Edfest Thursday, Edfest Friday morning and then a train up to Leeds for my third straight day of CPD can only mean one thing…it must be time for a maths conference! My third of the year (and ever incidentally) and I still have the same emotions leaving this one as I did after leaving Sheffield in September last year. Getting to Leeds from Crowthorne isn’t the easiest journey but 5 hours after departing, we landed in the hotel, had some food and prepared for the day ahead.
The day itself began with the usual coffee and chats with a couple of stands and I was particularly impressed with the number and quality of the stands present at this conference. A very good representation from all exam boards and some new exhibits that I hadn’t seen before – I am particularly intrigued by how Brix can benefit our students. We arrived quite late so there wasn’t much time before Mark McCourt opened up.
As a semi-experienced #MathsConf goer, I knew the routine of Mark introducing the keynote and then speed dating before starting the first session but this was slightly different in that the keynote speaker, Professor Mike Askew (@mikeaskew26), really captured my attention. I would listen to him speak all day.
Research into problem solving techniques
I will be as brief as possible but in short, Mike was discussing the current research into how students solve problems, what does and doesn’t work, ways in which we can incorporate this into our teaching and the journey between abstract and concrete and back again.
Some superb things came out of this talk. He emphasised the idea of testing students on topics they have learnt previously (not necessarily the ones being studied right now) before discussing, with evidence, the ideas behind ‘sleeping on’ a thought and remembering it better. His final introductory point looked at the impact of asking ‘deep explanatory questions’ and their impact on student learning. This was profound and if I take anything away from today, it will be that “we are a problem solving species”. It is in our nature!
Mike had us thinking about the questions we ask and the tasks that we set against an “indirect” criteria: is it improving fluency; is it improving problem solving or is it improving mathematical reasoning? What a brilliant checklist for every question you ask of a student. If you can answer yes to one of those, I believe it is worthwhile. If not, why are you asking it?
Shortly after, we look at Kahnemann and his ideas behind quick and slow thinking. There is research proving we are a little sad when we don’t get something quickly, is this why students push back? How can we fight this in the classroom? Teachers must think about the culture in their classroom and how they can aid their students in coping with this sadness that comes.
Mike finished talking about the ABC’s of problems (Burkhardt) and highlighted a key point. “The real skill of an educator is when it comes to facilitating the discussion of solutions”. I cannot agree more with a statement and his idea of private vs. public talk is one that anyone should talk to him about if you get a chance. Mike offered some really simple advice to further understanding when students are speaking in a public domain – repeat, rephrase, revoice, agree. In that order.
A great way to start the conference before a little speed dating!
Speed Dating and Mark McCourt
The speed dating is one of the highlights of the conference, always, and it did not disappoint this year. I picked up a couple of valuable teaching ideas and hopefully shared our Harkness resource with others to see how we are going about teaching A Level maths at Wellington. The excitement is palpable between all when this happens.
Mark (@emathsuk) then spoke himself. This was the first time I have heard Mark speak but after the reviews of his researchEd chat, I was not missing this. He always talks so passionately when hosting and the same love was evident this morning. He discussed the amount of hours teachers spend not teaching and ineffective ‘working’ hours. I could almost copy and paste his transcript but the major messages that hit home were that “every lesson has been taught before” and “if something isn’t working, stop it!”. This actually resonated a lot with me after listening to Clive Woodward say that we must put enjoyment at the top of our priorities and Mark is trying to encourage the same message.
We listened to Mark talk about the Singapore approach of teaching less and discussing teaching more. This strikes me as an ideal we will not quite reach in England but it does leave me thinking, how often do I sit and talk about teaching? What worked and what didn’t? Was it effective? How could it have been more effective? Mark showed us how Complete Mathematics is trying to help address the balance and regain some of that enjoyment which was exciting and showed that maths teaching does not need to be reinvented every year.
The overriding question Mark has burnt into my brain is “Am I being impactful?” This can be transferred to a whole spectrum of teaching. Marking. Resource design. Questioning. Testing. Is what I am planning going to impact the students’ learning? If not, why am I doing it?
16 Things about the new A-Levels
Straight after Mark, we went off to listen to Andrew Taylor (@aqamaths), Gary Wing from Hills Road VIth Form and Christine Andrews from AQA talk about the new A Level. This was fascinating and I always find it interesting to get inside the exam board’s head. We were given answers to the most common questions asked of AQA and were advised on topics such as large data sets, calculators and which papers to enter. All in all, a very helpful and important session to attend.
All 3 spoke excitedly about the new reforms and showed the positive side to the new specifications and how they will benefit students. I enjoyed listening to this side and I can certainly see the benefit myself now. Well done, all.
We then scooted off for lunch and enjoyed a more relaxed hour or so before the last two sessions with Danny Brown and Craig Barton.
Be aware of being aware
Danny Brown (@dannytybrown) really impressed me. I have followed him on twitter for a while now but listening to him speak showed me that this is an educator who cares. His students can count themselves very lucky.
This was one of the few workshops I have been at where not one person is tweeting about it or taking notes/photos. The whole message was about being present and recognising whether or not you are present when listening/talking/reading aloud. Danny is obviously well informed and he was a pleasure to listen to and discuss mathematics teaching with – I would certainly like to do so again some day. I took a lot from his session and I certainly want to implement a values-based teaching philosophy of my own moving forwards. What do I care about? How does that affect my decision making as a teacher?
Incidentally here, a discussion came about into how 1-2 year olds count and whether or not they know they are counting. Why do kids say “one, seven, two, six, three” before they know that these are numbers and why do they eventually work out the order in which these go? Truly fascinating and I look forward to reading more!
Guess the misconception
Craig Barton(@mrbartonmaths) closed the day for me with a fabulously engaging talk about students’ misconceptions. Craig’s website is fantastic and offers students a chance to give an explanation for why they selected the answer they chose. This offers tremendous insight to us as teachers and should be something that is seen more in classrooms across the country. Very rarely are students just plucking a number out; they have some sort of thought process. It is our job to find this out and act on it.
Craig showed us some data analysis from around the world – the Americans can’t do lower or upper bounds – and then looked at our own children’s issues. We were shown 5 questions that students struggle with (in the easier parts of the syllabus) and discussed why we thought these students had misconceptions.
This was a great, light hearted way to finish the day and it left me thinking about how often we delve into wrong answers and how often do I really probe and discuss why a student made a mistake. I should be asking more about what it is that made a student give a particular answer.
Overall, this was a superbly impactful day and, as always, left me excited about being part of the greatest profession in the world. This is a profession, we all care and we can all help each other. I will keep going to these events as long as time and means allow and I will always recommend them to others. Everything went smoothly and La Salle should be complimented on their part in this as I am sure it is not easy to organise something on such a scale while keeping the quality that high.
Well done all on a great day. See you all at #MathsConf8