For me to improve… September ’17

This is my first blog post in the ‘For me to improve…’ series in which I explain what I’m doing to be a better maths teacher. This blog explains the thought process behind the series.

I’m always looking to use equipment and images to represent concepts, and I like my maths lessons collaborative and open. This makes my classroom management skills important so lessons teeter on the healthy side of organised chaos. My partner Y1 teacher last year was the maestro in seeing a logistical detail that I’d missed. I learnt a lot from her, and I also came across some interesting ideas reading Visible Learning for Mathematics. So here are my five targets for the new term:

Promote a learning action
In each lesson, identify one key ‘learning action’ to promote. My thought process will be ‘Which learning behaviour will improve the outcomes in this particular lesson?’ It could be as simple as turning your body to face your partner; it may be more complex like asking clarifying questions; it might be a maths-specific thing like finding different ways to answer a question.

Prepare individuals for the social demands of lessons
I’m a big fan of small-group pre-teaching to help all children access the big ideas of a lesson, breaking down barriers and predisposing misconceptions. It’s helped me to facilitate mixed-attainment groupings. However, for some children the barriers may be the social demands of a lesson. Perhaps Harry finds it harder to share resources; maybe Jade dominates group discussions. A quick conversation or organisational change beforehand might make a big difference.

Make discussions active
I liked this idea from VL for Mathematics: during a whole-class discussion, put your thumb up on your chest if you agree with the speaker and want to add something; put your fist against your chest if you have a different viewpoint. This encourages children to actively participate in discussions without being intrusive to the speaker.

Exit tickets
I’m going to make a clearer distinction between most questions and tasks, used to generate discussions, and short ‘exit ticket’ tasks that are completed independently and used to give more accurate AfL information. The nature of the marking may also vary depending on the conditions in which the work is completed. I’m hoping that this will help to keep children accountable for their own progress and avoid social loafing in group tasks.

Cognitive load and challenge in calculation
In some lessons, particularly early in a unit, I want the challenge to come from understanding the concept so I will minimise the challenge in the calculation. Consider 14 = 6 + ___ (WR Progress Check, Aut Y1, q4). We can learn the concept ‘= means same as’ using numbers within 5. Once that concept has been secured (a concept which tends to need more than a little reinforcement), the challenge within the calculation can be set at an age-appropriate level.

And as ever this year, I make the same vow to the children in my care:
‘I promise to learn alongside you.’


For me to improve…

No book has had a more powerful effect on me as a teacher than Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed. My summary below doesn’t do the book justice.

Inside every aircraft there are two practically indestructible black boxes: one box records flight information, the other records the dialogue between the pilot, co-pilot and air traffic control. In the event of an accident, the black boxes are hunted down and scrutinised so that the exact causes (or contributory factors) behind a crash can be examined. Crucially, in the aviation industry mistakes are viewed as precious opportunities for improvement. Processes are in place so that these lessons can be shared across the industry. Little wonder that you are infinitely safer in an aircraft than driving to an airport.

Black Box Thinking goes on to examine the cultures that exist in some of the world’s most innovative organisations. It also looks at the damage that can be caused when an attitude of fear, or an unwillingness to learn from mistakes, exists within a profession.

It made me reflect personally. Did I actively seek out my own weaknesses? Was confirmation bias making me blind to my shortcomings? When I started teaching (back in 2004) I really struggled and needed to find ways to improve to maintain some degree of sanity. Since then I’ve always been driven to keep getting better, but my processes for improvement could, well, improve. I made three simple commitments:

  • Broaden my experience.
  • Showcase the weakest (rather than the strongest) aspects of my teaching.
  • Make others feel comfortable to suggest how I can get better.

I think that my greatest responsibility as an experienced teacher isn’t to teach the best lessons, but to model the best processes for self-improvement. That, for me, is about being comfortable with (and even enjoying) vulnerability, and about empowering the people around me.

To that end, each term I’m going to write a blog called ‘For me to improve…’. It will chronicle the mistakes I’ve made and the aspects of my teaching that I’m trying to get better. I’m sure I’ll pick up lots of great advice along the way – episode 1 is coming soon!

Experiencing 100 with Y1

Here’s an idea for helping children to experience numbers up to 100. I came across it in a NCETM video in October last year (not quite in time to use it with class).

On the video, a year 1 class had a display on which they count the school days in a year. The number of days was shown using dienes, Numicon and symbolically. The children described how many days there had been, for example, on the 27th day as two sets of ten days and 7 more. After 100 days the class held a 100-themed party to celebrate.

The children saw the number of days increasing gradually; they saw ten ones become one ten; quantities were represented using different visuals. It gave me an idea. We’ve just moved house, so I thought I’d count the first 100 days with my 5 year-old daughter – it’ll give us another opportunity for a party too!

As you can see, we’re going to record the day on a number line, using 10-frames, symbolically and on a diary. We’ve not unpacked yet, so I’ll need to find a better space for our poster than the kitchen table… I’m sure it’s also an idea that many teachers will consider using with their classes.

I hope you have a fantastic start to the new term. Look out for my upcoming ‘For me to improve…’ series of blogs, being written soon, where I will write about my weaknesses as a teacher and what I’m doing to address them. It promises to be a great year!

I See Reasoning – UKS2

We all want to be able to build reasoning into daily maths lessons. For a time-pressured teacher, that can be easier said than done. I See Reasoning – UKS2 provides rich tasks to deepen learning across the maths curriculum. It’s my ‘go-to’ resource when preparing lessons.

Concepts in I See Reasoning – UKS2 are often shown visually. In the Which picture? questions children match questions to a correct visual representation:

Explain the mistakes questions draw attention to likely errors:

Questions encourage connections between related calculations:

Children are encouraged to find multiple solutions:

And there are a range of other question types besides:

I See Reasoning – UKS2 comes as a PDF file emailed direct to your inbox. You can then save the file in a location of your choice. You can view the file from an Etsy account if you have one (although you don’t have to make an account to receive the file by email). Circulation of the file is prohibited.

Screenshots can be taken to be used in presentations or printed for children’s work. There are 176 questions, all varied in form, with answers provided where necessary. I See Reasoning – UKS2 corresponds to US grades 4&5 and Australian year groups 5&6.

I believe that I See Reasoning – UKS2 can be used to supplement any scheme of work. I hope it helps to deepen the learning in your classroom; I also hope that it makes your life easier when planning at the end of a busy school day!


Training and Resources for Summer ’17

I set up I See Maths to help time-limited teachers create powerful learning experiences in maths, engaging children intellectually and emotionally. To that end, here’s what I’m offering this summer:

I’m delighted to announce four new conference dates this summer: full conference details can be found here. Early Number Sense: Beyond Counting  will give a clear Nursery-Y2 vision for how children build a strong feel for number and learn to calculate using non-counting strategies. We will explore how mathematical play can be extended and how reasoning can be embedded. Reasoning and Depth in KS2 Maths will give an exciting and practical vision for deepening mathematical learning, including how images and resources can be used to build understanding.

If you are interested in this training, you may consider arranging a conference event at your school – all that is needed is a spare room. This is a very cost-effective and popular way of running training – for full details click on the top two links on this page.

Resources to Buy
I’m working hard on the I See Reasoning eBook range and hope to write the UKS2, LKS2 and KS1 versions this term (I may be dreaming!). This will give teachers a massive bank of questions and tasks that will open up discussions and encourage reasoning. I’m extremely excited about this project – this blog gives more detail.

The iPad app I See Calculation is also in the final stages of being built. It will show standard written methods for calculation one step at a time. A child could check their answer to a question with a calculator; with I See Calculation they will be able to check each step of their written calculation.

Free Resources
I’m intending to create a series of free ‘flipbook’ dot pattern games that will help children to visualise addition, subtraction and multiplication, opening up discussions about calculation strategies.

Full details about my INSET training and in-school support can be found by clicking the links. I’m a NCETM Charter Standard provider of CPD and, being a class teacher, still very au fait with the realities of teaching in the classroom.

I hope that, in some way, my work can help you in the daily challenge of delivering great maths lessons. Enjoy the summer term!

I See Reasoning – In Production!

I’m passionate about creating maths tasks that get children thinking in new ways and generate curiosity. I’ve spent many enjoyable hours dreaming up such tasks: open-ended prompts that promote discussion; images that build understanding; questions that get children exploring big mathematical ideas in depth.

This summer I’m releasing all of my favourite tasks in a series of eBooks called ‘I See Reasoning’ – there will be UKS2, LKS2 and KS1 versions. I believe these tasks will become a ‘go to’ resource for primary teachers as they plan lessons, giving a range of thought-provoking questions and prompts for each maths topic. This isn’t another bank of SATS-style questions – tasks are more visual, more extended and much more open-ended.

First released will be ‘I See Reasoning – UKS2’. For each topic expect:

Prompts that facilitate open discussion

Explain the mistakes (above left), less information (above right), rank by difficulty and ‘broken calculator’ are common structures.

‘Minimally different’ questions
Varying the structure of questions very slowly. All of a child’s working memory is focused on the mathematical concept being developed – a structure I suggest using early in a sequence of learning.

Tasks providing variation and deep exploration
A wide array of varied question structures and ideas. Think visual, open and extended, often making use of structures like ‘how many ways’ or ‘always, sometimes, never’ and a range of games using digit cards 0-9.

A place value activity using digit cards 0-9

Sorting quadrilaterals branching database task 

I’m aiming to release the eBooks every 4 weeks. They will be view-able from different devices, making them user-friendly. I hope they help save teachers’ time in preparing lessons, supplementing your current resources.

Alongside First Class Maths and Maths Outside the Box, I believe that the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBooks will help children to engage in mathematics intellectually and emotionally.

More updates to follow!

Designed to Thrill: Maths Outside The Box

There’s so much to applaud about the way primary maths education is changing. Equipment and images are being used to build understanding; open questions allow children to explore ‘big ideas’ in depth; fixed mindset views are being challenged and changed.

I want to see one more piece added to this jigsaw: children becoming more emotionally engaged in mathematics, the kind of mathematics that I love. Rich, diverse and intriguing tasks that fire the imagination, the kind that you don’t want to put down. That was the vision behind Maths Outside The Box.

The 15 Maths Outside The Box tasks will broaden children’s experience of maths and give them interesting, extended contexts in which to apply their skills. I trialled the resource with a group of high attaining Y4 children (we had so much fun); I also used the tasks with all but my most able Y6s. Challenge comes more from the application of logic than the difficulty of calculations, so tasks aren’t specifically designed for children in a particular year group.

There are four Number Challenge tasks: for example, in The Raffle Puzzle the challenge is to work out the five winning raffle ticket numbers by piecing together the information from the six clues:

One of the three Data Cruncher tasks is Can We Have a Dog? where a range of information and graphs are used to estimate the cost of owning different breeds of dog over the course of their lifetimes:

The Mountain Pass is one of four mind-bending Logic Puzzle tasks: can you piece together the information to work out how the four walkers can all cross Gravely Gorge before sunset?

I love the Investigation tasks. The Human Ruler allows children to explore the relationship between different body parts and I will always remember trialling Marathon Pace: the children tried to replicate the exact running speed of Uncle Grant and Aunty Kirsty on the school field!

I’m extremely proud that my resources are published by Alan Peat ltd. I first attended one of Alan’s training sessions in 2006 and was absolutely blown away by the quality of his ideas. Alan and Julie also happen to be 24 carat gold as people too. They have given me unconditional support, are fiercely principled and are great company. Amy Doorbar also deserves great praise for her amazing graphic design on the resource.

I hope Maths Outside The Box inspires many: on sale here!