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Fun with Cusineire

July 18, 2019 Leave a comment

This is the second post in what I hope will become a long series about using manipulatives in lessons.

Last week I posted about how I was going to try and I corporate more manipulatives into my lessons, and that I’ve bought a set of Cusineire Rods for home to play with with my daughter. I’ve not manages to really do much in lessons since, the week has been disrupted by a couple of drop down days and sports day, and the lessons I’ve taught have mainly been around construction and loci, and symmetry and reflection.

I did, however, manage to have a play with some at home. My daughter was interested by the rods, and wanted me to show her some of their uses. First we looked at how they can be used to find number bonds to all different numbers, then we used this to look at adding and subtracting.

She uses Dienes base 10 blocks at school for similar so she started with just the 10 rods and the 1 cubes and showed be how she would use these at school. I then talked to her about how we could use our knowledge of number bonds to do the same thing but using all the rods. This was a fin discussion and allowed be to see some potential benefits to building number fluency with rods over dienes blocks.

She then showed me how she can use manipulatives to divide and to work out a fraction of something. The only fractions she really knew about were 1/2, 1/3, 1/3, 2/4 and 3/4. This led us to a discussion about the nature of fractions and their link to division. She knew that finding a quarter was the same as dividing by 4 and finding a half was dividing by 2 so I asked about finding other unit fractions showing her the notation and she made the link easily.

We then used rods to look at two of the fractions she knew. 1/2 and 2/4. She was surprised to see they always came out the same, and we used rods to investigate this and discussed the nature of equivalent fractions.

She then asked whether you could use the rods to multiply, I thought about it and came up with using them to create arrays:

This was 2 fives. Initially she was counting all the white blocks to get an answer, but after a bit when one of the numbers was one she could count in she started counting in those.

We looked at some where we were multiplying the same number together and I asked her if she noticed anything similar between these shapes and different to the ones we had done before and she picked out that these were squares and the others rectangles. This led to a good discussion as to why this was, linking to the basic properties of squares/rectangles and introducing the terminology square numbers and what that means.

I then looked at these two:

We had done 3 x 4 first then I said to do 4 x 3, she said “it will be the same because it doesn’t matter which way round they are”, so we did it anyway to check and talked about why that was. I tried to incorporate the cords congruent and commutative into the discussion, but I think they went over her head.

At this point her role changed to teacher and we had to teach all these things to her dolls…..

It was fun to play with Cusineire rods like this, and the mathematical discussion they provoked flowed very freely, so I can certainly see that thIs could be very helpful in lessons.

In other manipulative news: I had 20.minutes or so free earlier and spend it looking at Jonny Hall’s (@studymaths) excellent mathsbot website. In particular his virtual manipulatives section. I found what I think to be some good ideas for algebra tiles and double sided counters and think that virtual manipulatives may be a very good way of getting these things into lessons.

Primed

July 16, 2019 Leave a comment

Recently I’ve seen a couple of things on twitter that I’ve thought quite interesting because they have got me thinking about the way I tackled them.the first was this:

It was shared by John Rowe (@MrJohnRowe) and posed a nice question looking at two cuboids that had the same volume asking for the side lengths. It said to use digits from 0-9 without repetition. My immediate thought was to consider prime factors:

2, 3, 2^2, 5, 2×3, 7, 2^3, 3^2

I only had one each of 5 and 7 so discounted them. And I had an odd number of 2s. This meant I’d need to discount either the 2 or the 8. Discounting the 2 left me with factors of 2^6 and 3^4 thus I needed 2^3 x 3^2. I had a 1 I could use too so I had 1x8x9 = 3x4x6. This seemed a nice solution. I also considered the case for discounting the 8. I’d be left with 2^4 and 3^4 so would need products of 2^2×3^2. 1x4x9 = 2×3×6. Also a nice solution.

Afterwards I wondered if John had meant I needed to use all the digits, I started thinking about how this could be done and realised there would be a vast amount of possibilities. I intend to give this version of the the problem more thought later.

The next thing I saw was this:

From La Salle Education (@LaSalleEd). Again it got me thinking. What would I need to get the product 84? The prime factors I’d need would be 2^2x3x7. This gave me only a few options to consider. 1 cant be a number as the sum will always be greater than 14 if 1 is a number. 7 has to be one of the numbers, as if its multipled by any of the other prime factors we have already got to or surpassed 14. So it could be 2,6,7 (sum 15) or 4,3,7 (sum 14) so this is our winner.

These problems both got me thinking about how useful prime factors can be, and they both have given me additional thoughts as to what else I could and should be including in my teaching of prime factors to give a deeper and richer experience.

Prime factors can crop up so many places, and I feel sometimes people let them get forgotten or taught in isolation with no links elsewhere. I always use them i lessons o surds and when factorising quadratics but know lots don’t do this.

I will write more on prime factors later, but for now I’m tired and need sleep. If you have any thoughts on prime factors or any additional uses not mentioned here I would love to here them. Please let me k ow i the comments or on social media.

N.b. The La Salle tweet includes this link which takes you to a page where they are offering some great free resources.

Modelling in class

June 28, 2019 Leave a comment

Recently the idea of modelling is one that appears to be following me around everywhere. I mean that in the sense of modelling as a teaching strategy, not that Calvin Klein is stalking me and urging me to take to a cat walk for him.

The repeat appearance of discussion around modelling has got me thinking about it a lot. At the recent #mathconf19 many of the sessions discussed modelling. Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) did some great modelling on constructions and suggested many ways use it to improve outcomes, Kate Milnes (@katban70) talked through modelling a mathematical thought process and using it to help students achieve their own and Pete Mattock (@MrMattock) looked at visually modelling abstract ideas to make sense of it.

A recent CPD session I attended split the group into two and a different teacher taught each group how to construct an origami crane. One taught using modelling and instructions while the other went out of her way not to and then the different outcomes were discussed.

The trust I work in sees modelling in the classroom as best practice and it is encouraged in all lessons. This is similar to stories I hear from friends in other schools and trusts in the local area.

Then I read this piece by (@mrgmpls) which spoke about the “norm” in lessons being that students are given problems and expected to struggle their way through with minimal input because “without struggle there is no learning”. The blog post was arguing that this is not the best way to teach and pointed to many examples of recent posts about “desirable difficulties” and the such as evidence that this anti-modelling feeling was very prevalent in education today.

This got me thinking on a few levels, firstly it made me think about struggle in the classroom. I’m a firm believer in the idea of modelling. I think that modelling how to do sometime a good solid worked examples should be a staple of any teaching. But I also see the need to struggle in the classroom. If we model processes and have students then complete basically the same question following the model and never get them thinking about it again then we open them up to the possibility of becoming very unstuck in an exam if a topic is examined in a different way.

For me, this means that students need to learn the processes and the conceptual understanding of the topics together. I would also argue that completing exercises of similar questions to embed these is a very good idea. However, there needs to be some point when students need to learn to apply their processes and knowledge outside of their comfort zone. For instance, when teaching trigonometry I would teach non-right triangles and right triangles separately. I would teach sine and cone rules separately, but I would always incorporate some lesson time at the end to a series of problems where they have to deduce which process, or processes, they need to use to be able to answer the question. I might even model my thought process for them, but they will then need to think about why they are doing this and apply it.

I thought that this would be a common theme in all classrooms, so the second question I had from the article was “is there really a feeling of anti modelling at play?”. Having discussed it a bit with the author I discovered that he is based in the US, and I got to thinking that maybe it might be a US vs UK idea, or that perhaps it was even just an idea limited to the state he teaches in, so I tweeted out asking if any on edutwitter were in schools where modelling is discouraged.

I was surprised to discover that actually there are some UK based teachers who are discouraged from modelling in the classroom. This makes me wonder how widespread this is, and what the rationale is for discouraging modelling. If you are in a setting that discourages modelling, or are against modelling, I’d love to hear about it and the reasons behind it. Please get in touch via the comments or on social media.

When will I use this?

June 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Recently I read a rather interesting article from Daniel Willingham about whether there were people who just cant do maths. It was a very good read and I hope to write my thoughts on it later, when I’ve had more time to digest the material and form some coherent thoughts, but there was one part that set me off on a train of thought that I want to write about here.

The part in question was discussing physical manipulatives and real life examples. Willingham said that there is some use in them but that research suggests this can sometimes be overstated as many abstract concepts have no real life examples. He then spoke about analogies and how they can be very effective in maths of used well.

This got me thinking, earlier on the day a year 12 student had asked me “when am I ever going to use proof in real life?”. This type of question is one I get a lot about various maths topics, and my stock answer tends to be “that depends what career you end up in”. Many students, when asking this, seem to think real life doesn’t mean work. A short discussion about the various roles that would use it and that its possible they never will if they chose different roles but that the reasoning skills it builds are useful is usually enough and certainly was in this case.

It does beg the question though “why do they only ask maths teachers”? Last week when a y10 student asked about “real life” use of algebraic fractions I asked him if he asked his English teachers when he’d need to know hiw to analyse an unseen poem in real life. He said no. I asked if he thought he would. Again no.

So why ask in maths?

The Willingham article got me thinking about this. There has been, throughout my career, a strong steer towards contextualising every maths topics. Observers and trainers pushing “make it relate to them” at every turn. But some topics have no every day relatable context.Circle theorems, for instance, are something that are not going to be encountered outside of school by pretty much any of them. So maybe thats the issue. Maybe we are drilling them with real life contexts too much in earlier years, and this means when they encounter algebraic fractions, circle theorems or proof and don’t have a relatable context the question arises not from somewhere that is naturally in them, but from somewhere that has been built into them through the mathematics education we give them.

Maybe we should spend more time on abstract concepts, ratger than forcing real life contexts. Especially when some of those contexts are ridiculous – who looks at a garden and thinks “that side is x + 4, that side is x – 2, I wonder what the area is?” (See more pseudocontext here and here).

What do you think? Do you think we should be spending more time lower down om the abstract contexts? Please let me know in comments or via social media.

AS Levels

April 3, 2019 Leave a comment

We are now fully into “Exam season”, Year 11 have their GCSE exams, and Year 13 have their A Levels. Then Year 12 have AS Levels.

AS levels are a weird thing. They are no longer a component part of the A Level, they are very early in the exam session and it seems to me an unnecessary added pressure.

Last year we took a decision as an academy not to enter pur maths students for the AS exams. We did this to maximise pur teaching time and avoid unnecessary stress. This year the decision was taken at trust level to enter them in all subjects.

I can now see two sides of the argument. Last year our students focussed heavily on their other subjects and not maths as they had external exams for those subjects. This meant we lost teaching time and their homework suffered during exam season. This year we have not finished all the content early enough to really focus the revision. I really dont know whats best. I do think, however, that it is important to have a decision made for all subjects.

Are you entering your students for AS Levels? I’d love to know if you are or not and why you made that decision. You can answer in thw comments or on social media.

Categories: #MTBoS, A Level, Teaching Tags: , , ,

Proof by markscheme

March 16, 2019 2 comments

While marking my Y11 mocks this week I came across this nice algebraic proof question:

The first student had not attempted it. While looking at it I ran through it quickly in my head. Here is the method i used jotted down:

I thought, “what a nice simple proof”. Then I looked at the markscheme:

There seemed no provision made in the markscheme for what I had done. (Edit: It is there, my brain obviously just skipped past it) How did you approach this question? Please let me know via the comments or social media.

Anyway, some of my students gave some great answers. None of them took my approach, but some used the same as the markscheme:

And one daredevil even attempted a geometric proof…….

Simultaneous Equations

March 10, 2019 3 comments

It’s been a while since i last wrote anything here. Which says more about how busy I’ve been than my desire to write, but I hope to start writing more regularly.

This week I was teaching simultaneous equations and a student asked a question that made me think about things so I thought i would share.

I was teaching elimination method and I had done some examples with the coefficients of y having different signs and I put one on the board with the same signs and asked the class to think how we may go about solving. One of the students in the class put uo his hand after a while and said he thought he had solved it.

5x + 4y = 13

2x + 2y = 6

I asked hime to talk us through his thinking and he said “first I multipled the bottom equation by -2”

5x + 4y = 13

-4x – 4y = -12

“then I added the equations as before”

x = 1

“Then I subbed in and solved.”

2 + 2y = 6

2y = 4

y = 2

“so the point of intersection is (1,2)”.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. I was expecting him to have spotted we could subtract instead, but this method was clearly just as correct. It wasn’t something I had considered as a method before this, but I actually really liked it as a method and it led to a good discussion with the class after another student interjected with her solution which was what I expected, to multiply by 2 and subtract.

It was a great start point to a discussion where the students were looking at the two methods, and understanding why they both worked, the link between addition of a negative and subtracting a positive and many more.

I was wondering, does anyone teach this as a method? Have you had similar discussions in your lessons? What do you think of it?

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