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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.

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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?

Another Year Over

July 22, 2018 Leave a comment

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….

Angle problem

December 5, 2017 2 comments

Today has been quite a geometric based day for me. I spent a couple of hours solving non-RAT trigonometry problems with year 10 and then a while with year 11 looking at various algebra angle problems. Then I went on Twitter and saw this from Ed Southall (@solvemymaths):

A couple of nice parallel lines questions that I might grow at y11 tomorrow.

Both are fairly straight forward to solve. I looked at the first one, imagines a third parallel line through the join if x and saw x must be the sum of 40 and 60 hence 100.

The second I saw an alternate angle to the 50 in the top triangle and used angle sum of a triangle is 180 to spot that x is a right angle. I glanced down at the responses and saw the vast majority had the same answers as me. That would probably have been the end of it but then I noticed this response:

The same thought process for the first one, but a significantly different approach to the second.

It made me wonder what approach others would take, and which approach my students would take. I wondered if the first problem had led this respondent into this solutions the second, and if so why it hasn’t had the same effect as me.

I don’t know if either approach is better, I just thought the differences were interesting. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it and how you would approach it.

Reverse percentages and compound interest

November 15, 2017 3 comments

The other day a discussion arose in my year 10 class that I found rather interesting. There was a question on interest which incorporated compound interest and reverse percentages. One student was telling the other how to find the answer to the reverse part, “you need to divide it, because it was that amount times by the multiplier to get this amount and divide is the inverse of times.” All good so far, then they discussed how to complete it if it was a reverse of more than one year, “so in that case it’s the new amount dived by the multiplier to the power of how many years.” I was pleased at the discussion so I didn’t really interject.

Then one of them aid, “if I’m looking for two years ago, can’t I just times it by the multiplier to the power -2? Wouldn’t that work.” I thought this was an excellent thought process. The other student disagreed though, sating “no, it has to be divide.” So I thought at this point I’d better interject a little.

“Does it give you the same answer?” I asked. They both thought about it and tried it and discussed it and said yes. So I asked “does it ALWAYS give the same number?” they tried a number of scenarios using different amounts, different interest rates and different numbers of years. Eventually they had convinced themselves. “Yes, yes it is always the same.”

“So is it a valid method then?” I probed. Some more discussion, then one ventured “yes. It must be.”

“Why does it work?”, I then asked. And left them discussing it.

When I came back to the pair I asked if they could explain why it works and one of them said, “we think that it’s because multiplying by a negative power is the same as dividing by the positive version.”

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