Monday, 30 June 2014

Y2 Problem Solving Day

Before reading this post you may be interested in a similar post I produced on the Y6 Problem Solving Day I ran earlier in the year. See that blog post here.

So, having done the Y6 Problem Solving Day I was asked to do a similar day for our local Y2 students. Having enjoyed the Y6 day I was happy to do a similar day for the Y2s and having not taught students this young before I was keen to get some experience here and tailor some different puzzles/problems for them. I decided to run the day very much like I did the Y6 day, by having a series of 'Bases' that the schools would rotate around like a carousel. However, I wanted to tweak things slightly for the younger students.

How I changed the carousel of activities was by having a final 'Team Challenge' in which all 6 schools would carry out the same task together, later to be judged by (it turned out) the library staff! In addition to this, one of the 'Bases' then became a mini-lesson to prepare them for the Team Challenge at the end of the day.

Before I go on to describe all of the 'Bases' and the activities I used on the day I must say at this point how much work and effort was put in by our fantastic Faculty Assistant in organising and arranging the day. All communication to our local Primary Schools went through her, she sorted out all of the refreshments for the day, e-mailed the teachers of my Y8 students who would be helping me on the day, sorted out sticky labels for name badges, printed and wrote certificates for the children and so much more I'm probably not even aware of! So, thank you JST, the day wouldn't have ran as smoothly without your support!

Here are the activities the students did on the day...

Base 1 - Tarsia Puzzle

In this 'Base' the students had to piece together the 24 triangles to create a regular hexagon. On the perimeter of the hexagon there were 12 numbers they then needed to sum to give the total number, which was the answer for that base.

The trick with this task is that there were more than 1 question that had an answer of 60 and 9 and so this affected how the triangles were put together as if not in the right place they would not 'fit'.

If you haven't done these Tarsia puzzles before I suggest you head over to Hermitech Lab for the free downloadable software. There are also lots of these pre-maid puzzles on the TES to download too.

The students had 20 minutes for each base and this was one of the more challenging 'Bases'.

Base 2 - Magic Square(s)

In this base the students had to arrange the 9 number tiles (2 different groups of tiles to choose from: 1 easier, 1 harder) into a 3 by 3 grid so that the rows, columns and the 2 longest diagonals all added up to the same amount.

This, for the harder set of tiles, was quite tricky for the students. The easier set of tiles were more appropriate, yet some did get the answer to the harder set of tiles.

The answers are below for each set...

The harder set of tiles' answer was 99. The easier set of tiles' answer was 18.

As this was one of the harder bases some schools decided to use their 'Clue Tokens' on helping them to complete the task. The 'Clue Tokens' were given to each school at the start of the day to use whenever they needed some help on a task/base. My Y8 helpers that assisted the schools and their students on the day had all the 'clues' given to them alongside the answers to each base. If a school wanted to use a clue token, they were told on the instructions to each base (see my Dropbox folder for these) what the clues would consist of. In this case, if a school wanted to use a Clue Token, they'd give a token to their Y8 helper and they would then either, tell them the number tile that went in the very centre of the 3 by 3 grid, or tell them the total of each row, column and the diagonals.

The 'Clue Tokens' worked well. Each school was given 3 tokens, each worth 5 points. Any unused tokens were added onto their final score.

Base 3 - The Frogs Problem!

This was my favourite base of the day! The frogs came out of a discussion I had with one of my colleagues (CMU) earlier in the year. We were talking about our Perspective Parents' Evening and the tasks we did on this day and I mentioned the Frogs Problem as a possibility for the future, but thought there needed to be some actual Frog teddies or toys for the students to move, rather than have the mymaths task on the computer, or similar. My colleague, one of our school's cover supervisors, then suggested that she could make them for us [she's amazing at stitching and stuff]! A week later a frog found its way to me and on seeing its brilliance asked if she'd make 6 for us to use at PPE and the Y2 Problem Solving Day. After months of her putting together the 6 Frogs and the 7 Lily Pads they were complete and ready for the day. They look fantastic and were an immediate conversation starter when the Y2 students were arriving. The children loved them and loved moving them about to try and rearrange the frogs. If you are unaware of the 'Frogs' Problem' and the Mathematics behind it, just Google it! The students just had to write down the fewest number of moves it took to rearrange the frogs. However, I allowed them to move the frogs both forwards and backwards (left and right) whereas the computer software versions do not allow this. This kept the task going longer than it may have done and schools did not get 'stuck' as they may have if they could not physically move them further without restarting.

The frogs have now been homed in my classroom above one of my windows. All my classes have asked about them and when they got there. They've asked what they were used for, if they'll be using them etc. They'll come out again towards the end of the school year for sure, and at PPE next year!

They fit perfectly between the ceiling and the window cover. The Lily Pads are kept atop one of my bookcases.

Base 4 - The Horse Race

The good ol' Horse Race. We did this at our PPE evening this year, to great success (on a large grid created on one of our classroom floors using masking tape). So, I thought it'd be great here too. The students had to roll the die to generate the number horse that would move forward one square (drawn on the Magic Whiteboards I laid down [see]) The horse at the end of the grid 1st would win.

All the students were asked was which horse was most likely to win.

The students enjoyed using my large foam dice to generate the numbers and moved some multilink cubes to represent the horses. In future, I need to get some horse toys to move instead to make it a bit more realistic! Some good discussions were heard on this task when the school's teachers/assistants were asking them questions as to why certain horses (1) hadn't moved etc.

Base 5 - Pentominoes

This base involved students placing the 12 pentominoes into a 10 by 6 rectangle. I like this task as it is one of those 'easy access, high challenge' tasks. The students found it challenging and only one school managed to complete the rectangle.

This was another of the bases where 'Clue Tokens' were used. My Y8s had the solution to hand and if/when a token was used, they placed some of the pentominoes correctly for them.

Base 6 - Mini-Lesson to set up the 'Team Challenge'

What I liked about being able to give each school a mini-lesson was that it allowed me to see what they had been learning at school recently and what knowledge they already had about basic 2D and 3D shapes. I was impressed by how much they already knew. Some schools mentioned 'vertices' and other properties of shapes; they linked the position of the midget gems and cocktail sticks to these properties too! Other schools were able to talk to me about the school trips they'd been on and famous bridges they knew that would help them build their bridge for the 'Team Challenge'.

In this mini-lesson, I got students to practise using the midget gems and cocktail sticks to make cubes and tetrahedrons. These would then be used later in the Team Challenge. Students, on seeing the sweets (midget gems) were hooked straight away and this 'base' helped explain the instructions for the later challenge. I used the JustMaths presentation that accompanied their blog post on this task (see below). I had my iPad to help me deliver this presentation and the Y8 helper of each school took over the presentation half way through so I could go round the rest of the bases and ensure everyone was OK and any questions were answered.

I should say at this point that my Y8 helpers were fantastic. They made me proud as I selected the helpers from my own Y8 class. Although they are set 3 of 4, I choose the 7 helpers from my class as I knew them and the top set students are usually used for days like these and the other students in the lower sets don't often get asked. I liked the fact that I choose my students as I already have a good relationship with them and I knew I could trust them to do as asked on the day. They were brilliant throughout. Each was assigned to a different school to follow round the bases and help where needed. They were all given an 'answer pack' and the instructions all the schools would have. They found the bases challenging at times too and being able to answer the questions the younger students were asking them throughout would have given them great confidence. So, thank you to all 7 of them!

The idea for the cocktail sticks/midget gems bridges came from and you can see their blog post here. The blog post includes the presentation I used in Base 6 above.

The Team Challenge

The big finale of the day was the 'Team Challenge' where, using what they had learnt in Base 6, they'd create, in their schools, the best bridge they possibly could. The bridge had to be made solely from a 27p (I know!!) bag of midget gems and a box of cocktail sticks. It had to be freestanding for 5 seconds and had to allow a 10-stick of multilink cubes to pass underneath it. The team challenge was very kindly judged by the 2 ladies that work in our Library and their input was very much appreciated - I didn't want to have to award points and so asked them to do it for me! They judged the bridges on their structure, 'sturdyness', appearance and other variables such as height, width and adherence to the rules above.

Here are some of the bridges the students created (I let my 7 Y8 helpers do this task too as an extra team)...

My Y8s' effort!
 The winning school's bridge!
 The winning bridge (partially complete, they added another layer to each 'tower' to make it taller and therefore even more impressive)

The day ended with the presentations of certificates to all students that took part and all the Y8 helpers. Thanks were given to members of staff that helped me throughout the planning and delivery of the day. All students went home with a few mementos of the day (a personalised pen of our school and a fuzzy book pal thing [I'm not really sure what this was if I'm honest, but it looked quite sweet]). Whilst on duty after school later that week I spoke to a parent of one of my Y10 students who works at one of the schools that attended the day and she spoke very highly of the day. I even saw one of the students walking home from our most local primary school (they're right next door) and she made a point of saying hello to me and then explaining to her mum who I was!

I'm yet to send round a survey to the staff that accompanied our primary schools but await their feedback to make the day even better next year. One thing we will be looking at getting is a 'Problem Solving' Trophy to give to the school that wins, rather than a confectionery-based prize!

For all the resources I used on the day, see my public Dropbox folder below...

I hope these are of use to others. If there's anything missing please let me know. Anything not in the folder may be included in the links given in this blog post above.

Let me know if you do use some or all of the resources. Comment below or tweet me @mrprcollins.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

takeaway homework - the initial phase

Over the May half term I created a takeaway homework menu 'twenty seven' for my classes based on @TeacherToolkit's idea in his '100 Ideas for Secondary Teachers' book. To see this blog post, and my menu, see my previous post here.

Having tweeted out the link to the above post I was overwhelmed by the responses and reactions to the menu and it has already made it into my top 5 blog posts of all time. The corresponding tweets have been favourited and retweeted more than the majority of my tweets and there is clearly a 'good feeling' about this approach to homework.

So, how has the menu/approach gone down with my students?

Initially, I have trialled the approach to homework with 3 of my classes: my year 10 set 1, year 8 set 3 (of 4) and year 9 set 3 (of 4). I gave each of my students their own copy of the menu and ensured there was a copy on the school's VLE for them to access should they lose their hard copy. I showed my students a brief presentation of the menu and used this to explain/give examples of each task as requested from any questions the students had. If you would like to see this presentation (and adapt it/tweak the menu design/layout) then click here. Then, all I had to do was...wait; wait for the homeworks to come in and wait to see the quality of the work produced...

I've kept it simple for my classes, each Wednesday I take in homework and hand back to them the previous Wednesday's homework (this is possible due to teaching all my remaining classes [now that Y11 have left] on a Wednesday each week).
Below I have inserted some photos of just some of the fantastic pieces of work I have had in so far...

 Ok, this has to be my favourite piece that has been handed in so far. Not only does it involve some classic computer game characters (Sonic, Link, Mario etc), but the simultaneous equations used clearly shows application of the students previous learning. Complete this with fantastic art work and presentation it was more than I was hoping for from any of my students!
'Songs to do Maths to'...BRILLIANT! As a superstar DJ myself and creator of 'Maths DJing' this task was right up my street. This student not only listed 14 songs that he found lyrical relevance to what we have been learning this year, but he also then explained the addition of each song in his 'album' and...even put the songs on a CD. His class are now wanting to listen to the songs in one of our lessons later this year!

Here's the 'explanations' as to why each song is included and the CD.

 A really nice 'fortune teller' here including factorising quadratics, simultaneous equations and expanding double brackets
 This student expressed each of the topics we had studied over the course of a term in a tweet, summing up their learning in each in 140 characters. I've put these up on my 'Twitter Board' in class as examples of good 'tweets' to sum up a lesson's learning.

One of the most popular tasks has been to create a '4 pics 1 word' for a key word from one of our recent lessons. This one's from one of my Y8's lesson on angles.

Here's another from one of my Y10's...

Having covered trial and improvement with my Y9 class, one of my students decided to create a revision poster showing an example of what he had learnt. He also included some questions from our subsequent lesson on expanding brackets and simplifying expressions.

Today, when collecting in the 2nd batch of takeaway homework from my Y8s I had one student create a tessellating shape just like we did in class. She even laminated it...nice!

Another of my Y8s decided to create a set of flashcards for key words she'd learnt this year. These must have taken a while to produce and so I awarded her an extra 'chilli' for her efforts.

A favourite among my Y9 class has been the 2 facts and a lie task. This is one example of a nicely presented one. The answer was included on the back to be the 2nd statement, when marking (see more on this below) I highlighted to the student the need to check her 3rd statement.

Another of my Y10s created this set of playing cards. There were questions on one side (linear simultaneous equations) and their answers on the reverse. She made one suit of these.

Here are a selection of the 'tweets' that a combination of students have produced. If having 'tweeted' I gave them a tweet template so that I could put them up in class on my 'Twitter Board'. This also ensures they've stuck to the 140 character limit!

Finally, here is an example of a '100 word challenge' that sums up one of my Y9's learning. I like the reflective nature of this homework and highlighted that I need to check on him next lesson!

So, I've been overwhelmed by the quality of homework I have received from my students. The quality of work and, in some cases, the quantity have been far greater than if they were given 'normal' homework via a worksheet of questions, mymaths task or other task I had set in the past. Has it solved all homework Those students that have always lacked in the amount of homework they'd handed in are still needing chasing and detentions set. Some students are doing the bare minimum and I've had to use my feedback to their tasks to try and get more out of them in future homeworks. I've found that those students who have done their homework to the required standard and on time all year have excelled with this approach and some of those that have had issues in handing in homework on time and to the required standard have been engaged in the approach and are now producing excellent pieces of homework and ultimately doing some independent learning.

In addition to the examples shown above I've had about 4 or 5 videos shown to me in class. 1 student is doing a 'Maths Vlog' and is uploading his videos to his YouTube Channel. He asks each week if I can show his weekly vlog to the class, which I've been doing. His videos are quite whimsical and seem to be enjoyed by the class. Another student, bless her, put up a piece of paper on her kitchen wall and got one of her friends to film her explaining how to solve simultaneous equations. She had her iPad to hand as she was delivering her instruction and this was as good as anything else I have received. My Y8s have been enthused by creating their own videos and 2 different students created their own video on how to create a tessellating shape. Both these videos were in excess of 10 mins and they've clearly put in a lot of time and effort here.

So, how do I assess these homeworks and give my students feedback on their tasks?

I've been experimenting with the best way to do this over the last week or so and here's what I've been doing so far...

1) I have set up a 'takeaway homework' display in my class to showcase excellent examples of tasks completed. In addition to this I have put a list of 'honorable mentions' for the week for those students who have created tasks that I am unable to physically stick to the wall (those that have made videos etc). Here's the display...

The menu is on the wall for easy reference, this has come in handy when remembering how many chillies each task is worth!
A slightly wider view!

2) For those students who have gone above and beyond what I had expected I have sent home a postcard. We, as a department, send home postcards to students that have impressed each fortnight. I've used these to highlight the great homework that I've received. Each time I write a postcard I make sure I state the reason, so have clearly said they've received them due to their takeaway homework.

3) I have 'marked' each homework using my WWW/EBI stamp giving the students constructive feedback as to what I like about their takeaway homework and what they could do next time to improve. Here are some examples...

 With this person's tweet I suggested using #s to pick out key words. I later suggested to them that they could define these key words to show their understanding of their meaning.
 Having covered construction of 2D shapes I suggested that this 'logo' could have been improved by using their knowledge of constructions to make a more accurately drawn logo. I suggested that this 'logo' didn't really show much mathematical knowledge/use of anything we had done in class.
 Although this set of questions, to which the answers are 27, are all correct and quite general. I suggested that they could have used the current topic we were studying on areas/volumes to link this task to their learning, rather than having a general mathematical link. This way they'd have practised their newly learnt skills better. I gave an example here of what I meant.

I really liked this homework as the person drew some sketches of triangles, all with missing angles that were 27 degrees! My suggestion was to have accurately drawn the triangles as we had covered SSS, SAS and ASA triangle constructions.

They received one of my 'awards for awesomeness' for this as well as a postcard home. This student had previously struggled to get homeworks in on time and was something I had discussed with his parents recently so I was really impressed by the quality of his work.

A lot of the 2 facts and 1 lie type homeworks have been a bit 'dodgy' and some have had errors in them. This was one I liked as the 2nd statement got me thinking as to it's 'factualness'!? My suggestion was to provide examples for each statement to show it's validity.

4) I have been keeping track of each students' chillies and track that they have handed in something each week. Here's my mark book set up for the rest of the school year...

I have a column for each chilli and a column for each week to check that something has been handed in. This way it's easy for me to tell each student how many chillies they've handed in so far, what they owe and I can chase those that have not handed in their homework. In the past I've kept records like this, but haven't had a separate marksheet for homework. This is something I will continue next year.

If you've got to this point...thanks for reading! This is something I've been really passionate about since the May half term. It's involved a lot of reminding my students of the due dates and what is expected. I have referred to pieces that have been handed in in each of my lessons, trying to give students as much idea as what other classes are producing and what can be done with each task.
Word has got round my department about the approach and I gave a department briefing about how I've been using it this week.
My HoD has adapted the task to use for group work with her classes and this has gone down well with her classes. My school's English HoD has also got word of the menu and requested a copy in the hope of creating something similar in English.

The takeaway homework journey continues and I'll update you on the progress in due course!

If you have any comments I'd love to hear from you about what you think about my approach to the takeaway homework phenomenon. Either comment below or tweet me @mrprcollins

Thursday, 5 June 2014

'Post-it Note' style Plenary

When I was sifting through my resources to plan a lesson on composite shapes I came across a question from a previous UKMT Junior Challenge. I decided to use this question as a plenary with my Y8 class. When thinking about how to best use the question as a plenary I decided to get the class to use 'post it notes' to indicate to me the answer they believed to be true.

Here's what I did...

I gave each student a post-it note and told them to put their name on it. I then, on my whiteboard, wrote the letters A-E, split into 5 separate columns. On my IWB I then displayed the question to the class and told them that I would read the question out to them, give them a bit of time to think about it, then, when they had an answer, they'd come up to the board and place their named 'post it note' on the board under the letter's column they believed to be true. After reading the question, I gave the class a bit more support by drawing a diagram of the 6 by 8 and 7 by 9 rectangles and then, using SMART notebook, dragged them over the top of one another to create the overlapping shape in the given question. This was a really good visual representation of the problem and soon allowed students to start noticing the dimensions of the shaded areas to work out (see image below).

I was really impressed with how the class responded to the task and praised them for attempting, and doing so well, on a challenging question (I told them about the UKMT Junior Challenge and how we, as a school, usually only enter our set 1 students in KS3 [my Y8 class are set 3 of 4]).

Here was the end result...

You can just about see my supportive diagram on the IWB, overlapped, having previously been drawn separately and then dragged together.

Another great thing about this...the answer was 27! My Y8s thought I had designed the question myself, I had no idea until I checked it through when planning the lesson - a wonderful coincidence (especially having just introduced them to my 'twenty seven' takeaway homework - see

When reflecting on the usefulness of the task as a plenary and assessing where my students got to, the one downside I could see, was the potential for students who had no idea to follow the crowd and just place their post-it where everyone else did. Not sure how best to avoid this in future...answers on a postcard please (or in a tweet @mrprcollins)

Sunday, 1 June 2014

'twenty seven' - Takeaway Mathematics Homework

This has been brewing for a while now...

...I've finally had a chance to sit down and create my own version of Ross McGill's (@TeacherToolkit) brilliant 'takeaway homework' idea.

If you haven't already read his excellent '100 Ideas for Outstanding Lessons' then you must go and sort this out. This idea came from that very book (idea #56) and Ross blogged about it, and all those teachers already using their own, on his blog at:

This is well worth a read to get the background information on the idea and to see what else is out there that can be used/'magpied'.
Being the insomniac that I am, I have just created my very own takeaway homework menu and can't wait to introduce this to my students when returning to school, well, I suppose...tomorrow! I would like to introduce my new takeaway restaurant...'twenty seven'...

This is the logo I created for my menu. All my students have had it drummed into them that 27 is my favourite number and so there really was only one name I could have gone with!

FUN FACT: Did you know, 27 is the only 2-digit number whose sum of its digits is equal to the sum of its prime factors?!

I started scribbling some ideas and tasks for my takeaway menu on my 'Penultimate' app on my iPad and then, having got the basics down, created the above logo. It's pretty much steamrolled from there. I looked at a lot of the other takeaway menus already out there and took inspiration from many of them when creating the rest of my menu. Thank you to all of you who see something similar in mine below! I'm surprised at how much time I've put into the layout and design of it, as well as ensuring the content is sufficient and varied.

Here's how the 'front' looks...

and the 'back'...

I decided to have the menu fold into thirds. After I had designed it and was happy with the layout, etc, I printed it off to see what it'd look like. Here are a few images of the folded version that I'll be handing out to students/having on display in class...

 This is what the front of the menu looks like (when folded)

Here's a view of the folded version, looking inside the menu
 The back of the menu, with the instructions
The inside of the menu, fully opened up.

I'm really pleased with how the menu has turned out and have now turned my attentions to ensuring I introduce it to students in the right way. I want to make sure I cover any questions they may have about how we're going to be using it.

The thoughts I've had are as follows:

I'll need to see, from them, a piece of homework each week, or at least evidence that they are working on one of the more demanding tasks (a 'main' or 'special'). This way I'll still be 'setting' homework in line with my school's homework policy and the students will be getting the required amount each week/fortnight.
By insisting on students achieving at least 12 chillies throughout the half term this covers the above too.

The students will get full choice over what tasks/combination of tasks they complete and I've tried to include a range of tasks to suit all students interests. Equally, for those that don't have access to certain equipment they'll still have plenty to choose from. This was another reason I chose the name 'twenty seven' - lots of choice!

The tasks are all pretty standard and so should allow students to choose any of them for a particular topic they are studying. I didn't want to have to create one of these takeaway homeworks each week, for every new topic we looked at, and so kept the tasks generic. Mine could probably be used for most subjects - there's only a few 'subject specific' tasks in there.
Equally, students can now take their own 'spin' on the tasks and adapt them as they feel necessary.

This is something I'll look to share with the rest of my department/school after I start seeing the results of it, the homeworks start coming in, students' reactions etc.

In order to track what each student has/hasn't done (chilli wise) I'll add a column to my markbook and update this each week when 'reviewing'/collecting in homework. I'll also need to explain to my classes (the ones I choose to run this with initially) that the same expectations apply in terms of not meeting the required standards. As there is the goal of achieving 12 'chillies' over the course of the half term, I will also have some sort of 'progress check' week whereby students will be reminded of how many chillies they still owe.

I intend on putting a copy of my takeaway homework on the school's VLE for them to refer back to each week. I'll also create a display in my room for them to look at a few laminated copies of the menu and for them to see examples of homeworks completed (as I get them in). I'll share these on here this space!

In terms of the tasks that are on the menu, I've thought about having exemplar materials to show the students the type of thing I'm looking for with each task. Some of this will naturally come into play when some homeworks start coming in, but ,initially, they may be unaware as to what is expected? Do I need to spend a good half of a lesson explaining the tasks? Now, I don't want to limit what they are capable of here and so feel this will only really be needed to explain the more unusual tasks - tasks like the hexaflexagon and crossnumber (for those students that haven't done one of these in class with me before). I also feel it'll be important to show students examples of 'good' homeworks as they come in to get the class excited about what is being done by others and get them to think about what they can do with the task, how they'd do it differently, how could it be made better etc.

I'll also have to think about how I 'mark' each piece of homework and what 'success criteria' my marking will be based on. Perhaps I'll discuss this with each individual class and together agree on the criteria to be assessed against?

Lots of things to think about. Lots of things that will probably come out of trialing it for a few weeks and seeing where it takes us. Nonetheless, I'm excited about the impact it can have on my students. Homework, at present, is something I set because I'm told I have to. It's something that has become quite predictable in that it'll be a 'complete your mymaths tasks' or 'do this worksheet'. By giving my students the choice of what they do, as long as they do something, it should improve return rates, engagement and (of course) their learning.

Please let me know your thoughts if you're one of the many teachers already using Ross' idea. Let me know what you think about my menu too.
Comment below or find me on Twitter (@mrprcollins)

Check out the progress I've made with the #takeawayhomework by viewing my subsequent blog post - 'takeaway homework-the initial phase' -->

If you'd like a copy of my menu it can be downloaded from my TES resources here.