I went to my third La Salle maths conference yesterday. If you haven’t been to one yet, the next one is in Kettering in March – you need to go! It was another day jam-packed with networking and CPD that started, as always, with a warm welcome from Mark McCourt and Andrew Taylor from AQA. Andrew was keen for us to talk to him throughout the day about post 16 and encouraged teachers to take their time with choosing exam boards for the new A Level, in the same way that we did for GCSE.
This introduction was followed by Matt Parker who inspired us to further engage students. After several minutes of hilarity, he showed us his "all time number one favourite spreadsheet" which at first seemed just randomly populated with numbers. Matt then showed us how the sheets was conditionally formatted in shades of red, green and blue, gradually zooming out until we could see a picture of his own face. He had "genuinely excelled [him]self"! Afterwards, using a microscope and a phone from a member of the audience, he showed us how a phone screen looked just like his spreadsheet (without the numbers, obviously!). Matt has uploaded the magical spreadsheet to Think-Maths.co.uk for us to use, as well as suggesting loads of other resources available:
Cube fractal project - infinite surface area, zero volume megamenger.com
Mathsinspiration.com - interactive maths shows
Mathsfest2018 - 6th form and top set year 11
Mathsjam.com second to last Tuesday of every month in a town near you!
Mathsgear.co.uk - this is where I'll be doing lots of Christmas shopping this year; I have already bought myself the mathematical poetry fridge magnet set.
To finish off, Matt showed us that he had printed the world’s largest prime number… in three volumes!
I always really enjoy the speed-dating element of a maths conference. This time around I spoke to Rose who was keen to talk about a variety of Tarquin books that she uses, including the Murder Mystery collections. Steve had a great plenary resource called Reflection Bingo. At the end of each lesson, he would give his students a number 1 – 8, and they would copy and complete the corresponding sentence. Claire showed me her growth mindset stickers which were slowly but surely having a positive impact on her students. I spoke about my low stakes end of topic assessments which can be found here.
The first workshop I attended was with Ed Southall on Asking Better Questions. The workshop was split into six distinct sections:
Drawing out misconceptions – pre-empt misconceptions and address them as soon as possible as students don't learn exactly what we teach them, they interpret, then build on/adapt their interpretation;
Prompting deeper understanding – showing connections and origins of topics and methods;
Embrace your inner cynic – better questions don’t mean harder questions. Sometimes we need to spend extra time on focussing on particular parts of a topic, for example colouring two lengths that could be used as a base and height for a triangle’s area;
Estimation – looking at whether answers really make sense, although this takes practice;
Layering difficulty – “using bigger numbers does not make things harder, just more annoying”! Suggested strategies to layer difficulty are:
Reverse the question;
Give excess information so students have to spot what to use;
Ask students to spot the error (Andy Lutwyche’s Clumsy Clive worksheets are GREAT for this!);
Move away from a single-answer approach occasionally; or
Just ask why!
Although there were elements of this that I know I do already, it’s inspired me to go back to many of the PixiPPts and edit examples so they draw attention to potential misconceptions.
My second workshop was with the lovely Pete Mattock where we spent 50 minutes talking about graphing. Pete opened with asking us what it is about graphs that makes us keep coming back to them. We discussed all the types of graphs and charts that we could think of, then looked at what’s the same and what’s different about them all. We decided that we don’t spend enough time focussing on the purpose of drawing graphs because the actual act of drawing them takes so long. However, exam questions saying “draw a suitable chart or graph” are becoming more commonplace, so really we should be taking time to highlight the advantages and disadvantages of them. Pete also talked about graphing in other subjects and how important consistency is. I’m looking forward to spending a whole lesson with classes discussing what graphs really are for.
Workshop 3 was with Jonathan Hall who didn’t want to try to make Maths interesting, but to show how interesting Maths is! Jonathan showed us several short activities we can use with students to practise skills such as expanding and factorising brackets. He went on to show us many hidden features of his site mathsbot.com, some amazing resources that I didn’t know were there but will definitely be using in the near future. These included HCF/LCM pyramids, the four ops puzzle, Kaprekar’s routine, the chaos game and many more! You really need to go to this amazing website and explore!
The last workshop of the day was with Dan Rogan from AQA who told us about problem solving in the new A Level. Dan discussed the importance of being aware of different emotional responses to problem solving. Many problem solving questions at A Level will only have one or two marks allocated to problem solving because “once you know what to do, you just do it”! Dan suggested that in order to problem solve, students need three things: knowledge of the whole specification, a repertoire of problem solving skills and resilience.
Mark wrapped up the end of the day with the usual prizes and went above and beyond the £700 we’d raised for Macmillan to take it to £2000! A big thank you to Rob Smith for encouraging everyone to buy raffle tickets and for that amazing tuck shop. It’s been another inspirational maths conference and I’m chomping at the bit to get back into the classroom to put some of what I’ve learned into practice. Thank you so much to La Salle Education, Mark, AQA and all you wonderful presenters!