Friday, 30 August 2013

Top 10 Tips for NQTs, PGCEs and ITTs

Over the past few weeks there have been plenty of blogs providing tips and advice for new teachers starting their 1st roles this year. It got me thinking about what my 'top 10' tips would be to perhaps my former GTP/NQT self and what would be useful to know before starting these training years. So, under no illusions that I'll be able to do a better job than the likes of the already written advice to trainee teachers, here are my two pennies worth (in no particular order)...

1) Find out how you work best and stick to it

This is a bit of a strange one to start off with but essentially finding a routine that suits you is vital to surviving the sheer amount of paperwork you'll have to deal with over the course of the year. Some schools may expect certain planning requirements - on one of my placements I was expected to hand in lesson plans 24hrs in advance of the lesson. This for me didn't work as I got into the habit of pretty much planning my lessons as I went; I wouldn't plan a class' lesson until their last one had been taught. I found that preparing lessons too far in advance caused me to forget what I had previously planned and it was no longer fresh in my head.
There will also be times where you'll be invited/asked/required to joint plan with other colleagues, it could be that they share a similar group to you or are teaching the same topic. This is something that I've personally found more time consuming than anything else and would much rather plan certain lessons individually and share.
Essentially, whatever works for you, stick to it and don't be afraid to do what's best for you. Over the last two years I very much left school as soon as any after school commitments were fulfilled and I did my work at home. I was pretty much the only teacher in my department that did this and everyone else stayed at school until 6pm+ planning their lessons for the next day/week. I felt bad in the first few weeks for looking like I was leaving ASAP and going home, but they soon came to see that I must have been doing just as much work at home as I would have been at school. Whatever works for you is best!

2) Have 3-4 'go to' starter/plenary activities

By having a number of 'go to' starters and plenaries your planning time will be shortened considerably. I'm guilty of jumping on board of every new starter idea I see on Twitter/TES and usually get creating new resources as soon as I see them and try them out the next day. However, I have a set of activities that I reuse on a regular basis; I 'swap' the activities around between classes and lessons so the activities do not get 'stale' with the students. These activities help you when you get stuck for ideas for lessons, you'll get to refine your skills at delivering them and your students may even like the 'routineness' of having similar activities.

3) Set up individual class folders in your school e-mail Inbox

The amount of e-mails sent round schools on a daily basis is ridiculous. You'll be sent e-mails from your house team, year team, department, NQT/PGCE trainee manager, your mentor, your assessor, all staff e-mails and e-mails from maintenance/reception asking if someone has lost a blue pen with a cat sticker on it. The best way I've found to 'manage' all of these e-mails is by having class folders set up in your Inbox. This way, any important e-mails that get sent from your students, or from other staff requesting information on your students, can be added to the individual class folder and found easier at a later date. I also have a folder for 'Mathematics' (any departmental resources/info), 'NQT/PGCE' (training dates and meetings) and one for your form too. I also get into the habit of, if I'm sat at my desk when the e-mails come in and I don't need them, deleting them there and then. I also have my school's e-mails set up on my iPhone so I can keep track of them at home without logging in externally on my computer - beware --> if you do this you will be constantly checking them, it works for me, but is it something you actually want?

4) Get feedback from your students on you and your lessons

Some of the most useful feedback I've had over my training years has been from my students. You'll find they are brutally honest at times and tell you exactly as they see it. If something isn't right they'll usually make this known to you. This, for the weak hearted can be shattering to your self esteem, but when approached in the right way you can use the feedback to improve your teaching and your students' learning. How I gather the feedback is by using a quick, simple survey on I set up a short (7-10 questions) and send it round to my classes via e-mail to do for 'homework'. I make all responses random and include a question 'anything else you'd like to comment on'. I keep them random to try and get as much honesty out of my students as possible. I'd ask them things such as: do they like where they are sat, do they feel they get enough 'teacher time' in class, what activities do they like best, is there anything you particularly have/haven't liked so far this year, do you feel you are making progress in Mathematics, what can Mr Collins do to help you improve further etc.
Don't be afraid of what might come back; if it's negative - do something about it!

5) Reinforce your expectations regularly

I would recommend reinforcing your classroom expectations (in line with your school's behaviour policy) after every half-term. Do this with EVERY class, regardless of whether there your golden top set or the dreaded set 5 class. It'll make a massive difference in terms of the consistency of the behaviour you get in class. I found this out the hard way in the 2nd half of my 1st term with a few classes and it was tricky having to stamp my authority again in the new year. I've heard before that 'once you've lost them it's hard to get them back'. This is true, not impossible, but true.
I've attended a fair few training sessions on behaviour management over the past 4 years or so (including the time when I worked as a cover supervisor) and the one thing that kept coming up was to have your expectations on display in your room. These need to be in a prominent area of your room, that all students can see, and can be used on a daily basis to refer too. Go through these expectations at the very start of the year and ask if any students have any problems with them, if so discuss and re-empthasise why the rule stands, if not bring the fact that there were no issues with them up when a student tests the boundaries.

6) Record details of ALL meetings/duties

There will be loads of meetings throughout the year. There will be house/year/department meetings that all staff will be required to do. On top of that you'll have NQT/PGCE/ITT meetings and then you'll have duties to do to. When push comes to shove, the duties get easily forgotten and you'll get to the end of the day and will suddenly realise you forgot to stand in the playground for 25 minutes. However, the SLT member that randomly checks throughout the year that everyone is where they're supposed to be won't forget! They are important and you don't want a naughty e-mail sent to you asking where you were! Meetings will need to be recorded in your planner and the duration of them too. There's nothing worse than turning up to (what you believe to be) an hour meeting to be told that it's actually 2 hours. I suppose it's all about being mega organised!

7) Do something extra out of the ordinary

This to a lot of people will sound ridiculous given the 'normal' workload that is expected being more than enough to manage during your training years. However, by doing something extra out of the ordinary at your school you will gain the attention of your peers and your students and they will appreciate it. The kind of thing I am talking about doesn't have to be radical or completely insane - I don't mean setting up an 'extreme ironing club' (my University had one of these, and no...I wasn't a member). I set up a TeachMeet at my school last year and although it was a lot of extra work and caused me to liaise with a lot of other members of staff it was well worth it to see what the staff that attended got out of the evening. Other suggestions could be setting up a lunchtime/after school club that hasn't been run before, setting up a class blog (bear in mind safeguarding and child protection) or a blog for a school trip (I did this for our Spanish trip and it was very successful). It could even be organising a car boot sale or fete for the local community. Whatever it is you do, get help doing it and put yourself out there!

8) Communicate with parents and the local community

Parent's evening, in my opinion, is not the first time you should have contact with your students' parents. Ring them (especially your form groups' parents) at the start of the year to introduce yourself. You might be lucky enough to have a 'back to school' parents meeting in the first few weeks - get e-mail addresses from them to provide another means of contacting them. I've found that when you try to ring parents (during the school day) 9 times out of 10 they'll be at work or out. You leave a message and then rarely do these get returned and you end up forgetting what it was you were calling about in the first place. So I've found e-mailing is more successful. Something I wanted to do this year was use to increase parental engagement, but it's not available in the UK, damn!
An extension to parents is the local community. Like it or not, when in your local area, regardless of what time of day it is or what day of the week, you are a teacher. If you get seen by parents, students or members of the community that serve your school (I'm mainly thinking the local newsagent owner or petrol station staff where you fill up on the way to work) speak to them. Be nice, smile and refer to them by name (if you can remember), you'll be surprised at how much it means to students that you know who they are still outside of school! Above all though...BE POSITIVE. There's nothing worse than moaning about your day or what you have to come that day; you don't want to be creating a negative impression of your school, its students and staff. You'll be surprised how quickly news spreads across your local community and the little 'hellos', 'how are yous' and 'thank yous' go a long way.

9) Cherish your TAs/LSAs

Other than your students these are the most important people in your school - your teaching assistants or learning support assistants (whatever they are called at your school). They have the ability to provide you with an unparallelled amount of support with your students, and mostly your most difficult students. Get to know them, what they like/don't like etc and get them involved in your lessons. This starts before the lesson if possible - show them your lesson plans or talk to them about what you intend to do and what you'd like them to do to help you out. Ask them if they have any suggestions, anything they've seen in another class/school etc. If you're getting the students to do a competitive task, add your TA/LSA to the mix - your students will love trying to beat their score/performance. Use them to model tasks to be done in class and call on them to be the 'volunteer' for the lessons examples. Of course, do so with their blessing - if you know they don't really want to be involved that much and they'd much rather just go and support your students when they're working then give them this choice.
Lastly, thank them regularly. In fact after every lesson. Oh...and get them some chocolates/wine (whatever they like) at Christmas and the end of term - they deserve it.

10) Be there for your students through their tough times

Now this last one may sound obvious as there would be no point in you wanting to teach if you didn't care about the students you teach, but I'll tell you why I've included this...

Regardless of all the training sessions and meetings you'll have to prepare you for your teaching career nothing can prepare you for the 'human' side of the job. Nothing can prepare you for the death of one of your students. Nothing can prepare you for dealing with your students lives and difficulties they face on a daily basis. Nothing can prepare you for these situations. So...all you can do is be there for your students. Let them know you are there if they need you and offer the support you can. Obviously here we have to remember all the child protection training on disclosing information and not being able to keep students 'secrets', but the role of a teacher includes caring for your students. If you know of a student having difficulties at home or at school, whatever it is, be aware of it and, without directly bringing the situation up, be there. A lot of students won't want to talk about things that are troubling them, but will want to talk to someone about anything else, whether it be how many planes of symmetry a cube has or why Arsenal still haven't bought any players in the transfer window!
They'll appreciate you being the 'relief' from their problems, however short that 'relief' may be.

So, that's my top 10 'tips'. I hope they are useful to someone out there besides me. Best of luck to all those about to start their teaching careers, or those starting new roles or new schools - here's to a great year.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Starter Displays

I'm in the process of setting up my new classroom and when thinking about what displays I wanted to have up in my new room I was trying to think about what has worked best for me in the past. The displays I think work the best are those that you can either use or refer to in lessons. In the past I have used the '4 4s' problem, my '2 0 1 3' display and my 'Mathematical Concept Wall' displays in class as starter problems to pose my students; their answers then go up on the displays for all to see.

You can view my blog posts on these displays by clicking on the below links:

4 4s -->
2 0 1 3 -->
Mathematical Concept Wall -->

All of the above displays will be used again this year at some point. I already have a space marked out for the '4 4s' problem and a wall in mind for the 'Mathematical Concept Cards'. However, I wanted some displays that I could use on a daily basis. Displays that would allow me to direct students and then allow them to get on with a short task that we could then discuss the results to as a class. So, with this criteria in mind I have created the following...

'Number Cruncher'

This starter activity is often found in daily newspapers and comes under many different names 'Brain Gym', 'Mental Maths' etc etc. I downloaded a resource from dwatson802 on the TES website last year which had an interactive version of this starter task ( The ppt has 2-3 of these puzzles that are displayed on the board with a minute timer counting down before revealing the answer. I used this and my classes liked it, however there were too few of these to use on a regular basis and I didn't really want to spend loads of time creating a mega ppt of 'numbercrunch' puzzles. A reason for this is that I regularly forget about all of the starter tasks that I have used in the past/created - there's just too many ideas I have used. So, in order to forget forgetting about this one I have made a 'number cruncher' display. The display is simply a set of laminated arrows and start/finish circles that I can write on and change as I feel fit.
I have put the display above my IWB so the class can see it easily and as soon as they enter the class be getting on with it whilst I do the register and other adminy things.

Here it is...

The start number will go to the far left then the students will follow the operations on the arrows until they get to the end shape where the answer will be written when going through the workings as a class after they have enough time. I may even start from the 'finish' shape and get students to do the inverse operations to get back to the 'start' number.

The thing I like about this starter is that I can differentiate by my classes by changing the operations on the laminated arrows, the 'size' of the starting number, the type of operations on the arrows etc.

I may even write the 'start' and 'finish' numbers and then the workings in between each arrow before asking students where the mistake(s) are and to correct it. This will be one of the ways I try to get my classes to think about the mistakes they make in Mathematics, that it is OK to do so and how they can go about correcting them.

I will change the operations on the arrows as required depending on what class I choose to do this starter with and how often. By no means will I do this starter with every class every lesson. But it is there as and when I need it!
I'm hoping my students will get into the habit of doing it so much that they'll want to do it?

The number of the day is...

Another starter display I have made is a 'the number of the day is...' display. Here it is...

I made this using the products I use all the time when putting up displays. I just put one of their A1 magic whiteboards on the back wall of the classroom (visible to all students) and on it I put half of one of their green A4 magic whiteboards.

Simply, I will just write a number of my choosing on the green magic whiteboard sheet and get students to answer the 7 questions written below.
The 7 questions range in difficulty and are suitable for most, if not all, classes. Some lower KS3 classes may not be able to do the 'product of prime factors' question but all the others are doable by all. Some of the questions are quite open too and have multiple entry points which helps the 'growth-mindset' I'm trying to induce in my students. For example, if the number of the day was 24 students could answer 20 + 4 or 12 + 12 for the first question. They could answer 8 and 3 or 6 and 4 for the 3rd question and question 7 allows them to pull out any other fact about the number. It could be that it is the square root of 576!? It's up to them.

Again, this display can be used as and when I decide (or my students desire). It won't be used every lesson with every class but is there when I need it. I can already see certain days of the week/year being used as 'the number of the day'. For example, Pi (3.14....) can be used on Pi day, 13 for Friday the 13th etc. I can get other teachers to guest on the display and choose the number of the day, perhaps in the style of Sesame Street where 'Today's 'the number of the day is..' is bought to you by...Miss Moore'. Perhaps my Twitter followers would like to suggest some too...

I'm hoping that both these displays will take off from the 1st week back. It will hopefully create a bit of intrigue in my students and will get them wondering what the 'number of the day is' or what the 'number cruncher' will be (I can only hope). If nothing else it'll jog my memory of two tasks that I can pull out of the hat at the last minute if necessary!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

My Blank Canvas

Today I went to start setting up my new [school] home. I start at a 'new' school in September and have my own classroom, which has recently been re-plastered, painted and carpeted. I feel very lucky in this respect as it gives me a blank canvas to work from and make my own. It also gives me a fresh start at a school I used to work at as a Cover Supervisor.

My new classroom is already well underway and I will post all the pics once I have completed setting it all up. I'm currently waiting on the display boards and curtains being put back up, which are being done tomorrow. Here's my new room as it was this morning when I got into school...

 The view from the front of the room where my desk will be going. There's almost a room aside of the room, which I'm hoping to make into a 'breakout' area for my LSAs to work with selected students. I'll also have some storage over there so I can work either in this part of the room, or at my desk.
The view from the back corner of the room. I've got a massive whiteboard (very similar to last year) and an IWB, but I'm not sure that the IWB is fully functional yet - I need to get the IT boys to have a look at this as the previous teacher didn't use it as an IWB.
You can just about see the old display boards in the corridor - these are being replaced by newer boards by the very helpful premises team!
 The view into the (what I'm calling) 'room off of the main room' room. As you can see it's quite a large space, but you can't really use it as additional space for the class desks as the students sat here won't be able to see the board and would be a bit 'hidden' from the rest of the class.
View from the class door. My teacher's desk will be going in this corner - it makes sense as the leads to the IWB and my computer will have to go via the sockets in this corner (there aren't any elsewhere). My desk will go up against the wall rather than cornering off the corner. I feel this way I'm more able to support students that want to come up to the desk for help, it creates more space in the room and allows me to see the whole class clearly.  There will be a fair amount of space at the front of the room for students to come up to the board - something I want to encourage this year by getting students to write their solutions to problems or mistakes to problems that we can discuss as a class. I'll be working on 'number sense' with my KS3 classes this year a lot more than I have before based on the 'How to Learn Math' course I am currently studying - more on this to come.

This is the view from the door to the back of the room. As you can see there are plenty of windows that make the room quite light. The room looks out to the front of the school. When the curtains go back up it will naturally stop a fair amount of the light, but by no means will it be dark in the room.
In the top left of the picture you can see I have a beam that goes across the middle of the room. The ceiling is quite low and so I won't be putting up a 'washing line' display. Instead I plan to put the Nrich puzzles on the back of the beam that faces the students. On the side that I'll be facing I'll put the class clock etc for my own benefit.

I love how 'new' the room looks. It allows me to make the space my own and will hopefully give students a bit of a shock when they come back next Thursday (especially if they were taught in the room before as it was bright yellow and looked a bit 'bruised and battered').

Things I have learnt today:

It is surprising how exciting it is to get your set of keys for your room, dept, stationary cupboard etc
No matter how much preparation you put into getting everything ready to put up on display you still forget things. I had a list of things I still needed to print out and laminate before going back in tomorrow.
Wrapping paper makes excellent backing for display boards.
Moving tables, chairs and filing cabinets about is hard work!
It's surprising how much you deliberate the smallest of details.

I'll be posting the pics of the completed room over the next couple of days. I have a few new ideas in addition to using some of my existing displays that I used over the last few years. Watch this space...

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

My 'go to' websites and resources

In preparation for starting the new school year I've been busy going through my 'favourites' tab on my Internet Explorer browser. I thought this would be the ideal time (having deleted a lot of old sites and blogs that aren't regularly updated) to list them for future use over the course of the next school year. I figured this would be useful, not only to me, but to other teachers (and in particular Mathematics teachers) that are looking for a few reliable sources. So here they are...

Mathematics Websites/Blogs:

The TES Mathematics Resources page

This is definitely my first port of call when I'm looking for new resources to teach a particular topic. Being on the TES Maths Panel has its advantages too in helping sift out the very best resources on the site. Check out the @tesMaths Twitter account for regular updates on 'resource of the day' and 'resource of the week'.

Don Steward's 'Median' blog

This blog is crammed full of brilliant tasks and images that can be easily printed off to use in class. It is by far the site/blog I wish I was the creator of, thank you Mr Steward!


I love the Nrich posters (link above) and have many of these laminated and put on display in class for students to be inspired by and to do when they may have finished their task/s. The challenges, rich tasks and lesson ideas on the site are great.

Great Maths Teaching Ideas

This site, by William Emeny (@Maths_Master) is excellent when looking for...'great maths teaching ideas'. I particularly like his orange peel lesson to help show where the formula for the surface area of a sphere comes from. William regularly tweets out his ideas from the site so be sure to follow him (if you don't already - I'm sure there's 1 or 2 out there).

Ellie's 'Active Maths' blog

This was one of the first blogs I came across when I first joined Twitter. I followed @PivotalEllie and soon signed up to her 'active maths' e-mails. Although the site appears to not have any recent blog posts the e-mail tips are still being sent out and I would recommend signing up to these by going to the 'Join Free Tips List' page using the above link.

Mr Taylor's 'To Infinity and Beyond' blog

I follow Mr Taylor on Twitter (@taylorda01) and regularly read his blog posts. I find his reflections on his teaching and the regular posting of his own resources really useful. I particularly like the @mathschallenge tweets images that he has recently put together.

'I Speak Math' blog

The 'I Speak Math' blog is one that I have only recently stumbled upon and is by @jreulbach. It's a blog from the US for Middle School math teachers and each Sunday has a 'MS Sunday Funday' blog topic (much like the #blogsync) where math teachers all blog on a similar topic, which are then hosted on this blog. Great to get some ideas from across the pond!

Just Maths

Follow these 3 maths teachers on Twitter @Just_Maths for regular updates on the resources they create. They have some fantastic stuff on their website/blog free to download for others to use.

Would You Rather? blog

This is another recent find - a blog that has a lot of 'would you rather...?' questions that could be used as starter questions, extension problems, mini-plenaries etc. Well worth keeping in mind for the coming year.

Sheffield Maths

This site has loads of resources ready to download and use in class. I've used the 'Chris Moyles Quiz Night' loads in the past and are a favourite of my previous students.


The 'Settlers', in particular, are simply amazing. If you haven't seen on used them yet you're missing out.

Websites great for everyday resources & displays:

Teacher Resources on Line:

This site has number lines, graph paper, isometric paper, scales, grids, tables etc etc. I can't remember how many times I have thought to myself 'I need some 6 by 6 grids...' or 'where did I get my giant number line for the board...'. Everything is in one place here.

Teacher Created Resources

I like the monthly calendars on this site that you can download free as a pdf. They include information for each day that could spark conversations in tutor time.

A Maths Dictionary For Kids
Maths Charts (for teachers)

A great website for kids to use as part of homeworks, to aid in their understanding of the key mathematical terms and the charts are fantastic for displays. Print A3, some information can get lost (hard to see) if printed on A4.

Web Sudoku

A site to get all levels of sudoku puzzle for your students to do in class.

Ken Ken

An alternative to Sudoku, slightly more 'mathsy' than sudokus and just as popular with the kids.

IWB Tools

Online Stopwatch

I love this tool. I use it lots in class to time certain activities. I have also used it as a behavioural technique to count up the amount of time a class wastes talking when you're waiting at the front of the class.

Random Number Generator

Does exactly what it says on the tin. Choose your own range too.

Flash Maths

My favourite resource on the site is the 'Memory Maths' 'game'. Students get a 4 by 4 grid and sums flash up randomly in the boxes throughout the time limit allowed. You have to work out the answers and fill in the grid before the time is up.

Sum Sense

This IWB resource flashes up times tables with a twist...the numbers are given, and the spaces for them but you have to drag and drop the digits in the correct order to make the sum correct.

Form Time

Form Time Ideas

This site was set up by Jonathan Hall @StudyMaths this year and it's brilliant. It includes links to the BBC News articles of the day, has maths sums, science periodic table symbols, literacy tasks, jokes, facts and plenty more. I used it loads as soon as I saw Jonathan's tweet and will continue to do so next year.


Great for those questions that make you think. A site from the US that is updated daily. You can scroll back through 'wonders' and search via categories too to find something suitable dependent on your tutor group theme that week? Follow them on Twitter to find out the daily 'wonders' @Wonderopolis

100 Word Challenge

My form group regularly took part in this last year and I love the idea, the site and the way students get enthused about writing to each of the weekly prompts. Follow them on Twitter @100word and @TheHeadsOffice

And that's it for now. I'm sure there's loads I have forgotten and this is by no means an exhaustive list of the resources/sites I have used over the past few years. I'll update if I realise any I've forgotten...

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Scrabble Tiles: The Best Literacy/Numeracy Activity?

I often 'favourite' a lot of tweets I see on my Twitter feed and later revisit them. A lot of the tweets I favourite are just simply pictures to inspire me, have quotes on that I can use or can be put up on display in class. When looking back through my 'favourited' tweets recently I came across one that had tweeted the following picture...

There are plenty of these 'Scrabble' tiles images you can download and print out just by going to Google and doing a quick search.

I've just printed off about 8-9 of these on a full page of A4 so I have plenty to use in class. I've cut them all up, laminated them and they're now ready to use...

Here's how they look. I'm planning on using these in the following ways as short starter activities to do in class. My aim behind these activities is to give students a chance to get their brains thinking mathematically and to also introduce a bit of literacy into my lessons.

I imagine that, for English teachers, getting numeracy into lessons is just as tricky as it is for us Mathematics teachers to get in the literacy element. So hopefully with this task it covers both bases.

Here are the ideas...

For a starter task students would each be given 7-8 of the tiles each and they'd be asked to create a word that could either be linked to the lesson objectives or not. For other subjects that are trying to build in numeracy (Geography, History, Science etc) I feel you'd have to get students to try and link them to that subject. MFL could do the same here but with words in French, German, Spanish etc. For Mathematics however, they can just attempt any word they can think of from their tiles. Now, due to the numbers of each tile available some students may not get a suitable vowel or enough of certain letters, so I'd introduce an option here to work with partners or groups to 'swap' and share tiles as needed.
The idea would then be to try and come up with the highest scoring word possible. For weaker students this can be left by using the 'Scrabble' scores for each letter i.e. for the word 'algebra' they'd get 1 + 1 + 2 + 1 + 3 + 1 + 1 = 10. However to challenge students further...

You can get students to assign values to each letter of the Alphabet according to their position in the alphabet i.e. A = 1, B = 2, C = 3, ..., Z = 26. Then, having formed a suitably correct word, the student would multiply the 'Scrabble' tiles score with the letter's position in the alphabet. i.e. for the 'Scrabble' tile G, for which you get 2 points, and is placed 7th in the alphabet, you'd get a score of 2 x 7 = 14. All letter scores would then be added together to reveal the word's total score.

For example...

Using the word 'algebra'
A = 1 and is 1st letter of the alphabet, score of 1 x 1 = 1
L = 1 and is the 12th letter of the alphabet, score of 1 x 12 = 12
G = 2 and is the 7th letter of the alphabet, score of 2 x 7 = 14
E = 1 and is the 5th letter of the alphabet, score of 1 x 5 = 5
B = 3 and is the 2nd letter of the alphabet, score of 3 x 2 = 6
R = 1 and is the 18th letter of the alphabet, score of 1 x 18 = 18
and finally, A = 1 and is 1st letter of the alphabet, score of 1 x 1 = 1. So, that would give you 1 + 12 + 14 + 5 + 6 + 18 + 1 = 57. A total word score of 57.

Along the same rules you could ask students open questions like:

What is the best tile to choose?
Which is the best vowel to choose?
Would a 5-letter word always score more than a 3-letter word? Why? Why not?

Alternatively, you could get students to, on finding a suitable word, use BIDMAS (and the 'Scrabble' tile scores) to reach a desired number. For example, using the above word 'factor' and trying to reach the target number of, say, 24, you could do:

4 x (1 + 3 + 1 + 1 + 1) = 24

Again, you could ask here:

How many possible ways are there of making [24] with your word?
Which of the numbers between [1 and 10] can/can not be achieved with your word?
What's the highest number you can achieve with your word? How can you be sure?

If anybody has any other suggestions on how these could be used then please get in touch at @mrprcollins or by commenting below...I'm now going to check my SPAG!

Sunday, 11 August 2013


Back in June I came across the following resource on the TES...

The resource is a Darts project that gets students to practise their use of compasses to construct their own dartboard. This, however, is only the 1st part of the resource. The second part includes a set of 8 'challenge cards' that get students to answer questions based on the possible scores you can throw in darts. The challenge cards are differentiated and levelled starting at asking what scores you would get if you threw, say, a single 8, double 7 and treble 6 up to the highest level challenge cards which ask students to work out how many ways they can achieve a certain score with 1, 2 or 3 darts. The higher challenges require a lot of thinking and workings, which makes these challenges great for seeing how students approach a task, whether they are able to work systematically and present their findings.

As part of the resource the uploader (chk242) has included a lesson plan, the powerpoint with the challenge cards on it, assessment sheets and a link to his blog post, which you can also view below...

Naturally, as soon as I saw the resource I had to go and get myself a dart board and get started with the 'project' straight away. I used the end of term lessons to trial out the project.

Here's the dart board I got...

I was originally looking for a magnetic one as suggested in the blog post above, but when I saw the selection on offer at Toys 'R' Us in Croydon and saw this one I decided to go with this - it has that 'ping' noise when the darts hit the board, and I like that!

It only cost £12.99

The board is a magnet to the kids as soon as they see it. They want to know what it's for, whether they're going to play darts, if it's mine etc etc. It acts as a good visual aid for students when creating their dartboards using their compasses. The only downside to the one I have is that there is no bull/bull's eye, just the one 'bull'.

I found that it took most students a lesson and a half to complete their dartboards, after having introduced the project, used the mymaths lesson as the 'starter' activity and then set the class off on drawing their circles etc. It shows how weak some students can be with using a pair of compasses (and also that half the compasses I had to work with were far too loose to be used effectively). We were able to discuss how big each of the sectors had to be using angle facts we had learnt previously which was a nice 'stopping point' in the lesson when a few students had got to the point where they were ready to draw the sectors.
The challenge cards then took anything from a lesson and a half to 3 lessons depending on how much time you have to give to the project, and how long your students stay with it. Some of my students were really interested in finding all possible ways of making certain numbers using the darts and would happily have worked through each of the challenge cards if given the chance.

In addition to the challenge cards, and creating the dart boards I used my dartboard to have a class challenge to see who could get the highest '3 dart score', much like in the blog post above. This introduced a nice 'sideline' to the main tasks and my classes got quite competitive with this. I also used the board in a few of my 'last lessons' of the year to play other dart based games such as 501, 301 (when time permitted a shorter game) and 'Killer'.

I also found, that whilst the board was at the back of my room, I could use it to settle conflicts in the classroom or to use it as a reward for those that finished tasks. It's great for choosing a set number of questions students have to answer too, although this can go both ways depending on how good you are at darts/who you allow to through the 'dart of decisiveness'!

A lot of fun can be had with the 'project' and the dart board in general. I plan to have the board put up in my new classroom ready for next year (with the darts hidden out of sight until I need them).

The board was also used in my school's Open Evening. I had one of my top set year 9 students help me out with the board and we had a 'who could get the highest 3 dart score' competition on the night with (potential) students, their parents and their brothers/sisters all trying to get the highest score. The mental maths involved in adding their 3 darts was quite challenging for some of the younger students (and some of the parents too) and it created a great 'buzz' about the room we were in.

Thanks once again to chk242 for uploading this resource.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

How to Learn Math (Session 5)

To see my previous posts, reflecting on sessions 1-4, click on the below links...

Session 1:
Session 2-3:
Session 4:

Session 5 of How to Learn Math by @joboaler via Stanford University's online platform ( is called 'Conceptual Learning, Part 1: Number Sense'.

The session is possibly the most interesting yet due to the amount of classroom practice you get to see via the videos that are posted in the session. The session begins by calling on recent research to suggest that students' foundational knowledge of mathematics is what determines how successful they are in their future mathematics. Now, I've always been a believer that maths is like a set of building blocks and without the basics you don't get very far; you need a base level in order to build upon.
This is what this session was about. The session looked out how, at the basic level, students count, count on, have knowledge of number bonds or use 'number sense', the ability to break down and move around parts of numbers in order to make arithmetic easier. For example, when adding 7 and 18 you could add 18 and 2 to make 20 and then add on the remaining 5 (from the 7) to make 25. This was one of the examples I was given.

This was when the session got really great...

I was asked to then watch a few teachers going through some 'Number Talks' or 'Math Talks'. These classroom observations were fantastic in showing teachers' methods in finding out students ways of working out multiplications, additions and thinking of basic number questions. The clips showed a class of high school/undergrad students answering questions like 18 x 5, 12 x 15 and 25 x 29.
In each of the clips I was asked to note down what the teacher was doing and the 'teacher moves' they were using in the 'Number Talk'. These alone were really useful in thinking of ways to pull out answers from students, cover mistakes that crop up and get students to really think about how they're explaining their answers. I particularly found it interesting how one teacher used leading questions to drag out clarification from students as to what they were thinking. Lead ins like 'because...' and 'you knew that...' helped to get students to think of ways of explaining their previous thoughts.

What I also liked was that the teachers visualised the problems for students to give an added representation of the problems given. These were then linked to algebra and the distributive/associative laws.

A tip I picked up during the videos was that when a new idea or question was posed the teacher would get students to discuss with one another what they thought, rather than just waiting for someone to respond, as was stated - 'when ideas are complicated or new, sharing ideas can help u clarify our own thinking'.

The best thing about the 'Number Talks' is that it allows you and your peers to see the number of different ways of looking at a problem. It allows you to discuss common misconceptions and cover mistakes (learning from them in the process). For example with the first 18 x 5 question you could:

halve 18 to make 9, multiply this by 5 to give 45 and then double it to get 90
do 10 x 5 and 8 x 5 to get 50 and 40 and then add to give 90
do 20 x 5 to give 100 and then subtract 2 x 5 to give 90
you could visualise the problem in your head as being a multiplication problem set out in 'columns', going through what you carry over at each step and then coming to your answer
you could split the 18 into 6 and 3 and the 9 into 3 and 3 and then multiply these numbers together
you could draw a rectangle with length 18 and width 9, split it up as you feel best and work out individual areas before adding together
and so on and so on.
The beauty with this open approach to seeing the thinking involved is that you don't automatically see ALL possibilities, just the one that you perhaps prefer or know best. So, by getting all answers from a class you get to see other people's thinking and then can approach a new problem with an additional perspective.

I kept hearing phrases like 'number sentence' and 'friendly numbers'. These may be terms they use in the USA more often they we do in the UK, or perhaps they're used in the primary setting more than secondary but I can't say I've come across them myself, until now!
For clarity, a number sentence is a way of working out a problem, so for the problem where students were given a 'dot card' and asked how many dots were on it they were asked to say how they approached the problem. One student said they saw one row of 3, then a row of 2 and then another row of 3 and a final row of 2. Their number sentence would then be 3 + 2 + 3 + 2 = 10.
A 'friendly number' is a number that is 'nicer' to count with, like 10 and 5 and students try to break larger numbers down to these 'friendly numbers' to make the addition/multiplication/division etc easier to do. So for example 16-13 could be 10-10 and then 6-3 to give 3, rather than counting backwards, which requires a more difficult skill.

I continue to really enjoy the course:

it's making me think about the types of tasks I want to focus more heavily on this year
it's getting me to think about the language I use in class
it's getting me to think about the questions I pose in class
it's getting me to think about the messages my classroom can give students
and ultimately it's getting me to think more about how my students learn maths.

The videos are fantastic, the resources and references you can read through the online platform/download are great. I like the peer feedback facility and the short tasks that you are asked to do on there. If anyone hasn't started this already I suggest you sign up - there's plenty of time before the expiry of the course at the end of September.
I'm already getting intrigued about the student version of the course that will be coming out and whether this will be in the same format (online, free, through and how best to get my students on board with it and signed up! Hopefully more details will come available in due course...?

Friday, 9 August 2013

Picture Beads

Inspired by a question I was posed in Jo Boaler's (@joboaler) 'How to Learn Math' free online course [see] I have been getting creative with 'picture beads'!

Here's the question Jo posed...

This question has 2 parts, 1 open ended (growth-mindset) question and 1 closed (fixed-mindset) question.
The 'How do you see this shape growing' is of course the growth-mindset question as it is open ended, there are multiple answers, multiple entry points for students and there are different ways of looking at the problem (which I personally didn't see at first).

The 'How to Learn Math' course has made me more aware of the types of questions and tasks I give out in class and that I should be trying to make tasks as open ended as possible in order to instill a more growth-mindset in my students, allowing them to learn from their mistakes rather than just going through the methods learnt etc.

So, whilst I was in Ikea with @kutrahmoore (we were looking for a few bits for our new flat, exciting times!) she came across some beads that she apparently wanted to get elsewhere but were too expensive. I had no idea what they were or what she wanted them for but she said she'd explain when we got home.

Here's the pot (£5)...

When we got back...oh, I should probably say now that she's a Design & Technology teacher and so is a bit 'arty farty' having worked at a ceramics studios, studied at London College of Fashion (LCF) etc...she showed me how the beads worked by putting them on a 'peg board' in some sort of fashion, you then iron over the beads and it melts the plastic creating a picture of some sort that you can use for keyrings, place mats etc (I'm sure she'd come up with far more interesting ways of using these crafts).
So, it got me thinking of how I could use them. Immediately I thought about the beads and patterns they could form/make and so I started to play around with some of them on one of her peg boards.
Here's what I created...

 Here's my beads on the peg board arranged in a few patterns. My thinking is that I'd make a few of these and hand them out in class and pose students the same question as Jo did above...'How do you see this shape growing'. Then we'd go on to looking at working out specific pattern numbers, the 'nth' pattern etc. So, once you've created your pattern you then...
 ...put a piece of tracing paper (provided with the kit) over it and then carefully (otherwise the little buggers will move and you'll have to start over - this sucks) iron over it melting the plastic and making the beads 'stick' together. You have to iron them for about 3-4 mins and then...
 ...leave them to cool before peeling them off the peg board and the tracing paper.
 This is what they look like when they're finished, although Hannah (@kutrahmoore) said I should have ironed both sides. The side shown is the non-ironed side as I liked how the individual beads are easier to see here (and count). If I'd have ironed both sides you lose a bit of the definition between beads (as they all melt into one).
 Naturally, after I had made a few patterns for class I started to experiment...
 Then @kutrahmoore gave it a go too...
...and we created these little beauties! Great for a rainy day, or if you're a math teacher looking to introduce some open question on sequences/series/patterns etc.

We then got thinking and thought that these would be a great thing to do in a 'Creative Maths Club' that could be run after school for students to attend. They could take their created patterns home after, or even better, be used in other classes by other students - all created by the students. I've also thought about making some ratio bracelets too to use in class, all I'll need for this is some wire and to thread the beads onto these in different ratios!

Other ideas for a 'Creative Maths Club':

Origami numbers (I recently found an App on the iPhone that gives you instructions for making numbers from origami (folding paper)).
Angry Bird Nets
Polydron 3D shapes
Making Math board games
Darts! (there's a blog post coming soon about this)
+ plenty more

Get some 'picture beads', and the like, by going to Ikea or any other good arts and crafts store!

How to Learn Math (Session 4)

To see my reflections on session 1, and sessions 2 and 3 click on the links below...

session 1 -
sessions 2 & 3 -

I was looking forward to session 4 ever since Jo Boaler (@joboaler) had started to refer to Carol Dweck's research in fixed and growth-mindsets. Session 4 was titled 'Teaching for a growth mindset'.
As the session title suggests it focused on how you can teach a growth mindset to your students. There was a really great video at the start of the session that got you to look at a teacher in the states introducing the question of what 1 divided by two thirds would be. The lesson was fantastic in showing an approach whereby the students are invited to show their thinking of a problem and trying to make sense of the problem. The 'how does it make sense' part was key to the lesson where the teacher asked her students to show why they thought their answer made sense, rather than showing a method, getting students to learn and copy that method and then apply it to some questions. What I thought was great in the lesson was how many different reasons were presented by the students and how some of these reasons would not have been discussed had the teacher just taught the method to dividing fractions.
In the lesson you had one student draw circles on the board, split them into thirds and then highlighting 2 of the thirds before exclaiming that you have 1 and a half of the two thirds. Another student used a rectangle, like a strip to show how this could be split into 3 equal parts and then used a similar explanation to show an answer of two thirds. There were one or two students who still couldn't grasp these explanations and persisted with an answer of 6 as they believed the 2 over 3 'line' meant that you multiplied the 2 and 3 together. This misconception was picked up by another student (not the teacher) and explained. The same student then randomly pulled out the number 12 when the teacher was putting the question into context of having a yard of wood (or something like that) and needing to take two third chunks from it. The student that mentioned 12 was asked what they meant to which they replied there were 12 feet in a yard. You could almost here the teacher's mind click before she said yes, and what is two thirds of 12? 8 and then you have 4 left over which is half of this, which makes 1 and a half.
These discussions wouldn't have been discussed had the students not been asked to 'make sense' of the problem, rather than just answering it.

Then, in the session, we were asked to look at a blog post from a teacher who had taken a rather closed question involving mini golf and transformed it into a really interesting and engaging open ended task. This was great to read and it is definitely a lesson I'll be using in the future when teaching similar triangles.
Check out!

A few tips I picked up throughout the session were to 1) get students to 'convince themselves, convince a friend, convince a skeptic' and to 2) use a 'number sentence' when explaining their reasons to the class.

As has happened in previous sessions we were asked to do a few peer assessment questions which are read and commented on by other subscribers to the course. These questions/feedback have been really useful in seeing what ideas/opinions other teachers have and what things they are planning to do to get across growth-mindset messages to their classes.

The session also looked at what makes a growth-mindset problem and gave us 5 key things the growth mindset question should be (including having multiple entry points and being open). Jo discussed the problems with setting students in mathematics and what messages this gives them. She also discussed what good (growth-mindset) feedback should look like, why grades shouldn't be given based on research conducted and talked about our 'math brain'.

'Remember, the harder you work, the better you get at math'.

Check out too.

Go to to sign up for Jo Boaler's 'How to Learn Math'  now!

Friday, 2 August 2013

How to Learn Math (Sessions 2 & 3)

For my blog post on session 1 of this free online course by @joboaler click here.

Session 2 of the 'How to Learn Math' course I'm currently working my way through was called 'Maths and Mindset' and spoke about how the brain can change and adapt and discussed the differences between a 'fixed' mindset and a 'growth' mindset.
This session was shorter than session 1 and introduced Carol Dweck's mindset research. The session asked a few short questions, the one that stuck out was one where I was asked to say how, if schools took mindset evidence seriously, would things change.
The main way I feel things would need to change is how we, as teachers, give students feedback and how what we say and how students interpret our messages affect their mathematics and attitudes towards maths.

Session 3 was called 'Mistakes and Persistence'. Having introduced the 'fixed' vs 'growth' mindset work in session 2, this session spoke about how students learn best from making mistakes. There was a really interested part about what happens in our brains when we make mistakes, in terms of the synapses etc.
What seemed to be evident from the two sessions is that people with a 'growth' mindset make more mistakes and learn from them. It didn't take long before I realised that this course will help me introduce a 'Fail Safe' culture in my room this year. Session 4, which I am looking forward to, is 'Teaching for a growth mindset'. This session, I hope, will give me strategies to use in class this year to help enforce a 'growth' mindset in my students, make them feel safe in the fact that they can make mistakes without feelings of 'i've failed' or 'i'm not good at maths'.
What also became evident in this session was the subtleties in the language you use in class and how this language affects your students. For example, rather than saying, 'no, that's wrong' saying 'not quite yet' implies that they will, at some point get to the correct answer and are on a 'learning journey' towards that end; making a few mistakes along the way and learning from them.
Another interesting point was that of the 'didactic contract'. The contract we enter into with students when asked for help. A student will put up their hand and ask a question and the teacher would go over, answer the question for the student, and then the student has the answer they sought, without any real thinking on their behalf. As much as I'd like to say that I, instead, encourage students to seek the answers themselves by asking other questions of them like 'what have you tried so far', 'what do you think you could do', 'if you tried 'x' and it didn't work, how about trying 'y'?' and so on. This is something that naturally, when you're a bit fed up, it's the end of the week (perhaps Friday P5) and the student in question is short on interest, becomes easier to give them the answer they seek in the hope that they then apply your thinking (from your explanation to them when telling them the answer) to the next question.
Finally, there was a discussion on speed in mathematics lessons and how this is one of the contributing factors to students experiencing anxiety in our subject and being afraid to make mistakes. This even included questioning timed examinations and whether the time it takes a person to complete a task is really important over them arriving at the answer/solution in their own time. The pressure time can put on students to complete tasks got me to think about the timings I give in class, the 1 min timed times tables task I have given my 'bottom set' students all year and whether this has had a detrimental effect on their progress/mindset.
However, we need to have some time constraints surely? So, I perhaps need to do a bit more thinking here. Project-based learning tasks clearly are open to the amount of time a student spends on them, but there needs to be a point where we say, 'OK, that's done now and lets move on'. I feel that in class, timed tasks can increase students motivation, especially if there is a competitive element to the task?
As the last task in session 3 we were asked to design a poster to state to students that they learn from their mistakes and that it was OK to make them. I've recently purchased the 'Fail Safe' posters from @SparkyTeaching ( as part of my want to create a more 'mistakes are ok' environment this year. I gave the link to these posters for this task as I think they're great.

In summary (and things for me to think about/do):
'growth' mindsets beat 'fixed' mindsets hands down
I've got to get students into this  'growth mindset'
mistakes are important and are huge learning opportunities
'didactic contract' - avoid it
speed (good or bad?) - 'faster isn't smarter'
think about the language used in class
effort is needed from the students to solve a problem that is challenging
set up more 'Spot the Mistake' plenaries
think about feedback given in books/verbally
'I love mistakes'
students write mistakes on board and discuss as a class

Right, off to do session 4...