Posts Tagged ‘Resources’

A missed opportunity?

April 8, 2015 8 comments

I’m sure you all have had a look at the new GCSEs by now and have either started teaching it or have at least started thinking about the boards and looked at what’s on offer. One of the things that pearson have produced is a baseline test aimed at year 9 to decide whether to teach them higher or foundation, today I was looking through it and a couple of questions jumped out:


This is a lovely question, although there’s one thing that annoys me about it. Can you guess????? Yes, that’s it! It’s that stupid picture of a stupid calculator. We need our students to be confident working in terms of pi, if this was a non-calculator question it would be brilliant:


We could even equate areas instead and thus include fractions:


In reality, as it is, it’s plugging numbers into a calculator and rounding, giving a non exact answer, a grrrr moment and a missed opportunity!

The other question that jumps out is this:


A lovely opportunity to play with numbers and fractions, a non-calculator question too. I love it:


All that confusion and a brilliant simple answer.

Have you any favourite questions from these baseline tests? Any favourite resources for the new GCSEs? I’d love to hear them.


November 21, 2014 13 comments

A lot has been said recently on textbooks, the benefits they have and the bad press they get. This has had me thinking a lot about them, and their use in lessons. I rarely use them, certainly not the way they were used in my own schooling, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t think they have their uses. 

Why do they have such a bad press?

I think they bad press comes from bad use of textbooks. I remember when I was at school lugging a ridiculously heavy bag around all day every day because there was a huge textbook for each lessons. I remember many lessons which began “Turn to page 6, Stephen (or whoever) can you begin reading.” then after the page was read the class would attempt the exercise. I remember a biology teacher who read the book to us, she’d fire questions off if she thought you weren’t listening. I sat next to Liam, and we’d sussed that you could answer the questions if you had the textbook on the correct page. One time the lesson was on organs, and the question was thrown at Anthony, who sat on the next table along. Liam and I often gave him answers. This time the question was “what’s the largest organ in the body”, I whispered “pipe organ”, which he then shouted out. It was hilarious.

I could go on, but I’m sure you all had your share of uninspiring textbook lessons. I’ve seen them as a professional. I witnessed an A Level lesson where the teacher sat at the front and read the textbook to the class verbatim. It struck me as rather pointless, as they all could have read it themselves. I’ve seen a KS4 teacher, when I was an Nqt, hand out textbooks with the instruction “look at the example on page ten, then attempt the questions”.

All these examples are uninspiring, and not conducive to good learning. But I think it’s unfair to lay the blame on the textbooks themselves.

How can textbooks be used then?

During lessons, there will be a point when you want the students to do some work. Practicing a skill or solving a problem. Using textbook exercises isn’t necessarily worse than a worksheet or questions on the board. In fact, it could be argued it’s better. It’s a greener and cheaper long term alternative to a ton of printed worksheets. The right textbooks have extension work built in, or offer a selection of exercises of differing difficulties. They also usually have plenty of examples, so learners can use them if they’re struggling, then can request help if they still need it.

I’ve seen a large variety of maths textbooks, I own a fair few. Here are some of them:



My favourites of the ones I have are probably these for KS3/4:


And these for KS5:


Within all these books there are some great things, but none of them are what I would call ideal. Each has plenty of flaws. I find that having access to all these, and many more, textbooks allows me to use ideas, examples and exercises from them as and when required. I sometimes think I should write one, it would be great!

So you think the right textbook would be fine?

Not on their own, no. The recent Sutton Trust report showed that a teacher with strong pedagogical subject knowledge is extremely important to the learning of a class. The right textbooks could aid these teachers, not become a band aid to cover for poor teaching or teachers with shallow subject knowledge. I also wouldn’t like to see them used in isolation. There are many other activities that can aid learning. Things that are quick and easy to check pupils have correct without the need to check each bit, resources such as Mathsloops and Tarzia or activities on mini-whiteboards. All these have a place in lessons, and all would be complimentary to the perfect textbook, which would aid, not replace, good teaching. Examples would be additional to the lesson and offer help learners who are still struggling.

Further reading

Here is the BBC report into the comments by Education Minister Nick Gibb on textbooks.

Here is a nice article from the inside classroom project entitled “Why textbooks matter”.

And here is my post on the aforementioned Sutton Trust report (which can be accessed here).

Brigshaw Maths Meet

October 2, 2014 7 comments

This evening I headed over to the Leeds/Castleford borderlands to the Brigshaw Maths Meet. This was an event arranged by maths teachers for maths teachers with various presentations on a range of topics.

This wasn’t the first such event I had attended, although it was the first I had presented at. My presentation covered my frustration at various damaging shortcuts such as BIDMAS and TWO NEGATIVES ALWAYS MAKE A POSITIVE, and I encouraged all present to download Nix the Tricks.

There were other presentations too. There was a presentation from La Salle Education (@LaSalleEd), on complete maths. The presentation covered the same stuff as their presentation at the recent maths conference. I was impressed to see that they are supporting events such as these with sponsorship.

There was a presentation from one of the senior leaders at brigshaw on using Excel to create worksheets. Which I found very amusing and informative. It used functions of the spreadsheets I’d used before, but I hadn’t realised their potential for creating resources. I may write further on this later.

Emma (@mathsteacher68) presented on foldable. These seem like a fun and clever way to create packs which aid revision, and I hope to investigate further.

There was a presentation on Numicon, which is a resource I’ve heard of but never used. I think it has a lot of potential for use with pupils who are weaker at maths and need extra help embedding concepts.

Our host Jenny (@MellowsMaths ) gave a brilliant presentation on tactiles as a teaching tool for expanding quadratic brackets, and spoke of the benefits of lesson study as a method to continue development.

There was a rather interesting presentation on this website, which I plan to investigate. It’s called A plus cluck and it is an American site which has a massive range of questions which can be used in lessons as starters and discussion points. I would certainly advise checking the website out.

There was a presentation on mastery, and how it’s being used at a Rotherham school. This was particularly interesting, as I’m very keen on the idea of a mastery curriculum and was pleased to hear that it is being effective in a school more local and similar in size than King Solomon Academy. This suggests it could work well at our place.

There was an interesting presentation on a plenary task involving key point being written on a piece of paper and thrown around the room, with other pupils then adding to the points. This again struck me as something that could be good for revision.

Finally, we had a short presentation on the usefulness of smartboards and how a range of lessons can help if your planning is mispitched.

This was also the first outing of my brand new, marvel based, notebook. As my trusty old one was finally filled at last weekend’s maths conference! It’s full of notes made in meetings, masters lectures, CPD sessions, teachmeets, conferences, while reading for assignments and other such things. Some had an immediate impact, some spawned blogs, but I also know there are many bits in there that I highlighted to come back to but never have. I think that now is a good time to start rereading the things and picking up those trails.



The trusty old notebook, now full!

If you were at tonight’s meeting, feel free to let me know what you thought. Also, I didn’t catch everyone’s names or twitter handles, so if you presented and want me to add details do let me know. I hope to see you all again at future, similar events.

Indices and Surds

April 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Last term I taught a series of lessons to my year 11s on indices and surds. They are a high ability class and I wanted to ensure that they had the thorough grounding on the topic necessary to tackle Core 1 A Level problems, as well as the GCSE. I have uploaded then to TES and you can access them here.

The first lesson is the one entitled “Indices”, and it is an introduction to the topic overall and the rules of indices that the class should have been familiar with. I also gave them a card sort to complete here which had them simplifying algebraic indices and evaluating numerical problems (up to and including negative fractional powers).

The next lesson was the hardcore indices. This had them tackling problems that would come up on the paper, and some that they will definitely need to know next year which I took off C1 papers. They loved the fact that they were doing A Level past paper questions and really responded to the challenge.

The next two lessons were on surds. The first is one I adapted from a colleague and covers the basics and gets them familiar with surds. They responded well to the lesson and enjoyed the content. The next lesson was rationalising the denominator, which again was well received, the class enjoyed it and I even had some of them working with complex numbers by the end as they were flying through the work.

Let me know if you use the lessons and how the class go. Feedback is always warmly received and also, any links to any superb resources on the topics will be greatly received too!


April 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Bizarrely, I’ve never taught Histograms to a full class before. This seems strange as I’ve taught everything else, but it seems that due to schemes of work, class changes and shared classes I have never had the pleasure of teaching this topic to a whole class. I have taught it to small groups on revision days, but that is different to teaching it to a full class.

My Year 11’s have now covered the entire course and we are hitting the topics they need. On the last two mocks they all did very badly on Histograms, and say that it has been a long time since they learned about them, so I have decided to cover it on the first week back. I had a look over my resources and I have very little. I thought about what I wanted them to know, and what they need to be able to reproduce in the exam. I find that there are not that many real life uses of Histograms, They can be used to look at distributions, but not much else. In fact, a friend once told me she had a background in using statistics before she went into teaching and could use that knowledge to find real world uses of everything, except for histograms.

I personally think they are quite a nice way of showing a distribution, and like the way that it links to normal and other distributions in higher level stats.But I don’t see much need on them being on the GCSE syllabus, and I’m fairly sure that the vast majority of people won’t use them in the real world!

I have uploaded my notebook, exported PowerPoint and exam questions sheet here, if anyone is interested – as always feedback will be gratefully received. I’m on the hunt for a bingo or a card sort on the subject, so do feel free to signpost me to a good one if you know of any! If I’ve had no luck by next week I will probably make one, so watch this space!

Graphs, Graphs and Further Graphs

March 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Recently my Year 11 class have been doing a lot of work around graphs. Not plotting graphs, but the stuff that comes under the banner of “further graphs”, so recognising, sketching and transforming quadratics, cubics, logarithmic graphs, exponential graphs and everyone’s favourite trigonometric graphs.

I hadn’t taught it to a KS4 class before, so I had a good long think about it and created some new resources, and rejigged a couple from A Level classes! You can see all the resources on TES here.

I started off with a match up, I gave them a number of graphs and the equations they matched too, some they had met before, some they hadn’t, but I gave them calculators and whiteboards and 15 minutes to have a crack at it. The class responded really well to this and a number of them managed to correctly match up all the graphs to the equations without any help whatsoever. The rest of the lesson was spent sketching and solving quadratics, they had touched on this before, but were glad to revisit it.

The next lesson was spent on cubics, sketching and solving and becoming familiar with the shapes, and how to factorise ones with a constant term of zero.

The next lesson was spend on transforming graphs, this was a lesson adapted from my A level class and it worked well, the class fully getting to grips with graph transformations. To finish the unit I then did the lesson from the standards box on trig graphs. They also responded well. I’ve not use all the activities from the standards box, but I have always found the ones I have used have gone well!

The Wolfram Alpha App

March 3, 2014 1 comment

As a maths teacher and, well geek, I have been aware of Wolfram Alpha for a while. My use of it had been limited to the computer and I really had only used it to check a couple of things and for drawing graphs to show pupils in my lessons.

The other day I was working on a solution the the problem Colin Beveridge (@icecolbeveridge) posed on the latest episode of “Wrong, but useful” (I intend to blog my solution later, although I’m not altogether happy with it). During the process I had a long polynomial with a load of fractions and roots involved and I needed to differentiate. As I started to do this by hand I remembered James Grime (@jamesgrime) in this numberphile video make mention to a Wolfram Alpha app. I thought, I’ll check that out.

I downloaded the app for a mere £1.86 and I reckon it’s got to be one of the best £1.86s ever spent. What the app basically does is turn your phone something that dwarves the technology I used during my maths degree (which included it’s own predecessor “Mathematica”).

For those if you that don’t know, Wolfram Alpha is a “knowledge engine”. I believe it is the brainchild of brothers Stephen and Conrad Wolfram, and that the intention was to create something that would allow people to save masses amount of time.

You can ask it all sorts of questions, from maths, to anagrams to a plethora of other things. I’ve only just scratched the surface!

It differentiated my troublesome polynomial in a matter of seconds, which saved me an absolute ton of time. Infact, I have used it (only for maths stuff) everyday since I got it. I would certainly recommend this to everyone!

Here are some screenshots of its awesomeness:

A couple from my workings:



And one for those of you who love polar graphs:


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