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  • Writer's picturePixiMaths

What a weekend!

The weekend kicked off with an early finish from school to enable us to travel down to Park Lane for the early start of the TES Awards. We had missed the reception drinks so headed straight to find our table in the humongous room downstairs. Seated at our table were other shortlisters for the Bev Evans award, including TeacherCellar and ALutwyche. We were also fortunate enough to be sat with Magda and Amy from the TES resource team who were keen to hear our feedback.  

The evening unraveled with plenty of wine, good conversation and a brutal segment from Julian Clary who successfully insulted anyone who walked on the stage. We were even privileged enough to have a few words from Justine Greening after Ann Mroz's warm welcome.

Throughout the evening, I was approached by several maths teams and teachers, thanking me for what I do. I'm not sure I realise still how wide PixiMaths has spread. One of the teams to thank me was Alperton Community School who went on to win Maths Team of the Year. I whooped extra loud for this one!

Although disappointed to not win my own award (well done TimGoundry!), I had a really fantastic evening that was punctuated with an email from the IPO office confirming registration of the PixiMaths trademark!

The following morning we awoke (rather groggy) and headed over to #MathsConf10. One of my favourite things about a MathsConf is taking in person to people I talk so regularly to online. It's like meeting up with old friends. After a bit of a catch-up and some networking, we were welcomed by the great Mark McCourt. As ever, speed dating was the first item on the agenda. I met @Raven_eal who showed me a fantastic activity on expanding brackets. We discussed the opportunities to try this with other topics such as negative numbers. Next was percentage bubbles used as a scaffold to support students in finding percentages of amounts without a calculator. The next 'date' introduced me to the Mayor of London's Count On Us Secondary Challenge, which sounds like a great opportunity to engage students in logic and puzzles and to ignite some mathematical passion. Lastly I met Jonathan who showed me his great little started activity called "What's in the middle?" Again we had a great discussion on option to put either side and how to engage students in further discussion by having multiple possibilities for the answer in the middle. I'll definitely be trying some of these before summer.

The first workshop I attended was with Kris Boulton on how to teach Problem solving. It was so reassuring that Kris opened with a disclaimer that he did not have all the answers; it seems no one does, but having the opportunity to talk about it brings us so much closer! We looked at two different problem solving questions to get us in the right mindset and looked around the room as people raised their hands for different methods used. Emphasis was placed on what can be taught (skills)and what is not so easily taught (noticing) and ensuring that what can be taught is taught well. Kris defined a problem solving question as one with novelty - it's hard because it's different and students are required to notice what they need to do. He also talked about surface structure and deep structure - what the question looks like and what's actually needed to solve it. Finally he suggested a method to teach problem solving over time:

  1. Get the basics right - revision mats!

  2. Amass a catalogue of problems

  3. Organise them by deep-structure

I walked away from this session with a much stronger understanding of what makes a problem solving question and with reassurance that focussing on teaching maths skills with problem solving practice interleaved into my teaching is probably the best way forward. 

Liz Henning led the second session on exploring bar modelling. I feel I've become accustomed to using the bar to model problems on fractions, decimals, percentages and ratios over the last year or so, but I'm lazy and generally just draw bars on the board rather than using manipulative. Liz brought with her multilink cubes, cuisenaire rods, double-sided counters and thin strips of paper. As well as exploring how each of these can be used to solve numerical problems, Liz also demonstrated how the bar can model algebraic equations, including simultaneous equations! This blew me away and I'm looking forward to adding another tool to my belt for next time I teach solving equations to reluctant learners.

Following Jemma Sherwood's workshop on searching fir better feedback, my pledge to myself at the end of the day was to never take a set of books home to mark again! This session was built around evidence and ensuring we are maximising progress without doing unnecessary work. Jemma discussed the Sutton Trust's Toolkit and their evidence for feedback, but also explained the lack of evidence for marking. We know how instant feedback is most effective and so Jemma uses exit tickets at the end of approximately 50% of her lessons. These 3 or 4 questions are answered by students in the last 5 minutes of the lesson and increase in difficulty so Jemma can identify what the mistakes are and what the misconceptions are. Once they have been collected in, it takes about 5 minutes to underline or circle errors, write occasional prompts, sort into piles, and make notes of common errors to address with students next lesson. Jemma emphasised the importance of resisting the temptation to write the same comment multiple times - instead address these with the whole class. Students receive exit tickets back at start of next lesson and correct/make notes as it's gone through as a class. Jemma added its important for students that got it all right to see potential errors so they don't make them in the future too.

Following lunch, session number 4 was with Colleen Young on teaching A Level maths. Unfortunately I couldn't see the board for most of this session but have written down lots of websites to explore, including Wolfram-Beta, amongst others I had heard of previously. Colleen talked briefly about low stakes testing in the classroom and I'm hoping to include this in more of my teaching next year. 

The final session of the day was with Danielle Bartram and was one I had looked forward as it had the phrase 'problem solving' and 'aaaarghh' in the title (this is how I've felt about teaching problem solving all year!). Danielle gave us a variety of strategies to use with our students to training them into how to problem solve. She spoke of introducing conceptual understanding - using orange peel for surface area of a sphere, a bouncy ball for depreciation and a slinky to teach volume of a cylinder. Danielle spoke of resilience and building a feisty mindset in our students. There was an emphasis on re-wording questions to allow for reasoning opportunities, e.g. "Paul says... is he correct? Give a reason for your answer/criticise Paul's answer". Danielle gave us a couple of templates to use to support students with problem solving and ill be using these with my students over the next few weeks.

Thank you La Salle and all the presenters for another fantastic MathsConf. I've taken so much away again and have so much that I'm looking forward to using with my classes. See you in September! 

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