Counters & bar models used to unpick a classic PS question

This question is taken from the Y3 Autumn term White Rose Progress Check assessment:

I’ve really enjoyed exploring this question type (although, I have to admit, never yet with children as young as Y3). I want children to see and feel the structure of this type of problem, building up to being able to answer a question like the example above in small steps. Then, by working through a series of related questions, children will learn how to use efficient problem-solving strategies. They will also come to see that questions with different ‘surface features’ can have a very similar mathematical ‘deep structure’.

To start with, using double-sided red/blue counters, children attempt the question below:

Often, children start with 8 counters – 4 red, 4 blue. Then, they turn over two blue counters. They realise (with a nudge) that the difference between the number of red/blue counters is incorrect. With a bit more cajoling, we see only one counter needed turning over. At this point I line the counters up above/below each other. I suggest, rather than starting with the correct number of counters, we could start with the correct difference. Have 2 more red counters than blue counters; keep adding a red & blue until you have 8 counters.

That technique, or other methods, are then be practised using the question below. We note that this question is worded slightly differently, but see that the red/blue counters can still be useful:
This time, many children start by laying out four blue counters. We note that ten more counters are needed (5 blue, 5 red). Other children get 14 counters and experiment with how many to turn over. We look at these different approaches. Then, I draw a bar model around the counters (like for the original example), drawing a dotted line to highlight the difference of 4 counters.

Now it’s time for a worked example and another ‘different surface, same deep structure’ question. In this case, I model how to answer the question using the ‘start from the difference’ technique:
Having shown that the difference between the prices is 10p, the cost of the rubber can be calculated by halving 30p (a common incorrect answer to this question is pencil=30p, rubber=10p).

Children then attempt questions that have a very similar structure, still regularly using the counters. Some children are given slightly extended challenges:
Here’s another lesson example of how to break down the problem-solving process. I See Problem-Solving – UKS2 is designed to give teachers the tools to teach problem-solving systematically too. Work will start on the LKS2 version in January 2019. I can’t wait!

Advertisements

A career of improving teaching skills

Over the summer I read ‘Peak’ by Anders Ericsson, a fascinating book that examines the training that leads to expert performance in various fields. Ericsson studied world class performers (chess players, musicians, sportspeople, doctors etc) and describes the ‘deliberate practice’ that they have engaged in to develop their skill.

Ericsson argued that once we have achieved competence in something, simply ‘doing it more’ rarely leads to improved performance. Instead, a tennis player practises by hitting hundreds of backhands from kicking serves; chess masters train by studying key moves from previous games; a radiologist looks at difficult-to-interpret scans from previous cases to improve their diagnoses.

With my teacher hat on, I took away two main reflections from this book:

1. Focus on improving one small aspect of my teaching at a time
Teaching is wonderfully complex. So many things can affect the success of a lesson. I typically think about whether lessons have gone well and then adapt my teaching. Now, though, I will also really zone in on one specific thing (e.g. managing the transition into independent learning), and spend an extended period of time developing that skill.

I remember once focusing for a half-term on having the best possible routine during the morning register. I analysed everything, from the logistics of my classroom layout to the little games and activities that were provided for the children. I would secretly time how long it would take children to be settled, pick through how children engaged with our little morning tasks and constantly make small tweaks to that part of the day. In 6 weeks I had a routine that I used successfully (without much further thought) for many years.

2. When making changes to my teaching, seek specific feedback
I love reading research and getting new ideas. When I first try out a new technique, it’s common that my first attempt(s) don’t go that well. For example, after reading ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’ (Craig Barton) I tried out using ‘hinge-point’ questions as short mid-lesson assessments. At first I wasn’t skilled at exactly when/how to use these questions. I’d always arrange for another teacher to be in my class at those moments (even for just 5 minutes) so after we could unpick what worked and what could be improved.

Equally, I remember my first term in year 1. I would plan lessons with my partner Y1 teacher, but knew that her class were getting better outcomes from those lessons than mine. I learnt so much from popping my head in her classroom and watching what she was doing differently to me at specific moments. Or let’s say my focus is on the engagement of a target group of children during the plenary. I might use a TA to make specific observations about the actions of those children so I have better feedback on the success of a particular approach.

By constantly making small improvements to specific parts of my teaching, I hope that in 20 years’ time I will still be getting a bit better at doing my job every day!

Promoting Reasoning Part 4: Depth

In this final blog in the ’embedding reasoning’ series, I am sharing some of my favourite strategies for deepening learning. I love the back end of a sequence of lessons, where you can build on children’s growing understanding. Rich conversations emerge and children can apply their skills with increasing flexibility.

Nowadays, there is an increased emphasis on looking for the different ways children might find an answer. I think this is great, assuming we have given children enough tools to find different strategies (and discern the most efficient). Initially I often provide some scaffolds to point children towards different methods (see below-left). I also love ‘rank by difficulty’ as a tool for generating discussion. It helps to draw out the different ways children approach questions and focuses their conversations on key learning points.

To deepen learning, I’m always thinking about ways of stripping back the information that is given within a question. I can always put extra information back in where needed (or specifically requested), but by starting with less I can often have a more open dialogue. Consider the below-right example: I can always add in the squares to the 100-square, or other numbers. But by starting with less information I have a more open discussion about the possible values in the red boxes.

Finally, I love using ‘how many ways?’ as my final question type. Children can access a how many ways task at level 1 (I can find a way) or level 2 (I can find different ways), but the step to be working at level 3 (I know how many ways there are) creates a different kind of challenge. We may have to model how to order thinking systematically as children strive to find all possible answers. Previously taught calculation skills are becoming automated and rich opportunities for reasoning emerge.

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

Promoting Reasoning Part 3: Variation

This blog post, the next in the ‘promoting reasoning’ series, features question types that help children to build on their current knowledge and notice important similarities and differences between questions.

I’m always looking for ways to promote non-counting calculation (there are overlaps here with my ‘visuals’ blog). Prompts like the below-left example helps children to make connections between doubles and near-doubles facts. Children can edit the image to help them see those relationships. Similarly, I love using ‘I know… so…’ question strings. In the below-right example, I hope children will either perform the calculation using the related fact, or they will see the relationship between the three questions.

The examples below probably fit the criteria of ‘variation’ more tightly. Specifically, by keeping all but one aspect of a question/image the same, children’s attention is drawn to the key difference. Consider the below-right example: the left hand image the dominant idea is likely to be ‘one circle’; the right hand image emphasises ‘four quarters’ more. Used together, children’s attention is drawn to four quarters being the same as one whole.

When using the ‘I know… so…’ prompt, I might adjust the amount of variation between the examples depending on where children are up to in their learning. That’s all about knowing your children, the magic ingredient that every great teacher has up their sleeve!

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

Promoting Reasoning Part 2: Visual

This is the second blog post in a series looking at building reasoning within the maths curriculum. Here I’m looking at the using visuals in maths questions.

I’m always thinking about the best way to represent maths concepts practically to build understanding. The visual questions I use, therefore, are designed to correspond with the practical/visual models I have already used. The below-left example is one way that I represent the concept of ‘= means the same as’. The below-right example is a prompt that can be used to launch a practical investigation using matchsticks, developing the thought process of ‘how many [divisor] in [dividend]’ as children learn to do division by grouping.

By using questions that correspond directly with children’s practical experiences, the transition between concrete/pictorial to abstract is smoother. I might also use the visual to address common misconceptions (below-right example).

Below are two of my favourite types of visual reps questions to generate discussion. I like using ‘which picture’, where children have to consider which bar model represents a question correctly, and which bar model is showing a common error. Can children explain the mistake? I also love open-ended visuals: the bottom-right example is a particular favourite. More similar examples on this theme on the next blog!

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

Promoting Reasoning Part 1: Misconceptions

In this series of blog posts I wanted to share some of my ‘go to’ strategies for interweaving reasoning throughout the maths curriculum. This post is all about specifically addressing common misconceptions.

When planning a sequence of lessons, I tend to spend an eternity considering two things: how to represent each mathematical idea to build children’s conceptual understanding, and the possible misconceptions children may have. Initially I try to break learning down into small, easy-to-digest steps (more about this phase in future blogs).

Then, when I think the children are ready, I try to address those misconceptions directly. I want to focus thinking on the key points that discern right from ‘likely wrong’, deliberately highlighting common errors. Sometimes, like the example below, I might show three possibilities and ask ‘which answer?’. Alternatively, I might ask children to explain given mistakes.

I find that these questions generate great discussion and explanation. I use these examples at different points within a lesson: sometimes as a way of addressing errors from yesterday; often as a final task before children work independently; occasionally as a plenary (although only if very confident that the children will take the correct conclusion away). Having read ‘How I Wish I’d Taught Maths’ by Craig Barton I will start using a couple of them mid-lesson to assess children’s understanding and signpost pupils to appropriate follow-up activities.

Predicting those errors is very much a skill in itself, developed over years of experience. And the process of coming to understand children’s incorrect responses, I find fascinating. Hopefully this technique will help your children to focus on those key learning points, and solidify their conceptual understanding in a range of areas of mathematics.

All the examples in this blog are from the ‘I See Reasoning’ eBook range:
I See Reasoning – KS1
I See Reasoning – LKS2
I See Reasoning – UKS2

Also check out the other blogs from the series. 

All-New CPD for 2018!

I’m delighted to announce a new range of maths CPD opportunities available for 2018, all with the aim of making my work high-impact and as cost-efficient as possible.

I’m particularly excited to advertise my teaching and staff training days support. Here, I am proposing coming into schools and teaching up to three example lessons per day, allowing teachers to see visual, deep maths learning in action! I would also, if requested, run a staff meeting after school.

I’ve found that my training has had the greatest impact where schools have been immersed in a combination of example lessons and training, so I’m delighted to be able to make this offer. Not that I can promise perfect lessons: I’m very happy, though, for people to learn from both my successes and my failures in the classroom!
Click here for more details about in-school support

Over the last four years I have ran a series of conference training events. However, with school budgets increasingly tight (and the cost of hiring venues becoming increasingly expensive), this no longer seems like a cost-efficient way of delivering training. Instead, I’m looking for schools, teaching schools and organisations that would like to host a conference. This will minimise costs, especially for the host school/organisation.
Click here for more details about hosting a conference

I’m also looking forward to running more whole-school INSET and twilight training events, giving schools a collective, exciting vision for developing rich maths learning experiences. The new pricing structure discounts training for smaller schools and provides significant discounts for cluster training events.
Click here for more details about INSET & Twilight training

At the time of writing I have space for eight more bookings this school year (one day left in May, three in June, four in July) then I am taking bookings for 2018-2019.

I love my work. I teach more maths lessons than ever, meet more passionate teachers every week and have plans to create so many more new resources. I hope, in one way or another, I can help you to deliver great maths lessons!

For more information, email gareth.metcalfe@hotmail.co.uk