L., McCaslin, M. and Reys, B.J. 1993. Investigating work groups to promote problem-solving in mathematics. In: Brophy, J. ed. *Advances in research on teaching: Planning and managing learning tasks and activities*. United Kingdom: JAI Press.

Hattie, J. 2012. *Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning*. Abingdon: Routledge.

Hodgen, J. and Marshall, B. 2005. Assessment for learning in English and mathematics: A comparison. *Curriculum Journal*. **16**(2), pp.153–176.

Karau, S.J. and Williams, K.D. 1993. Social loafing: A meta-analytic review and theoretical integration. *Journal of Personality and Social Psychology*. **65**(4), pp.681–706.

Mortimer, E. and Scott, P. 2003. *Meaning making in secondary science classrooms*. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Pearcy, D. 2015. Reflections on patient problem solving. *Mathematics Teaching*. **247**, pp.39–40.

Piaget, J. 1970. *Genetic epistemology*. 2nd ed. New York: New York, Columbia University Press, 1970.

Simmons, M. 1993. *The effective teaching of mathematics*. Harlow: Longman.

Skemp, R.R. 1987. *The psychology of learning mathematics*. United States: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

von Duyke, K. and Matusov, E. 2015. Flowery math: A case for heterodiscoursia in mathematics problems solving in recognition of students’ authorial agency. *Pedagogies: An International Journal*. **11**(1), pp.1–21.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1962. *Thought and language*. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

** **

## Student Led Learning in Maths

Student led learning seems to be a bit of a hot topic at the moment. I’ve seen these two graphics making the rounds on twitter, I can’t find them now, but one was a slide proclaiming why student led learning was better and one was the same slide but altered to say it was worse. This of course came with great debate from all quarters.

It is also certainly a much talked about issue in the teaching and learning meetings we are having in my school.

This morning we had a great presentation from a food tech colleague who described a fantastic lesson where students had been allowed to lead their own learning on the function of eggs in cooking. A number of different recipes had been provided (as diverse as Egg Custard and Chick Pea Burgers) and students were given the choice as to what to cook and asked to investigate.

This sounded interesting, so I began to think about the applications this may have in a maths classroom. While studying for my Masters I read a lot about group work and other pedagogical approaches to the teaching of mathematics. I found that there was a lot of evidence to suggest that, on the teaching of new content, “whole class teaching”, i.e. direct instruction, was the most effective method (Reynolds and Mujis, 1999). However, this approach can often lead to students being proficient in algorithmically following a process to achieve and answer – ie they can have an instrumental understand of the topic but not a deeper understanding of the underlying concepts. This can lead to issues when students encounter a question that is phrased in a different way or that requires a variety of mathematical topics to solve. (e.g Avital and Shettleworth, 1968, Davis, 1984 and Skemp, 1976)

This was an area that interested me and my dissertation focus was using group work and other problem solving ideas to deepen conceptual understanding at A Level maths. I found that with my cohort explicitly teaching problem solving approaches and then setting problems that required a variety of approaches to be solved in groups to be effective. Some real success was had when I used problems I had not encountered and as such was able to act like a member of the group while bouncing ideas around.

My findings backed up the work of others who had suggested problem solving as a good tool to deepen conceptual understanding. (e.g. Avital and Shettleworth, 1968, English and Halford, 1995, Hembree, 1992, Karp, 2004, Silver and Marshall, 1999, and Zeitz, 2006)

In the new maths GCSE we are seeing questions that are focussed on testing a deeper understanding using problems that require thinking about and often require a number of mathematical techniques to solve. This is a move away from predictable questions and as such, teaching methods aimed at giving algorithms to students to solve types of questions will no longer work.

One simple example is questions based on ratio. Previously ratio questions usually took one of two forms, use a ratio to scale up a recipe or split this amount into this ration. Both are easily solvable by an algorithm and I’ve seen this taught this was and correct answers given by students who don’t really know what a ratio is. Now we are seeing ratio questions that include other areas of maths, such as densities, as well as questions where the language is quite important and a better understanding of what is going on is required.

i.e. A student who is taught, “When you see a ratio you add, divide then multiply”, will get full marks on a question asking “Sana and Jo split £110 pounds in the ratio 6:5, how much does Sana get?” but may get nothing if the question asks: “Fred and Nigel split some money in the ratio 6:5, Fred gets £10 more than Nigel. How much does Nigel get?” Even though there is a comparable level of mathematics used.

This, I feel, is where group work / “student led learning” could be very effective in maths teaching. Once content has been taught students need to practice that content in new setting and to mix it up with other content that has been learned. Tasks need to be set and students need to be given adequate time to get stuck and struggle. This will build resilience and problem solving skills as well as allowing students to see where various strands of maths can be applied.

This ties in with something I read recently that Kris Boulton (2017) had written about the use of learning objectives. Kris argues that sometimes it is important not to use learning objectives as this tells students exactly what maths they need to be using to solve a problem. This is a big factor in this idea around problem solving and I would go further and say that it’s important not to set problems that involve topics you have taught in the last few lessons as this will have the same effect as having an objective such as “use Pythagoras’s Theorem to solve problems involving areas.”

I hope to write more about this in the coming weeks as I look to further apply the findings of my dissertation to KS3 and 4. My thoughts at the moment are that this “student led” approaches are good for the development of these skills once the core content has already been taught. There are, of course, many draw backs to group work and other student led approaches, but they are for another post for another day.

**Reference List:**

Avital, S.M. and Shettleworth, S.J. 1968. *Objectives for mathematics learning; some ideas for the teacher*. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Boulton, K. 2017. Whywe need to get rid of lesson objetives. 17^{th} April. *To the real*. [online] accessed 13^{th} July 2017. Available: https://tothereal.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/why-we-need-to-get-rid-of-lesson-objectives/

Davis, R.B. 1984. *Learning mathematics: The cognitive science approach to mathematics education*. London: Croom Helm.

English, L.D. and Halford, G.S. 1995. *Mathematics education: Models and processes*. New Jersey, United States: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Hembree, R. 1992. Experiments and relational studies in problem solving: a meta analysis. *Journal for research in mathematics education*. **33**(3), pp.242–273.

Karp, A. 2004. Conducting Research and Solving Problems: The Russian Experience of Inservice Training. In: Watanabe, T. and Thompson, D. eds. *The Work of Mathematics Teacher Educators. Exchanging Ideas for Effective Practice*. Raleigh, NC: AMTE, pp.35–48.

Reynolds, D. and Muijs, D. 1999. The effective teaching of mathematics: A review of research. *School Leadership & Management*. **19**(3), pp.273–288

Silver, E.A. and Marshall, S.P. 1990. Mathematical and scientific problem solving: Findings, issues and instructional implications. In: Jones, B.F. and Idol, L. eds. *Dimensions of thinking and cognitive instruction*. Hilsdale, New Jersey, United States: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.265–290.

Skemp, R.R. 1976. Relational understanding and instrumental understanding. *Mathematics Teaching*. **77**, pp.20–27

Zeitz, P. 2006. *The art and craft of problem solving*. USA: John Wiley.

## A surprising find

The other day I my timehop showed me this lovely little post from last year. It includes “Heron’s Formula” for calculating the area of a triangle, as I read it I remembered thinking it was a little strange that not many people had heard of it before.

Today I was looking through a number of textbooks trying to find a decent set of questions on area, perimeter and volume for my year nines as I wanted to consolidate their learning at the start then move onto surface area. *I’m not a fan of textbook misuse- ie “copy the example and try the questions” but I do sometimes use them for exercises as we have a very limited printing budget and some of them have superb exercises. For a fuller picture on.my view of textbooks, read this.*

I was looking in one of my favourite textbooks:

And I happened across this:

There it is! Plain as day! Heron’s Formula! In a KS3 textbook!

I was disappointed that its function was described and its name wasn’t and there was no mention of why this worked. It basically reduces the question down from a geometry one to a purely algebraic substitution task and I would question the appropriateness of including it in an exercise on area, but still, I was incredibly exciting to find it there!

*Are you a fan of Heron’s Formula? Had you even heard of it? Do you have a favourite textbook? I’d love to hear your views.*

## Another Year Over

So this is summer, and what have you done, another year over and a six week holiday just begun. –What Lennon may have written had he been a teacher.I know what you are thinking, “why are you up so early? It is sunday and it is summer!” And you are right to wonder. Usually its my body clock that makes it so, but this year my 6 year old daughter has taken on that responsibility. Argh.

This year has been a good one for me. Tough in places, but enjoyable over all. I work at a school where I like my colleagues, like the vast majority of the students, feel that the department I work in is strong and that the senior leadership know what they are doing and are making decisions that are pushing the school in the right direction. When I moved to my current school, which was in the process of academy conversion following a 4 Ofsted grading, part of the draw was the chance to be part of affecting a positive change and improving the chances of the students. In the 2 years I’ve been here I’ve seen massive improvements and can see the trajectory we are on.

There’s been some tough times, but there has been some good ones too and I look forward to next year and our next steps in the journey.

This year I’ve spent a lot of time improving subject knowledge amongst the department. I feel this is something that needs to continue. It was made necessary this year as we had a number of non specialists and trainees in the department and most of the experienced maths teachers had never taught the new content that is now on the GCSE. This is something that needs to conrinue next year. We have no non specialists next year, but do have NQTS, trainees and staff who still wont have taught the new content. These sessions allow not only for building content knowledge but also for discussing subject specific pedagogy and possible misconceptions.

I’ve also thought a lot about transition from KS2 to KS3, this has been driven in part by a need to improve this area and in part by a fascinating workshop we hosted led by the Bradford Research School. I hope to write more about the workshop and the fascinating findings I’ve had while looking at KS2 sats data, nationally and locally, and the KS2 curriculum. Suffice to say, if you are a secondary teacher who hasn’t looked, your year 7s probably know a considerable amount more than you think they do on arrival.

The KS2 sats provide some great data and there really is no need to retest students on entry. Except maybe the ones who have no data. I’ve always been averse to KS2 SATS but the data they produce is so rich I feel I’m coming round to them. Although I’m not sure I agree with the way they are currently reported and I certainly stand against the idea of school league tables.

I’ve not written as much as I would have liked on here this year, and I hope to change that going forward. I didn’t decide to blog less, it just sort of happened, so hopefully I can turn that around.

Now it’s summer, I’m looking to relax, have fun and to teach my daughter how to enjoy a lie in….

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