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“Manglish”, and a mastery curriculum

December 7, 2013 1 comment

Today I attended #pedagoowonderland, it was a wonderful event with some superb sessions. One of the workshops I attended was by @lisajaneashes about “Manglish”, this is her philosophy on maths and English across the curriculum (you can read her blog or pre  order her book if you are interested in learning more).

During the session Lisa said something that got me thinking about a whole host of things and I wanted to share these thoughts. She said during the session that it would be really effective to cover certain topics in other subjects at the same time as you are doing them in Maths.

There are a number of things happening at the moment, and this idea, to me, links them together.

Firstly, with the curriculum overhaul coming out of Whitehall, (see what I feel is missing here) we have the opportunity to develop a new and exciting curriculum for our school. Secondly, we are trying to look at whole school numeracy, and thirdly, we are hoping to increase the number of our pupils who go onto further study maths.

Mastery Learning

I’ve been reading a lot about New curricula recently, and something that strikes me as interesting is the idea of a mastery curriculum. (You can read Joe Kirby’s (@joe_Kirby) blog here. Michael Tidd’s (@michaelt1979) here, and check out this website). The basis of mastery learning seems to be to spend longer on each topic, covering fewer areas each year and ensuring that classes have mastered a minimum level of learning before moving on. This strikes me as exciting. A SoW with short units means you cover a topic for a fortnight, complete a unit assessment, and move on. This can work really well, especially for the high achievers, but it has its draw backs. If students have failed in year 7 to fully master how to solve one or two step equations then when equations next come up you have to revisit that. As they haven’t managed to learn it in two weeks the first time, they may not have retained much and they may fail to fully grasp the topic again. This can be come a cycle and can lead to pupils in year 11 becoming stuck on problems they should have solved at a younger ages. A mastery curriculum would enable deeper learning, and give pupils more time to learn these skills, offering those who master them quicker to mover further on in the curriculum. The theory being that the longer, deeper, covering of the topic would ensure retention rates were higher and when the class returned to the topic they could move on.

KS3/4

I’ve been involved in a few discussions recently on the need for separate keystages, do we need a specific KS3 and KS4 scheme of work or could we have a five year scheme of work? In the absence of levels, I’d imagine many secondary schools are looking at moving to GCSE grades as a way of reporting from yr7. If we are using these grades from the start why not a singles scheme of work?

Feedback

The shorter scheme of work system gives rise to a lot if summative feedback. (You can read more about our feedback here). This means that formative feedback happens in lessons, but written feedback tends to be summative, with pupils receiving written feedback on the topic they have completed, an extension question (or consolidation question) for them to try and then move on. A move to the mastery curriculum would mean that marking with the same frequency would give more chances for formative written feedback which could create a much better dialogue in the pupils books.

Maths Across the Curriculum

To start with, I think we should call it maths, rather than numeracy. I don’t think it should be just about numeracy. There are many other areas that can link in, rather than just simple number tasks. Similarly, I think we should talk about English across the curriculum, as it shouldn’t just be kept to “key words”.

I also think that Maths across the curriculum needs to be a culture embedded in a school. Lisa spoke today about how she wasn’t good at maths at school and how she didn’t care about it. She told us how this was compounded by her English and Art teachers telling her they were rubbish at it and that as long as she got the c it didn’t matter and she could just forget about it. This is a problem which is still rife today. Last year one of my year tens informed me that one of his teachers had told him she could never do algebra and it hadn’t had a negative effect on her. This infuriates me. A lot of pupils tell me they hear things like that at home, which is bad enough! The whole grade C culture is detrimental too, as my sixthformers are finding out when unis want Bs. (You can read more on this here).

Once the culture is embedded, maths links can be made with other subjects. This sort of link could be strengthened, as Lisa suggested, by covering these at the same time. Logistically, this would be a nightmare to embed with the 2 week unit scheme of work, but I think it would be more doable given a mastery curriculum which covered topics in more detail for a longer time. The whole school would know that in this half term year seven were looking at representation of data, and they could build that into their lessons accordingly. If in geography pupils were collecting some data, they could analyse that in their maths lesson. If the scheme of work was written in such a way that pupils in each year group were covering the same strand of maths, this could provide exciting whole school opportunities. Assemblies could tie into the topics. Cross curricular projects could be in abundance. Pupils would be seeing the links, seeing the importance, seeing the context and having the learning consolidated and embedded.

Drawbacks

There are drawbacks to this idea. There is the worry that pupils may get restless and lose interest if the same topic was covered over and over again, although I think this is avoidable with planning. Set changes would be much harder to implement as different classes would have reached different points in each area. It may be harder for pupils to catch up if they moved from another school partway through the course.

So is it the answer?

In short, I don’t know. I think there are many plus sides to moving to a mastery based curriculum and I am currently swaying towards thinking it would be a great way to go. But to be sute I need to read more on it and discus it more.

What do you think?

Have you implemented this sort of curriculum? Did it work? Are you thinking of it? Does it sound good to you? Or do you think it’s daft? Whatever your opinion, I’d love to know.

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Observing, and cross-curricular ideas

July 13, 2013 Leave a comment

This week has been a good one. It’s been the last real teaching week before summer, as next week is ICE week (Immersion Curriculum Enrichment week) which means we are off timetable doing a week of activities around a theme. The theme this time us the environment, and the activities look to be fun. One of my favourite bits about ICE week is the chance to do something different and hone my teaching skills in an unfamiliar situation, but more on that later.

Back to this week. We have had most of our new staff in this week, including one of the new NQTs who I am mentoring. I am looking forward to the role of mentor, and have now informally observed him twice. Already there has been a marked improvement and a response to advice, which is pleasing. I was a bit worried about observing in this capacity but the mock observations project I completed with my PE colleague earlier this year and the ITT student observations I have done definitely helped. I also gained a good insight into my own teaching by observing and there are always bits to pick up.

Also this week I completed a joint observation with my HoD on a colleague who was kind enough to volunteer. Again this was unofficial and the purpose was so she could check my ability to grade and give feedback. This was great, my confidence as an observer was boosted as she picked up on exactly the same positive points and areas for development that I did and we agreed on the grade. I also learned a lot about giving feedback and she gave me some great pointers in that respect.

There were also tons of things from the lesson that I picked up, my favourite being this: During a traffic light show me activity he put three wrong answers up. The majority of the kids chose the nearest one and some assumed they must be wrong. This was a superb discussion point and there was some real good contributions from the class. I was unsure if he had done this on purpose, so asked him afterwards. He said that he had in this instance and often does this because he did it once by accident and the results were great. I think this is a superb idea that I will use myself.

Also in Thursday I observed a new y9 science lesson. A couple of my form were in the class and have been in trouble a bit in science so I went to see how they were and offer assistance if required. The lesson was on penguins (always a winner) and cooling rates and included an experiment where the pupils were simulating the huddles emperor penguins stand in to keep warm. It was good fun and the difficulties some members of the class had with graphing made me think that as a maths department we need to embed this skill better in KS3. It also got my brain flying about cross curricular lessons with science on graphing and I hope to implement those next year.

This is one of three cross curricular projects I have in the pipeline, all of which excited me. The second is with an English colleague (@goldfishbowlMM) and involves looking at “The maths of Shakespeare”, and is very exciting. The third is once that a music colleague has suggested to me and involves trying to help improve the times tables of our pupils using the medium if hip-hop!

With these projects and mentoring an NQT, next year is looking incredibly exciting already!

Probability and Sex Ed

June 29, 2013 5 comments

This week we had our third CT day of the year. (CT Days, or citizenship themed days, are collapsed timetable days where pupils do a range of topics linked to a theme.) I was with my coaching group and we had a great day on the topic of “personal wellbeing”.

The new year 11 (we move up year groups at spring bank) had a day on sexual education. Currently in maths they are learning about probability and one of my colleagues and I decided this was a perfect opportunity to merge the two.

We gathered some data on the probabilities if contracting STIs from an unprotected sexual encounter and they looked at the probabilities involved in contracting things after multiple encounters (here).

We also looked at expected values, and given the effectiveness of different types of contraception, (from here) how many pregnancies a year would you expect if a couple who were always safe made love twice a week. The answer shocked the whole class. They were also amazed by the difference when I asked them to complete tree diagrams and work out the expected value if the couple used condoms and the pill.

This was a much easier concept for them to relate to than picking sweets out of a bag as they could see that this was something that would affect everyone at some point in their lives. It also got across some messages that are important, especially as our school is located in an area with quite a lot if young parents.

Inequalities

May 14, 2013 2 comments

Inequalities is a subject that I enjoy teaching, it is one which easily lends itself to SMSC discussion around inequality in society and it is quite a fun topic to do.

The first lesson observation I had that was a solid “good” during my NQT year was for a lesson on inequalities. This introductory lesson on inequalities as been tweaked and formed the basis of the lesson i use most of each time. That lesson can be found here: http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Inequalities-6334471 

The lesson starts with a few pictures of different inequalities and I ask the class if they know they word and if they can tell me what it has to do with the pictures I have put on the board. This can produce some lively debate and often some brilliant answers about social inequality and how unfair that can be.

I then introduce the signs and discuss what they mean and the difference between them before moving on to some questions which pupils need to answer on whiteboards. These start with easy numerical ones before moving on to some sums. I include one where they get 4 and 4 and have to put a sign in. Most put one of the “or equal to” ones but there’s always one or two who opt for = despite it not being on the list. I think this is a great discussion point to use with pupils. As it gets further on I throw a couple of fun ones in. Most pupils get Maths > English correct (thankfully), but most get Rugby > football wrong!

The lesson moves onto numberlines and writing integers which satisfy inequalities and then refers to a card sort activity which involves pictures showing inequalities on a number line, integers which satisfy the inequality and the inequality written algebraically. The lesson moves on to solving them and the plenary (or “Final challenge”) is to solve a wordy past paper GCSE question.

I enjoy using this lesson and my pupils enjoy it, understand it and learn from it and i hope that some of you can have a similar experience with your classes.

NB: I’ve also included an exported powerpoint of the notebook file.

The skills needed for the future…

March 4, 2013 2 comments

Last week I was lucky enough to see two more of my colleagues deliver lessons, and from each one I learned a few things.

The first I saw was an A-level physics lesson, this was delivered by an experienced colleague of mine who has a background in FE colleges and as such is very experienced in post 16 teaching. He welcomed me into a year 12 lesson on Hooke’s law, and I am pleased to report that I enjoyed it immensely, The lesson atmosphere was very similar to my own post sixteen lessons and his approach to the topic was similar to the one I would have taken if I as teaching it, so I could take away the knowledge that I’m not completely wrong! I was a little worried as to the length of time it took the pupils to draw and plot two graphs though. This made me think about my own teaching of graphs. From year seven upwards I normally give out graph paper with axes already drawn on to pupils when touching on graphs, as the drawing of axes can take a while and they are always given axes in the exam paper. I realise now this is a rather insular way to look at it. My question usually is: “when will they ever need to draw a set of axes?” this question hasn’t changed, but the answer has. Before, my answer would have been “never!”, but now I know the answer is “for A-Level physics”. They need this skill for their A-Level in physics and I would assume Biology and Chemistry also. It is something they need to do as part of their assessed practical, and it is a skill I can start to hone in my pupils way before they get there, meaning their A-Level science might be a tad easier. I am going to insist that the higher ability pupils I teach learn these skills early, so that in the future our A-Level science students are already equipped with them. There is, of course, the further question: “is it necessary for them to draw them by hand in the digital age we live in?”, but I feel that’s a question for another blog post on another day.

The other lesson I saw was taught by an NQT within the department, we share a class and I went to see her teach the class we share. It was great to see the class in a different light, and to see how they respond to another teacher. There was also an IT failure at the start of the lesson, and I was amazed by the calmness the teacher had and the way she adapted her plans to go without it. I also gained a superb starter task out of it (see below)!

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Observing others

February 1, 2013 1 comment

This week I have been extremely lucky. I have been able to observe 3 other teachers teach lessons. I have for a long time held the belief that observing others is the single most effective way to improve one’s own teaching and I feel I have gained a lot by doing this this week.

I regularly seek out opportunities to go on see my colleagues teach, obviously this is in an informal setting and the purpose of this is for my own improvement. Last year I mainly observed senior teachers and/or teachers who taught classes which were similar to the ones I was having trouble with, and I continue to do this. But in the run up to Christmas I had the idea of asking my classes who they thought were the best teachers. I figured if the pupils thought they were the best then they were definitely worth seeing. I contacted two members of staff whose name kept on coming up to see if I could observe them. One of them had non-contact time in all of mine, so I couldn’t see him, but the other was happy for me to come and had a great idea. He asked me if I could write the observation up and give feedback as if it were a real observation so that we could both gain more of an insight into the grading/observation process. So I did this and he is going to return the favour after half term. The lesson itself was a PE lesson, I really enjoyed it, was torn between a one and two grading, and it gave me a good insight into how PE lessons run (it’s very different from when I was at school!). It also brought to light a problem that I would not have considered before. “How do you show progress over time in PE?”

There are a few issues with this: firstly, how can you evidence progress? And secondly: with the carousel nature of PE topics, how do you avoid the star L7 footballer from term one who can’t play badminton seeming to have regressed in term two because his badminton level is L5? We had a long discussion during the feedback on this topic. We had a few possible ideas for the first problem. One was to have the pupils keep a self-reflection journal and enter each week “I have achieved level ________ today by_______ next week I hope to achieve _____ by ____”. And the other idea was to keep spread sheets holding data for each week. To tackle the second problem, I was drawn to the mats of it. I figured that the pupils could be assigned a level for each topic at the start of the year based on prior attainment. So one pupil might have, say: Football L7, Badminton L5, Tennis L6, Cricket L7 and Fitness L5. The mean average of this would be a L6. Then each time a unit was completed the base level would be replaced and the mean would steadily increase over time. This would take into account levels for all sports and give a more holistic level for PE to report to parents. I figured this was fairly similar to maths, where a pupils might be working at L8 in algebra, but L6 in shape and number and L7 in data, but would gain a L7 overall.

The next opportunity I had to observe this week was a maths lesson. We had a teach first trainee come for a week’s placement from another school within the city. He was a top bloke and had asked to see some low ability lessons, so I welcomed him into my Y9 class. After observing the first lesson he said he would quite like to try teaching them, so we agreed for him to take one of their lessons that week on reading scales. The lesson was great, the class are brilliant, but I was worried they might not respond to another teacher in the same manner, this was a worry that turn out to be pointless, as they took to him well. He had a great mix of competition, AFL and consolidation and made me think about how I would teach scales in future.

This week’s final lesson observation was a Y13 English Lit lesson. The teacher is a senior teacher who I have observed before with a KS4 class and whose name was mentioned by some sixth formers I asked as someone who teachers A Level well. A Level teaching is something I feel is one of my strengths, and something that has identified as a strength by others, but I have never seen anyone else teach it. (Well, except when I was studying A levels myself!) I felt the lesson was great, and the atmosphere in the room was similar to the atmosphere in my A Level lessons, in fact, the lesson itself went very similar to the way mine do. Only the content really differed, I managed to take a lot from the lesson.

I feel I have a good week, as far as my own learning journey is concerned, and hope to build on this even further in the coming weeks.

Mathematical Concept Wall

January 25, 2013 5 comments

In early January 2013 I read this blog by Paul Collins. I immediately fell in love with the idea and decided that I wanted my own mathematical concept wall for my classroom. I went to the TES website and downloaded the card that Mr Collins (@mrprcollins can also be found on twitter) had kindly uploaded for me. I made some cards up and gave them out as starters to all my classes. I was very impressed with the quality of some of the responses, and I realised that I would soon have far too many for the display!

The next idea was to set up an e display (http://mrcavswalloffame.wordpress.com/) and this has gone down well. This is a place where you can see all entrants. My favourite so far is:

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I then thought, “what if I had a rolling display”, meaning it could be a constantly changing display. Here is a photo of it:

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My next thought was to use my other board as a prize board, giving a pic of the term out, and a best in each year group:

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In the bottom left you can see a holder I gave fashioned to hold blank cards, so pupils and/or staff/anyone can enter whenever they like! There is still space at the bottom, I hope to use that for a “best of past winners” section.

I have gotten the art department involved, so many pupils I wouldn’t normally see are creating art based on maths words, to enter in the display!

The display includes a QR code and a written link to the e display, and I’m thinking of procuring a photo album to keep the vest examples in as hard copies when they leave the wall.

Because we haven’t had a term yet, the “picture of the term” box was empty, so I put mine in it for now:

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I’m loving the displays, and the pupils loved having a go, I will ensure each class get at least one entry per term. I think I might leave a stock in the library, and see how many come back, to enable more people to have ago. If people are thinking about maths, even in this abstract manner, it will raise the profile of the subject, and encourage creativity.

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