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'!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Reusable Notebooks

With the new school year approaching I'm looking forward to using the new piece of kit (stationary) that we've added to our teaching arsenal.
At the end of the last school year, Neil from @magicwhiteboard sent me some of their new Mathematics A4 reusable notebooks to have a look at/try out and I loved them. So, I gave one to each member of our department to try out and, having discussed them in a weekly department meeting, decided to get each teacher in the department a class set of them for next year to use how they feel best (mainly because we all had so many ideas as to how to use them and couldn't agree on one single approach).

I thought I'd share our ideas as to how we're planning on using these reusable notebooks as I think they're going to be a great addition to our resources and the magic whiteboard company are currently offering class sets of these books to any primary school that would like them; so what we've come up with may be of interest to our primary colleagues looking to use them too?! For more details on this offer see the news article on the magic whiteboard website here. If you're a secondary school and are interested in looking at some of the books then check out the full range of them here (they've got plain, lined, ruled, maths and even music/manuscript books).

Here are the reusable Mathematics (gridded) books. They are A4 and are 1cm squared inside, which you can see from the ruler in the picture below. There are 8 pages in the book for students to use/reuse.

For each book we've got, we've also got a reusable whiteboard pen. This is the important bit as the ink dries within seconds and then can't be wiped off unless you use the eraser on the end of the pen or use a wipe (or just rub really hard). This means the ink stays on the page when you shut the notebook or lean on it, etc. You probably know what it's like when students use 'normal' whiteboards...they often end up wiping off what they've written on it (or their peer does it for them) and the whiteboard pens rub straight off when the ink is touched. With the reusable pens you don't have this problem.
This fact also means that the notebooks can be used over and over again and as long as the students treat the books well, can be wiped once used/when needed and given to others to use - for the next class (if using with a particular class for a certain project during a half term and then swapping, for next year's class(es), etc).

In this picture you can see the inside of the Mathematics (gridded) notebooks and the ruler to show the scale of the grid (1 cm squared). When Neil was creating the books he sought advice on what size grid to use for the books and I suggested that a 1 cm squared grid would be good to use as students can use these for accurate drawings of shapes to work out perimeters and areas, etc. We currently use A4 1 cm squared exercise books with our KS3 students and they're use to using these in the lower part of the school before moving to smaller exercise books in KS4.

Initial ideas...

As I mentioned above, we had a [brief] discussion in a weekly meeting about the notebooks and how best to use them. Initially, we spoke about using the books with a particular year group, potentially Y7 as we could 'train' them into how we wanted them to use them and it would then become part of our/their classroom routine. We also thought about using them with our [to be] Y9 students as they start their 3-year GCSE course and getting them to use the books throughout their Mathematics GCSEs. These are all ideas that are still up in the air and may well be what we use the books for in the future. However, we then had other ideas as to how the books could be used - to not restrict the use of them to a single year group and use them either with a specific class in our chosen year group (based on teachers' classes/timetable), or just as a 'general' resource for all a teacher's classes. So, as there were so many ideas floating around the table, we'll each have a class set to use for the first half term/term as we choose, before having another discussion as to how they've been used and how best to continue to get the most out of them - we'll also be able to discuss any teething problems with the use of the notebooks once the students have got their hands on them! I basically want everyone in our department to be able to use these resources, rather than restricting them to be used with a particular year group, which some members may not teach, therefore they don't get to see what benefits they could have with the students learning and our teaching of Mathematics.

The ideas we'll therefore be trying:

  1. When using the notebooks with a specific class, to get students to split the book up into different sections. There are 8 pages so 1 suggestion was to split them in a way such that they would have a page for each area of Mathematics: Number, Algebra, Shape, Space and Measure and Data Handling (this may need to be tweaked for the new GCSE as there is a greater emphasis on Ratio and Proportionality), a couple of pages for rough 'workings' and then the other 2 pages to be used in an 'ad-hoc' fashion as needed - for example with spelling tests at points in our KS3 schemes of work when key vocab needs covering (something our school is introducing across all subjects). The different areas of Mathematics pages would be kept and updated by students with key notes/examples for them to refer back to throughout the year. For example, if covering finding fractions of amounts with students they would make some [condensed] notes on this in the 'number page' of their notebooks. Then, when covering converting between fractions, decimals and percentages, or finding percentages of amounts, the students may then update their previous notes in their 'number' section erasing what they had in their from beforehand and rewriting notes that combined their learning of these topics. Naturally, students would have to be 'trained' in this process.    
  2. Again, using the notebooks with a specific class, the notebooks could be used for students to keep as their revision notes for their GCSE examinations, say. This is something we have already been developing with our Y10s that will be going into Y11 in September. Basically, for the last term, to prepare them for their mock examinations and build their confidence with their Mathematics we did a certain amount of 'teaching to the test' where we told students that the topics covered in class would be on their end of Y10 mock examinations. We told them that it didn't mean those topics would be the only ones that would come up and didn't tailor lessons to the actual questions in the exam - just so we could say that they had covered a good portion of the content that would be on the exam. This avoided the usual 'yeah, but we hadn't learnt half the stuff on the test', although we've also had to take this into account when reviewing the results and setting of students for Y11. So, as we taught students over the last term, their homeworks were to keep notes of the topics covered in class that they could then use in their 'in class assessment' that we used as 'revision' prior to their mock exams. I created an exam paper similar to that of the one they were getting in their mocks and they used the notes they had been making for homework in the in-class assessment. This allowed them to see whether their notes were of any use, that they should have made notes/better notes if they had failed to put in the effort with their homeworks, the benefit of revision, that they had covered the topics and did know how to do certain topics, etc. So, with this approach the notebooks would be used in a similar way - for a class to keep their GCSE revision notes, updating them when needed and then using them as a revision tool to prepare them for their examinations. Students may need to take the notebooks home therefore and the notebook would be 'theirs', for a while at least, and then handed back at the end to be passed on to the next student.                                                                                                                              
  3. When using the books with any/all classes, the notebooks could be used as a 'working' book, leaving their exercise books to be used for notes/examples/homework. This way the work in their exercise books would become like a 'rule book', ready to be used for revision without having to sift through pages of working outs on the same topic - hopefully saving pages in their exercise books. As teachers, we would mark the notes/examples/homework in their exercise books and their notebooks would be used for their practise of Mathematics - where they attempt to answer questions, make mistakes, correct them and repeat. This use (and any use of the reusable notebooks, really) would enforce the message that it is OK to make mistakes in Mathematics, that we learn from our mistakes and (in the case of the books) they can just be rubbed out and improved upon.
The Pens...!
In terms of the pens, we had ideas about these too. This varied depending on which of the uses we came up with above.
  1. Give each member of the class a pen, possibly labelled with their name on, or with a number on it. The pen would either, a) stay in school and be kept by the teacher or b) be the students' responsibility, which they needed to replace if lost - offered in our school shop. The advantage of the keeping and labelling of the pens is that they could then be used as a random student generator (if kept in some sort of pot on the teachers' desk) or if numbered can easily be counted in and out.
  2. This approach would probably mean students being given one of the pens with the book and they having responsibility of it and replacing them when needed (you can use other whiteboard pens with the books)
  3. The pens would be kept in class with the notebooks and handed out when used in class. They would probably be numbered to be easily counted in and out - possibly then used as a random student picker for plenaries, etc by just calling out a number and the student with that pen then answering the question(s). There's a whole host of things you could also do with the numbered pens, which, if I decide on this approach, will probably blog about separately!
So they're our ideas so far based on seeing the notebooks - I'm sure we'll come up with more and will see what works and what doesn't. As we're planning on using these books with certain classes/years we will also order some into our school shop to give students the option of buying them for themselves, should they want their own notebook - just like we do with revision guides and the stationary our school shop stocks. 

If you're one of the primary schools that have received a class set of the notebooks it'd be great to hear from you to compare notes and potentially come and see them in action in your school? Tweet me @mrprcollins or comment below.

Friday, 14 August 2015


2014-15 was the first school year where I've used 'iDoceo' instead of the traditional teacher's planner. It is brilliant and worth every penny of the £7.99 for the app. There are so many benefits to using the app and for me personally, where I got an iPad prior to the school year starting, it just suits the way I now plan and work.
Below are a few screenshots of my use of iDoceo throughout the year. There are still loads of features I've not used and therefore these won't be mentioned below and so this is by no means an exhaustive view of what the app is capable of. For full information on the app, go to their website: I should also say here that I am in no way affiliated with the app and there are probably other similar apps available, but I love this one!

This is the first page of my iPad and as I use the app so much it has a permanent home on my favourites bar along the bottom of my iPad. The app is password protected and you can change this when needed. The app is also extremely easy to back-up and this file is stored either on 'the cloud' or (as I do) in my Dropbox folder as an iDoceo file ready for recovering if/when needed. This, over potentially losing a paper planner and having all your work lost for forever, is a very nice safety blanket to have!

Once I've opened up the app and typed in my passcode my 'classes' screen comes up with each of my classes. At the top of this screen you have the menu of options to choose between - your classes, schedule, planner, day etc. You can also back-up all the data from this screen.

On the left hand of the screen you have the 'reminders' bar, which I use as a quick 'to do list' - easily adding and ticking tasks off as I do them. It is also populated with your students' birthdays (if you add these in to your students details). This is one of my favourite features of the app as the kids are still amazed when you know that their birthday is a couple of days away or, indeed, that day. The little things go a LONG way in teaching and if you can unexpectedly wish a kid happy birthday they are bound to appreciate it and it shows you care! It is certainly worth the time when you initially add in your students' details.
From the 'classes' screen you simply click on each class name and it takes you to that class' page where you can see all the students in that class, their attendance, results, homework, notes, seating plans etc etc (more on these later).

Next along the menu bar at the top of the app is the 'Schedule' option. The 'Schedule' screen is shown below. On this screen you can see your timetable and each of your classes for each period of your timetable. You set your timetable up in the 'Calendar' screen, by adding in each of your classes to your timetable, which is totally 'customisable' based on your school's timetable and length of lessons/breaks, etc. The iDoceo website has plenty of videos you can watch to help you with this process and once you've got the hang of it, it is easy to set up the next time round. I've just set up my classes/timetable for next year and having done it all last year this was relatively straight forward!
You can add daily events from this screen just by tapping underneath the date(s). By clicking on each class/period in the schedule it will open up that class' screen.

After the 'Schedule' menu option you have the 'Planner' option. The 'Planner screen is shown below. This is the screen I use most when planning my lessons. Each class' slot on your timetable is shown and just by clicking in a class' section you are able to add notes and resources (any file/photo you have stored on your iPad/other apps/resources page in the iDoceo app). You can also add a symbol to that class/period, which I use to help me keep track of what I've planned, when I'm on a trip or on cover or when a class is being taught by our ITTs or even if the class has an exam and therefore I won't have that class that period. Events can also be added to each day on this screen in the same way as above.

What I also like about the 'Planner' screen is that you can add notes to periods where you don't have classes (as long as there is a period assigned in your calendar for that time of day). So, for example, if I have a free period (like on Wednesday 17th June below Period 1) all you have to do is tap in that section and it comes up with 'add class'. By leaving the class blank and just typing in the 'location' box 'meeting' or 'adhoc' you can then type notes in here just like you would a class. I did this most recently when I went to #mathsconf4 and added a 'period' for each session I attended so I could keep notes for later use.

This is what the box looks like when you are adding in your notes to a class/period. The little paperclip in the bottom-right corner allows you to add a resource or photo. You can take a photo too to attach to this period, which I did when taking screenshots of the presentations on the day. This works for any meeting or even 'learning walk' you do around the school when you want to take a photo of a display/note, etc for later.

From both the 'Planner' screen and each individual class you can access the 'timeline' for a particular class. This is fantastic and is another of my favourite features as it allows you to see each period for that class. So you only see that class' notes/lessons and can track the progress of the class, what you've covered with them, when you gave homework out, when the next time will be you'll see them, etc. You can even 'bump' lessons to the next available period if, for example, your lesson is cancelled last minute and you want to teach the lesson you had planned in their next lesson - saving you from copying it all over.

Each class screen:

You can set up any tabs you like in each class' screen based on what you need/want to use the app for. Usually I have attendance, homework, examinations and notes. For my GCSE classes I also have individual tabs for mock exams and homework sheets.
This is what the attendance tab looks like for each of my classes. Each day I take the register on my app (yes, as well as SIMs as it doesn't feed into this). I find it easier to track attendance on the app than I do on SIMs and I can clearly show students when they've been present (really useful when they try to wriggle out of doing homework by claiming they weren't present)! I take the register from the attendance app, accessing the seating plan option at the top of the class screen and then adding a column for attendance. I then 'attend all' students and just cross off those that are missing on my seating plan by just looking for the gaps in my room - you can customise your seating plan to the layout in your room so this is really easy - more on this later.

On the screen below you can see the 'homework' tab for this class. Here I have each separate homework sheet's score linked through from a separate tab for that specific sheet. On this overview sheet I can see the students mark and then a 'Yes/No' column for whether they have handed it in or not. This then makes it really easy to see who you need to follow up with and who, over time, is struggling to complete their homework. I found that these tabs are brilliant for parents' evening when discussing homework as it's all there in front of the parents to see. Now, I know you can do this with your paper planner, but can you click through to see the actual questions/topics they got wrong on that particular homework sheet, tell the parent's their average score for the 5/6 sheets they've completed that half term, etc...I'm guessing not. It makes everything far easier, far more professional as you don't sit there umming and erring when asked questions - everything you need is there as evidence to help you/them.
In each tab you are able to add calculations to columns to find average scores, add up columns for working out total marks over tasks/coursework, etc. Each column can be differently formatted. You can add in your own grades/levels/marks to assign to each column. Each column can have different colours, dates, heading, subheadings (I usually use these for the number of marks the homework was out of, or what day it was collected in, etc). Linking the columns to other tabs is easy, as is copying the columns across classes, saving you time setting up the tabs for all your classes. This is particularly useful when using the same exam/homeworks for the same year group as they'll need the same data and information; set it up for one class and then just copy it all over to the other class(es) in the same year.

This is the examinations tab I have for all my classes where I simply record all the assessments the class completes across the year. This tab works very similarly to the homework tab in the respect of assigning grade types and different types of data to each column. What I also like about these tabs is that using the tool icon (the spanner in the top left of the screen) you can easily move columns around so you can, more clearly, compare test data to target grades. You can hide columns or students too so you can just focus on a certain group of students or just look at some columns of data.
 I mentioned that the columns on my homework tab were linked to other tabs where I had that homework's raw data. I do this too with students' mock exams or end of year exams as it helps me to see which questions were done well/poorly across the whole class. I can also see where each student picked up their marks, look at class averages, etc. I then just link the overall paper score to the 'examinations' tab, knowing I can quickly access the raw paper scores for each question with a few clicks. Each of these tabs can be exported to Excel for further analysis - or there's the 'Summary' sheet for each class, which I am yet to use, but will explore more this year.

Here's the raw marks tab for a homework sheet I gave my Y11s this year. I add a 'notes' section to these pages for tracking those students that fail to hand homework in or, in the case shown, the student does the wrong sheet!
Another of my favourite features is the seating plan page in each class' screen. You can add photos to each student in your class, which then makes it easy to see who you're putting where. Each students' box is able to be moved around the screen and you can have multiple seating plans for each class so you can keep track of where students have sat before or have a different seating plan for each half term/term.
The ease at moving students around on this makes it brilliant for trying out different combinations of students until you're happy with the mix/arrangement. You can even select to have certain information shown on the seating plan like SEN/Pupil Premium, which ensure you keep track of where these students will be sitting. This is also good for quickly exporting and printing out class info for any observations you have throughout the year. Each of the seating plans can be exported as a pdf for then showing on the IWB for the students to locate their picture and find their seat. The students (particularly the girls) do the whole 'oh no, my school photo' thing as they see their faces on the board, but soon get over the shock! The pictures are easily imported from SIMs by taking a screenshot and then using the facial recognition tool in iDoceo to import the photos - again, this is all explained in the iDoceo website videos.

Lastly, as you can see from the above - you can store your own resources in the iDoceo app for quick reference. This, I find quicker than going via all the different apps on my iPad as I just add them all in here (SoWs) and they're all to hand when planning lessons.

So there it is, a whistle stop tour of a few ways in which I have used this wonderful app this year. It has massively changed the way I work - has sped up certain aspects of my work as a teacher and made everything so much more organised. I spend a bit of time at the start of each term adding in all our school's calendar events so I can see ahead of time what is coming up and I'm usually the person in meetings, as a result, that is able to confirm when reports are due or monitoring weeks are coming up, etc.

I will be using the app again this year and highly recommend it to any teacher who is looking to organise their planning this year. I plan on using the app more this year to take pictures of students' work to show parents at parents' evening and to send e-mails of work that has been completed. Each picture taken can be assigned to a student on a particular day via the attendance tab and so it is far better than just taking photos on the iPad and then trying to work out a way of filing them somehow and remembering who's work it was you took the photo of before sending - with the app it does all of the filing/association for you.

I will also be setting up a 'class' for my department so I can track meeting notes and any other data I need to monitor throughout the year like report completion, etc. It will be easy to assign the departmental 'class' to a period for meeting notes, it'll be great at keeping attendance so I know who to go and see to ensure they're up-to-date with what they missed and I can easily export/e-mail meeting notes (and such) to the department when needed.

Download the app here.

Venturing into the Office/Corridor

Having completed setting up my new classroom I decided to then venture into the office attached to my room and then the corridors where our department resides. First, a few final touches to my room were made...

I saw a tweet from @missbsresources about her brilliant Maths bunting and so I had to put this up in my room. I then asked Danielle for the template she used so I could make another set to go across the back of the room - meaning I had two strings of formulae/rules/key facts going across my room.
Danielle has all of these resources available on her blog here, check out her other displays too!

Above is the view from the back of my room looking toward the front - you can make out my prime number posters that some of my previous students made - these go with the other square and cube number displays I have so hopefully (hopefully) my students remember these basic (key) facts!

This is my typical view from the front of the room where I would stand to address my class(es). You can see the two sets of bunting up and the rest of my displays all complete. I also have positioned a grouped table at the back of the room...

I'm aiming to use these tables as a 'Help Desk' station as well as allowing students who have finished to use it to complete the problem solving questions when finished their set work.

I need to add some sort of sign on the table saying  'help desk', but it's all ready to go. I will try and use this as much as possible for students to come over to for help after my initial instruction at the front of the class; if they still don't understand they can come here for help. I will, of course, circulate my room as I usually do, but I know with certain topics some students struggle and need a different approach shown to them before they get started.
I'm also planning on using the space to call students over to look over their work, when I call other students in from other classes to do 'book trawls', to move students to if needed to work quietly...alone, etc, etc. I'm allowed the space as I only have 1 class where I have over 28 students and so these two desks will be vacant for the majority of my teaching time.

To the office...

In and around sorting out my new room I was also delving into the department office to sort it out and start putting up timetables and class lists for the new academic year. The office hadn't really been used recently and so I properly went through every folder/file/book shelf/resource as much as I could possibly stand. There were resources in there that were older than me and I was ruthless. Well, ruthless to the point of roughly knowing what I could throw out and what needed to stay/was still useful. In all the filing cabinets you can see we have hard copies of all past papers and resources for each topic that a previous Head of Department organised - I had no idea all of this existed as the majority of my personal teaching resources are on my computer/USB stick. So, needless to say, I found some great resources we can use next year and will be encouraging my department to look through the cabinets as if I wasn't aware as to what was in them there's a good chance others have no idea too! On the walls, I have put the departmental timetable and individual teacher's timetables so we can quickly see where someone is/what we have at a certain time/day when having our meetings. I plan on holding all of our departmental meetings in the office as, after all, that's what it's there for!
I also have each of our classes' lists on the wall so we can highlight those students that are receiving support from our departmental HLTAs.

 This is the view from the back of the office, back towards my room. The book case currently has class sets of text books that are up for grabs to our teachers. Those that aren't taken up will be put in a separate cupboard where we have all manner of old text books, which we need to do something with. I would love to be able to send them somewhere where they can be made good use of, but don't have any contacts myself to any charities or organisations that send text books abroad to other countries where resources are limited - if anyone reading this knows of anyone then please give them my details to get in touch - @mrprcollins
The whiteboard will be used to put up reminders, etc and for when we share ideas/problems in departmental meetings - I'm going to try my best to ensure at least some part of our meetings are set aside for sharing good practice and ideas - 'teachmeet style' where possible so things are kept brief - following up with that member of staff for more details if interested, etc.
Over on the side by the door are all the revision guides I found whilst clearing out the office - these will be offered up to students who haven't got their own or can't afford to get one themselves...on a first come first served basis.
There's also an individual desk in the office for a student who may be 'on tag' with me for behavioural reasons - if this is the way our school's behaviour policy goes...we shall see, but it's best to be prepared for all eventualities!

At the back of the office we have a new computer going in by the departmental phone that we use to make calls home and then subsequently log on SIMs. The computer that's been in the office hasn't worked for a while so this will be a welcome addition as it will save staff having to go to and from their rooms to make/log calls.
On the display boards I intend on putting up our Schemes of Work in their current state (as they are a working document of course) so that we can discuss where we are with each year group, what's coming up and then what resources we each have for teaching these topics so that we can share the really good stuff and, especially with the new GCSE, discuss how to teach new topics/content.
All our new exercise books are on the left ready to be dished out in our first meeting back. We also have class sets of the Magic Whiteboard's new reusable notebooks that I will shortly be writing a separate post about.

Apologies if all of the above is a bit of me waffling my thoughts, in a way, I am. It's my way of getting things organised in my head as to what I've done, what I've still to do and what I plan to do this year with it! I often re-read my posts (someone's got to) and so this, if nothing else, will serve as a useful reminder.

Into the corridor...

Our 'Welcome to Mathematics' sign just as you come up, out of the staircase into our department. I made the 'Mathematics' using Each letter has all of our teaching names in it. You may be able to see one of the new door signs I have made for each member/room in the department. These are simply laminated A4 sheets that I've attached to the doors - they're all in the same format with the teacher's name/room number on them.
<-- One of the corridor displays outside our departmental computer room. We are very lucky this year, in that the room is being completely refurbished. I have already assigned the room to each of our classes so that each class has one lesson per fortnight in here (if their teacher wishes to use it). This means the room is, pretty much, completely used by us. Therefore, having spoken to the ICT department, we will be taking responsibility for the room, whereas before it has been used a 'freeforall' where any teacher can book the room. This year, it should just be used by us and maintained by us. The other computer room in our department can then be offered up to others and used by us if we need the extra computer room lessons.
Oh yes...the display...this is one of the displays I had up in my classroom last year - advertising and the brilliant 5-a-day resources. I used these with my Y11 class last year every lesson in the run-in to their exams and they, once in the routine, worked brilliantly on them and it was a great way to start our lessons. I thought it would be good to have this in the corridor rather than in my new room as more students would see it and therefore ask about/use the resources. Plus, it is directly outside the computer room and will serve as a reminder to our department to, perhaps, get students to do the 5-a-day for that day as their starter tasks whilst we're taking the register and setting the lesson up. I have QR Codes on the display so students can scan to go straight to the site/my YouTube Channel playlist where I have gone through a week's worth of questions (I set this as a holiday homework for my previous Y11s and so did the same as I asked them to do).

WOW! @solvemymaths' Mathematical Mr Men (see here).
These are fantastic. All 49 fit (almost) perfectly on this display board. I originally thought there were 50 and so in the gap that emerged I duplicated one of the Mr Men in the hope noone will notice - can you see which one I duplicated?!
In the top corners we have our school's 'cultural' SMSC logo as the personnel in the Mr Men tick this box! I do plan on 'protecting' this board by getting our wonderful faculty assistant to back it with that horrendous sticky-back plastic stuff that is a nightmare to use/apply!

 Next to the door to the computer room, and adjacent to the '5-a-day' and 'Mr Men' displays I have backed this display board with some magicwhiteboards. The idea with this board is that I will get a 'problem of the week' put on the board for students to look at and attempt (not necessarily on the board itself as I can already imagine it being abused). I will source these problems from Twitter mainly and most probably @mathsjem & @solvemymaths' tweets!
On the other side of the computer room door I have put up 2 more displays.
The first is my 'the language of the Mathematics GCSE exams' that I had in my previous classroom - again thinking that it would be better served in the corridor. I took the key words/descriptions (in the kids terms) from my TES resource and then printed a few other key words students misspell and don't understand.
I love this display - another 'Wall of Fame'.
If you've read my previous post on my new classroom you'll know that the whole of the back wall display is devoted to my students' work. I believe I mentioned in that post that I had too much work to put on that display and wasn't sure what to do with it - I certainly didn't just want to get rid of it all or for it all to sit in a drawer. Additionally, I found a box file of 'display work' when I was clearing out the office. Now, knowing the students' names on the boxed and filed work, I am aware some of it is a couple of years old, but nonetheless it still looks fantastic and is worthy of being on display.
As you can see, there is still some space to be filled here and so we will use work created in the first half term of the new academic year to fill this void. Possibly from our Y7 'average student' project that we will use for our PPE (more to come on this soon).

So there you have it, all the work I completed a week or so back when I was at school...yes, I have had a bit of a break from it all - in fact, I've not been in school for at least 9 days now! The next time I'll be in is for GCSE results day as the school is closed due to water works being done. Fingers crossed to all our students...!

As per usual, if you want more details about any of the above just comment below or tweet me @mrprcollins. Additionally, if you're already a Head of Maths or are going to be for the first time this year, like me, it'd be great to hear from you! Thanks, Paul.