Maths in Context – Day 1, Session 1

On Saturday I began the next module for my MA Maths Education called ‘Mathematics in context’ at the University of Chichester.  When we were selecting our next classes this one was sold as something that would complement our understanding and implementation of functional Maths.  If you are a teacher in the UK, you will know that this is a buzz-word that has different definitions depending on who you ask, so I thought it would be worthwhile to spend some time exploring the theoretical underpinning behind it.


I’m going to recount what happened during the sessions for my own memory and hope it might be useful to someone!


We started of defining functional Mathematics for ourselves.  For what it is worth, my definition was ‘When we use the tools of mathematics to describe, predict, explain and explore real situations.’  This is evidently going to be a module wherein we do a lot of Maths and use that Maths as a vehicle to explore the theory that lies behind the processes that are involved.


We watched a clip from the BBC Learning Zone called Motocross at the Millennium Dome.  My first reaction was to think about the initial questions that are thrown up by the clip and, indeed, when we watched it for a second time that is what we were encouraged to do.  The clip was 7 minutes long so I’m not sure if this could be used as it is with a class – maybe sections of it would be better.  We were then given about 40 minutes to explore on of the questions that we generated.  We were given a data sheet on the Millennium Dome but that wasn’t necessary to answer my question.


My group looked at the parabolic motion of a motorbike as it made a jump.  We had access to Geogebra but no graphing software so we played the clip, screen grabbed and then used paint to create a path.  Then, we placed some string across the white board and measured points.  I modelled the graph using the software while the others in the group used paper.  We were trying to see if we could get the same answer using both methods.  This would have been possible if we had have used Geogebra to generate the co-ordinates and I think I will do that the next time I teach C1.  Really good simultaneous equations work and understanding of the parabola.


When we reflected on which mathematical processes we used it was hard to find any that weren’t covered.  We used a template adapted from QCA (2007) Programme of Study: Mathematics and figured the only thing we didn’t do was relate this problem to other problems of its find.


We finished by thinking about who might be interested in this problem.  We came up with game designers and programmers but beyond that is probably too esoteric.  Would a motocross rider actually want to know the equation of his jump?  How is that helpful to him? 


I found the first session useful and was energised from it.  I think this might have been because it overlapped with previous thinking I’d had, that I was able to follow a problem I was interested in and that I was able to use technology in a helpful way.  I am trying to complete this module entirely without a printed page, so enjoyed using the iPad to support that.  I could definitely see way I could use material from this session in my classroom and was encouraged to see I was already doing some of it.


Annual observations – good or bad?

So, last Friday I had my annual senior management observation.  I’m due to pass into UPS2 in September and my current Head feels that she should observe all people at threshold points.  I think that is a pretty good policy and I  think I’d want to do the same if the positions were reversed.

I hadn’t been observed for 14 months and as it got closer to the date of the observation I started to have a real crisis of confidence.  I have been observed regularly by student teachers, teaching assistants, prospective teachers, trainee social workers and the students I teach – but none of them were there to give me feedback on what I was doing.  I don’t know where it came from but as the observation got closer I started to panic and decided there was nothing I wanted to do more than leave teaching and train to be a farmer.

I put in the hours of planning, thought and rethought ideas, came up with lesson sequences and developed enough material for a unit of work, never mind an hour long lesson.  Finally, I committed to a lesson plan and sent it to the Head.  Then I thought I started to calm down but my body seemed to have a different idea because I kept waking up in the middle of the night.

The observation went well and the Head was very complementary but given how much time and energy I spent thinking about it, I’d have been disappointed if it hadn’t gone so well!  And that’s the point … how useful are these annual observations?

My school is currently thinking about informal and more regular observations.  Will this decrease the stress?  Or will it make it last all year?  I know I’m not doing it for the people who come to watch but for the kids who are in my care day in and day out.  At the same time, I want to show the best of what I can do, that’s what is being judged after all.  It’s often said it is a game but it is one I find myself playing even when I don’t fully agree with it.

Please don’t get me wrong, I like being observed, I like feedback, I like the process of growing and developing as a teacher – I don’t like the feeling of insecurity and lack of confidence when it comes to a ‘big’ observation.

We are due to have a visit from our friends at Ofsted – somehow that feels similar, though the no notice inspections are supposed to help that I guess.  I’m not sure it does.

I think supportive and regular observations of teaching is good.  I don’t think I’d have been nearly as worried if it had been less than 14 months than I’d had a member of the senior team in my classroom.  I like the idea of more regular observations as long as it comes with feedback.

What do you think?  Regular informal observations or irregular formal observations?  Is this a game we have to play?  Am I just being an idiot?  Should I get more feedback from the students I teach?

Using the Moodle Lesson Module

I do like Moodle – not many other teachers in my school use it at the moment and so I do have students asking me why I’m obsessed with it. I think that might be stretching the truth but I worked out a way to use the Lesson module today which really excited me. 
I had my Year 11s period 5 today and I was trying to get them to investigate what happens to the area and volume of cans of drink when you double and triple the lengths. Unfortunately, this was severely hampered by  their inability to calculate the volume and surface area of a cylinder. I thought that post-mock this group of C+ targeted students might have been able to do that – not so. 
There were a lot of mental blocks going on and there were several students missing – I worriedly scratched my head and asked if anyone would find it helpful having a video explaining this. Flipped classrooms eat your heart out. A few did, so I put it on my to do list and stated to do this after school on my lovely ipthen school did not provide this) and my new stylus that I got for Christmas. Then I remembered Moodle lessons. 
The lesson module lets you set up a series of pages that students can navigate by making choices – think choose your own adventure. So, I knew I wanted to assess all my students on their ability to work ut hte volume and surface area of cylinders in various orientations and with varying information given.  But, now  before they answer some questions they have the choice of watching a screencast from me, a page from or just jump in and do it. It finishes with an evaluation into how useful the whole exercise was. If they like it I’ll do a few more and then get them to start designing their own. 
It was quite confusing to set this up. I had to draw a map of what I was doing and refer to it quite a lot (see below). As with everything on Moodle there were options galore – I kept it as simple as I could. All told, it took about an hour to do the screencasts, set up the pages and write the questions. I can’t give guest access to school Moodle but if you want a copy of the module to upload to yours I can do that. (you’ll probably want to change the videos though – my students can understand my Northern Irish accent but I’ve taught them for a while now!). I think I’d be able to do another one a little bit quicker but not by a lot. 
(the plan is on my desk at work at the moment but I’ll upload it here soon – then this sentence won’t be here). 
Have you used the Moodle lesson module? What has worked? Did I make it too complicated? Are there easier ways to achieve what I did?

Remembering formula – teaching for recall


So, today was the first day back to school after the Christmas holidays – back to the grind in 2012. Today was a pretty busy day – like most UK schools every day of the week is different for me. I thought I’d try to think of one thing I could record on here each day for a while, both as an exercise to encourage me to keep thinking about my practice in deepest, darkest January and to remember things I have done that have worked. 
I had my Year 9s today and we started to think about circles.  We spent some time drawing them, labelling the parts and then measuring to try to find any pattern. Most were on board and, even with the dodgy measurements, we could see and explain that the diameter was twice the radius and also that the circumference was about three times the diameter. We had a conversation (maybe it was more a lecture, but they were interested, honest!) about Greeks, irrationality and pi. I introduced the formula C=pi*d and we thought about that and saw how that might help with any circle we might meet for the rest of our lives. 
Over the years, I have tried a number of ways to help students remember this formula and the area formula. Today, we did my favourite – hotter/colder!  Here’s how it works:

  • Pick an object to hide
  • Send a student out of the room
  • Hide object
  • As student enters whole class chants “c equals pi d” on loop
  • Closer = louder, Further = quieter

Simples. I liked it and the kids seemed to get it. I bumped into one later in the day and said “C equals” to be met with “pi d”. I know on its own it’s not teaching for understanding but it was fun, they understood it and normally they remember it. I see them tomorrow, so let’s see how that goes!

Do you have any innovative ways to remember formula? Any classic songs you sing or play for your class?