Sunday, 28 February 2016

Connecting With Maths

My inspiration for this post and this upcoming project comes from "The Wrong Way to Teach Math," an article from The New York Times by Andrew Hacker.  Hacker discusses a course he teaches which challenges students to develop quantitative literacy.  He found that a number of students, even when taking advanced courses, struggled with understanding graphs and connecting to the mathematics they were learning in class.

I'm currently in the process of marking my first set of explorations for my IB Maths SL course.  My students have struggled to apply the maths we have been using in class and they have struggled to write about what they see, reflect on what they understand and connect with the mathematics they are using.  As educators, we learn from our mistakes and I feel that I have not prepared my students for this project because I have rarely asked them to actually write in maths!  I know that maths journaling is an important concept in helping students consolidate their understanding.  But I think this is different to simply reflecting and its our responsibility to scaffold the process so that students are ready to tackle a topic on their own.

So I want my students to know where the maths they are studying came from.  To explore our knowledge of mathematics and to start to explore topics which require them to do more than just calculate or solve, but to actually discuss and reflect on.  Almost all of these topics are taken from the HL syllabus.  Thank you IB for providing these great links!

Here is what I will be giving my students.  They will be required to choose one topic from each column to write about.  Lets see how it goes!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Meaningful Practice

If there is one resource I would recommend it is Kagan: thoroughly, wholeheartedly its Kagan.  I stocked up our teacher resource library at our school this summer have been enjoying their ideas to make my classroom a bit more interesting ever since.

We are working on our number unit in year 8 at the moment and studying decimals.  I was getting a bit bored with decimals, I mean the real world connections can only be so exciting before students start to resent adding up shopping items or items at a restaurant.  Kagan suggested something called a round table activity.  It was simple, it was not an example of how us maths teachers try to convince our students, "honestly!!  You will use this in your personal lives!!!!"  It was rather a simple activity, which took me about 5 minutes to plan and had my whole class chatting, working, engaging in meaningful work.  And with a few years under my belt, those meaningful and engaging lessons mean more to me then the few times I can make those superficial real work connections, because lets face it, I use my phone calculator when I am in a supermarket more often then I should probably admit.  So, the activity was simple.  I wrote out a number of slips of papers with x= a decimal and y= a decimal and that is the only resource you need for this activity.

1)  I tell students to work with their shoulder partner.  Students are sitting in table of four so they were to decide who will be partner 1 and who will be partner 2.

2)  Then I wanted to create a cheesy buzz, so I asked partner 1 to tell the person beside them their favourite feature about them.  Then I asked partner 2 to tell partner 1 their favourite memory of the other.  awwwwwww.

3)  Students were given the slip of paper and I told them that they would take turns answering questions.  If it was your turn you would answer the question on a white board whilst your partner watched.  If you got it right, your partner would praise you and tell you that it was correct.  If you did not get it right, your partner would coach you, help you find your mistake and reach the right answer.

4)  I then proceeded to call out things like x+y, x squared, y divided by x until I thought the activity had run its course.

It was great fun for me, because all of my groups were engaging in practicing their decimal work and the students enjoyed the change from a traditional lesson.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Bums OFF Seats!

The saying bums on seats, seemed to be a repeated reinforcement for a sign of good teaching in the UK.  However, PD events often remind me of how painful it is to sit and listen for an entire day, even when you find it interesting.  So I challenged myself to plan more bums OFF seats lesson.  Especially for afternoon classes and when students need a little bit more activity to keep them going.  The challenge being that the experience still leads to meaningful lessons and learning and not just filling time with play time.  So here are some of my more successful, interactive lessons!


Today my year 12 IB Standard Level students wrote a Calculus exam.  So far we have covered differentiation, equation of a tangent, equation of a normal, stationary points and identifying local max and min.  After quite a few lessons, exercises from a textbook, myimaths tasks and in class questioning, I felt my 9 students (aren´t I lucky...9 students!) were pretty confident with their first introduction to calculus.  So as a revision lesson before their exam, I found this resource and posted the questions around our secondary building, paired up students and sent them around with a clipboard to try and answer the questions first.  

I was astounded at how few of them could confidently tackle simple examples of what we had been studying!  But by the end, I felt that their understanding, that true understanding of procedure and methods was there.  But what it took was not a page full of questions for them to practice but by mixing them up, putting them in a different order and having students talk about how to reach an accurate result, they finally understood the procedure.  I did give them the background of what they were doing, why for example, we set the first derivative to zero (because its connected to the gradient) but this activity built their confidence for reaching an answer accurately and even though we want to make Maths fun and colourful, its still about that.  We want students to be able to arrive at the correct solutions.  

A few days later, they wrote an exam and they were confident, excited (even though it was the last lesson of a Thursday) and the results were good!


Again, I planned an interactive lesson for my year 12s.  The poor things have a double lesson and I´m new to teaching Standard Level so I want to keep them interested in our topics as much as possible.  So after spending a lesson learning about vectors, I had a double with them.  We spent the first introductory lesson doing old fashion, textbook questions and building up their experience with vectors.  The following day we had a double and so I spent the first part revising what we learned and giving them a myimaths task to practice further.  Then, when I felt they were ready, I gave them each a different question.  I then asked them to complete the question and check that they got the right answer.  I was able to differentiate at this point.  Then I had four students sit on one side of two tables put together and the other 5 would rotate along, with there always being one group of three. I had students try each others questions, mark each others work and explain to the other how to complete the question if someone wasn´t sure.  I got the idea from pinterest and it worked a treat!

I was starting my unit on fractions/decimals/percentages and I decided to start this on a Friday, last lesson with year 7.  So, instead of having students start in the classroom we went outside.  I had prepared slips of paper with some easy fractions, decimals and percentages before hand and I also had white boards, pens and erasers ready in case my students were really weak on this topic.  But luckily there weren´t and the activity went really well.

I start with a little warm up which had nothing to do with the lesson, but it was to have a little bit of fun before I actually started to assess what they knew.  So we did a no talking line up.  I asked students to get into a line from smallest to tallest without talking but using other means to communicate.  Then we did the same thing with their birthdays so that we were youngest to oldest.  Then, I gave them the slips of paper with values like 1/4, 0.25 and 25% on them.  Because this completed the activity quickly and accurately I knew that most of my students likely had a pretty good understanding of the topic and I could spend the next part of the lesson extending them, rather than boring them with me standing at the front questioning them.  

Sunday, 31 August 2014

It´s another new school year and I am feeling inspired! 

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

What We Do and How We Do It

I love the holidays.  I am starting to change my gypsy ways of running from the country I live in to travel and see the world as soon as vacation time hits and instead, I am enjoying some stay-cation time.  I enjoy this because it gives me the peace and relaxing space to think about the upcoming school year.  I´ve recently read two articles which have inspired me to think about the way I teach and maybe reconsider my methods. 

When I was in University, the big push was for cross-curricular connections, project based work, independent inquiry, etc.  I felt inspired to revamp Maths lessons, to make them so fun that Maths wouldn´t be a subject students found boring or dreaded.  However, I soon realised that perhaps my modern approach was clouding the actual learning of the objectives.  And whilst my students enjoyed attending my lessons, got along with me fine, I now feel that I failed those first classes in truly solidifying their learning of Maths.  In his blog post,, William Emeny discusses in more detail the concept of working memory and considers how other methods may cloud students memory with too much information.  At the end of my first year, I met Nick Hinchcliffe.  Nick was in his 60´s, had taught in a variety of schools both in the UK and internationally.  He had a totally different approach to my softy-softy one and needless to say, we locked horns in the first couple of months.  That was until I started to see the benefit of the old fashion methods. 

We worked at a tough school and our students made you prove yourself to them.  You earned their respect, not the other way around.  At first, our students could not cope with Mr. Hinchcliffe.  He was military, old fashion, was often heard bellowing "young man, do up your top button" and our whole department worked hard to try and soften the blow of the Hinch.  Nick never wavered in his approach with the students.  He never chose favourites and he was consistent.  He also insisted on the basics.  Over the three years I worked with Nick, I saw him earn the respect of his students because although they preferred my use of humour and connecting with them, they were really learning with Nick.  He helped them achieve in their GCSE´s and they remembered what he taught them because he reinforced time and again the basics that they needed in order tackle problems.  And so it was in those first years that I began to blend my approach. 

Whilst it is important for us to try all of the methods I post about here and are inspired by in other blogs, its equally important that we focus on what students are retaining and how we are getting them to remember our objectives, curriculum, whatever it is we want them to learn. 

I have also realised the importance of clarity as I´m learning Spanish.  This is the first time I am trying to learn a second language and I am not finding it easy.  Blame it on a brain out of its prime or maybe that I´m not as good at learning language as I thought I would be, but this process has been difficult and I am having to reinforce and reinforce in order to learn even the basics.  And what has worked for me is short, sharp, repetition and using a limited amount of new verbs or nouns in a variety of ways.  But not when I try to learn too much all at once. 

How am I starting my new year?  Well I will continue to challenge my students to think about why we need the maths we learn, how the maths applies to the real world, creative interactive lessons.  But also, I am going to start the first week with an assessment of the basics and ensure that before I move on to new topics, my students have the skills needed to begin to take on new topics.  We will revise times tables, long multiplication and revision, the four operations of integers and BIDMAS.  Also, I sometimes forget the Math fiend I was and that it doesn´t always have to be bells and whistles.  There is no better feeling then those first days of school when you have your books neat and clean, and you can sit back and enjoy a couple of pages of good, old fashion calculations.  Let´s see if my students feel the same!

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Simultaneous Equations

I have a pretty high flying group of year 8's and I wanted to give them a bit of a challenge.  I used twitter as I usually do to look for inspiration and probably not surprisingly, when I searched simultaneous equations the main theme that appeared was students complaining that they had to learn simultaneous equations when they will NEVER use them in their real lives.  But actually, as geeky as it might be, this is one of the things that you might actually use in real life if you know how to use simultaneous equations in context.  Now I didn't find the most inspiring example to start with, but because my students are clever and because they love to learn they still got right involved.  I put this questions on the board:

The admission fee at a small fair is$1.50 for children and $4.00 for adults. On a certain day, 2200 people enter the fair and $5050 is collected. How many children and how many adults attended?

I let students work in groups and just asked them to try and calculate how many adults and children attended the fair.  Students naturally began with trial and error which is what I expected.  Also, my most clever mathematician decided to form an equation to start to solve for a variable.  

I had my class split into three levels, and the weakest ones sat looking at each other so in retrospect I should have differentiated tasks.  I stepped in and asked the weakest group to try and form equations to represent what we knew.  So they did come up with a + c =2200 and 4a + 1.50c = $5050.  

All groups at this point now had something they could realistically achieve.  I allowed students to take turns going up to the board, I stepped in a few times to offer a few hints and eventually we solved the problem.  I then gave students a couple more problems and as to be expected they got more efficient at solving them.  

The best part for me, was the fact I spent the majority of time at the back of my classroom watching the groups work.  I realized how I had fallen into the teacher talk style of lessons too often lately and whilst my students were being productive, making progress and developing their skills they weren't inspired, excited or really engaged in lessons like they were on that day.  It was a gentle reminder that even the most "when will we need this" topics can be interesting when students know when they can use it and they aren't being prescribed steps to solve something new.  

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Maths Day!

We had our Maths House Event on the last day of term this month.  I know, what were we thinking!? It ended up being a successful and enjoyable way to end the term and I highly recommend celebrating a day of Maths.  Here's a schedule of our events:

1)  Maths Videos -  My colleague Yasir and I were intrigued to see what our students could come up with after finding a whole bunch of hilarious and creative videos from WSHS, a high school in the United States.  Check out a couple of my favorites below.

Amazing right?  Well our students did not disappoint.  They rewrote the lyrics, recorded original vocals and came up with some clever ways to present their topic of choice.  We gave them two hours to record the videos, but we had them well prepped ahead of time.  We showed the videos in our classes, had short 5 minute meetings with the house heads and made sure that they weren't starting from scratch on Friday.  We also had the teachers from each house give their groups a score on a rubric we created for the day.

2)  Pi Pie Contest -  We advertised that there would be a prize for the most creative Pi pie or cake.  We had six different entries and after students voted we cut them up and let them eat whichever they liked.


3)  Giant Fizz/Buzz Competition -  Each house came up to the front of our amphitheater (we are a small school) and stood in a circle.  If you are not familiar with Fizz/Buzz, students go around the circle counting from 1 upwards.  If their number is a multiple of 3 you say Fizz and if its a multiple of 5 you say Buzz and if its both, you say...Fizz/Buzz.  If you make a mistake or hesitate then you are out of the game.  We narrowed it down to the top two people in each house and then had a big inter house competition.

4)  Pi Reciting Contest -  What Maths day is complete without the pi reciting contest?  We also tried to get our students onto the leaderboard at  We downloaded the entry sheets and had students fill them in before we had the contest.  We allowed students to write down their numbers or announce them to the crowd.  Our record?  102!

5)  Finally, we watched each of the videos and had a teacher from year 6 judge his favorite.  We had also planned to have the KS4 coordinator play guitar and sing the Pi song, but unfortunately we ran out of time.

It was a really fun day, but by the time the bell rang at 12:30pm both Yasir and I were happy that we could put our feet up for the next two weeks!  Resources, videos and pictures will soon follow!