Posted in Uncategorized

How I’ve Survived So Far

I’ve been thinking a lot recently (the last few years if I’m being honest) about how many hours is reasonable to work, how my life should be impacted by my job, and how to keep myself happy and healthy whilst still enjoying teaching and giving my students the best opportunities. This has led me to a number of conclusions and methods, but some that I thought might be helpful to share – particularly for new teachers who might be struggling to manage their time and wondering if it will always be this way! It also may be helpful for any PGCE or NQT mentors, Head Teachers, or just colleagues of new teachers, who might have started to forget how difficult teaching can be in the early years. One thing that we realised this year at our school was that the teachers worked more hours, more sessions after school for Y11, more sessions on Saturdays, and actually our results weren’t as good – we burnt out ourselves and the pupils. There is such a thing as working too hard, just like too many cooks can spoil a broth. Some things I will raise may seem silly little things, yet it’s all about the marginal gains here. Every 5 minutes adds up!

I know that so many teachers are amazing at properly managing their time and putting in a million hours every week, however, I still haven’t got in to the knack of this. It absolutely blows my mind how much time people manage to pour into their jobs. I cannot help but admire every element of their dedication and unwavering passion. At times I wish I was so selfless that I would do some of the amazing things so many teachers do – @mathsjem, @studymaths, @mrbartonmaths to name a few. Having said this, I have to be honest when I say it’s not something I will allow myself to aspire to right now. The hours I put into my PGCE meant that I slept for less than 6 hours every night, which isn’t healthy (particularly if you have migraines – lack of sleep is a major trigger). This, compounded with other factors, meant that I had considered leaving teaching before I’d even really started*. I really don’t want to overwork myself to this point again before I’m ready. Thankfully, my NQT was easier (somehow!). I managed a more reasonable attempt on a balance and I’ve been working ever since on maintaining a (imo) super healthy work-life balance.

*I’m so happy I stuck with it, teaching is the most rewarding career I’ve ever had (I’ve worked in a lot of different jobs). It’s also the most entertaining: young people are hilarious 🙂

A little disclaimer: A number of these time saving things are enabled by the insightful way in which my school is run. Our SLT are supportive, encourage us to teach in whichever way we see fit. Experimentation is not only allowed, but encouraged. Emails are not sent during the holidays or weekends. Feedback is done fortnightly for KS4, in simple, time efficient yet very effective ways. Overall, it is designed such that the amount of admin based work is limited to the necessary. In my view, this allows us to focus more on providing better lessons.

PS. Some people may greatly disagree with what I’ve written, these are just things that have helped me.

Big Things

Travel Time: For my NQT (and since), I have worked in a much closer school to my house, this has cut my travelling time from 2hrs per day to only 40 minutes on a bad day – 1h20 extra for planning, or cooking, or sleep! If this isn’t possible, a lot of teachers listen to podcasts during the journey to help them keep up to date with new ideas and such. (More about these later though). Alternatively, it can provide a good opportunity for reflection or distraction and chill time. It’s a personal thing, but I definitely prefer being closer, and waking up later 😉

Twitter, Blogs (irony!), Research, Books, Podcasts: This is a controversial one, yet I think it’s important. When I first started teaching, I was super keen, I wanted to be involved in everything and make sure I knew all the research, all the new and innovative ideas, all the new technology for AfL, etc. I joined Twitter as a teacher, I listened to the Podcasts, I bought the books, I read the blogs. This is all great, and there is no doubt that they are insanely valuable, often created by people with absolutely loads of experience, and backed by research or other teachers. However, when you’re a new teacher, and it sometimes takes over 2 hours to plan one lesson, you don’t necessarily have time for all this. I have often found myself drowning in a never-ending Twitter feed, going to sleep later because I want to read a book on pedagogy, listening to Podcasts instead of talking to friends or family. It’s so easy to get carried away with the hype (and pressure) about all the things you can learn, yet sometimes it’s important to take a step back and think about what you are sacrificing for it. It has frequently meant the different between cooking myself a good meal, having a relaxing bath, going to the gym, having a social life. These are such fantastic resources, but remind yourself that you can’t be a fantastic teacher if you’re half asleep, or miserable because you don’t spend any time on yourself. A happy, enthusiastic you can actually make a bigger difference.

Smaller but more easily changeable things

Marking and Feedback: As mentioned earlier, this is made simpler for me by my school’s policy. A number of departments do it differently, but picking out strengths and targets which you assign a colour or number to can save you time, how many times do you write the same feedback? Give it a colour or a number and put that on each pupil’s work that it applies to, in the next lesson you can write on the board what each colour/number relates to, and they can write it down next to it on their page. This is a massive time saver for me. I also tend to track this information so I can see how many of each target I have, for worksheets. If the work isn’t a test, and you can trust pupils to either mark their  own work without cheating, or to mark other pupils work without being silly, this also helps enormously. With my Y11s, we do a practice paper every week now. At the end of the lesson we mark as a class. This means I can look through the papers to get an idea of which topics they’re good at and need to improve, but I don’t need to mark 32 papers per week.

Homework: In the same vain as getting pupils to mark homework, there are lots of websites (paid and unpaid) that you can use to set online homework. The advantage of this is that they usually mark themselves and give pupils instant feedback. My school subscribe to MathsWatch, but many of us also love and use Dr Frost Maths. Again, this saves the marking time and means you can focus on giving them targeted feedback on what they need to improve. Again, if you can trust them, Corbett’s 5 a day are also great, and they can check their own answers. Training my Y11s to be independent and how to mark effectively has been one of the biggest pay-offs for me.

Creating resources: (Mainly aimed at worksheets) It’s admirable to make your own resources for each topic, but also enormously time-consuming. Not only do you want to think of a creative angle to look at the questions, but you want to think about building them up on to the more difficult parts, or do you want just lots of practice on the same question. Personally, if I have an idea I really like, then I’ll absolutely make my own worksheet, but this isn’t something I do for 6 lessons a day. I’ve carried on growing my collection, and it’s really rewarding when pupils enjoy it, however sometimes you can already find some engaging, exciting worksheets that other teachers have shared. After all, you are only human. Don’t just use TES to teach though. My best advice in this vain, is to use TES and online collections of resources mainly for worksheets and activities, they’re usually the best part. The lessons/powerpoints you may want to use for inspiration, but it’s usually better for you to write those as you’ll teach it in your own style. When you teach a really good lesson, try using the outline of your powerpoint as a template for other lessons, eg. Bell Work, Related Starter, 3 Examples, Multi-Choice, Practice, Worded Question, Problem Solving. Don’t feel the need to use animations on powerpoint to bring up every line of your example, in my PGCE year, my mentor advised me to have the question on the board, and to write my working out whilst in the lesson – taking pupils through every thought. I like this because it takes less time to make the powerpoint, it makes me go through the example slower and explaining more parts of my thought process, giving them more opportunities to ask why I did different bits, and if I’m doing it whilst asking for suggestions from the class, I can take it in any order they want. There are lots of paid-for and free websites that provide loops, bingo, drill exercises, codebreakers, etc., it is worth finding your favourite ones.

Searching for the perfect resource: Seems like a contradiction to the paragraph above, but don’t spend hours looking for a resource that isn’t there. Sometimes you do have an idea that simply has not been created or isn’t what your class need. I’d suggest a maximum of 10 minutes trawling through the internet, or adopting the two page TES rule. After that, you might be better off making it yourself (and sharing it on TES for others to enjoy 🙂 ).

Don’t feel guilty: (Similar to above) Sometimes people will make you think that textbooks and packages of worksheets such as TenTicks and Cazoom, etc, are if you are being lazy or they are lack lustre. Try not to let anyone make you feel this way. On occasion, particular classes need lots of practice on certain skills. Don’t make up 100 questions on a topic that you could have got elsewhere just to say you did it yourself. I have found textbooks to be particularly useful in a low set where there are some behaviour difficulties, and when you have a small photocopying budget. Some pupils really benefit from having the questions in front of them (less opportunity to notice other people around the room), and they can work entirely at their own pace (or your pace). Equally with circle theorems, why print off lots of sheets when you have a class-set of textbooks at the back of the room?

Ask for Advice: Other people within your department will also have ideas on what you are teaching or considering. Asking them how they might introduce or teach a topic, if they have a good worksheet, what activities they like to do, what websites they use for resources, any kind of help, is absolutely acceptable and advised. Every teacher learns from other teachers, no matter how experienced they are.

At home

Working at home: If you can, it might help to avoid this. I’ve tried to draw a line so that I can leave my school work at home, and do other things on an evening. Sometimes this doesn’t work out – when I’m marking tests for example. It feels healthy to go home knowing I don’t need to do anything for tomorrow though, even if it means leaving at 6 or 7. I also don’t work in the holidays. I will perhaps work on the last day, planning lessons for the first day back, but that’s basically where I draw the line.

Accept help: from friends and family, if someone offers to cook you dinner one night, say yes! It saves on washing up and being on your own, it also gives you bonus social time. I probably eat with my parents at least once per fortnight, during my PGCE it was probably twice a week! Other forms of help can also be accepted – don’t isolate yourself or make things more difficult for no reason.

Love your freezer: If you live alone, this one might help – I batch cook everything and freeze the extra. I only cook vegetarian food so I feel safe reheating things, but lots of people freeze meat dishes too. I make 4 portions of all meals I make, meaning I get to have 3 days at a later time when I can eat well, but only have to cook some rice or pasta and stick a box in the microwave. This is also helpful because most sauces need to be used quickly once opened, so unless you fancy bolognese four nights in a row, this may be the way forward!

Love yourself: Have some me-time, do some exercise that you enjoy once or twice a week, have an early night when you’re tired, read a non-teaching book, write, play music, anything that relaxes you and takes your mind off teaching. This will save you taking out stress and unhappiness on the pupils 🙂

Maths Conferences: Are a great way to meet a lot of amazing Maths teachers who will give you ideas and support you in your times of need. They are generally on non-school days, so don’t go every week, but sometimes it’s nice to hear what teachers in other schools are doing too!


I hope at least one of these ideas has helped in some way (especially if you’ve read so much of it!). Being a teacher is such an amazing thing to do, but it doesn’t have to run you into the ground. Please let me know if there are any other things you think I should add! I hope your Leadership Team are supportive and consider your well-being as much as mine 🙂


Posted in #loveteaching

#LoveTeaching – other teachers :)

This week I felt it would be a good idea to share another reason I love teaching – my fellow teachers. This was a topic touched upon by Mr Mattock a couple of weeks ago, but I really wanted to highlight it some more and “big up” my colleagues!

I love many things about my colleagues, but perhaps the first reason that pops to mind is just how passionate they are about their subjects. In Maths, I find so many teachers who are so excited about Maths that when an A Level student comes to the office with a problem, loads of us crowd around and want to look at the question too. The student’s teacher has to bat us off so he can get all the credit 😉 On other occasions, I’ll have a maze style worksheet on the board and I’ll be working out the answers when my colleague comes in and gets all excited because it’s Surds, and all of a sudden we’re competing to finish our half of the questions quickest!

Naturally, I don’t mean only Maths teachers have these qualities, I just get to be a lucky one that witnesses it frequently! I’ve worked with Dance teachers who are obsessed with the outfits they’ve designed for Dance Competitions and getting them finished on time, Music teachers who work endlessly to perfect performances they’re planning, Science teachers who love to share their understanding of the world on a particle, biological or atomic level, English teachers who make their own raps of a piece of Literature their classes are learning, PE teachers who work from 7am to 7pm daily on pre-school and after-school sports clubs and Saturdays too, the list goes on, but basically, I’ve been blessed to work with such an incredible group of inspiring teachers.

Another reason I love these people is, as you’ve probably guessed, their absolute dedication to sharing their passion with their pupils and the time they are willing to give pupils to achieve their personal best in these unyielding exams, along with developing these pupils as people and citizens of the world. There are so many teachers working late hours inside school, at home, on weekends, in their holidays, there are many many teachers who even pay to attend conferences during their own weekends in order to develop their teaching, expand their horizons and grow their bank of resources and ideas. They are absolutely unrelenting in their efforts to help pupils achieve.

Twitter has not been around for that long, however in my opinion it really helps to grow teaching, there is such a fantastic sense of community on Twitter, knowing that all the teachers tweeting about teaching are doing it to develop themselves further, to learn more about teaching, to share or gain some fantastic new resources to help their students to gain the most from their lessons – developing their love of the subject or understanding. I love that they (collectively) are so keen to do this that they are tweeting at 11pm on a weeknight, or all through the weekend (do they ever sleep?!). These people, the Twitterati as I affectionately call them, have helped me through when I’ve had a lesson I’ve struggled with, but also they helped me through my PGCE year. I won’t lie – I found parts of that year and at times it just seemed like an easier option to quit, but Twitter helped me through, the support I felt from the friends I had barely met inspired me to carry on and reminded me there was a light at the end of the tunnel and how amazing and important our job is. A **BIG** thank you to all of you for that 🙂

Leading on from support and encouragement from Twitter, another reason I love teachers is their absolute positivity. Even when given difficult classes, tricky new tasks, extra stuff to do, early mornings with year 7’s 😉 my colleagues manage to be jolly and smiley and approach things with a generally positive, go get ’em attitude and I absolutely love them for it. Their positivity helps everyone get through the day 🙂

So in summary, the teachers I have the pleasure/honour of working with and getting to know are amazing, incredible people



Posted in #loveteaching

#LoveTeaching by Mrs Graham

This week I’ve asked an amazing teacher who inspired me on me PGCE year, I was lucky enough to be placed in a department that Sarah worked in, and I remember how keen she was as a maths teacher, she wanted the absolute best for pupils and did courses outside of school time to become an even better teacher. 

This week she’s telling us all about why she loves teaching 🙂 
I am a maths teacher and I love my job. It is both the hardest and most rewarding I have ever done and, as a mother of three, it takes up way more of my time than is reasonable. However, every second of that time I am working hard to improve the real lives and the real chances and the real choices of young people. I feel genuinely honoured to be able to know teenagers in a way few people do. They are funny and complex and challenging and full of potential and I get to experience that every day.
In my official role as Lead Teacher for KS5 maths I am currently preparing for post-16 open evening. My project is to find ex-students of my school to see what they are up to so I can share the amazing possibilities with year 11s who are considering maths. I was not prepared for the joy this project would bring: Emails from students (not mine) who are inspirational in their achievements and the respect they hold for their maths teachers. An email from a student of mine, happy and engaged in the course of her choice and still grateful for our lessons. People living real lives with real success and, most importantly, happiness.
I find my job hard and stressful at times but this is because I know how important it is. Because I know the choices I make affect the lives of actual people and how many can say that?
I love teaching because, every single time the face of a student lights up in my class, I feel amazing. Because every success is worth celebrating and because of every time a 15 year old turns around with light in their eyes, realising that together you have found the secret key to a future filled with choices. I also love it because it is never boring. That does not mean it is always enjoyable, but I can honestly say that (except when supervising tests!) I am never bored in my work. Teenagers can surprise and entertain, they can make you sad, make you happy, make you think. They can ask questions that you spend days crafting the right answer to or they can ask questions can make it very hard to keep a serious teacher face.
So yeah, I love my job. I love teaching. I never want to do anything else. After 13 years I hope to do this forever because every single child who comes into my classroom matters. And that, surely, is teaching!? 
Follow Sarah on twitter at @MrsGRVHS

Posted in #loveteaching

Love teaching, love maths, love twitter.

From me:

I’d just to like say an absolutely massive thank you for all of the positive feedback I’ve received on our little movement and my blog. I’m so happy it has inspired some to write their own blogs on why they love teaching ( check out @fractionfanatic’s lovely post about why she loves teaching) and to those keeping #loveteaching on all our minds (check out @Arithmaticks on Twitter). 

This week I feel honoured to introduce Peter’s (@mrmattock) #loveteaching blog. Mr Mattock posts regular blogs about Maths Teaching, and has links to really interesting resources also on his website, in addition, here is a link to his TES shop, all items free, where you can find some awesome homework booklets to save you ever considering homework tasks again, and other great resources too 🙂

So thank you Peter for letting me re-post your blog on #loveteaching!


Love teaching, love maths, love twitter.

As anyone who has known me for the last year and half will know, I love Twitter. As a medium for connecting educators and sharing practice I have not seen anything like it. I have probably had more professional conversations, attended more real CPD meetings and moved my practice on more in the last year and a half than in the previous 8 and half that I was working – and a lot of that can be attributed to Twitter. It is easy to begin to take the impact for granted once you have been used to it for a while, but then something will come along that makes you fall in love with it all over again. For me this happened very recently following the Secret Teacher article about teaching maths.

Perhaps the thing I love most of all, more then twitter (although less than my family) is teaching maths. The joy of developing real understanding in pupils, seeing pupils go from nervous incomprehension to confident understanding is a joy that I am not going to soon tire of. Which is why articles like the Secret Teacher article make me so sad, when practitioners talk about how useless maths is for all but a small minority and how teachers are wasting time trying to teach all but a narrow set of skills to the majority I really do begin to despair of the poor opinion that some teachers have of pupils and of their role.

Which brings me back to what makes me fall in love with Twitter all over again – the response from some of the colleagues, and people I now class as friends, was just brilliant. Within minutes we had responses like this from Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) which so eloquently rebuts some of the poorer arguments in the article and really brilliantly we had a movement starting on Twitter courtesy of two of our newer teachers @MissBLilley and @Arithmaticks called #loveteaching.

With the media and politicians seemingly fighting to report all of the ineptitudes and ‘tribulations’ (as the Guardian advertises for in its Secret Teacher blog), these two dedicated and driven young teachers have tried to take it upon themselves to be a big part of the opposite voice – the voice that highlights all of the things that we love about teaching and what is bringing and keeping those special people like these two ladies into the classroom. For me this is a perfect example of the power of platforms like Twitter to unite like-minded educators and provide a voice for the profession, and it makes me appreciate Twitter and the people I meet through it all over again.

So I love Twitter, the camaraderie and the connectedness (if that is a word!); I love maths, the wonder and beauty, the way it has of revealing deeper and deeper insights for those that are prepared to work hard at it, but above nearly all I LOVE TEACHING.

Posted in #loveteaching

#LoveTeaching #NotSoSecretTeacher

So this week, off the back of the latest Secret Teacher article featured in the Guardian, my Twitter feed was absolutely full of Maths teachers who were massively astounded and frustrated by the headline of the article

“pupils are force-fed maths they’ll never use again”

(in an article that had been written by a maths teacher).

The general view on Twitter seems to be an open mind of the Secret Teacher articles that come out – so many do read the article, despite the fact that a lot of them may end up making you feel disappointed, either in the profession as a whole, creating an atmosphere in schools that causes problems for some, or sometimes (including this one) you might feel disappointed in the teacher.

It seems that the Secret Teacher articles are usually a platform for teachers to have a bit of a rant about their gripes in their choice of career – either the workload, the behaviour, the fact that maths is compulsory, or whatever. In fact, The Guardian invite teachers to “[lift] the lid on teaching… [and write] about the trials, tribulations and frustrations”. I’ve found it quite tricky to find one of these articles that actually highlights the great things about teaching, even some that seem more positive end up with a bit of a negative vein. So here I am, saying that actually, yes, the vast majority of us teachers know that there are struggles or frustrations that may occur in teaching, (and in other professions too, does anyone have a perfect job?) but rather than have a weekly moan about them to a national newspaper, in an article that is mostly just read by other teachers, why don’t we start spreading the joy and happiness we get from our jobs? 

I invite you to become the Not So Secret Teacher, send me through your positive experiences of teaching, just focus on one particular thing that you love about teaching, or that makes your day, or that reminds you of how lucky you are to spend your days teaching young people, let’s inspire people to take on (and keep) a career that is more rewarding than so many others. Here’s my attempt:


Getting to know young people

One of the best things about my job is getting to know the young people of today. I love when pupils come up to speak to me at the end of the lesson to share with me a small piece of their lives – “I won a boxing match last night”, “We’re having a surprise birthday party for my mum this evening”, “I want to become a doctor”; it’s so rewarding and interesting to get an insight to what they do, what they want to do and what they enjoy. It’s also so wonderful to see pupils laugh and enjoy maths (a rare sight, or so I’m told), or just to appreciate what you are doing for them.

When pupils get to know you they may share with you sad news, but I have to admit that I still feel a sense of warmth when that does happen, because those pupils have felt that they can trust me enough and feel comfortable enough in my presence to share with me something that is so important to them. After all, that is one of the main reasons I became a teacher; I understand that many pupils may not have a stable family life, and yet as a teacher, I can be a consistent person that they can speak to and who will listen. It makes me quite proud when pupils choose to come and talk to me when I’m on playground duty, just to tell me about their weekend, show me a magic trick, ask about my favourite Disney film… Who wouldn’t want that?

I find that the better my relationship with a pupil, the better they work in my lessons as well, so it benefits me in that fashion too. If a pupil respects you and feels as though you are interested in their lives, they are much more likely to be on board with learning whatever it is you want to teach them, and they’re also more likely to behave in a manner you expect.

As I’m a new teacher, I haven’t had those moments where you see previous pupils and they tell you what they’ve achievedyet, but just the other week I was able to witness such an event, and it was truly heart-warming. Seeing the absolute look of respect and gratefulness on the ex-pupil’s face whilst talking to my colleague about the things he has gone on to achieve was definitely a high moment for both me and my colleague. The ex-pupil was genuinely so thankful for any intervention or time that he had put aside for him. Just being present gave me a happy buzz; my colleague was beaming for the rest of the day because he now knew how far that pupil had come, and how much of a positive impact he had on the pupil’s life.

In what other career could you have such a positive effect on people’s lives?


Share the thing you love most about teaching with me, let’s get a #LoveTeaching #NotSoSecretTeacher movement going.

Posted in Maths Conferences

Saturday 25th June 2016

Yesterday was the seventh national maths teachers conference held by La Salle Education, super conveniently for me, it was held in the Royal Armouries in Leeds, so I didn’t even have to travel far (a massive bonus in my mind!). I’ve only attended one of the conferences before, that was the one in London at the same time last year, it went down as one of my favourite CPD events, as I met so many amazing Maths Teachers, it was like a really cool day of meeting your heroes… Yesterday there were not as many heroes… where were you all?! However I did still get to meet some of them 🙂 the first person I met was the friendly person I sat next to in preparation for the opening speeches… He “creepily” (his words not mine!) stalked me on twitter after introductions 😉 and I soon realised it was the lovely Mr Taylor @taylorda01.  We realised that we were both attending completely different workshops, and so we agreed that we’d share our blogs to give good coverage (genius, I know).

Mike Askew @mikeaskew26

The first part of the day was listening to Mike Askew talking about some research on effective teaching, he stated there were 7 key points. At this point I’m kicking myself for not taking down where the research was from! (Sorry).

1 – Space learning over time  – absolutely makes sense, all about not teaching a topic once and never returning to it, all the research points in the direction of little and often, much like the ideal way of eating! Repetition is the way forward.

2 – Interleave worked examples and problems to solve. Sweller and Cooper did some research in 1985 (Got this one!) in which they have one group of pupils one worked example and then asked them to do 8 practice questions on their own. The second group was given a worksheet with one worked example followed by a problem, followed by a worked example then another problem, etc., until there were 4 questions they’d answered. They found that not only had pupils in the second group understood the topic better, but also retained more at a later point. I thought this was rather interesting, I suppose the only thing you need to make sure of is that pupils are reading carefully through worked examples and using them to attempt their own questions (something they can easily get into the habit of doing).

3 – Combine graphics and verbal descriptions – this was a really interesting one actually, this was about how you can’t put something on the board that is an image of something not completely related to what you are talking about. Nor can you have an image accompanied by lots of text. I suppose it’s essentially distracting pupils, and they’re then not taking in what you’re talking about, and should be more of a useful link of the visual and verbal memories.

4 – Connecting the abstract and concrete representations – during this, Mike discussed the book “Metaphors we live by” and how we talk about temperature a lot. But not necessarily in a weather related way, but also when we talk about other things such as giving a person a cold shoulder, how we greet someone with warmth, and this can be used to our advantage because we understand how temperature works, if we can link some of what we are doing to metaphors we use regularly then pupils can find it easier to understand the abstract.

5 – Quizzes – should not be underestimated, use them to introduce, to re-expose. They don’t need to be tests, but they can be very useful.

6 – Deep explanatory questions – speak for themselves I feel.

7 – Don’t end lessons all wrapped up and solved. Mike said that leaving a lesson with a question at the end will mean that pupils continue to think about it when they leave the room. If the questions have all been ended then why would they carry on thinking of it? The human mind will niggle at pupils and they might then be more enthusiastic to look at solving it the next day, and they’ve been trying to solve it inbetween.

I found the talk really interesting, of course there were some bits we already know and do but I found the cliff-hanger type ending a really good idea and found the metaphors quite intriguing too, definitely things I’ll be looking to use in my own lessons in the future.

Wow I almost finished it off then but realised that Mike went on to discuss Problem Solving and Reasoning (how did this squeeze into 45 mins?!).

The initial point was that actually it has been found that having mathematical reasoning abilities is more important in later maths use than demonstrating arithmetic abilities.

We looked at the “Objects of Learning” – not Objectives, I have spelled it correctly J This was about looking at the direct and indirect. The direct is the topic area you are teaching, however the indirect is looking at fluency, problem solving, and reasoning proficiencies. We should be aiming to promote these in all lessons.

A particularly valid point was that when you do problem solving, don’t give it to the pupils and then give up and tell them how to do it, that’s not going to help them in the long run. Actually it’s much more important to keep them at it and thinking about it. Thinking carefully will help much more. One teacher he mentioned would get the pupils to shout they are confused after first looking at a problem. After that they would get on, and be relieved they’d got their confusion out in the open first. I suppose once you’ve accepted you’re confused, it’s much easier to overcome the barriers.

One sentence I’ve written is “Sustained pressure for explanation and meaning”… I’m going out on a limb here, I feel like this is something that is definitely good for pupils. If we ask them what they’re doing, why, what does it mean, then we’re on to a winner, and we need to keep it up. Always. That will be good for them. They should be into the practice of us doing that, then pupils always know where they’re at.

We also need to provide problems with an emergent mindset, which means they can be solved in multiple ways, rather than the engineering way, where there is one way to solve it, and that’s going to be the only way you let pupils access it.

It is important to select tasks carefully and set them up effectively. Another teacher he had seen had enabling and extending prompt cards in their pocket to hand out to pupils when doing problem solving. This meant that he could pop the card down and a pupil could begin to access something which may help them to think about solving the problem in a more lateral way, or extend their understanding.

Another point was it is important to allow pupils to talk privately, and also publicly. So allowing pair discussions before opening out to the class for discussion makes pupils more confident in contributing, this means if they are unsure, you can just ask what their partner had said and the pressure is alleviated slightly.

Finally, pupils do really like to demonstrate their own work and how they’ve attempted a problem. However, pupils do not like to listen to others, therefore it is important to ask pupils after to add to what has been demonstrated, repeat it, do they agree, disagree and to explain in their own words, helping them to take it in and engage another pupil’s explanation.


Speed Dating Resources

Admittedly I forgot about this until 2am the night before. The first resource I thought to share were my times table grids – I have laminated, completely times table grids, particular for use with lower ability groups, helping them to think about the problem at hand and use their working memory for that rather than struggling with it. My second idea to share was my padlock lessons, (I shared these last time too), you have a set of questions on the board. Each one is one number of the combination padlock. When they have the answers, they unlock the padlock to get another set of questions which will unlock the next padlock. In total there are 5 padlocks, and as many questions as you like (you can put on provisos such as the 3 lowest answers of 6) and it’s a competition to get to the end first.

Mr Taylor told me about his whole school academic sports day equivalent, where one year group at a time competes in an academic competition, his words were “sports day for the kids who can’t do sports”. I thought this sounded so fun! I bet the kids really get into it. I might see if I can set something similar up in my school 🙂

The second resource someone shared with me (I didn’t catch your name I’m sorry!) was homeworks that are set across the department (originally designed for Year 11s), which have a number of topics on and also include the mathswatch video clip number, that way no pupil can say they’re confused as an excuse for not doing homework. A great idea 🙂 I also liked the idea for the fact it was standardised homeworks, so that everyone is doing similar things, and it takes away additional question finding 🙂

The last resource came from Janet, who told me about using a slide situation for decimals, they cut out a piece of paper with the decimal point and then they can a number behind it to see that the numbers stay in the same order, etc. She also told me about Numeracy Ninjas, which I still have to look at but sounded great for low ability!


Can Technology Make A Difference? Douglas Butler – @douglasbutler1

I was quite mindblown by this to be honest! Firstly it was about A Level type work so perhaps I should’ve prepared myself! He was telling us about the different things available on and then demonstrating the cool things you can find on Google Earth. On Google Earth he showed us where the world’s biggest hexagon was, the world’s biggest hexagon and parabola! (All genuine things you can see on the satellite images)

He told us all about how the numbers on runways come about (bearings so you know!).

Douglas told us about a cool tool called Jing, which records your computer screen and even your voice as you explain what you’re showing. Too cool.

Most of all he demonstrated how to use Autograph, something I haven’t actually used yet, but now I’ve seen how amazing it is I intend to use it almost all the time!

My two favourite demonstrations were looking at a 3D graph of Pythagorean triples, and also looking at derivatives of y = x n onto  y = 1/x. Really cool, seriously. You should’ve been there, I cannot possibly give it the justice it deserves.


Developing Problem Solving Skills – Dominic Hudson – (no Twitter!)

Dominic started us all off considering

“What do you want pupils to be when they leave school?”

Answers ranged from Problem solvers, resilient, enthusiastic about maths and then thinking about what we do to enable that to become the reality rather than the intention.

We looked at the difference between traditional maths questions and the non-routine ones that are now our problem solving work. A good way to cope with our new problem solving intentions is more to embed the concepts within the problem solving, allowing even more time for problem solving and investigations 🙂

He discussed bolt-on maths. I’m not sure what this is… It sounded as if it could be a set of resources maybe? (If you’re in the know please let me know! I could just be being inexperienced and it could be a term I haven’t heard before).

At Dominics school, they give 2 weeks for Year 7 to all have a go at the same problem, so it’s a good length and activities can then span all abilities.

Strategies in the classroom to begin the problem solving activities are:

2 mins at the beginning to silently read through

5 mins to turn the sheet over, and recall to partners what the problem was (I imagine this then leads to a good discussion about how they can begin solving each part)

After the 5 mins, discuss as a class

Then allow silence to write down how they are going to begin attempting the problem.

He handed out some cool problem solving activities such as he uses:

They also use a form for pupils to fill in if they’re struggling – asking what are they doing, why are they doing it and what will they do next? They can also look at their partners work and answer the same questions.

My notes have not done the session justice at all. Dominic was really interesting to listen to, so I must’ve just been distracted! Apologies…


I had the pleasure of sitting next to Matt Dunbar (@mattdunbar) who is the author of Trinity Maths ( He was telling me about how PixyMaths ( have problem solving questions which they have graded for the new spec, and also about a CGP book for revision for the new spec, alongside the usual revision books, they also have one for pupils aiming for Grade 9, so they have put together Grade 9 questions for all sorts of questions. ( I enquired to CGP books (@CGPbooks) and they kindly sent me a free copy (and super quick!). It is a really useful tool. I’m going to be using it * A LOT* this year especially as I’ve been given top set year 11 ( 😀 ) and also just to test myself! I would definitely recommend getting yourself a copy and suggesting it to any pupils aiming for grade 8 or 9’s.


A Golden Age – Danny Brown – @dannytybrown

To be honest, by this point, my all nighter watching the referendum results plus my salsa dancing the night before was starting to catch up with me… so I don’t think I got the best out of this session at all (sorry).

Danny had put together a number of different pieces of literature to invoke discussion between us all about the pedagogy of teaching maths really, looking at the different ways children begin to develop their understanding of numbers and maths.

He told us how his department is based upon abstraction, and how they ensure they use basic level actions, such as waiting until the end of sentences before talking, and understanding that problems can have multiple solutions, therefore allowing pupils to see where their insights take them, and letting them get there more on their own than being guided towards a particular method.

Danny spoke about literature from Caleb Gattegno and Dick Tahta, and mentioned that the Maths Teacher Magazine has many articles in from Dick Tahta, and being a member means that you’re able to access all of them! Worthwhile doing when I get chance 🙂


5 Misconceptions in GCSE Maths – Craig Barton – @mrbartonmaths  & @getdiagnostics

So Craig’s presentation was discussing the information that you can reap using his (and @simon_woodhead’s) Diagnostic Questions website ( There is so much! Genuinely super interesting. Initially, he went through how to use the website (for those not in the know), there are millions (I don’t even think this is an exaggeration) of questions related to GCSE subjects (not only Maths).

Each question has 4 possible options for answers. There is one correct answer, along with 3 incorrect answers that are there to alert teachers to particular misconceptions. Craig has mentioned before that he likes to use a couple of these in each lesson, so that you can easily see the misconceptions in the class and address them. In order to stretch and challenge pupils in the class, once they’ve found the correct answer, he asks them to work out the misconception for the incorrect answers, and further, they can design their own diagnostic question, with well thought through misconception answers too.

Next he showed us some cool stats about the generally worst answered GCSE Maths topics around the world, including Upper & Lower Bounds, Algebraic Fractions and 3D Pythagoras.

Then we got to play Guess the Misconception which is always good fun. Topics that came up as the 5 biggest misconceptions were:

Cumulative Frequency – surprising, we know, however when you get a funny question that is not the usual, pupil’s understanding of CF really gets tested!

Fractions to Decimals – the example was represent 2/3 on a line already drawn 0-3. The question was quite misleading, so it’s really easy to see how this can sway pupils towards the wrong answer.

Range of data – the question was reasons for a small range, most pupils leaned towards “less data”, when of course it means more consistent data, an easy to understand misconception to watch out for.

3D Pythagoras – difficult for many! It’s the visualisation that can be tricky. This question was asking which 3 corners of a cuboid created a non-right-angled triangle. Talk about tricky!

Adding negatives – the question was worded rather than in an equation, again throwing up numerous issues.

Straight-line graphs were also mentioned but I can’t remember whether this was one of the top 5 and maybe I’ve added an extra in!

Across the board, these were topics that I consider pupils to have a good understanding of, however it seemed to be a case of asking them different style questions definitely begun tripping them up, so it’s really important we try to come up with all the different weird and wonderful questions that can really test the pupils along with the typical style questions. This will be particularly pertinent in the new GCSE exams.

Craig mentioned that the topics that have been newly introduced into the spec are being answered really well, however it’s topics that were already on but have been adapted slightly that are suffering the most.

Finally, he told us about the new interactivity on the website, in September there will be interactive Schemes of Work which you can manipulate according to your teaching timetable, and then they will automatically set diagnostic questions on those topics for your class 3 weeks later as a revision type method. It sounds super useful, so I for one am excited to experiment with it!

Maths Tweet Up

How could I forget to mention this!

Mr Mattock (@mrmattock) left me in charge of a puzzle table, which had some really cool puzzles on! (See the pic below). They were awesome, some included were one to make a tetrahedron, a cube, a tower of Hanoi, and a weird cage for a cross that was really tricky! Miss Norledge dominated at some of them, while Em (@EJmaths) showed off with the cross in a cage one!


Overall, another fantastic day of CPD and networking with more absolutely incredible Maths Teachers, who just want to learn more and share with everyone J

Thank you La Salle Education!

Posted in Maths Conferences

Saturday 7th November 2015

Wow, what a day!

Today I gave a talk at a mini Maths teacher conference (not mini teachers, mini conference) held at Huddersfield University – for the PGCE students there, as well as other Maths teachers who were interested in some Saturday morning CPD.

Ed ( @solvemymaths) had asked me to do a workshop based on my interest in History of Maths, and how I use it in my classroom. I cannot begin to explain the nerves I felt! I’m fairly sure I was shaky and imagine my voice sounded it too. Cue **A LOT** of sugar in my tea. It was commented on, I’m not lying!

Anyway, I digress.

I have a mini obsession with the Ancient Greeks, I find them absolutely fascinating. When you consider they lived more than 2000 years ago, and the extent of their knowledge and what they achieved, it is just incredible. Completely mind-blowing. What makes it even more intriguing is that they were clearly a rather advanced civilisation, however something happened which meant that some of the things they knew and learnt were lost over time, and it is as though human civilisation went backwards – some knew that the Earth was a sphere and that it orbited the Sun, not the other way around. And yet it took until the 17th Century AD for that “theory” to be accepted. I can’t help but wonder how much more we would know about Maths, Mechanics, Astronomy and Science if their works hadn’t been lost/forgotten about/refuted.

My presentation touched upon only a few of the facts I’ve discovered about the Ancient Greeks, and that are particularly relevant to GCSE Maths (and within those pupil’s scope).

We began with Thales, who is sometimes considered the first Greek Mathematician, and the Father of Geometry. One of his assignments was to measure the height of a pyramid (you’re not allowed to use Pythagoras – he’s not around yet).

Next we took a look at how you can find the ratio of the distance from Earth to the Moon and to the Sun and their sizes using observations of half moons, lunar eclipses, solar eclipses and the time it takes for the moon to set, calculated by Aristarchus just after 300 BC.

Eratosthenes taught us about finding the distance around the Earth, and therefore it’s diameter, volume, etc.

Finally, we looked at Archimedes’ discovery on the relationship of the volume of a sphere and the volume of the cylinder that it fits into perfectly (i.e. touches all sides without squeezing), and then the relationship of their surface areas.

As much as I really desired, I couldn’t really include female Greek Mathematicians (Hypatia for example), as little is known about their discoveries, and I haven’t been able to delve into their surviving contributions as yet. I would also like to highlight it is not only the Greek Mathematicians I appreciate, however they are the ones I know the most about, and the ones that often have the most accessible calculations for GCSE students. I intend to discover more 🙂

I have uploaded the document onto TES here, you will need an account to download it. (Apologies, this website host system won’t let me save it here). Please tweet me any questions, comments, advice that you may have!

The event itself

Once Ed had introduced the day, Craig Barton ( @mrbartonmaths) began his session where he talked about the functionality and extreme usefulness of his site

There are literally thousands of diagnostic questions on every topic of Maths, which are there to highlight any misconception your pupils may have in that topic. As a rule of thumb, Craig uses at least 3 diagnostic questions per lesson. Instead of using A,B,C,D cards, he uses fingers – 1 finger = A, 2 fingers = B, 3 = C, 4 = D, this way there is no lead in or preparation, it is a simple “Show your fingers”. He then gets pupils to explain the different answers they have, letting them debate it out between them which answer is correct, and why. Extensions are simple, getting pupils to explain answers, spot misconceptions and how they come about, teaching others and writing their own diagnostic questions.

He advised that you are capable of setting quizzes for your pupils to answer at home – and the information on their answers is available to you, analysed with the percentage that chose each answer, and a break down below where they’ve explain how they came to that answer (whether they are wrong or right), and pupils are able to look through other pupil’s correct answers and explanations to learn the correct way.

Craig also suggested that looking at the diagnostic questions *in advance* of teaching a topic can help inform teachers where pupils can develop misconceptions and allow you to plan for those to be avoided.

Mr Barton (I’m getting nervous just calling him “Craig”, I’m not sure we’re on first name terms!) then told us about his unconfident, out-of-love-with-Maths Year 11’s, who he has been working hard with to discover their areas for improvement. He has developed quizzes based on 12 key questions, which he sets each week to see where he needs to work on in the next week. These quizzes are also available online, and you can also see which questions are answered badly on a worldwide scale, and not just in your classroom.

Also very helpfully, he writes a blog each week about the most misconceived topic in his school that week and how the department will work towards resolving that.

Finally, he gave us some examples of the AQA multiple choice questions (I won’t lie, they are much harder than you expect multiple choice to be! They are basically full questions, but with answers to pick from!) AQA are producing these examples which is very helpful, Edexcel are also producing diagnostic questions, however (thankfully it seems) they are not including them in the exams. 🙂

After Craig’s presentation, it was my turn to confuse and hurt brains 😉

Then I learnt some more about Bar Modelling from James Hunter. Again, I’ll be honest – I probably won’t be using this in my lessons, for now I’m not convinced it will help my pupils. Especially when some of it still confuses me!!

We had some yummy cake in-between 😀

And then we all got WOWED, stretched, and challenged by Don Steward, who showed us some interesting maps to calculations, deriving algebraic formulas and proofs, and how to introduce algebra sneakily.

“How can you introduce algebra sneakily?” I hear you ask, well, let me tell you!

You pick to use 1 million for an example, but quite frankly, you’re too lazy to write out 7 digits, and they won’t actually fit in the tiny boxes you’ve drawn, so instead you’re going to write down ‘m’. When you double 1 million, you end up with 2 million. So let’s write that as ‘2m’. He is a strong believer that the less fuss a teacher makes about something, the less difficult the pupils believe it to be, ie. if you don’t make a fuss about this at all, he says the kids will take it in their stride and move on without considering it.

Don likes to include some algebra in every lesson if he can, in fact, his school doesn’t teach the number topic, it can be included in lessons, just not necessarily spelt out as number only, his school also spend the first year (Y7) teaching **only** algebra.

After looking at this, we looked at some amazing properties of a Babylonian square and how the Babylonian’s multiplied big numbers. We learnt to draw magic squares, and looked at proving cyclic quadrilaterals and finding perimeters that were 4 units bigger than the area, and other things. It was quite the brain stretching afternoon!


The whole event was thought-provoking, informative and helpful, even with tasty snacks provided! I also got my second Mr Men mug 😀 I might start a collection! Thank you very much to Ed (@solvemymaths) for arranging the whole thing, and allowing me to ramble on about how much I love the Greeks and how amazing I think they are. (I’m not the only one though, Don and Mr Paget ( @ApApaget) love the Ancients too, so at least I’m not alone in that!)