Filing cabinets and Toothpicks

I’m a big fan of 3 Act lessons and exploring how story telling can help to engage learners in asking deeper and more meaningful questions, as well as engaging in tasks which are more interesting and engaging.

This week I’ve had a go at two new (to me) activities with different groups. One went great, the other not so much.

First, was the filing cabinet activity from @mr_stadel. I’ve seen this before but always at a moment when it wasn’t useful. I’d tagged it this time and used it as a way into talk about different types of units. The kids developed questions:


and then answered the questions


and we engaged in some really meaningful discussions. Perfect! Really set the scene for alternate forms of measurement.

The second activity arrived on my blog reader last night. I’m in the middle of a unit on sequences and graphs with my Year 9s and so @ddmeyer’s new toothpick activity seemed perfect. But, whether it was because I misjudged the activity or the group or if it was last lesson on a Friday, it flopped. We had two methods going on and we got close to an answer but there was too much angsty frustration for that stage of the week and not enough engagement for my liking. I need to rethink how we run with this one next time.

What is your favourite 3 Act task?


Space and Breakages

I have the privilege of teaching in an 11-18 school and, since I started there, I have had a class in every year group.  I can go from teaching remedial Year 7 (11 year olds) to high flying, Cambridge-bound Year 13s (18 year olds) – sometimes within the same hour!

When I teach A-Level, I teach mainly Pure Mathematics and Mechanics – I don’t really like Statistics beyond GCSE and find Decision a bit dull (though we do normally teach D1 as one of our applied options).  I have a lovely Year 13 group that happens to be mostly Physicists, so they’ve covered lots of the content in Mechanics already.  Today, we were starting to look at momentum and impulse.  I found two great things to stimulate our conversations which I share with you now.

Firstly, this:

A video about momentum FROM SPACE!!! I’m a bit of a space nut – I watch live streams of Mars rovers landing and the like.  I was so excited when I found this and loved the clear explanations and awesome visuals.    We talked about this for ages and then applied it to some problems.

The second hook was an idea I got to demonstrate impulse.  You know the trick where the guy pulls the tablecloth from under the glasses and they all stay standing …. well, that!  It works because the force acts for a very short period of time and so the momentum doesn’t change much.  Well, that’s what is supposed to happen.  I don’t think this is supposed to happen:

Failed Impulse Demo from Kevin Cunningham on Vimeo.

Needless to say, there was much hilarity which you can hear in the video.  When we watched the video on the projector screen we were able to discuss why it didn’t work and troubleshoot it for *next* time.  I don’t think I’d use stiff card or have the glasses quite as close to the edge or give up like I seemed to half way through.  Watch it again … you know you want to!  What else did I do wrong?

Ever had a really good idea go wrong like this?  What is the most memorable hook you’ve used?

Tarsia Jigsaw Revision

My Year 10s are having an assessment next week on everything they have done since September.  I’ve been trying to help them organise their notes, work out what they need to revise, help to address misconceptions through the year and we’ll see how they have retained that information when I mark their test.

Today, I wanted to help them revise so I prepared a Tarsia on fractions – everything from converting between mixed numbers to improper fractions, the four operations and the like – and got them into groups to do it.

image-2As well as the Tarsia, I produced an A5 list of the topics that were being covered.  The students were expected to complete the puzzle as a group and make any notes that they needed to help with their revision.

There was a good buzz in the room – if you haven’t used these puzzles before there is free software to make your own here and there are a ton of them on TES and Mr Barton Maths.

Do you use these?

Are there better ways to use them?  I’ve tried printing them out big and using them as a whole class activity – I’ve tried each person having 6 of the triangles and then putting them together (also as a jigsaw activity) – I’ve tried smaller ones that are individually completed.

What do you do with them?  I decided to do these ones on cards and keep them – other times I have students stick parts of them into their books or construct some equilateral triangles and make up their own or take a photo with their phone as evidence of their work.

What other revision strategies can I be rolling out?

As an aside, I cut these out with a guillotine and so had some nice regular cut-offs – some trapeziums and triangles – I’ve put those aside for another lesson.

Probability Statements & Scales


I was thinking about probability with my lovely lower set Year 7s today (trying to think how to describe them makes me want to write a post about setting). They each had a statement and had to get into order from least to most likely – I couldn’t find a washing line. This worked really well. We then introduced the concept of a scale using percentages and words (0%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%) and tried to come up with our own events. This caused uproar as always!

I preempted the conversation by reminding people to stay calm, even if you disagreed, and to indicate that you want to agree or disagree rather than yell at the person making the claim.

One girl, “It is impossible that I will grow a moustache.” [Lots of disagreement!]

One boy, “It is certain that I will come to school tomorrow.” [Even more disagreement with some really good arguments]

We dealt with those (and other) misconceptions and then they began to construct their own probability scales – my go to activity for this since my PGCE year thanks to @PaulineMGaston. Next lesson we will talk about fraction and decimal equivalence some more before we talk about how we work out the probability of simple fair events.



Stumbling into term

Today was hard work. Having a new born at home has really messed with my sleep patterns – last night I couldn’t sleep to near 1 and then I was up at 6.

I taught three hours and had two PPA lessons – didn’t really achieve much in those but started surd unit with my Year 11s. Pitched the start too low but pulled it up quickly.

My Year 8s had fun with the start of a ratio unit. We used @numberloving’s Ratio Fan and Pick (check out the website for top resources!) though we picked up 2 things we thought might be mistakes.

Hoping to sleep tonight and feel a bit more creative and on it tomorrow. I meant to take a picture of some of the things we did today! Boo!