Monday, 10 October 2016

#MathsMeet (20th October 2016)

I have been fortunate enough to attend a number of TeachMeet events over the past few years and have benefitted greatly from the presentations and discussion had at them.

Whilst completing my NQT year I hosted #TMSurrey at my previous school and then later attended the event the next year.

This year I have been asked, by our Assistant Headteacher to organise and run a Mathematics focused TeachMeet at our school. So I am!

The Mathematics focused TeachMeet or #MathsMeet will take place on Thursday 20th October 2016 between 4:15 and 6pm at Oakwood School, Horley, Surrey, RH6 9AE.
We're right by Gatwick Airport and down the road from Horley train station, which is just one stop away from Gatwick Airport on the Southern Line. We have a large staff car park too for those who will be driving - plenty of space available!

There will be refreshments available (tea/coffee and biscuits) from 4:15pm with presentations starting from 4:30pm. There will be a raffle on the evening with some great prizes (Numeracy Ninjas goodies, books, wine, chocolates, Magic Whiteboard goodies, plus more to come) already being provided by some very generous friends via Twitter. Thank You!

Presentations so far include (in no particular order):

Jo Morgan @mathsjem - 'Five maths websites you need to know about'
Mark Horley (@mhorley) - 'The power of boxes and circles'
Ryan Foster - 'WAGOLLs and WABOLLs'
Paul Collins (@mrprcollins - me) - 'Engaging Students with Book Work/Worksheets (Codebreakers)'
Will Emeny (@Maths_Master and creator of 'Numeracy Ninjas') (via video) - 'Forgetting Curve Homeworks'
Michelle Mahoney (@Mahoney_Maths) - 'Assessment & homework without levels'
Paul Collins (@mrprcollins - me) - 'Numeracy Ninjas at Oakwood School'

All the presentations have a focus on the teaching and learning of Mathematics. The event should be great too to network and share good practice/ideas.

On arrival there will be puzzles and activities for all to complete on tables with some resources I really like put out for others to take away and use.

With just 10 days to go there are still places to attend and a few spots left to present so if you'd like to come along just e-mail me:

Thanks for looking and I hope to see you there!


Saturday, 8 October 2016

Open Evening

Open Evening is always a busy night on the school's calendar and this year was no exception. We had an extremely good turnout this year and the buzz around the school was great. We had lots of our students supporting the evening and attached to different departments for the evening, some were tour guides for our prospective year 5 and 6 parents and others were welcoming parents to the school and on 'car-parking duty'!
We were lucky to have the same 8 students who supported me with the Y6 Problem Solving Day supporting us in Mathematics, plus one other student who was selected to help out on her request.

The Year 5 and 6 parents were shown around the school on the usual route, coming through 2 of our Mathematics classrooms to see some of Y7 work and take part in some activities whilst meeting the department and asking us any questions they may have had.

I haven't written about what we do at Open Evening (or PPE as some call it) and so I thought I'd share what we did this year...

Since I have taught at my school we have always displayed the Y7 Average Student work. This is the first unit of work in our Y7 scheme of work and is what our newest students do each year on starting. They have to collect data about their peers in their new form groups and then work out averages from the data and choose suitable graphs/diagrams to represent their data before writing their own conclusions of their results. This has worked well in the past and it gives the students an opportunity to survey each other, helping them get to know one another. Each class's work is put on display across 2 tables (placed atop other tables).
My colleagues each set out their class' work on the large sugar paper sheets given to them. Work was checked for accuracy and spellings, etc before going up on display.
The work gives the prospective students and their parents an idea of the standard of work produced by Y7 in the first few weeks in Mathematics. They then get set based on our school's baseline assessments and data from the Primary Schools.
In the other room we have lots of Mathsy activities for parents and students to have a go at. The first of which was the Darts challenge. Given 6 darts students/parents were challenged to get a score of more than or equal to 100.
Students were encouraged to mentally add their own scores, which were verified by our supporting Y9 students. If they added correctly and got 100 or more they grabbed themselves a sweet for their efforts.

This dart board is the one I have in my classroom as I often use it for rewards when students have finished work or personally when freshening up my mental Mathematics/getting out my frustrations prior to a class arriving!

There's a fantastic dart board investigation resource on the TES I have done a few times too, nearer the end of the school year, that is worth a look. Check it out here. Every Mathematics classroom needs a dartboard in my view!

The good ol' Horse Race. For those who don't roll two dice add the scores on the dice together and that's the numbered 'horse' that moves forward one square in the grid. You keep going until one horse makes it out of the grid. The students/parents/student helpers are the 'horses' and I/the student helpers roll the two large foam dice to generate the numbers. Lots of fun and engagement from our visitors and throughout the rolling (the dice take a while to stop) we have lots of discussions around which 'horse' should win, which is most likely, which 'horse' can't win and why, etc. I use a random dice generator website on my iPad to speed up the rolling! The large dice are there to emphasise that a 6 on the first dice and a 4 on the second is a different outcome to a 4 on the first dice and a 6 on the second, etc.

Higher or Lower!
The standard 'Generation Game' higher or lower activity where students/parents get given a card (on the far left) and they have to then choose whether the card to the right of it will be higher or lower than that card. If they get all the way to the right end of the table they get a prize.
This gets them thinking about the cards that are higher or lower than the one they're on and what the chances are of them getting it right. Of course, they also have a chance of getting the same card and therefore losing either way.
Mathematical board games. Over the summer holidays students were all given 'Summer Work' to do. Our Y8 students going into Year 9 were tasked with creating their own Mathematical board game based around Time. These were some of our favourite games that were produced and so we thought it only right that they be displayed at Open Evening for others to see and have a go at.
Some students, including those chosen here, put in a lot of effort with their 'Summer Work' and you could easily see hours of work that had gone into their games.
The Frogs Problem is one I have used lots at our Y2 Problem Solving days, but the frogs are also great to look at and were well placed here too. The students and parents were tasked with moving the green frogs to the right lily pads and the purple frogs to the left lily pads by only sliding a frog to a vacant lily pad or hoping a frog over a frog of the opposite colour. The shortest number of moves to correctly swap the frogs over creates a nice sequence when increasing/decreasing the number of frogs on either side of the central lily pad. Although the work on the generation of the sequence and the nth term of said sequence is probably too advanced for Y6 students it shows that from a simple task/activity it can lead to some quite high Mathematics.
I had to investigate the frogs problem on my GTP course and so I like that it has it's place at our open evening. What I should do next time, is dig out my old coursework on it to display alongside it for any parents/students that are curious as to what I'm rambling on about when I start talking about sequences!

So that's what we did at Open Evening this year amongst talking to students and parents. This, of course, was the most rewarding part of the evening - talking to our prospective parents and students. It was also great to see some familiar faces with our y11s that left last year showing up throughout the evening to say hello, and thank you for helping them get their C+ grades, etc. It made the long day worthwhile!

It would be great to hear what other schools did for their Open Evenings this year. Our Science department were dissecting stuff and blowing things trying to compete with that is always going to be tricky, plus all the student helpers end up down in PE doing sports! I think we did good and like I said at the start of this post...there's definitely a buzz around our school at the moment!

Y6 Problem Solving Day 2016

On Tuesday I hosted our school's annual Y6 Problem Solving Day, read more about the previous Y6 problem solving days I have run here. We had 5 of our local feeder schools join us for a morning of activities. Here are the activities I ran this year...

As there were 5 schools there were 5 bases for them to rotate around and then at the end of the day we did the usual team challenge...The Marshmallow Challenge!

Base 1 - 'Crossing the River'
This activity is well known and I found a nice introduction to the problem on the TES and used this as the 'base instructions'. I then cut out and laminated some of the characters in the resource to be used by the children to try and solve the problem. I managed to find a piece of blue scrap plastic to act as the 'river', but this could have been improved...especially if I had a boat too that they could have used to put the laminate pieces in.
The resource I used can be found at:
Thank you to TES user cariad2

Most schools finished this one in 5-10 minutes so I asked a few extra questions on this base once they had finished to throw in a few extra scenarios. i.e. what if the fox could row the boat, can you safely get everyone across the river then? Does it take fewer or more steps if possible? What if the fox also ate the grain as well as the hen? Is it possible to get everyone across safely...etc.

Base 2 - 'Charlie's Shoes'
Another resource I found on the TES. This one I liked as the 9 grid of statements the children had to read through included some that were important to the problem and others that were not. They had to read the 9 statements and then answer the question given on one of the cards. I tweaked the wording of the cards slightly to suit the age and ability of the students. The hardest part of this task was to find an original price of the shoes based on a sale being 30% off. I briefed the teachers of each school prior to starting the task as to how they might support the students with this and then let them guide them from there.
The resource is available at:
Thank you to TES user altypotter

You may have noticed the whiteboard books on each table and their accompanying correctable whiteboard pens. These are available from the Magic Whiteboard company. We have a class set of these for each teacher and are used in various ways in our lessons. You may want to read up on my previous blog post about these here.

Base 3 - 'Locked Up'
This activity was one my GTP mentor (Richard Cottyn) used to do as an end of term activity with his classes. It is one I am still very fond of, that creates a high level of challenge for students. The activity is based around a locked bag within which there is a prize. The lock is a 4-digit combination lock that students have to try and unlock. The students answer questions, in my activity they had 8 money based questions to answer. The sum of all 8 questions' answers should then give them the 4-digit code for the lock. All I did was write (took some questions from a text book) and ensured their combined answers added to the 4-digit code of the lock.
The students got very engaged with this activity and when getting the final answer wrong had to go back over their answers to check which was wrong. This I love as it got them checking eachother's answers and working together as a team to ensure they had all 8 answers correct before trying the code again. I put some sweets in the locked bag that, if they unlocked the lock, they could eat as they continued around the bases.
The questions I used can be downloaded here. (The number trail in question 8 was intended to be done from left to right and not applying the laws of BIDMAS).

The bag I used was found in my office (I think it was an old laptop bag). The combination lock was @MissJoyceMaths' gym lock...our Y9 helpers all now know when her birthday is!

Base 4 - 'Crack-a-lacking'
For this activity I used a 1-26/a-z codebreaker to set up a code for the students to crack. There were 26 questions (a-z) for them to answer, each with a corresponding number between 1 and 26. I made sure that a) did not equal 1 and b) didn't equal 2, etc so they had to think about it. The questions I used can be found here. The questions were all about properties of numbers and key number facts, etc. Once the students had their answers they new which letters to put in place of the numbers in the code that was on the instructions sheet. The code I used can be found here and can be edited for your own use. The code read 'Don't eat the marshmallow in the team challenge, you'll need it to win'.

What I liked about the code was that it did not contain every letter of the alphabet. So, although students may have worked out that the answer to question b) was 1, there were no 1s in the code and therefore no letter bs either. This got them thinking.

Base 5 - 'All Four 6'
The only remaining base activity from last year's problem solving day.
The students had 4 of each of the numbers between 1 and 9 and using any operation they liked had to make the 4 1s, 4 2s, 4 3s, etc, all equal 6. There were a lot of brackets used around the numbers and operations to ensure BIDMAS was applied correctly.
The 'All four 6' sheet is here if anyone would like to use it.

The students had a copy of the all four 6 sheet and the code to crack attached to the back of their answer pack, which is available by clicking on one of the previous links for the questions used in base 3 or 4.

Here's a picture of the students getting stuck into the first rotation of the bases...

We usually use our 'study centre' (school library) to host the event as there is plenty of space for all the children/staff. Luckily we were able to use this space again.

I was very fortunate that 8 of our Y9 students supported the event and were fantastic throughout. Each of them supported a school and then the left over students circulated between the schools offering help and obviously helped me out on the day too including escorting the children to and from our reception and tidying up the study centre afterwards. These students then helped out the department at our school's Open Evening later that week on Thursday.

Finally...The Marshamallow Challenge

20 pieces of spaghetti, 1m of string, 1m of sellotape, a couple of pairs of scissors and a marshmallow. The the tallest structure possible in 30 mins with the marshmallow supported at the top of the structure. The height of each school's structure was measured and this height then gave them points to contribute towards their overall total from the 5 bases.

Here are my Y9 helper's attempts...

An ingenious use of the scissors to support the structure here!

This one stood standing the far!

Later in the year I will be running our Y2 Problem Solving Day, see previous posts about this here and here. Our school also do a cross-curricular Y5 carousel day that we will be providing a session for. More about these in due course.
Thanks for reading and I hope the resources are of use.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Numeracy Ninjas

Massively inspired by this tweet by Jon O'Neil (@jonsmcest)
I have been putting up our very own Numeracy Ninjas Display this week.

If you are not familiar with Numeracy Ninjas then you must check out their website now and have a look at their free resource.
The numeracy intervention is working wonders at our school and we have all of our set 3 and 4 students across KS3 doing the programme. We typically have 3 or 4 classes on each side of our year groups and so we are mainly using with our 'lower-ability' groups.

The kids have taken to the Ninjas really well and after trialing the intervention programme in the first half term of the school year we were all happy to continue with it. I, personally, only have 1 KS3 class doing the 'Ninjas' and it has been a godsend in getting them in and settled and working silently for a sustained period of time. So much so, that I now do this with them every lesson, rather than just once a week like we started doing at the start of the year. The reason for this was that, without the Ninjas, the class just took ages to get settled and were very rarely quiet for sustained periods of time. Now, we have a good 10-15 minutes each lesson of focused numeracy.

After running the ppt for the 5 minute duration each session I go over the answers, the kids find out their scores/belt and then I choose 4-5 of the 'Key Skills' questions to go over as a class - some of these are chosen by the students as they ask how to do certain questions. This time is, in my opinion, the most beneficial as it is the moment where they get feedback from me and are learning more ways to do their basic numeracy. We discuss methods used by those students that answered the questions chosen correctly and I then tell them how I saw the question(s) and how I would approach them.

We have been doing the Ninjas in little A5 booklets in 10-session blocks. Each 10-session booklet has a table on the back where they can record their scores/belts. This makes it really visible as to how well they are doing and the progress can easily be seen.
I have even found other ways of using the class' numeracy Ninja results and building these into my class' learning. When covering unit 3 of our SoW (charts and diagrams), I got students to: draw a pie chart to represent the colour belts they had achieved in that 10 week session; draw a time series graph for their  results and we briefly looked at trend lines and tried to predict what score/belt they would get next session and we looked at averages too.
By linking their numeracy Ninjas intervention into their 'normal' learning it has helped keep them focused and engaged.

Now I have put up the display, inspired by Jon's, the students each have a ninja with their name on it tagged to the display board. Each week I will update the board if a student needs to move up (or down) to a different belt.
We have also bought in some of the rewards from the website. We have pencils and postcards that we have started giving students who have made a significant improvement, or have consistently achieved highly. These have been gratefully received so far.

 Here's the display board...
and again.

I have started to put the word out to staff about the display too, giving out a message in our staff briefings about the ninjas display and to get students to keep looking at the board/asking their teachers to move them up (or down) when appropriate. They're there for all staff to see and so my hope is that staff will see where particular students are, perhaps those that are in their form group or just those they are familiar with, and comment on how they're doing...'Joe, I notice you're on a red belt in your numeracy ninjas'...'Nicki, well done for getting a black belt, there's not many students on that belt is there...', etc! This should help encourage students and keep them engaged with their numeracy and motivate them to do better.

One of my students did say this week - 'oh sir, is this just one of those things that gets updated for the first week or so and then that's it'. No, no it won't be! I will aim to update the board as much as I can, at least after each 10-session booklet where we can take the modal belt for those sessions, or, for the classes that only do the ninjas once every week, their last score.
The only thing I can see 'negative' about the board is that for those students at the bottom it is a bit of a 'wall of fame and shame' - lets hope that instead of this we can encourage those students lower down to get into the green belt section (at least) and take every opportunity to move them up!

I love the Numeracy Ninjas and it has been a massive boost to improving students numeracy and engaging them in their Mathematics lessons in general.
I'm sure there will be future posts on how we are using the Numeracy Ninjas at our school.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Teaching Trigonometry

Before the end of Term 1, I attended the #Christmaths event that @mathsjem organised up in London. Unfortunately, I was a bit late getting there and so missed a few of the presentations, but did manage to catch @Kris_Boulton's presentation. He got me thinking about how I taught Trigonometry and whether this was the right approach/best approach to it. What Kristopher said made a lot of sense...he suggested that the way in which we teach topics makes a big difference to whether students really understand what they are being asked to do or whether they have just temporarily learnt a process/method to follow, which is often later forgotten, leading to you having to teach the topic all over again.

Our Y11s had their mock examinations before Christmas and I had marked these before the #Christmaths event and so knew that my Y11s hadn't answered correctly the trigonometry question that was on their paper(s), despite being taught it last year, and most didn't even attempt the question...nothing. So, when I heard Kristopher talking, I thought about how I had taught them Trig and what I could do next time when teaching it to my current Y10s so the topic sticks next time. Kristopher was discussing about how we shouldn't be re-teaching topics every school year and that if we taught it 'right' the first time round, there wouldn't need to waste time re-teaching the topic(s). I know I'm going to have to go over trig with my Y11s again, before their actual GCSEs, so I decided to try my best to improve how I teach this topic to my Y10s so I'm not in the same position next year.

When planning the lessons, I've also incorporated some of the changes to the NEW 1-9 GCSE and I've made the lessons suitable for Foundation students too, when I need to cover this with them (probably, later on in their Y11 year). Initially, though, I have taught the below unit of work/series of lessons to my Higher set 2 Y10s.

Here's my new approach/how I've tweaked things...
This resource is available FREE on my TES resources if you think it would be useful when teaching the topic yourself! See here:

The lessons are all on SMART Notebook and on each slide I have 'pull tabs' that allowed me to refer back to learning outcomes, the trig formulae and other self assessment activities at the end of a series of tasks/questions.

I start the series of lessons/unit of work by getting students to measure lengths of similar right-angled triangles and divide pairs of these lengths by each other and see what they find. I then held a discussion with the class as to what they found and why the numbers come out the same, what this means, etc.
After I have discussed this, the ratios between different side lengths being the ratios, sin, cos and tan I then got the students to just focus on labeling the sides of right-angled triangles, dependent on where the angle is.

 After they had comfortably understood the labeling of the sides I then gave the class some examples of how to find the missing length of a right-angled triangle using the sin ratio. During the examples, I refer back to the measuring task at the start of the lesson, bring up my Casio calculator emulator to discuss the importance of typing in the calculations correctly (using brackets), used the SOH triangle and linked to SDT/physics lessons and even referred to the sin graph. I just drew this on the board when a question cropped up about what sin (34) or sin (27) was...I drew the graph and wrote the 90, 180, 270 and 360 angles on the x axis and then drew a line up to the 'wave' and across to the axis to roughly show the value of it, we checked it on the calculator, etc.

 All of the above additions/discussions continued or came up when students were then answering questions themselves.
These slides had 6 questions on them, 3 finding the opposite length and 3 finding the hypotenuse so they'd have to use the SOH triangle both 'ways'.
I got students to round to 3sf at all times as this is something we had covered previously in the year and I wanted them to continue practising this skill as the questions often ask for this degree of accuracy.
There were plenty of opportunities to discuss the rounding to 3sf too, when the answers were, say 8.99542 and the answer would end up 9.00, or when 8.596 came up as the answer and they had to round to 8.60...when they included 0s, when they didn't consider them 'significant', etc.

When introducing COS, after having covered finding a missing angle using SIN in a similar way; with me giving examples, showing them the emulator on the board and typing in the calculations, why we use 'shift SIN' and what that meant (what the inverse function was), etc...again drawing back to the graph and showing certain values on here, I gave students some basic notes to copy into their ex books. They had  a similar set of notes to write for SIN.
 After covering the slides/lessons on SIN and COS, finding both missing lengths and angles I did a plenary style task whereby students had to identify whether to use SIN or COS - I found students were discussing why it could/couldn't be one of them based on what they were shown quite a bit here and they were convincing each other whether they should or shouldn't stand up.
 I then gave them more practice questions, but this time they had to decide which of SIN/COS to use and whether they were finding opposite, adjacent or hypotenuse. I used the 'pull tabs' lots here, referring back to the formulae for each.
The NEW 1-9 GCSE includes students knowing exact trig identities, so at the start of one lesson I just put all the trig values students need to know on the board and asked them to write down exactly what came up on their calculator (not to press the S->D button)!
After revealing the answers I dropped the bombshell  that they had to remember each of these and be able to recall them in their actual GCSE (just like their times tables)! I said we'd do a timestablesesque quiz soon to test their memory of these. I wrote them on the board so that they could see a pattern between the values. By putting SIN, then COS, SIN, then COS from 0 degrees to 90 degrees you get a pattern emerge - see the slide. I said as long as they remember the first 5 they just reverse the order of the answers for the 2nd 5. As for the TAN values...I just said they'd have to remember these as they were as I didn't see a better way of remembering them!? Has anybody any ways of them remembering these?

In the next set of questions, there was one which comes out as cos-1 (8/16), so cos-1 (1/2) when finding one of the missing angles - at this point I referred back to the trig identities and asked if anyone would know what the answer would be before we even typed it into the calculator, based on what we had done before. Some then had a 'light bulb' moment, shouting out 60 with glee!!

Once all 3 had been covered, in the same way, keeping the consistency between my approach each lesson so the only thing that was changing was SIN/COS/TAN or what length/angle we were working with, rather than the style of questions, ppt/resource I used, etc, I then gave them a mixture of questions where they had to decide upon what ratio and what they were working out, emphasising that they would not be told which to use in their examinations.
I then gave them some extended problems that used a combination of triangles and needed the use of Pythagoras or Trig.
That's where I'm up to now. I have only just (after 5 lessons) mentioned SOHCAHTOA and have set them the homework task on the resource to find a suitable mnemonic for them to figure out which one to use for any question they're asked.
Next...I plan on giving them more basic practice questions where they have to decide which to use/work out. Then, I will be giving them some contextualised questions include bearings and combinations of triangles using a different set of resources I have used in the past - just a worksheet of 'wordy' questions. As I understand it...Foundation students will be given a 'simple' type question where they are merely given a right-angled triangle and asked to find a missing length or angle. The 'wordy' contextualised questions with other topics combined with them will be saved for the Higher tier?!

So, I did manage at one point to refer back to our work on Surds and hinted at the fact they may get you to use the trig identities in surd form to calculate a missing side/angle and put your answer in surd form. This went slightly over their heads and may have been too much at that point in that lesson when they had only just been told about knowing these 'off the top of their heads'!

I felt much more confident lesson to lesson when teaching the topic this time round. I thought more about how I was teaching it as I went through the lessons and covered many more questions/misconceptions as I previously had as the students weren't just given SOHCAHTOA in the first lesson and told a method/process to follow as I may have done in previous years...basically just teaching them how to answer a question, without much understanding of what/why they were doing what they were told.
I will see, soon, whether this approach/series of lessons has had an impact. We are following Pearson's 2-year SoW and I'm currently up to Unit 5. In their Unit 5 assessment there are plenty of trig questions that will test their understanding and, of course, in future past papers we give them/specimen papers I'll see if it has 'stuck' this time and hopefully, they won't need teaching it next year.

Please let me know if you've found this useful or have used this resource. There are bits of the resource that I have collated from other teachers...I've used a few of the fantastic Diagnostic Questions from Craig Barton and there are a few slides from other TES users too, which, if they are you (I can't remember who/where I got them from) please let me know so I can give you a mention/shout out here!

New Y11 Display - Key Info/QOTW

Last week I put up a 'new' display in our corridor. I say 'new' as the display has been up since the start of the school year...we just hadn't written anything on it until recently.
So, I found some very rare spare time last week and decided to start writing important information for our Y11s. The board is directly outside our ICT suite, which each class uses once a fortnight and is in the centre of our department, so the chances of the information being seen/used is pretty high!

I have just put the dates of the actual GCSE exams, the dates of their next assessments (1st week back after half-term) and then a 'Question of the Week' (QOTW). These questions will be taken from their mock examinations that were completed before Christmas. The one I chose first was the algebraic proof question you can see in the image below, as a few of our 'top set' students have been asking about this topic.

I will aim to update this and change the question each week, oh and patch up the hole that has been created (students generally line up outside the room and so their bags, etc, rub against the display...bit of a pain)!

I wanted to write this post following @mathsjem's Twitter chat this week about displays and add to what I've previously written about the display's in my room/our department this year (see here and here).

Thursday, 20 August 2015

just a teacher, trying to be better

In the early hours of this year's 'GCSE results day' I found myself awake, unable to sleep, in anticipation of today's revelations. Now, this is not just down to the anxiety of finding out how my students have done, but also just because my holiday sleeping pattern doesn't even entertain starting until at least 2am!
So, without even knowing how my students had fared this year and having read copious amounts of tweets concerned about grade boundaries, I found myself thinking about next next year's Year 11s will do, how I can make sure they do as best they can with their Mathematics and how they can get the grades they need for college/life after school.

I'm just a teacher, trying to be better and here are a few of the things that I will try to be better at this coming academic year...
(some of these are specific to teaching Mathematics, others are more general, but all are things I will either continue to do, improve upon or try)

As a Mathematics teacher it's kind of expected that I'd teach numeracy in every single Mathematics lesson, but I know there is more that I can do when teaching numeracy. I see gaps in students' basic numeracy all the time, regardless of whether they are in Y7 or Y11. Much like, for an English teacher, teaching spelling, punctuation and grammar in every English lesson, numeracy is a key part of my subject that needs approaching and discussing as it comes up in lessons. Even more so, it needs teaching as a separate part of lessons for the weaker students who's lack of basic numeracy stops them from accessing the more complex topics in Mathematics.
So, this year I will aim to, wherever possible, ask students how they have done their calculations - what strategies they used to do them and how else they could have approached them by comparing their method(s) with others in the class. For example, when having to subtract 17 from 42 how did they do that - did they take 10 away from the 40 and then 7 away from the remaining 32? Did they 'count on' from 17 until they got to 42 - and how did they do that? By adding 3 first to 17 to get to 20 and then a further 20 to 40 and then the final 2? Or did they group the numbers differently, and why? I still find ways of doing calculations that I hadn't considered before and possibly didn't use at school myself/weren't taught, so my students are bound to hear ways to do 'sums' that they hadn't used previously too.
This year I am only teaching Y9, 10 and 11, but I do have the lowest set in one of my Y9 classes. So, I'm planning on using @Maths_Master's 'Numeracy Ninjas' with this class. I aim to use this in the first term with this class to set the 'Mathematical building blocks' that they will need before attempting the more complex topics. Ideally, this skills will have been developed in Y7 and 8 and they'll already be numerate, but classes like these need to constantly go over the basics to retain them. So, I will run the Numeracy Ninjas as starters to our lessons and watch their progress, hopefully seeing them become more numerate and prepared for their GCSE course (we'll be doing the new GCSE over 3 years from Y9). I'll be showing my department the Numeracy Ninjas and seeing if any would like to trial it with their Y7/8 class(es) - or see if our HLTAs could use it in their intervention sessions with students. I think it's a great idea and can already see students aiming for a 'black belt' in Numeracy - I know I already want one!
Another resource I will use to develop students numeracy is the @Corbettmaths 5-a-day Numeracy questions. I believe in the 'little, often' approach and so these questions will be great for weekly homework(s) or as starters in computer room lessons/lessons.

Problem Solving in Mathematics
Similar to how I'll be asking students how they approach their numeracy I will be aiming to develop students' problem solving skills in Mathematics. Students will need to be able to approach problems when entering the big wide world and will need to think about them, come up with a suitable approach and apply their knowledge to them. Students will rarely leave school and need to use the quadratic formula or find the sum of the interior angles of a regular polygon, but what they will need are the problem solving skills needed to look at a problem, think about what it is they've been asked, what information they have been given and what they know that could help them with it. When I get the dreaded 'when am I ever going to need this' question I usually come back with a statement/suggestion that it is more the approach to the problem/topic they are studying that they'll use in their future as opposed to the explicit rule/theorem itself, therefore preparing them. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't! 
There is a greater emphasis on these types of questions in the GCSE examinations and as such, students need to be prepared for them. Questions that involve a scenario of some kind, various bits of vague information and a statement to prove right or wrong or 'show...'; those questions that are more implicit than explicit...they don't just say 'write this number in Standard Form', they have to work out what it is they need to do/use.
So, in order to develop these skills with my students I will use a 3-step approach similar to that on an AQA poster I received free at a recent #mathsconf.

I have this poster on display in my new classroom to refer to, and will, when students are presented with a question like I've described above.
I'll also be using AQA's 90 problem solving questions document wherever possible when teaching my GCSE classes (so all of my classes!) topics that these questions link to. Edexcel also have plenty of resources on the Emporium that I'll be using and I'm sure I'll find some resources on the TES too.

Dispelling the Mathematical Myths

'maths is difficult'
'maths is hard'
'maths is boring'
'I wasn't very good at maths when I was their age'
'I don't need maths for what I'm going to do'
'I hated maths when I was at school' <--all these films Hollywood have produced (beware...some naughty words)! Thanks to @ddmeyer for this.

Oh and my current favourite comment from the #ChineseSchool
Teacher: 'What is Trigonometry'?
Student: 'Dicking about with triangles!'

Some/all of the above phrases/comments are bound to have been heard by all Mathematics teachers, at some point, as our subject does have a stigma attached to it. Negativity. Students, parents and even our colleagues can be heard saying these phrases and we (as Mathematics teachers) need to do all we can to dispel these myths/statements. It may be too big a battle to face, but I'll try and we all should. It still seems people are happy to say they're 'bad at maths' or were 'rubbish at maths', whereas they'd be horrified to admit they couldn't read or write. So, whenever a negative comment is said towards my subject I will challenge this statement. Every day I will aim to make my lessons as relevant and as engaging as possible so students enjoy doing Maths, but even then it may not be enough...
...I saw, in the local supermarket, a student I taught last year. She was a very able student and left with an A* in her GCSE Mathematics. I asked her how college was and what she hoped for her AS results and then couldn't remember if she'd taken Mathematics or not, so I asked! Her response was 'Oh god no, I hated Maths'! Naturally, I was horrified by this comment as I had taught her in her Y11 year so swiftly replied with 'Really? But you did so well and seemed to enjoy our lessons?' She then, rather kindly, said that she did enjoy the lessons and that the only reason she liked it/did well was because I taught her, but other than that she just didn't really 'like' maths. So, I don't really know what else can be done in these instances - I suppose I'll have to conceded that unlike myself and the other eager teachers of Mathematics around the country, it may not be for everyone?
Nonetheless, I can do my best to dispel the negativity towards my subject - to ask colleagues to be as positive about Mathematics as is possible when students ask them for help in tutor time, etc. In the same way that, for example, when Y9 students ask what 'options' they should choose all I ever do is say what I chose and why (because of my personal preferences/goals, etc), but would never deter/direct them from/to taking a certain subject.
Last year, I did a Mathematics assembly to each year group loosely based on how they can be better at Mathematics, when/where they can get support from us and (for the older students) how they should/could be preparing for their exams/mocks. I will be doing an assembly to each year group this year too and will try and focus on their approach/attitudes to their Mathematics this year...more on this nearer the time.

Making Mistakes
I will continue to ensure students know that it is OK to make mistakes in Mathematics. That we learn from these mistakes and they're key to us improving and learning. I wrote a blog post about the @magicwhiteboard reusable notebooks we have got for this year and these will be used by students to do their workings in class. They'll use them to do their work, make mistakes, rub them out, try again, make mistakes, ask for help, try again, get the question right and then repeat. They'll learn throughout this process and the perseverance to get from stuck to unstuck will be key in them learning new skills and becoming better Mathematicians.
I have a 'growth mindset' display up in my room this year and I'm trying to develop this with my students. The word 'yet' will be used more regularly when students state they 'can't do it', I will retort with a 'yet'. I will focus on students having put in lots of effort and for having improved or having tried hard, as opposed to just praising those for having got the highest grades or having completed all the work/getting all questions correct.
I will get students to challenge each other and question whether something one student has said is correct or not. The phrase 'do you agree [name]...?' will be used more in class when using @TeacherToolkit's Pose Pause Pounce Bounce in my questioning.
I'll also be using my favourite starter 'My Favourite No' ( <-- click to read previous post where I mention this) in class a lot more this year to cover misconceptions, highlight the importance of making mistakes and learning from them and encouraging students to try and that they'll be rewarded for doing so.

the new GCSE content
Oh yes! These new topics will be covered/taught for the first time this year and for our department we'll have to discuss these together in our meetings as to how we'll teach them to different classes. Some of us, me included, will be teaching some topics for the first time and won't have come across them since our own A-Levels/schooling. I haven't taught Mathematics post-GCSE so there will be a fair amount of 'brushing up' on some of these new topics, which I'm not ashamed to admit - I don't know everything 'Mathematics' by any means and am still finding links with current GCSE topics and discovering things/ways of teaching topics I'd never considered before.
Luckily for me, in my NQT year I worked at a school that did Edexcel's Linked Pair Pilot qualification and I taught the 'Methods' part of this qualification in that year and so have experience with topics like Venn Diagrams and Set Notation. At #mathsconf4 I took part in a session on the new GCSE content and the linked pair pilot was highlighted as a good place to get resources/past questions for teaching and preparing students for these topics, so I'll be using these to collect questions for use in class.

Furthermore, we are all extremely lucky that there are amazing Mathematics teachers already putting together resources and support materials for teachers on the new GCSE content.
@JustMaths have a whole host of blog posts already aimed at teaching the new 1-9 topics. Here's an example of their 'Error Intervals' post. They also have posts on Frequency Trees, Binomials and the SAMs for each examining body, just go to their blog here.
@mathsjem has been collating resources for each of the new topics on a whole page on her website here and it will definitely be a 'go-to' resource when looking for ideas/help with the new content. Jo has spent so much time putting everything together on her site and will no doubt be saving me hours of time and probably countless of other Mathematics teachers time too. So thank you to both Jo and JustMaths for all the work they've been doing on these - you're lifesavers!

Getting the kids Mathematical equipped
Over the course of the last few years it's been a right pain nagging students to remember to bring their calculators and other Mathematical equipment (protractors, compasses, rulers, etc) to each of our lessons. Some students have them every lesson without fail, but others rarely come properly equipped and have to borrow equipment. We don't have class sets of calculators in our school, although we do now have 1 class set of calculators to use if/when needed, but if we're all teaching Y11 at the same time (well, half of them anyway) there's no logistical way of us all using them - so we're reliant on the kids getting themselves organised. However, that's the problem - some of them lack this organisation and constantly turn up without (mainly) their calculators. This then either means they get lent one of the few calculators I own personally, work with their partner and share a single calculator or don't use one altogether. This has a massive affect on their learning and their ability to familiarise themselves with a single calculator and be proficient in using it come their examinations.
So, in a bid to emphasise the need for students to have this equipment for their exams I will continue to dish out detentions for forgotten equipment, but I've also already sent a letter to all Y9 (going into Y10) students highlighting what equipment they'll need for their GCSE Mathematics and how to order them cheaper via the school shop. We had a fair amount of orders in before we broke for the Summer and so hopefully there will be more students this year that come properly equipped to lessons.
Today I saw the importance of this as one student in our Y11s, having got 32 marks on the non-calculator paper, only got 16 marks on the calculator paper, which seems very odd and was our only real 'shock' result in terms of what was expected. Now, the low mark could be down to other factors, but I'd be willing to bet it had something to do with them either not having a calculator in their exam (although I checked with our exam's officer and she couldn't recall anyone not having one) or they just didn't know how to use it properly?! 

Homework & Cultivating Independent Learning - little, often?
As I've said above I do believe in the 'little, often' approach to learning and this applies with homework too. In the past year I've tried varying approaches to the type of homework I set. I'm a massive fan of @TeacherToolkit's #takeawayhomework approach and will be using this again this year. I've had some fantastic work back from students using this approach and being given the choice and freedom as to how much they do each week to accumulate the required amount of 'chillies' across a half term, say, has worked well with my students. Equally, I have used 10 question homework sheets (available in my free TES resources here and here) with my Y11s to go over those 'bread and butter' topics and these have worked well too.
This year I may try giving homework to one of my classes every lesson, but just give them a small amount each night - say 1 or 2 questions to attempt before our next lesson where we'd start the lesson by going over the question in class and addressing any issues. I got this idea from a colleague I did my GTP with (@andydcodling) who is doing this at his school (my old GTP school). I liked the idea and so will see how it works with one of my classes and reflect on its benefits.
I'm also aiming to use the PRET homeworks far more this year than I have previously as I like the format of them and they cover a broad range of skills. @mathsjem has collated all of these homeworks on a website for teachers to use. Check them out at

All of last year we offered our students after-school and lunchtime support with their Mathematics every Friday (and, of course, teachers did other sessions as and when students asked for help) and this has made a massive impact for those students that turned up every week - outperforming some of their peers who didn't want to take advantage of the support. We'll be continuing this this year and I've put together a poster advertising the support sessions that will be put on display in each of our classrooms. This will hopefully encourage students to come and seek the support when needed and also get them to take a more proactive approach with their learning.

Linking Mathematical concepts together
Topics don't just appear as separate entities in the GCSE examinations and neither should they. There are so many links between the topics we teach in Mathematics and this is no better shown than in @Maths_Master's info-graphic/diagram on his website, which shows all the links between topics. Check it out here.
Wherever possible I will attempt to make these links in my teaching. Combining area of a rectangle with multiplying & simplifying surds by putting the length/width of the rectangle in surd form. Combining algebra with, well pretty much any topic - probability, similarity of shapes, volume of shapes, etc.
The most recent, quite controversial, example of this was of course...'Hannah's Sweets' (my ex-fiancé's name coming back in exam form to haunt me), a question that combined probability, forming expressions, fractions and forming and solving quadratic equations.

'There are n sweets in a bag.
6 of the sweets are orange.
The rest of the sweets are yellow.

Hannah takes at random a sweet from the bag.
She eats the sweet.

Hannah then takes at random another sweet from the bag.
She eats the sweet.

The probability that Hannah eats two orange sweets is 1/3
(a) Show that n^2 - n - 90 = 0

(b) Solve n^2 - n - 90 = 0 to find the value of n'

Our students clearly need training and exposure to these sorts of scenarios and being able to link topics/concepts together to answer questions. So, where possible I will look to create scenarios/questions similar to the ones recently seen in exam papers in order to prepare students as best I can. The linked pair pilot papers, additional mathematics papers and exam board resources should all be rich sources of these type of questions.

Life without levels! This is one area that my school is a bit 'up in the air' about at present (with our KS3 that is). We will be adopting an 'EDSM' (Emerging, Developing, Securing, Mastery) model for assessing students progress in KS3 and so this will affect our Y7 and 8s. Our Y9-11 will be doing their GCSE Mathematics. Y11 on the outgoing spec, Y10 on the 2-year new 1-9 GCSE and Y9 the first year group to start the 3-year new 1-9 GCSE. So, there's a lot to keep track of, assess and review.
We have purchased Pearson's ActiveTeach and ActiveLearn product and so will be using their assessments for our Y9 and Y10. Our Y11s will continue with the outgoing spec as the last few years have done and they'll be 'past papered' up until their actual exams.
As for KS3, they'll also be using Pearson's assessments, but as to how we'll be reporting to parents I don't actually know as of yet - so this is one area I'll need to get my head around when going back and I'll trust it'll all be explained when we get back, if not - we'll 'Matherise' their assessments to what we need and ensure we know where the students are to prepare them for their GCSE Mathematics.
I do know that in KS4 our students will be doing termly/half termly assessments, these will all be tracked, students highlighted for interventions and our wonderful HLTAs involved. We fit all our assessments around the school calendar so we always have a set of 'results' to report to parents either via interim/full reports or parents' evening and this will continue next year.

Sharing best practice
The frequency of my blog posts has dropped over the past year or so due to me naturally picking up more responsibility with the day job. I like to think I still make time as much as I can to blog about my teaching of Mathematics and will look to do as much as I can this year, although I am minded that being Head of Department will bring its own pressures and this may affect my blogging.
However, I am keen to share my department's progress, ideas and struggles - there are plenty of you out there who have supported me in my teaching career so far and I know that over the next few years as I try to figure out what I'm doing I'll need the support and expertise of the Mathematics teachers on Twitter/in my local PLN. I consider myself very lucky to be able to communicate with so many fantastic people all over the country and it is no doubt that I have developed as a teacher as a result. I can't imagine having taught the past 3-4 years without the online support, guidance and resources that I have received/used, so thanks to everyone that has tweeted me, commented on my blog, spoken to me at #mathsconf or local maths meetings or TeachMeets, etc - you're all awesome!
My school is one of 3 in our local area that is linked together in what I like to call a 'Tri-Wizard Tournament'. We have joint INSETs at times in the school year and have (I think) 3 joint planning meetings after-school this year. I'm planning on using these as best we can to share good practice, but as they are not compulsory I'm hoping that the other 2 schools do want to meet up and share their ideas - perhaps in a TeachMeet sort of fashion with each of us sharing, say 2-3 ideas each, from as many of our Mathematics staff as possible - I think it could be really quite good. But, when thinking about the 'Tri-Wizard' meetings I'm thinking 'why stop there'?! Why not invite our other local schools, where I have contacts, to join us and collaborate together. I've been lucky enough to work in 3 other local schools in my time either on placements whilst training or as a full member of staff. I've also been very lucky to mentor some fantastic ITTs this year/last (you guys know who you are) and their schools aren't a million miles away from ours! So, if I can, I'll look to gather everyone together - just the Maths departments, talking about Maths!

So there you have it - the whirlwind of thoughts currently whizzing their way around my head. All of the above are the things I'm going to try and be better at this year, the things I'll try to improve on in order to provide the best Mathematics education I can to our students.
I hope this post (if you've stayed with me and have actually got this far) is of use to others - it'd be great to read/see the thoughts of others as the school year approaches, so drop me a comment below or a tweet @mrprcollins if you've written anything similar or have any 'golden nuggets'!