Yesterday saw my pursuit of getting better travel through the East of England and into Peterborough for the first time in my life. It was my second Maths Conference and I am still of the same belief that it should be a constant in every maths teacher’s calendar. The best CPD never feels like you have to be there and it feels like every conversation you have will improve your teaching. The two maths conferences I have attended have certainly felt like that. I met some of the guys I idolise on twitter and spoke to many more both about my own practice and what we do at our school and listening to their new ideas and how they approach mathematics teaching.
I headed up on Friday night and wanted to head out for a drink beforehand but timings didn’t allow – I resolve to make these drinks at one of the events!! After a hotel dinner for one and a good night’s sleep – kudos to The Bull Hotel – we were off to Kingsgate Conference Centre for #MathsConf6.
Almost as soon as you walk through the door at these events, you are astounded at the quality and quantity of things that people are producing to help mathematics education. We had stalls ranging from the awarding bodies, resource producers right through to one-to-one tutoring and feedback specialists. These are almost worth the entrance fee alone – the people who work on the stalls are as passionate about education as the teachers who are there as punters and this comes across fantastically when talking to the staff working here. I was particularly impressed with what Complete Mathematics could offer any school and the “All About Maths” opportunities through AQA. I will spend some time looking into these two things this week. Both will give the chance for teachers to spend their time loving the subject and engaging wholly with it as they take away the time-consuming aspects of lesson planning.
After a few too many cups of coffee, the day begun:
Mark McCourt and Andrew Taylor (AQA)
Mark opened up with a great 30 minute introduction. It was both funny and welcoming and although I’d been to one before, I was instantly excited about the day ahead and what I might learn. The take home message for me was a very simply one: we should expect every single child to be able to master maths. Very succintly, Mark put it this way:
“From counting to calculus, there are 320 topics to learn. Children have 1200 hours of mathematics learning. Why can’t every child achieve this?”
We then had a live demo of what Complete Mathematics can do for us and I think a lot of teachers (particularly those like myself at the start of the career) can learn a lot from the ideas on there all backed up by research and shared by people who have tried the resources themselves.
Andrew Taylor then came on to talk about assessment and there were so many quotables I could relate to. Andrew conveyed an absolute passion for mathematics and the line that summed it up for me was:
“Nobody ever got taller by being measured; nobody ever got cleverer by sitting an exam.”
Andrew was reinforcing the point that exams should not be the end in themselves – they are a good feedback tool for what the next step should be in a child’s development. This falls exactly in line with our school’s ethos and Andrew also proposed that “teachers go back to teaching and enjoying it”. Absolutely! There are far too many that don’t fall into that category which is a shame – this is the best profession in the world when we’re enjoying it!
Following on from this, we had a 20 minute speed dating session which is a great opportunity to talk to others about what they do to benefit their students. I picked up on lots of ideas and it was nice that there seemed to be a common theme that we are all trying to promote independence and problem solving. This was also my first opportunity to really talk to people about Harkness teaching and what we are doing in our department. I’ve blogged about this but everybody I spoke to seemed interested in the idea and rather excitingly, a number said that they would like to come and see it in action. Please do – we’d love to have you!
Technology should not get in the way
Douglas Butler (@douglasbutler01) delivered the first workshop I attended and he was awesome! The man clearly loves technology but the point is that we have to use it in the right way. We found the world’s largest hexagon, pentagon and the world’s largest parabola with nothing more than some clever googling. We also looked at how poweful Autograph can be and how children can engage with things when it’s something they see so often.
Douglas conveyed great energy about mathematics and given the title I was a little anxious that it may have been a “let’s get back to talking” discussion but it certainly wasn’t that. Douglas was showing us all how we can use technology to engage pupils and enhance understanding. The latter in particular was personified by a tremendous Autograph demonstration to look at why we find imaginary roots of quadratics.
By far and away though, the best thing that Douglas did was generate lots of similar sharks and get them to eat each other (all with the Jaws theme tune in the background)! He followed this with an awesome showing of how 3d shapes are created in the cinema – it’s just triangles and enlargements after all!
I enjoyed the first 45 minutes of workshop and it left me wanting to learn more about the capabilities of Autograph, Desmos and the other applications I am supposedly using in my teaching.
Using Software and Games to help A-Level
Next up, Tom Bennison (@drbennison) and Jazmina Lazic carried on the theme about the power of computers and how we can use this to help our students. Firstly, Tom exclaimed that he has cheated on every Sudoku ever and had a computer solve it; secondly, Jazmina live-coded a solution to the Monty Hall Problem that would convince even the most quizzical of students!
This session opened my eyes to what MatLab could do and similar to the session before, left me wanting to learn more about this particular bit of kit. Jazmina and Tom delivered very well and it was exciting to see yet more presenters trying to excite their students. The Monty Hall idea was proved mathematically and shown using the power of computers. Students can see both and if you time it correctly, you’ve excited them enough by the solution that they are interested in the proof and the key mathematical ideas.
All of the first two sessions followed this pattern and technology was the common denominator behind these presenters’ desire to excite and inspire their students.
Lunch time called and this was my chance to catch up with a few people on Twitter and in particular I got to catch Tom Bennison and talk to him about our Harkness style teaching at Wellington College. After watching him work and listening to him speak, it was an honour to have him listen to me and discuss the profession.
How to approach tricky topics at GCSE and improve problem solving
Luke Graham(@bettermaths) was delivering this talk and this was a name I had never come across. The session was superb – messy planning was the order of the day.
‘Messy planning’ is a great concept where we start with some big question and let the kids try and find the answer. The lesson also comes with a starter which aims to get the students talking about mathematics. One of the examples given was “here are 10 ‘facts’…which ones are true?” let the children have an argument and debate. Yes, you are right it does depend or why do you think that is true sometimes and not at others?
I loved the idea of this and it is one of the examples of how I will almost certainly change my practice immediately in the classroom.
The second part of this session I really picked up on was that his school have a policy where SLT will not observe a lesson if the teacher is trying something new (such as this planning method). Any teacher is allowed to come in and watch but it’s not a formal observation. I love this idea as I am wholly of the opinion that observation is one of the best learning tools for a teacher if it wasn’t filled with such dread about not meeting the requirements every lesson should. We should all be happy to let our colleagues come in and let us know what they think and we should be happy to go and watch others too.
Well done everyone at Luke’s school!
AQA vs Edexcel vs OCR
The last session of the day was a Q+A session with the three exam boards and funnily enough, it was mainly centred on the new GCSE grading system and what the exams will be like, what a grade 5 means and which paper should we send our children to. Some of this was above my current position but it was insightful nonetheless. All 3 boards have the same issues and the truth is nobody knows what a level 4 looks like nor a level 7 nor anything else.
All three advised we focus our attention on the new question styles – 4/5 markers with not as many parts. Children have to unpick the writing to work out what the question is and then pinpoint the critical information from the question. We must get our students talking about maths in order to be able to tackle the proofs and discuss the importance of significant figures when it comes up in an exam.
The interesting thing towards the end was a question from Jo Morgan about their opinions on the new A-Level reform and Andrew Taylor made a point I’d not thought about that it will definitely impact on the numbers of people selecting to take Maths (in particular Further Maths). I’m undecided on my own opinion yet but I think it is a better assessment system in terms of ensuring the best candidates perform better than weaker student.
That was the end of the day. What a brilliant Saturday it was too. I must say it again but I would heartily recommend to everyone and it has absolutely reinforced to me that I need to present myself one day. For those interested in the resources I shared or for anyone who spoke to me about Harkness, please see my other blog posts or go to the following sites:
We will be running our own course in this teaching style in the first week of July. This was a fantastic 4-day course last year – a chance both to learn with and socialise with other great maths teachers.
Well done everyone at Maths Conf and thanks once again to LaSalle and Mark McCourt for putting on an amazing event.