I finished school on Friday afternoon and raced to get on the train to Reading. I was looking forward to 3 hours on trains where I would eventually end up in Sheffield for Maths Conference 5 (run by La Salle education). I was eager to learn and I was so excited to see so many people who I follow on Twitter or read about every single day. I certainly was not disappointed!!
Firstly, I must say what a well organised day it was. Well done all at La Salle Education and in particular Mark McCourt (@EmathsUK) for a great day that can’t have been easy to set up. I walked away from the day having so many questions, so many answers and even more ideas for my teaching. I also left having a feeling that there is a support network out there – teachers care about maths education not their own teaching.
On to the day itself…everyone chose 5 workshops to go to during the day (all lasting 50 minutes) with various things going on throughout. The first I attended was entitled “The ghost of GCSE past” and it was about what we can learn from a few of the current cohort taking the new exam style. I am not about to reproduce the presentation but there were a couple of fantastic takeaways that are definitely not specific to maths. The workshop was led by Andrew Taylor of AQA (@aqamaths) and Craig Barton (@MrBartonMaths). The latter may have a new fanboy after Monday! I was absolutely astounded that everything Craig said was a thought I have had. His website is a superb resource to diagnose pupil’s weaknesses (something we are trying so hard to do currently) and he spoke with absolute passion about his pupils and their attainment. He recognises the importance of meaningful feedback and I think he understands the need for feedforward. I didn’t get a chance to speak to him unfortunately but a can of worms was opened yesterday in this regard!
Craig also spoke about techniques his department are using – one of which are “rich maths tasks”. A rich maths task does not mean loads and loads of work nor does it mean the maths is insanely difficult. A rich maths task is one in which children engage on multiple levels. Differentiation occurs through the teacher’s questioning – everyone gets the same task. At the most basic level, you get people to find an x and y such that x + y = 10. Then, we ask questions such as “what if we wanted 100?”; “what if x and y can’t be the same”; “x must be factor of y” etc. Anything at all can make this problem challenging enough for top of a top set or accessible enough for bottom of a bottom set. Craig put it brilliantly…”Low barrier…high ceiling”. Maths must be accessible. Everyone must feel success. Everyone can be successful at maths…indeed everyone is every single day! As educators, do we ensure everyone leaves a classroom after a lesson feeling successful? It’s not about whether or not the students have enjoyed the lesson, it is whether or not they have got better at something. Have they improved from when they walked in?
This is a common theme that I will come back to later (courtesy of Amir Azeroo) so I will move on to my next workshop which was with Graham Colman (@Colmanweb) about participation in maths post-16. Almost everyone in the room agreed with the fact that all children should do maths, in some form, after GCSE (or equivalent). To this end, a “Core Maths” qualification has been produced (akin to Maths Studies in the IB) which only takes 2 hours a week of teaching and teaches fundamental maths skills – Statistics, financial maths, probability. The idea being that if you want to do a University degree that requires some maths and you cannot see yourself doing A-Level maths, this keeps your maths skills topped up. You are still doing maths and you are doing relevant maths. I hope one day that everyone is doing maths until they leave school. I also hope that the system allows everyone to be doing the right maths. I think this new qualification goes some way to achieving this end goal.
Peter Mattock (@MrMattock) had the slot before lunch, “Concrete Approaches to Abstract Mathematics”. The next 50 minutes was an absolute barrage of brilliant ideas to discuss various mathematical ideas. We had circle theorems, ratios, negative numbers, algebra and statistics! Peter showed us all that almost anything can be reproduced in front of pupils. This must be more memorable – pupils can liken an exam question to something they have done (eg. finding the mean or going from the mean to the total) and they will enjoy this. Coming back to an idea from earlier, everyone can be successful if you frame the activities in the right way.
Lunch time!! All teachers’ favourite part of the day. Great food followed by some unbelievable cakes! Well done all who baked – my personal favourite was the Rubik’s Cube. Anyway, onwards we went to Workshop 4. My choice was about designing resources with Amir Azeroo (@workedgechaos). I have followed Amir on Twitter for a few months now and I was looking forward to this session with excitement. Amir spoke passionately about good practice and who he takes ideas from. I thoroughly enjoyed how he spoke and came away knowing that even the best teachers find inspiration from others. Being a great teacher isn’t about reinventing the wheel just for the sake of it. My mother was not happy with the low need/poor design example though!!!
The final part of my day was listening to the highly recommended Kristopher Boulton speaking about the Stories of Maths. What an outstanding way to finish!!! So much fun and ticked all my maths geek boxes. Kris spoke with enthusiasm and showed a tremendous bank of knowledge. All of the stories were great and they will go some way to showing enthusiasm to others and maybe even convincing them that maths can be fun!! I will definitely go and see a part 2 if there is one in the future…
Then it was home time (sad face)….what a great experience! As a new teacher, new to thinking about my teaching and new to a lot of ideas and concepts, I love the chance to sit in a room with others maths teachers talking about teaching. This is how we’re going to get better. Maths education is a team game and we are playing. How can we best benefit the team? I would 100% recommend others to go on this course from any level and I will definitely be trying to go again. There were plenty of people I wanted to see but couldn’t due to timing, hopefully I can meet them in the future. I cannot put in words how excited it has made me about the upcoming year – I am ready to walk back into the classroom tomorrow with a new lease of life. I will be thinking about whether or not I can do something different to bring an idea to life and whether or not I am being effective in my everyday practice.
Well done all on a superb day – you have gained one more fan!!