Thursday, 31 October 2013

Year 6 Problem Solving Day

Right in the middle of the first half term of the school year I helped host, and organise, a Year 6 Problem Solving Day for my school's local primary schools. In all, we invited 6 of our local primaries and each brought with them 4 students and 1 member of staff. The day ran fantastically well with all schools feeding back positively on the day and in the subsequent online survey that I sent round. However, without the help and support of our mathematics faculty assistant and my fellow Mathematics teachers the day wouldn't have even gone ahead.

The only downside to running events such as these is the amount of organisation and planning the day takes. For this event we had to (in no particular order):

contact our local primaries, get the names of the students/staff attending
send out details of the day a week before the day itself
book the school's study centre to host the event
enlist the help of our Year 9 prefects to support the Year 6 students on the day
advertise the event in our school's bulletin/the website and in staff briefings
print and write certificates for each student who attended/prefect that supported the event
print out answer booklets for each primary school to use on the day
print off name badges for all involved
arrange parking spaces for the primary school's minibuses
arrange refreshments for our visitors
get a member of SLT to come and award the certificates at the end of the day
ensure everyone knew of fire and safety procedures should we have to use them
seek permission for use of photographs for the school's website
plan all the activities for the day
plan cover for the lessons my colleague and I missed due to running the day...

...and I'm sure there are loads more things that our faculty assistant did behind the scenes that I am unaware of!

However, despite the mammoth task of planning the event (and the time it took up) it was well worth while. I planned all the activities and I used resources I had found on the TES or from tweets that I had seen.
On the day itself the activities were arranged in 6 different bases, each with a different activity. Our primary schools then rotated round the bases in a carousel of activities type style. The schools had 20 minutes to attempt the activity at each base, they wrote down their answer in their answer booklets, reset the activity to how they found it and then advanced to the next base. Each school therefore got to attempt each activity and the results were collated at the end and points awarded for the successful completion of each task.
Each student was then awarded with their certificate at the end of the day and the winners were then announced.

The activities (with all links to the resources used) are listed below, with a brief description of each activity and how/where I found them...

The Factors and Multiples Puzzle @nrichmaths

The Factors and Multiples Puzzle, from the nrich website is one that I have used in class before and set students as a homework task. Each time the students, regardless of age, have found the puzzle challenging and only a few have been able to complete it. The answer (seen in the picture inserted to the left) was uploaded to Twitter by @SmileMaths and they reminded me of the activity when i was looking for inspiration on my Twitter time line. Only 1 school managed to complete the puzzle in the 20 minutes allowed. For this 'base' I took a photo of each teams completed (or partially completed) puzzle and then worked out how many points to award based on the numbers being in the correct row/column. A total of 25 points available!

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge was the most popular 'base' of the day and was an idea I saw tweeted by @ArcherEdTech. The picture to the left was the laminated instructions I gave to the students arriving at the base. I had a lot of our Year 9 students positioned on this base to help measure and cut out 1m of string and tape and to ensure the structure was freestanding at the end of the 20 minutes with the marshmallow on the top. The height was recorded. The winning height was awarded 5 points, 2nd 3 points and 3rd 1 point.
Lost Labels
RSS Centre for Statistical Education

A resource I found on the TES whilst doing my usual resource reviews. When I was planning the activities for the day I wanted to get a mixture of activities that covered the 4 main areas of Mathematics (number, algebra, shape space and measure and data handling). However, the algebra activity was left out as the Year 6 students may not have come across much of this as of yet in their learning of Mathematics. N.B. the day was for any Year 6 student, not necessarily those that were 'gifted and talented' in Mathematics. So, the lost labels task asked students to complete the labels on the axes of a couple of bar charts, just based on a few clues. I like how this task leads to a lot of interpretation of bar charts, decisions as to the scale of the axes etc. 5 points were awarded for each successfully labelled bar chart (10 points on offer here in total)

Murder Mystery

Another resource I found on the TES when doing my resource reviews and when looking for end of term activities at the end of last year. Now, this task was the only one where we had any sort of EBI feedback on. The activity just took too long and therefore not all schools were able to give an answer to this one and had to 'guess' based on the amount they were able to complete. So, in future, if I were to use these sorts of activities again, I would ensure that the activity was completed over 2 bases and therefore allowed more time. Nonetheless, I still think this is a fantastic resource, that I have used with Y7-10 students at the end of term. The task, in an hour lesson, has taken anywhere from 10-60 minutes depending on the ability of the group and the number of students in each group. I think I was hoping that with each school having 4 students and 1 member of staff that if each took one 'clue' and answered it that they'd be able to do it in the time allowed. I may have underestimated this a bit?!

Triangles Mystery

Another idea/activity I saw on my Twitter time line over the Summer, this time tweeted out by @stevenstrogatz. What I really liked about this activity is that it was in the New York Times and this, for me, gave the puzzle a certain gravitas that I feel the students/staff appreciated as they saw it as a puzzle that was trying to be solved elsewhere in the world, and not something I had just thought up/found for them alone. There is more that can be done with this task rather than just the simple nature that I presented it due to the 20 minutes allowed.
It could form the basis of a mathematical investigation to give to students in KS3?
Mathematical Treasure Hunt
Smile Cards

The final activity that I included was one that had been used in the Year 6 Problem Solving Days done in years past. The day had previously been run by a colleague who retired at the end of last school year. I worked with her when working as a cover supervisor and she helped me loads in terms of allowing me to observe her lessons, help plan and run revision sessions for year 11s and I now teach in the room she vacated. I owe a lot to her in terms of my own development and felt that it was important that the day still had something of hers in it. She had left behind her boxes of resources that she used on the problem solving days (there's a year 2 one coming up later in the year) and from these I searched through and used the 'base' numbers she had on each table, the answer booklets and of course, this resource. The resource itself was one from the SMILE cards series, involving students going on a mathematical treasure hunt around the study centre, finding cards with mathematical problems and then finding the card with the answer to that problem on before attempting the problem on that card. The students wrote down the path between the cards and then were awarded points on the correct answer/path. The students enjoyed searching round the study centre for the clues and some of the year 9 prefects helped locate those that I put in obscure places.

In preparing the day I created this ppt with all the resources/instructions etc I needed to print/laminate for the day. If you would like to use them just click the link below (and of course the links above).

My resources -->

As I have said above, the day was a great success. The day ran smoothly, mainly due to the organisation that had gone before it (especially on behalf of our faculty assistant). I was a bit nervy at the start of the day that everyone would turn up and the day itself would go to plan. These worries soon disappeared and the best part of the day was seeing the students attempting the puzzles, asking questions, posing questions to questions asked, talking to staff from our primary schools and enjoying the solving of the problems that were set. There was a definite 'buzz' around the study centre that morning and all students were fully engaged in trying to solve the puzzles/problems given to them. The day ran on time, awards were handed out by one of our SLT members and the winning school took home with them the remaining bag of marshmallows that weren't used in the challenge! They were thrilled!

Since the day itself one of my colleagues has held a meeting with all our local primary schools and the feedback he got on the day was great. He said that staff that didn't even attend the Problem Solving Day were speaking very highly of it due to the fact that the year 6 students that had been on the day went back to their respective schools and were clearly telling their other teachers all about it. This is not only fantastic news for those of us that helped run and organise the day, but also for our school as it puts out a very positive message about the school. We have now had requests for similar days to be run in the future, in addition to the year 6 and year 2 problem solving days we already put on. So, hopefully, it is something we can look to offer on a more regular basis, in different disguises, for other year groups in our primaries, or for groups of students that are enthusiastic about Mathematics.

I, despite the panic and stress of ensuring everything was prepared for the day, thoroughly enjoyed the event and would recommend running a similar event to anyone that is thinking about doing so. I like liaising with our primary schools, the chance to speak to the students who could well be coming to our school in September 2014 and the opportunity to do something 'different' for a few days in the school calendar.

Many thanks again to our faculty assistant (she knows who she is), my colleagues that helped run the day and those that came down (in their free periods) to see what was going on. To the year 9 prefects for supporting and of course to all the year 6 students and their teachers for attending and making the day as good as I could have hoped.

Monday, 28 October 2013

#blogsync Marking: WWW, EBI & INT

This month's blogsync topic is all about marking and all entries can be seen by going to There are already some fantastic entries, none of which I will try to emulate here, but I will give my account of the marking expectations at my school and how I have gone about this task over the past half term.

Follow the #blogsync conversations on Twitter using #blogsync.

On arrival at my school this September I was presented with my very own stamper to use when marking my students' exercise books/work. It is very similar to my own stamper I bought from last year and used when marking...with one slight difference. It wasn't just a What Went Well (WWW) and Even Better If (EBI) stamper but also an 'I Need To (INT) stamper. Here it is...

The significance of the INT part of the stamper is to ensure there is input from the student as to how they are going to action their EBIs that I write based on their work that I mark. The theory is that you get to see a conversation in the students' exercise books where a continuous loop happens with feedback being given, students responding as to how they're going to action their EBIs, evidence of this progress being made in their subsequent work, future feedback on their work with further points to action and so on.

It has taken a while to get used to this system and it is something I have had to not only train myself with, but also my students. When returning students marked work (mainly their homework tasks) I will ask them to look over their WWW and EBI comments and then get them to fill in their INTs. Now this has meant a lot of prodding and guidance as to what constitutes a good 'INT statement' and what is merely copying the EBI that I wrote. For instance, if I have said that a student has added and subtracted fractions well and it'd be EBI they could multiply and divide fractions their INT shouldn't say 'I need to multiply and divide fractions', but must say something along the lines of how they are going to action the EBI. For example, they could put that they are going to look up the topic on mymaths or Manga High. They could say they will stay behind after school on Friday and go to the 'Maths Club' to ask for help. They could look up the topic in one of my YouTube videos, they could ask their tutor (if they are lucky enough to have one). They could ask me for help in/after a lesson. They could look up the topic in a text book etc etc.

Here's an example of the stamper, my WWW and EBI (on a mixed C/B grade h/w sheet) and the students INT comment.

After the students have filled in their INTs 2 things then happen: The first is that when I next take their books in I will check their previous stamp and initial their INT if I feel it is appropriate. If I feel it is not full enough I will suggest something they could do, or provide a bit of extra guidance. For example...

In the below students' h/w he wrote that he needed to look up converting between squared units - fair enough. However, between this time and the next h/w sheet there was no evidence of him having progressed here. So, I wrote a few notes underneath his next stamp and then, following this, he made some additional notes in the back of his book and will look to get this area correct next time round.

This was the original h/w sheet. Here I mark the questions and just tick them if they are correct, cross if not. Sometimes I'll write the correct answers into those that are incorrect, time depending.
I then feedback using the stamper. We are told to try and make the WWW and EBI as objective specific as possible, for example WWW: you are able to add and subtract fractions [grade/level], EBI: you were able to multiply and divide fractions [grade/level]. However, in practice, sometimes this is difficult and I end up putting more vague comments like 'well done, you've got everything correct'. It's these times (when a student does everything well) that it is hard to find an EBI and hard to list everything they did well.

You can see here though that the student identified the need to 'learn how to convert between squared units'

In a following h/w I noticed, having looked back at previous stamps and comments, that the student still hadn't got the converting between squared/cubed units question correct. So, in addition to my usual comments I added a bit of extra feedback and guidance to support the student further.

What resulted was their own notes in the back of their book...

(I'm fully aware this pic is upside down, I have changed its' orientation and tried to insert it multiple times now, but still it wants to stay this way up...Grr)

I'm now awaiting the next h/w sheet to see if they have made progress with this question...fingers crossed.

The 2nd thing that happens after I have done my WWW and EBI marking and the students have done their INTs is that they use their fortnightly computer room lesson to independently go through, look up, and research topics that they need to work on. This could be using mymaths, Manga High, my YouTube channel, BBC bitesize, google, Wolfram Alpha, textbooks etc etc. These fortnightly lessons are used really well to get students to focus on their INTs so they don't merely write them and forget about them.

As a teacher, I am expected to mark each class' books once a fortnight and so each of my class' books have now got somewhere between 3 and 4 stamps in, depending on which week I take them in to mark. Now, I do quite like marking my students books, without it I wouldn't have anywhere near as clear a picture as I do of their work and progress to date. I find it can be therapeutic, but also quite stressful when time doesn't allow you to go through the WWW and EBIs as I'd wish. In order to combat this I have tried to get my students to do their own WWW/EBI and INT feedback. However, there are some students that do not do this so well and so this becomes almost a waste of time, plus I don't get to look over that particular bit of work as much as I would have if I marked it myself.

Plus, there's the same problem when they get full marks...what do they put for their EBI and INT?!

Personally, with the expectations on marking and the inevitability that a member of staff will come into check the books of the class that I perhaps haven't marked as much as others, I feel getting into marking routines is the only way around the workload. It's taken me the best part of the 7 and a half week half term to get into this routine and I now take in each class' books when they have handed in their h/w to me. I take the class' books home that night, mark them, and return them the next day. This means that I mark 3 evenings a week, usually for an hour each time, and then the rest of my time is spent planning lessons/resources etc.

However, there is one 'curve ball' to this Year 11's past GCSE papers. Since the start of the year our Year 11s have now completed 2 GCSE past papers in class as assessments that we use to track their grades and progress. They have had 1 non-calc and 1 calc paper and these, of course, have needed marking too. These papers are marked question-by-question, a total given, a grade and then students fill in AfL sheets in their feedback lesson. In addition, to support my students further, I have been trying to create 'solution videos' for the questions on these papers and sticking them on my YouTube channel. All this takes time, but in the long run (I hope) will be beneficial to my students.

All the marks and grades from these h/w sheets, papers, marked work etc go into my teacher's planner and I keep track here of how my students are doing, the progress they are making and I can see from this where interventions are needed. I'm quite traditional in the respect of using my planner as my markbook, but I'll also use an excel spreadsheet for past GCSE papers so I can analyse question-by-question how my classes have done on the papers and certain questions.

Here's a pic of one of my Year 11 classes markbooks so far this year...

You can see here the 5 h/w sheets the class have already had (all out of 20) and the 2 GCSE past papers they have sat.

The h/w sheets I use are all mixed C/B grade topics that I give out each week on a non-calc/calc rotation basis. These sheets allow me to ensure my students are keeping the basic skills to achieve each of these grades fresh, whilst we cover over topics in class. I am also planning on creating tutorial videos to go along side these to go up on my YouTube channel to give them another avenue for their INTs, i.e. INT 'look up question (x) on Mr Collins' YouTube Channel, do the practice questions and check my answers'.

If you would like to download these sheets they can be found on my TES resources at:

I hope this post goes someway to contributing to the debate on marking. By no means do I suggest that this is the way to do it and that I am doing everything I should be. I'm fully aware there are things I can do better with my feedback being more specific at times and I still need to improve the use of the INT part of the stamps. In terms of checking students in class work this comes from my use of AfL and my plenaries. I do look over the students' classwork when I mark their books and if I see something of worth I'll add a comment, equally, if something is seriously wrong I'll comment on it too, sometimes using the stamper, sometimes just freestyling!

I still use my 'Mr Collins likes this' stamp too, when I can see a student has persevered or done a particularly good amount of work/made improvements (like the example shown).

Remember, check out the other posts in this months #blogsync by going to

Mathematical Concept Cards 2: The New Batch

Having been recently reminded about an activity I did in class last year by Mr Cavadino (see his blog post at I decided to try out the activity with some of my new classes in the last week of this half term.

To see my original post on the idea and discover the origins of it click on the below link:

So, here's the new display, with the best of the concept cards selected to go up here...

And here's some of my favourites that have been created this year by my students...

 I think this has to be my favourite one?
 Must be a fan of Dead or Alive?

I thought this one was hilarious - especially when Miley made an appearance!
 Maybe some confusions here as to what 'expressions' are, but the effort was commendable. Most other students in this class chose 'volume' and drew speakers etc
 Being a Marvel geek I loved this one, if only there were some Loci examples around it to go with it though...
 Nice use of both words here

 I wonder why the 'hundredth' was the one that was working out?
 Inspired by the examples I showed the class from last year.
 The best pie shop in the world...3.14 (brilliant)

 This one definitely thought outside the box

I am impressed with the creativity that came out of the classes I ran the activity with. There are a few I am waiting on with my Year 10 class too, so there may be some more to follow. Watch this space.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Year 2: Back in the Habit

Well here I am, the eve of the first half term of the school year and what a half term it has been! Much like the sequel to the popular film 'Sister Act' I am now well and truly 'back in the habit' and as my absence from blogging indicates I've been a very busy Mr Collins indeed. It seems like an age since I was writing my blog post about my new classroom and the set-up for the start of the year and now, 7 and a half weeks down the line, it feels like the Summer period never happened. Here are my reflections on the past half term...

As you will know from reading previous posts I have started teaching back at the school I once worked as a cover supervisor. It was 2 years ago this school year that I left to go and do my GTP and then subsequently my NQT year at 2 different schools in the local area. I've just received my 'induction' certificate from last year and with this came the realisation of what has perhaps been missing this half term...the teacher training meetings and ongoing evidence collecting. Now, don't get me wrong, the evidence collating I am more than happy to have disappeared from my weekly tasks, but I can't help but miss the weekly/fortnightly CPD that trainee teachers receive. I'm particularly talking here about those CPD events that are held externally, whether they be part of your Universities training programme or events held at local schools that your school have partnerships with. I like these days away from the classroom where you get to reflect on your teaching, meet colleagues that are in the same position as you, learn new techniques, ideas and gather teaching resources and essentially keep learning. I've noticed that without these sessions this year it really is just about getting down to it and getting on with the job of teaching. However, there may be something new on the horizon, which I'll write about at a later date.

So, without the trainee teacher element of my job what's changed? The main thing is the timetable...and all experienced teachers will know exactly where I'm about to go with teaching time has rocketed! Last year I had my NQT time,which allowed me at least 6 free periods a week in a 25 period week. This year, without the luxury of the NQT time, I have only 3 free periods a week and this has made a sizable difference in my teaching time, planning time and (of course) marking time. Couple with that the challenges of starting a new school (albeit a school I know very well) and it's no wonder I've not been able to keep up with the blogging!

Now, I know my school very well having held my previous post as a cover supervisor for 2 years. However, in the time where I have been gone learning how to teach at other schools a lot has changed. Also, as I worked as a cover supervisor before and not a teacher, all the procedures that teachers are expected to follow and I suppose all those little things that differ between schools have had to be learnt, remembered and followed through. For instance, the behaviour policy and procedures are far 'tighter' than the schools I have previously worked at, and this is all for the better in terms of the teaching and learning that takes place in the school. This means that now, unlike in the past, there are behaviour points to log, reward points to log, phone calls to log, warnings to log, postcards to write, uniform letters to send etc etc. All these little things that are different take a while to embed in your daily routines.
The easiest part of being back at the school I previously worked at is the relationships I have with the kids and my colleagues. I am lucky that the classes I have in KS4 all knew me before I walked into our new classroom. This has allowed me to pick up on relationships I had already built up and take it from there. I have some fantastic classes to teach and this has made the 'settling in' period easier than I could have hoped for.

The one thing that has taken a while to sort out this half term has been the ICT in my classroom. I have persevered over the past 7 and a half weeks with trying to get everything the way I have had it in previous years. This has mainly centred around getting my interactive (SMART) whiteboard working. Now, by no means would I say that I have become dependent on my SMART board, but as I have made so many resources using the SMART notebook software it did have an affect on my teaching in the first few weeks of term. I had to find other resources to teach from, it took me longer to plan my lessons and I didn't feel as confident as perhaps I would have done. It also frustrated me as the IWB was there, but wasn't usable. I even started referring to it as the 'potentially interactive whiteboard to the kids'. However, all good things come to those who wait, and with the help of the ICT team after week 6 we were able to get the software working with the new Windows 7 laptop I had been given to 'trial' as a new member of staff. I even purchased myself some new SMART board pens/eraser to fill the gaps that were previously homed by a glue stick, board pen, blue tack and pen. Here they are in all their glory...

 For the past week or so I have been enjoying having the use of the SMARTboard back and I feel loads more confident, I can use all my resources I spent the time creating last year and the reaction from the kids is brilliant. I don't actually think there are many other working SMARTboards in the rest of the school that teachers use. This, for me, makes my proficiency with the IWB a tool I can use to my advantage as everything seems new for my students. When I first wrote on the board they seemed shocked, when I drag objects across the screen it feels like magic and as for the trick of rubbing out a circle and then tapping in the middle to erase everything inside the circle...I've become the new Dynamo! The only thing I then needed was some there were no speakers in my room I got some of those too and now I can use YouTube videos (from my channel or otherwise), the Chris Moyles Quiz Night videos for short starter tasks - my current students have loved these the past week, and of course...and yet to be introduced to my new students...Maths DJing :)

The above goes some way to summing up the challenges and differences of starting at a 'new' school this year. In addition to this there have been a few events that I have helped out with this half term. The biggest of these were the school's Open Evening and the Y6 Problem Solving Day. The school's Open Evening was fantastic and was one of those events that I was looking forward to. The reason behind this is that I love the school I work at, I went to the school as a kid and having worked there previously and now being back, I couldn't be happier. So, I'm keen to make sure that future students, our local primaries and our community see all the good things that I have and do at the school. So, at open evening I helped the Mathematics department ensure we displayed all the good work our Year 7s had been doing in the first 3/4 weeks of term (something the department have always done). Then in a separate classroom we had two activities running, one that the department have done in past involving measuring arm span and height and seeing the 'Mathematical perfectness' of a person. The other was an idea my colleague and I came up with and was to have the good ol' horse race probability task big scale on the class floor.
We created a 12 by 6 grid out of masking tape, had my numbered tiles in the 'starting squares' for each 'horse' (Y5/6 child, parent, uncle, aunt, Y9 prefect etc), we had the Y9 prefects rolling my large foam dice and encouraged visiting parents and children to take part in the horse race. For each race we explained the rules of rolling the dice to generate the numbered horse who would then advance down the grid. The winner being the first horse to reach the 'finish' square. The activity was a great success with children and adults taking part, healthy competition building between relatives and (of course) some good mathematical reasoning, language and logic being applied. It is something that we will look to do in future evenings.

Then, another idea I have for future evenings came about after speaking to my HoD about other tasks we could have going on around the room whilst the 2 main activities were going on. I suggested doing the 'frogs problem' and then said it'd be great to have a large version of that too and if only we had some large frogs! I have of course done this in the past using the students and chairs, but wanted something tangible for the children to pick up and move/leap. Cue my HoD's knowledge of another of our colleagues whose hobby of knitting stuffed animals could come in handy. She is brilliant and 5 more of the below little beauts will be made after she has finished knitting Christmas presents for her nieces and nephews...

How cool is he! I've named him Freddo.

As for the Y6 Problem Solving Day I'll be writing about that in a separate post as there's far more I'd like to say about that and resources to link.

Finally, a list of other notable events/things that have occurred this half term...

the staff vs staff football match against a local school (we won 1-0, undeservedly so)
the strike day, school was open for Y11, I was there
3 INSET days
Y9 'enterprise day', the less said about this the better
5 of my Y11 top set being entered in Nov and getting them prepared
regular staff football on Fridays (I've missed this)
Y11 invitation only parents' evening
the Y7 Fresher's Ball (I was the DJ)