Tuesday, 30 July 2013

How to Learn Math - Introduction (Session 1)

Having seen a few things floating around twitter and on the TES Mathematics community blog (http://community.tes.co.uk/tes_mathematics/b/weblog/default.aspx) I have enrolled today on Jo Boaler's 'How to Learn Math' course on Stanford University's free online platform.

All the course details are found on this site:


Registration is really simple and you can start the course whenever you like and work through the 8 sessions at your own pace. It started on the 15th July and runs to the 27th Sep (2013). I've only just enrolled but haven't missed anything - all the course content for each session is ready to go once you've signed up.

Follow Jo Boaler on Twitter @joboaler and use the hashtag #HowToLearnMath to communicate with others on the course (there's over 25,000 people signed up to it).

I've just finished working my way through Session 1 (Introduction) and here are my thoughts so far...

The first session introduced the course and explored the problems with Mathematics teaching, perceptions about the subject and stereotypes behind the subject and its' learners. The main thing I have taken away from the session is just how much negativity there is towards our subject and how this can be combated by us teachers and the parents of our students too.
Throughout the session you are presented with a series of videos and complementing exercises to fill in/complete. These are fairly short exercises but can take longer depending on how much time you have to give to the course. I like the element of peer feedback where you are able to see others' responses and comment on them.
Personally it has made me think about how I teach Mathematics and what presumptions and generalisations I make about my students. It also made me question why so many students come into secondary school with a negative feeling towards Mathematics. Some students seem to have this perception that Mathematics is hard, they're not 'good at maths' and aren't as good as others. The session discussed the gender stereotypes in Mathematics and other cultural influences.

It got me thinking about how we 'label' some students in Mathematics, especially those 'bottom set' students who already find mathematics difficult but then get labelled as the 'bottom set' and this just helps to reinforce their beliefs. This, I feel, is one of the biggest problems with ability-setting students - the fact we attach some sort of label of ability to these students. I too am guilty of this as I can recall many times where I have, on my blog, referred to my 'bottom set' students as 'low ability'. Are they really? Perhaps, but surely by referring to them in this way I am putting a ceiling on what they are possibly capable of.
There have been lessons this year with these groups where a student may have said something negative to another student following a contribution of theirs to a class discussion. Something along the lines of 'that's wrong you idiot'. This then gets followed up by a comment from this student along the lines of 'well you're in the same set as me, you're just as stupid - we're all set 5!'

How we can move away from this 'label' the students seem to carry around with them is, I suppose, the 'big' question. One which I don't yet have an answer for, but am hoping to try and overcome with these classes.

The session also discussed intervention strategies that had been used to help overcome these stereotypes. These strategies are all psychological, which for me personally is great, what with my Psychology degree and background. The fact that girls can underperform on a test, that they have beforehand marked their gender, emphasises that there are elements of stereotyping that have been embedded in their beliefs and attitudes towards certain subjects.

Something that Craig Barton @mrbartonmaths and @tesMaths stated in his summary of session 1 is that we've all had parents at parents' evening excuse their child's perceived ability in Mathematics or progress in the subject due to them being 'poor' at maths themselves. I feel this is the starting point of students believing that they too can't be good at the subject, or that it is bound to be difficult. I don't think they'll be a student in my classes in September that doesn't have some sort of preconceived idea of their 'worth' in Mathematics. Past experiences will govern whether they are capable, or not, in Mathematics and they may have put them off altogether. Some may have high expectations on them due to always being in 'set 1' or because their parents were good at maths and so they should be too.

All of these questions/thoughts have been brought about by session 1 and the questions Jo poses in the video clips. There are loads of resources as part of the online platform too and I have the rest of Paul Lockhart's 'A Mathematician's Lament' to read (I've read the required first 5 pages) as part of the course reading.

I'm thoroughly looking forward to the rest of the sessions, which I will blog about as and when I complete each one.

I highly recommend this to any Mathematics teacher, teacher, parent or anyone that has some spare time over the Summer who has an interest in the above.

I have also just ordered Jo's book 'The Elephant in the Classroom' too to add to my Summer reading. Available from Amazon (other online book retailers are available of course) at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Elephant-Classroom-Helping-Children/dp/0285638750/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1375188955&sr=8-1&keywords=the+elephant+in+the+classroom

Probability Lesson & NQT Final Assessment

For my official, and final, NQT observation/assessment I was told that I would be observed on May 10th and that my NQT assessor could come into any of my 4 lessons I had on that day. This meant that I spent a fair amount of time the weekend before ensuring that my lessons were planned and I had all my resources ready to go regardless of what lesson my assessor would be popping in.

A quick tip for any NQT/PGCE/ITT starting in September...for any official observation make sure you give your assessor/observing everything they could possibly need for that lesson. This includes lesson plan, seating plan, class list, assessment results or scans of your mark book and copies of all the resources you'd be using that lessons. This way the see that you've clearly prepared for the lesson, have thought about what they need to see and they then should be able to see previous class results and link these to your lesson objectives and context for the lesson being observed. Also, have the class' books handy to show progression over time and marking - this all goes down well too!

On the day, I e-mailed my assessor just to say I looked forward to seeing them at some point that day (a gentle reminder). I then received a reply saying that the plan was for them to come and see me P2 (year 7). P2 came and went and I still hadn't seen my assessor. P3 was when they actually turned up and this lesson was with Year 8. A lesson on probability following their recent assessments. I don't know at this point if the statement of what lesson they'd be coming in was a 'test' of some sort, or whether it was just a matter of circumstance...I'm inclined to believe the latter.

Anyway, the lesson that was observed...I received an 'outstanding' grading for the lesson and so I thought it was worth sharing, and for my own personal teaching reflecting on and remembering for the future.

I knew the lesson I would be doing with this class (set 5 year 8) would be on probability following their recent assessment where the probability questions were not done particularly well - so I wanted to address this area of weakness. Now, even in my short time as a Mathematics teacher, I have used many different ideas/activities when teaching the topic of probability and its one of those topics that Mathematics teachers enjoy teaching in all manner of different ways. In the past I've done the Monty Hall problem, the horse race, watched Derren Brown's television shows, done a 'Maths Vegas' themed lesson and even observed other teachers using 'gambling' as a resource by 'betting' (fake 'money') on 'wacky races'. I decided to keep things a bit simpler this time round as I wanted my students to be comfortable with the vocabulary used in Probability and mainly, how to write a probability.

Here's my 5 Min Mathematics Lesson Plan for the observation (yes, this was perfectly acceptable for my final NQT lesson observation)...

This lesson plan was adapted by @ilovemathsgames from @TeacherToolkit's original 5 Min Lesson Plan. Both can be found on their respective Twitter pages/tweets and on the TES.


Before the lesson started I set out my classroom so that all of my 9 students (yes, I only had 9 students in my set 5 year 8 class) were sat around a single grouped set of tables. I then laid out the cheap paper tablecloths I got as part of my experimentation with #poundlandpedagogy. My aim with this was that the students would write on the table cloths throughout the lesson, rather than in their exercise books. The table (and cloth) were then added to with whiteboard pens and felt tip pens for the kids to use throughout the lesson.

The lesson started with an image of the answer/s to one page of their recent assessment (putting the lesson in context) with the particular question I wanted to address, the probability question, circled.

In addition to the image on the board I then started to introduce the lesson to the students as they got sat down. I showed them a bag, in which there were 11 multilink cubes of various colours and 1 'fruitella' sweet. I asked the students to write down any key words as they were said throughout the 1st task (and lesson on the whole). I then started to ask students to pick at random, from the bag a multilink cube. At this point they had no idea what was in the bag or what colours the cubes were, how many cubes there were etc. The point of this was to see if they could come up with an estimate for how many of each colour there were based on each students' picked item/cube. I went round the table after each student asking questions such as 'what do you think the chance/likelihood/probability is of that colour coming up?', 'is that colour more or less likely than another?', 'do you think the probability of that colour being picked is more than 1 in 2?' why? why not? etc.

After each student had had a go, and none of them had picked the sweet, I revealed to them all the contents of the bag. Throughout the task they had been writing down, on the table cloth/table the results of each student's picks. We then compared, after a brief moment of shock at the fact there was a sweet in the bag, the results with the actual items in the bag. Here I checked their understanding of how we express probabilities by asking what the probability was of each colour coming up. I then checked this further by going through 2 slides on my notebook file I created for the lesson...

 As you can see I checked here whether the class were able to express a probability as a fraction, revealing the convention when a few struggled. We also discussed here that probabilities of as single event occurring add to 1.
 To provide a link into the main activity I then did a similar thing with a dice rather than a bag of marbles to show that regardless of the event the conventions stay the same in terms of how we express probabilities. The dice on this slide is an interactive tool that when clicked 'rolls' the dice to generate a number - really useful. I got this off the TES somewhere but can't remember the particular resource. If it's yours let me know so I can link to it!

After this checking (mini plenary if you like) I set up the main activity by revealing the lesson objectives, showing what we had already covered and what we were going to look at next. I then explained the main task and gave out the dice and counters for the class to use. The main task consisted of each student individually rolling 2 dice. The numbers rolled on each dice would then determine which of 3 counters they would move up a space on the strips of paper they were given. If they rolled two even numbers one of the markers would move, two odd numbers a different counter and if one was odd and one was even they were to move the other (and final) counter. The winner was the one that got to the final 'square' on their strips. Here's the slide and image of the strips they were given to use...

The instructions, which some of the students found tricky to understand 1st time, were left on the board and reinforced to those that needed it. I worked with one student as I didn't have my LSA with me that lesson and they needed a bit of further support to get rolling!
There was an extension on the board too for those that finished quicker than others, which 2 or 3 of them got onto after being reminded what a square number was and what a prime number was. At this point I referred these students to the prime numbers display they had done earlier in the year (posters of the 1st 10 or so prime numbers).

This was the 'strip' of paper the students were given to place and move their markers up and down.

After the activity was done and each student had found a winner, which they wrote down on the table cloth, I went through our class results and then posed the question to the class 'why do you think this happened?'. I took a bunch of responses to the class and then drew up a sample space diagram to illustrate why it had happened.

We discussed the 'liklihood' of each counter being moved and then moved on.

The 2nd main activity involved rolling dice again. This time, I gave each student a sheet with numbers 1-36 written on them in a grid. I gave each student 10 markers to place on any of the numbered squares in the grid and told them not to show their partner. They could put more than 1 marker on a square, but no more than 3 on any one square. This was something that needed explaining a few times. I kept the instructions on the board too whilst the activity went on. I told the class that I would be rolling two dice and then multiplying the numbers that came up. If they had a marker on this number they would then take it off. The person with the most markers left on their sheets at the end would be the winner.

This is what their grids looked like. After the rules had been explained the students started to ask questions based on what they had just learnt about the dice and the probabilities of certain numbers coming up. We had a brief discussion of each question (without spoiling the outcome of the activity) before then starting to roll some numbers. At the end of the task I asked the students to now place their counters a 2nd time based on the squares they thought were best to put markers on (i.e. those that couldn't come up based on the rules of the game). This checked their understanding of the task and of the probability of certain numbers coming up, or not.

Finally, the plenary...

I really like these types of plenaries as they really do highlight who has grasped the lesson and who hasn't. They were each asked to write down, on the table cloth again, an outcome to which the answer was on the board. One by one I then went round the students asking for them to read out their outcome (a bit of literacy here) i.e. 'tomorrow will be a Saturday', 'the probability of rolling a 6 on a dice' and then asked another student to state what the probability was of that student's outcome using the probabilities and key words on the board. This was also differentiated by ability by the probabilities that were chosen. Most chose the worded probabilities like 'impossible' and 'evens', but there were a few at least that used the fractions to express their outcome (and correctly so).

Here's how the table looked at the end of the lesson...

As you can see, lots of key words written over the table. My explanation of '1 out of 12' and how this is written too with the 'out of' being the line between the numerator and denominator of a fraction...what is this line called? Is it called something? I think I have heard it referred as something other than a 'line' before? Answers on a postcard please (comment below).
The feedback I received from my assessor was really positive as my final assessment showed. His only 'concern' was the writing on the tables. One student had to write on the table as the cloth didn't stretch right the way over the grouped tables. I had written on the tables in the past with the class as it rubs off easily (I checked beforehand). My assessor's concern was that students, if allowed to draw on the tables in my lesson, could go to another classroom and do the same, assuming it was ok.
In an ideal world we'd all have whiteboard paint over our desks, on the walls etc to create a truly interactive environment. I have seen 'white rooms' before in libraries and universities where students can literally write on the walls, floor, ceiling, tables, chairs etc. All of which can be rubbed off and reused. Something for the future perhaps.

So, that's that. I got that 'buzz' throughout the lesson that tells me that everything is linking and going as I had envisaged; this doesn't always happen! The class were working fantastically throughout the lesson and were asking questions throughout. This was not the 'norm' with the class by any means and at times they had been difficult to teach/control. This lesson (and plenty of others) however, they were fantastic. I feel they got a lot from the lesson and just hope that they remember it for the future; retention is a key problem with the class.

I will use this 'format' of lesson in the future with small lower ability groups and may even use it with larger class sizes, students in groups with perhaps a different probability task to complete for each group. I may even do it with 'home' and 'expert' groups to get students moving round the room after each task to discuss their findings with other groups who hadn't seen/done certain tasks.

I hope my experience of my assessment will help others, and that ideas can be taken from the lesson I did with my year 8 class. It was one of the most enjoyable lessons I had with the class and one of the lessons that stands out from my NQT year (lucky timing on my behalf here).

Monday, 29 July 2013

Paper Plates and #poundlandpedagogy

Thinking of how I was going to teach my set 5 year 10 class provided something of an ongoing headache throughout the year. I was constantly having to ask myself what would get them involved in the lesson, what would actually benefit them - students who didn't see much 'point' in most of the things I was having to teach them in order for them to perform at all in their examinations. I tried all manner of ideas throughout the year.
These have included my mini Scheme of Work that I made and delivered for them. This worked for a while, but towards the 7th or 8th lessons in the Scheme of Work they started to lose interest in it. However, they did get a lot out of it and I will use this in the future. To see the Scheme of Work post click here...


I tried to make all of our lessons as interactive as possible with as many manipulatives that I could find appropriate for each lesson. I tried the 'text book' approach by just giving them a text book to work through on a topic after a brief instruction from me. Strangely 1 or 2 of them preferred these lessons over any other and liked being able to just get on with it. The rest ran out of concentration half-way through the lesson and the amount of questions attempted by some were embarrassing to say the least. So, having gone through this see-saw like attempt all year I decided to stick to what I felt they had worked best with when planning some revision lessons and that was with the more bizarre lessons, the lessons where that element of 'are we really doing this sir?' would crop up.

For one particular revision lesson I decided to use the paper plates I had bought as part of my experimentation with #poundlandpedagogy to revise everything we had done concerning circles. I also got out some straws to form the 'tangents' and gave them specific things to do with each paper plate they were given. The students were given a plate at a time and these were the things I asked them to do/draw on each plate...

1st I asked them to label all the key parts of a circle using the key vocab list I had put on the board. They had to write/draw/label each of the key words on their paper plate in the correct place. Here's what they created...

 As they were annotating their paper plates I was going round the class asking them why they were putting each word in each place - trying to get a definition out of them.

After they had finished this task I then got them to (roughly) draw any 3 or 4 lines from the centre of the circle (radii) and to then, as accurately as they could, with a protractor measure each angle of the sectors created. This led to discussions as to what the angles should sum to, how to use a protractor and the accuracies/inaccuracies of the lines they had drawn being the reasons behind why/why they didn't sum to 360 degrees...

After this task I then got students to measure the radius of a plate, it's diameter and then work out it's circumference and area using the formulae I reminded them of on the board and the approximation of Pi for those that didn't have a calculator with them (don't ask)!

At the end of the session we had a lot of plates annotated with circle vocab, angle facts, area and circumferences etc etc. Some students moved on to work out areas and lengths of sectors/arcs respectively. This then gave them all a clear visual aid to take home and hang up somewhere or add to their revision notes when revising for their examinations.

Balloons and #poundlandpedagogy

As part of my experimentation with #poundlandpedagogy I had bought some balloons to use in class. Now, last year, for one of my formally observed lessons on my GTP, I used balloons to hide 'clues' in for the project-based lesson we were doing. This year I decided to use the balloons to pose questions to the class to try and answer throughout their lesson.

On each of 7 or 8 balloons I wrote a question, the session below involved quadratic sequences, and in the balloon (prior to blowing them up) I placed the answer to the question on a piece of paper. The idea was, throughout the lesson, where we looked at quadratic sequences, if a student felt they could answer the question on any of the balloons they would let themselves be known and I would come and check their workings. If and when they did this they would then be allowed to come and pop (very carefully) the balloon they had answered with the magic balloon popperer (a compass). Out would fall the answer to that balloon's question and they would then win a prize (also got as part of #poundlandpedagogy).

Here are the balloons...

 It wasn't long on entering the class that my students immediately asked what the balloons were for.

The questions they had to answer were those that were only possible having learnt what they did in the main part of the lesson (unless, like one of my students, they clearly had some prior knowledge of quadratic sequences...he popped a few). This meant that the attention I got from the students was even greater than usual, with them all craving the knowledge to be able to answer the balloon questions and pop them to reveal if they were correct. I only checked their answers initially to ensure I didn't have 7-8 popped balloons with no correct answers.
It is definitely something that I will look to do again. It creates a great amount of intrigue, motivation and desire in the students. It also brings a great competitive element to the lesson to see who can be first to answer each question/pop a balloon.

I also used the string I bought as part of #poundlandpedagogy to hang them up next to the board!

Deal or No Deal Revision - refined

A couple of years a go I created my 'Deal or no Deal' boxes that I have used in class when exam season hits.
I first used the boxes back when I was a Cover Supervisor and volunteered to run a revision session in the Easter Holidays as part of the school's intervention programme for the GCSEs. You can see this on my old 'GTP reflective journal' blog at http://mrcollinsreflectivejournal.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/revision-deal-or-no-deal-stylie.html

Now, I believe that I do revision lessons pretty well. I am able to find fun and engaging ways to do revision that my classes enjoy and learn from. One of these is my 'Deal or No Deal' revision session.

This year I decided to tweak the session from what I had done previously to make it even better than it had been. This was based on a conversation I had with my HoD about how it could be made better. We had run a joint revision lesson for our year 8 classes earlier in the year before their 'mid-term assessment' and we spoke about a few things that could be improved...

Before I had used SMARTboard and SMART notebook I was using a PowerPoint file to have the 'Deal or No Deal' board on that I would update as the game was going on. This took time and stopped the session at points to do the all needed updating of the board. So, now that I had SMART to work with I created a board on SMART notebook that would allow me to easily swipe away the amounts. Not only this, I also put a question under each amount so that as it was swiped away a question would be revealed that the class would then all have a go at answering, rewards given to those with the correct answer. This made the game a bit more about revision than just opening boxes. Here's how the main 'board' looks like on screen...

Whilst the game is going on these questions aren't the only ones the students get to answer. In each player's box there is a question to answer once they (and their box) have been selected in the game. I also give each student a worksheet of 10-20 questions to be answering throughout and after the game has finished. This is how my most recent one looked...

These questions are then marked and gone through after the game has finished to check understanding and provide more of a particular question where necessary. The 'game' part of the lesson/session only takes up to 40 minutes to do. This leaves the rest of the session/lesson to go through the questions the students have to do throughout the game and those that are in their boxes. All the questions in the boxes are past exam questions too.

I feel the revision session using the above format not only engages my students, especially when they see the room set up in two aisles and with the red boxes on top, but it also gets them to answer more questions than they perhaps would if I had just given them a past paper and told them to get on with it. They discuss answers a lot more, work together to try and get the 250,000 prize box, which they are rewarded by accordingly throughout the continuous 'banker' offers - I always get a guest teacher to come and be the banker! I use my 'random box generator' to chose a box at the start of the lesson so all students have a fair chance of 'playing' the game. All other students are manning the boxes on their own or in pairs depending on numbers of students (I only have 20 boxes).

Bearings & Google Earth

In the 3rd term of this year I was due to teach Bearings to my set 5 year 8 classes. Now we had done a lot of work on drawing and measuring angles and so I wanted to try and find a way where they would be able to put into practice these skills whilst learning about bearings.

I started where I always do...the TES. I found on here a great lesson idea and set of resources by 'Webster75'. The resources involve looking at airport runways, the numbers on each of end of the runways and then creating your own airport with the correct numbers on the ends of the runways based on their bearings.

A link to the resource: http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resource/Runways-GCSE-Bearings-Lesson-6079340/

There is an in depth lesson plan as part of the resource that has a whole host of ideas to use. Some of these I did, others I chose not to based on my class' needs. However, I do like the idea of taking a class outside and doing the 1st activity using compasses.
I decided to use the powerpoint resources in the resource to introduce bearings to the class and how they relate to the numbers on the ends of the runways. Then, as suggested in the lesson plan, I decided to give my students a laptop 1 between 2 to use Google Earth to investigate the link between the numbers on the runways.
I was concerned as to whether Google Earth would work fast enough and well enough in class but these concerns soon disappeared when the students started to use the program. I asked them to look at Gatwick, Heathrow and then any other airport of their choice to start with. This led to a few conversations of places my students had been to or where their relatives where from (a great way to get to know your students a bit better).
I then got them to write down the numbers on each end of the runway, the actual bearing at either end and then once they had a few of these to try and find a link between them; I used the 'key questions' part of the lesson plan here.

I then drew out a similar diagram to one of the ones shown in the powerpoints to draw some of the bearings on. This helped to visualise the concept a bit clearer and some were able to see that the 'north' lines were parallel. This then led to me asking about what they knew about angles and parallel lines. Some students were able to point at those that were equal on my diagram, others were able to say which two angles added to 180 degrees. We soon drew out the link from these conversations and the students then used Google Earth to find another airport to check if their new 'rule' applied here too.

Some of the airport images...
If you don't have access to Google Earth you can get these images off of Google Maps, print them out and give them to students in pairs/groups and ask them to do the same as if they had the program to work with.

Gatwick Airport:

At the end of this runway you see the numbers 06, this means a bearing of 060 degrees

At the opposite end of the runway you see the numbers 26, meaning a bearing of 260 degrees.
Some students noticed a difference of 180 degrees between the bearings. When drawing the runway with the north lines and bearings at each end you are able to see the co-interior angles summing to 180 degrees.

12; bearing of 120 degrees. It's co-interior angle would then be 60 degrees (or a bearing of 060 in the case of the runway) so a bearing of 300 degrees would be at the other end of the runway, noted by the digits 30.


Be warned...after the kids have looked up what you ask them the first thing they'll do is search for their house, their friends house their uncle's house etc. Or...they'll try and get the flight simulator to work, or visit the moon, mars and space!
I recommend this resource to other mathematics teachers looking to teach Bearings at some point in the future. Be sure to take a look through the lesson plan as there are lots of ideas for tasks/activities you can do in and around using Google Earth as I did above.


A couple of months ago I came across the following website... www.ifaketext.com. The site allows you to create your own text messages.

There are loads of ways you could use this site to create text messages that are then saved as images you can use in class. One way I have used the site so far is to create some 'I think of a number' conversations between my celebrity 'friends' and I!

Here's a few that I have made so far using the site...

 I used these images as a starter task for my students to answer whilst I was setting up the rest of the lesson and performing the admin type tasks needed.

My students soon pointed out that my network kept changing and so they couldn't be real! I apparently also got the conversation parts the wrong way round...easily fixed!

So, it wasn't long before my claim that these were texts sent from my actual friends was found out to be a lie.

I think these images are a great way to 'hook' students into a lesson. They look great, create a lot of intrigue and get them thinking/working straight away.

As suggested above I can see these being used in English loads when looking for dialect of two characters. Perhaps, taking a conversation from students' texts and putting them into text messages would help students identify with them better?

They can also be used to pose questions as a starter task. Maybe a plenary task in here too where they'd have to respond to questions asked in the message.

All of these can be set up and modified by you. You get to choose the name of the recipient/sender, your network (keep this the same otherwise you'll be found out too; if you're trying to convince a class they're real of course) and of course the content of the message/s.

There is also a www.ifakesiri.com

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Musical Chairs

Throughout the year I have experimented with many different seating layouts in my classroom, which I revelled having this year. Each of the different layouts had their own purposes depending on what I was intending on doing with certain classes at certain stages throughout the year. I'm sure everyone has their own particular favourite seating layout. Personally, I still don't think I've found a 'perfect' arrangement. There are pros and cons to each, but I ideally think that your seating layout should fit the purpose of the lesson and in an ideal word we'd all have a set of magical Maths trolls that would come out between each lesson changeover and move the furniture accordingly.

Now, for many teachers I'm sure space in their classroom is a major issue in terms of whether there is literally enough space to have the tables and chairs spread out in groups or in rows. One problem I may face next year, when moving back to the school I was a cover supervisor at (very excited by the way), is that my room isn't as big as the one I've enjoyed this year and has a weird 'side room' within the room. There's currently a load of filing cabinets in this space, but I'm hoping to clear this area for some sort of 'TA table' where my LSAs/TAs can work with small groups as directed/discussed.

I'm sure I'll find a way of rearranging the furniture such as I have this year, but for now let's see the different layouts I've used this year. You'll probably see gradual changes in my room displays too, throughout the pictures. I tried to change things and mix things up as much as I could this year. Mainly due to wanting to keep my students on their toes, give them a stimulating environment to work in and ensure they had that wonderment of what was going to happen in their Mathematics lesson that day; what the room would look like, would they be doing group work etc etc.

Start of the Year:

To start the year off I kept it simple...rows! I kept a walk through in between the desks for me to easily move up and down the classroom. On the odd occasion I'd use the back of the classroom (quite a big area) to teach here too, or use the back wall display to refer to something another class had produced (or remind a class of what they had done previously).
The advantage of the rows at the start of the year was that it enabled me to set out my stall. Rows are great for maintaining discipline and setting out the boundaries. All students are facing the front and so have no excuses for not looking towards the front when expected. It is easy to see those that have turned round to chat to those behind them. I found that it was also good when seating my SEN students at the start of the year and getting to know how much/little support they would need early on. These students were either sat on the front row or on the ends of the rows, easily accessible via the gap going down the middle.
The negatives of this layout are that I found certain students, depending on where they were sat, did not get as much of my attention as perhaps other students did that were easier to get to. The students that are sat on the ends of the rows nearest the walls/windows, especially in the middle of the classroom where those that were just physically hard to get to without having to squeeze past chairs. A major downfall for me was also that, as many of my classes were lower sets they only contained a maximum of 12 students. These students found it hard to concentrate and would need sitting with and extra support to understand their work. The rows made it hard for my LSAs and I to easily get round them all and sit next to them to support them if a row was 'full'.
So, I felt a change was needed.
Before the actual 'change' from rows I did experiment by moving the desks into other arrangements when I was doing group based tasks that I didn't think rows really complimented. Here are a few, 'one off' arrangements that I did for those lessons where I felt rows were not suitable...
What I would call the 'as exam-style as I can get' layout. This was used when I needed the classes to work in exam-style conditions. This mainly occurred when doing the termly assessments. However, this layout was also good for paired work, especially when the tasks were quite competitive between pairings.

'Circle Time'. I used this layout with my Year 7s a few times as I liked the way we could discuss certain things together. One particular lesson involved looking at sequences. Another, collecting like terms.
After the rows (with some dispersed 'one-off' layouts) I went to a 'spine' layout...
The 'spine' layout was possibly the least successful layout for me personally. Although, another teacher that used my room when I was free said that they really liked it and was a bit disappointed when I changed it.
Note to any NQT/ITT (or teacher for that matter) whose room gets used by other members of staff when you're not teaching in there...make sure you make those members of staff that teach in your room aware of any changes to the seating layout! Some members of staff will get a bit 'perturbed', shall we say, of constant unannounced changes, others will adopt an attitude of 'it's your room, do what you like with it'. Know your colleagues!
What I was hoping to do with this layout was to have a layout that allowed the ability to work in groups at the same time of everyone being able to face the front and still act as if they were in 'rows'. However, what I found was that there were far too many distractions for my larger classes. Not only could they see the person sat next to them, and the other pair that were linked to their table, but they were also able to see over to the other side of the room. This led to some silly behaviour at times with the more difficult students. There was a lesson where the poor student sat on the back right's bag ended up under the table at the front left in a game I'll call 'pass the parcel whilst Collins' back is turned'. My smaller classes (size wise, not height wise) did benefit from this layout however, as my LSAs and I were able to support students easier and were able to teach the students in smaller groups, which at this point in the year was becoming far more important as it became evident quite quickly that they, as a group, did not have the attention span nor concentration to be taught 'as a class'. Teaching in groups was how I found best to teach my lower sets - with the much needed support from my amazing LSAs (who I briefed at the start of each lesson/ beforehand if possible).
So, this 'half way house' just wasn't good enough and so having tried grouped seating when doing group work in the odd lesson here and there I decided to go the whole hog and change the seating layout to 'groups'...
The 'groups' consisted of 5 grouped desks, which each sat 6 students. There was then a single table for 2 students to sit on that I had at the back of the room. The difference this layout had on my set 5 classes was just what I needed. It allowed me to work with one table of 6, my LSA/s to work with the other table of 6 and then we'd swap over for me to check understanding of the other table/teach them whilst my LSAs went and supported the other table with the work they had just been taught. This worked well for these classes (of which there were 3). It may not seem like the most practical way of doing things, and yes it did mean a lot of repeating what I had said on a number of occasions. But, what it did do, is for me to easily see where everyone was with the work, move those students on faster that were capable to do so and give further support to those that were struggling. It meant I could sit students on either of the tables based on where they had got to in previous lessons and there was a good element of competition between the groups when the task allowed it.
The larger groups didn't lose out either. My classes where I had 32 students remained working well as they had done. From the dispersed group work lessons at the start of the year, and from the feedback my survey monkey survey provided me, my classes liked doing group work activities. My 'exam classes' were now sat based on their mock grades so I had students of similar ability working together, allowing me to differentiate class activities more easily. I even used the front table in my top set year 9 class as the table for my G&T students. They were all sat on this table, right under the class board, which allowed me to go through trickier problems/concepts as and when they finished the main class tasks. I did of course invite others that had finished elsewhere to join in the discussions as and when this happened, rather than singling out the front table as being the most able.
Luckily, the room space allowed there to be a lot of room still between desks and it was much easier to ensure I got round each student in the class, more so than I was able to do (subconsciously anyway) with the 'rows'.
Finally, towards the end of the year, I thought I'd go completely bonkers and combine the two main layouts ('groups' and 'rows')...
Now, I feel I need to give this a bit more of a go next year, as I see potential here. Half the class in 'rows' the other half in 'groups'. This allowed me to do the best of both worlds in terms of my set 5 classes could still work on 2 of the grouped tables, and we ignored the 'rows' half of the class, unless of course I needed to use this space for naughty students! The larger classes were slightly tweaked in terms of who worked best on groups and those students who perhaps worked better individually and preferred a bit more quiet to just get on with their work. Knowing my students helped a lot here.
As I've mentioned above, I think I may need to try this out this coming school year to really examine the benefits of it. Possibly at a time of year where the activities I'd be doing aren't so much 'end of term'.
A few things to note about changing the layout of your room:
Make sure their is a purpose for doing it, and not just because you got bored in a free period.
Be aware of any students with SEN (particularly ASD) as they will need to be given prior warning of the change and will need to know where 'their' seat is/will be.
You'll need to change your seating plans, this will take a bit of time to change if it's an electronic version, easier if you just take a photo and write over it.
Let other staff know if/when you're going to change it.
Don't change your expectations just because the seating changes. Reinforce your classroom rules in the first lesson of each new layout.
Where will you sit your most 'tricky' students? At one point in the year I thought it'd be a good idea to sit my 'trickiest' 2 students together, at the back of the class. My reasoning being that they'd distract less students all that way back their...WRONG! This didn't work, and neither did they!
Where are your LSA/TAs going to sit? Get their opinion on the new layout/s.
Tell the class why you've changed the layout and their seating positions - they'll feel as if they've been involved in the process rather than just told what to do with no explanation!
If anyone has a particular favourite layout that they've used, be it one I've used this year or one I'm yet to experiment with I'd love to hear about it. Comment below or tweet me @mrprcollins.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Term 3 of my NQT year - an insight for future NQTs/ITTs

It seems like ages since I last had some time to sit down and write any sort of blog post. In fact, it's been since the start of May that I've had this luxury when I blogged about organising and hosting a TeachMeet at my current school. Since then, a whole host of things have taken place and needed doing that have taken priority over being able to take some time to write about all the things I have been using/doing in my classroom.

So, having finally found an hour or so to sit down and reflect on what has been an extremely busy 3rd (and final) term of my NQT year I thought it'd be good to give those that are about to start their initial teacher training or NQT year an insight into what they could experience towards the later end of their training years. Obviously nobody's experience will be the same as another's, and this year has been completely different to the end of my GTP year, but there are similar things that will crop up regardless of what school you train/work in.

The main difference in my NQT year from my GTP year has been the pressure of having a GCSE class to prepare for their examinations. Last year, I shared a bottom set Y11 group, all of whom got their C grades (bar 2 students), but this year I was solely responsible for a 2nd set Y10 class, a bottom set Y10 class  and a shared bottom set Y11 class. So, with this, came a lot of revision focused lessons, past paper practice, morning revision sessions, regular revision sessions after school and the general 'pressure' that surrounds you and your classes when trying to not only cover the content of the examinations, but also provide timely feedback so your students know where they are with the exam content and what they need to still work on.
The difference between the classes was massive in terms of their readiness for the examinations and my 2nd set Y10 class were fantastic in terms of the preparations they were making independent of our lessons. In the lead up to the examinations I had half the class (at least) stay behind after school once a week (at least) to go over past questions, topics they didn't understand and things they needed to clear up. I found that my class didn't seem to attend the department's revision sessions after school each week and so decided to set up a revision session after school specifically for them. I provided biscuits to entice the more reluctant students in the group to turn up and I was really pleased with the attendance at these sessions. I hope that the work and effort put in here will reflect in their grades come August when they open up their envelopes.
The other Y10 class were barely ready for the examinations and will do well to get a D grade on the examinations. However, some of them do stand a chance at this. They'll probably sit the same examinations in November or be put into a linear examination (currently they've been doing the Edexcel linked pair pilot [Methods] exams). This class have taken up a lot of time purely by having to constantly think of what I was going to try and teach them and what they'd actually respond well to. They were a difficult class to teach and took up a lot of time trying to differentiate activities accordingly and get the most out of them as possible.

Aside from the Y10 examinations, and preparation for these examinations, a lot of my time was spent sorting out my NQT year and all the elements of this. This included my NQT final assessment observation, the NQT moderation visit we had and the ongoing collection and notation of evidence for the standards. I had 3 (termly) assessments during my NQT year and the final assessment was to take place on a given day and I was told that my assessor would come in to any lesson on that day. Now, I was able to rule out 1 of the lessons as I knew they would be teaching at the same time (and cover was an issue that would not be added to), but the rest all had to be planned and prepared for in the same fashion I would normally, with an added element of 'Ooo...I'm being observed'!  On the day of the assessment I sent my assessor an e-mail to remind them of the lessons I would be teaching that day to which I had a reply that they'd be in to observe me P2 (Y7). So, this lesson I spent the entire time watching the class door awaiting their arrival...nothing happened! So, it got to P3 and still no sign, until halfway through the lesson my assessor turned up to observe the lesson. This, if anything, was better than if they had turned up P2 as the class I had P3, although it was one of my trickiest bottom set Y8 groups, were working fantastically well, were engaged throughout and was one of the most enjoyable lessons we'd had all year - I was a bit lucky in this respect! The lesson was graded 'outstanding' and that, apart from the official form filling etc, was that, for my NQT year.

The biggest time consumer outside of the classroom had to be the end of year reports and end of year assessments. Now, last year I had to do all these things, but as I had only 3-4 classes this didn't seem too much of a chore. I also didn't have a tutor group's reports to do as I shared a form with the Head of English and she was awesome in taking this responsibility. So this year came as a bit of a shock as I had 8 classes worth of reports to do...and my tutor group's comments.
Each of the reports took a good 3 and a half hours + to do if they were a class of 30 odd. My smaller classes (luckily I had a few of these) only took a couple of hours to do. The tutor comments for my form took up about 3 hours due to having to read through their comments from other subjects before writing my general comment about their report and also how they'd been in form time. In addition to the reports, there were also all the end of year assessments for my Y7-9 classes. These all took a while to mark and then plan effective feedback for, which therefore didn't leave much time for anything else.

In Term 3 there were then a lot of other more 'minor' things that took up time like:

organising Sports Day with the form group - this is a nightmare...avoiding clashes, making sure students weren't doing too many events, making sure all students were taking part, making sure the students knew what they were doing and at what times, getting students to do the least popular events etc

taking part in the fortnightly NQT sessions and those sessions provided externally that caused cover to be set up for the classes I'd miss on those days

for our Enrichment week (w/beg 15th Jul) I'm going to Spain with half of the Y8s and we had a meeting with parents to inform them about the trip and answer any questions

as part of our House duties we were asked to do the interviews for the new house captains after the Y11s left having completed their examinations

I was part of the teachers chosen in our department to run a Y6 --> Y7 induction session for 2 of the form groups entering the school in September

All of the above was in addition to the ongoing lesson planning, marking, assessments, meetings etc that you'd expect from any other teaching week.

Outside of school it's been a busy couple of months too, with the ongoing TES resource reviews, moving house and DJing at weddings and Leavers' Balls. All of this has had to squeeze into the weekly routines that I try to get in place and so it's no wonder that I've not been able to get on here and share my ideas etc.
However, there is now only 1 'teaching week' left at my current school, then it's our 'Enrichment Week' where I'm in Spain with Y8 and then...HELLO Summer!

It has definitely been a busy year, especially the final term of the year, and it has been as enjoyable as it has been hectic. Keeping on top of everything has been the main challenge, as well as trying to ensure that the quality of my lessons didn't suffer with the other duties/responsibilities needing fulfilling at the same time. The increase in the timetable time is the main thing to change in your NQt year and I'm assuming this will be one of the main differences next year when I'll have a 100% timetable as an NQT +1.

If I could say anything to myself prior to having started this year it would have been to do my reports as soon as they were available for writing. I managed to do this to a certain extent, but still found myself trying to get the tutor comments done with a day or so to spare. I'd also be a bit firmer at the start of the year with classes than I perhaps was this year. I don't think this had too much of a detrimental effect, but the classes could have been a bit sharper/tighter behaviour wise a bit sooner in the year. All of the experience I have gained from this year I will take to my 'new' school in September, which I am thoroughly looking forward to.

I'll be blogging about all of the lesson ideas/activities I have used over the past term in the next couple of weeks. So watch this space!