Back to School!

Back to School

Image courtesy of digitalart /

It’s that time of year again – the beginning of the new school year and teachers everywhere are thinking about the kind of learning environment they want their classrooms to provide. I have mentioned this excellent post from David Anderson and Lee Pace before:  ‘What Kind Of Restaurant Is Your Classroom?‘ I think this makes excellent reading at the start of the year and I certainly want my classroom to be ‘more gourmet than fast food!’

How do we achieve that?

I’ll give my own answer in terms of an updated version of my New Year Resolutions for Maths Teachers.  (Note that the hyperlinks at to the foot of each slide seem to work from slide 4 on Slideshare, all links will work in the original PowerPoint file which is available here: New Academic Year Resolutions for Maths Teachers and a pdf version: New Academic Year Resolutions for Maths Teachers)

On the subject of starters and plenaries, also on Assessment for Learning and Feedback I recommend highly Mike Gershon’s Resources, an extensive collection of ideas which apply to any subject.

So full of good resolutions back to school we go!

Wishing all educators and students everywhere a successful and happy new school year.

Highlighting is a Waste of Time

Highlighting is a waste of time according to a comprehensive report released on Jan 9th 2013 by the Association for Psychological Science. The authors, led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky, looked at various learning tactics and rated each from high to low utility. You can read the full report by clicking on the above link or for a summary have a look at this article in Time.

The authors conclude that the most effective learning techniques are distributed study sessions (last minute cramming is not effective) and more practice testing, the use of flash cards can be very helpful with this, as the conclusion to the Time article states ‘ditch your highlighter and get busy with your flash cards’.

A TES user has uploaded an excellent resource: Effective learning/study techniques which summarizes the work well and provides some great ideas for the classroom. I really like the ‘Cup of questions’ idea – I’ll be trying that! In fact the ideas given are very much in line with my own thinking, I have said before that I have become convinced of the need for frequent recall, perhaps even more true in the UK now that students are assessed with linear exams. Something I do regularly and certainly plan to do in this coming academic year for all my classes from age 11 to 18 is ask them some questions at the beginning or end of a lesson to see if they can recall recent (or not so recent!) work. See this file for an example: Mini-test example. The questions are short and can just be read out for students to write responses in their exercise books (making this a great starter – no IT or resources required). The questions in my example here are just recall type questions on a variety of topics but could of course be a series of questions on just one topic. Questions requiring higher order thinking skills could also be used (see Rich Questions for ideas). I have added a new page to which I will add any mini-test resources.

I think this type of exercise is valuable at any time, not just at examination time and we should spend time regularly helping our students recall current or earlier work. If they have a basic ‘toolkit’ with which they are comfortable and secure they have a foundation to which they can link new learning to.

 A really useful source of questions which can be used this way are the mental tests from CIMT; these are included with their resources for Years 7, 8 and 9 and also for GCSE. For Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14) scroll down this page for the Year 7, Year 8 and Year 9 course material, the resources include mental tests as part of the teacher support material. On the GCSE page scroll down to the teacher support material and note the mental tests available for most units, see this on Formulae for example.

Be imaginative with homework, it does’t have to be on the current topic – it could be on last week’s topic…or last month’s…or something you have not done yet!

The Collective Memory resources on TES are ideal in helping students understand and recall information and link ideas together. These can be used in a variety of ways which are fully described in the article. (A further set of resources is available here). Last year my GCSE students created several posters of their own which they found a very useful revision activity.

Bubbl'us diagram

Some students find mind maps helpful to recall information, I have seen students create some excellent diagrams with Bubbl’us for example. For some more online revision tools including some to make flashcards the resources mentioned here may be helpful

As I write I am reminded of a favourite quote from John von Neumann who said “Young man, in mathematics you don’t understand things. You just get used to them.” I know that for me, when I am more used to ideas I feel I understand them better. If we help our students recall all the basics – perhaps they will feel more secure – and confident.

Top >10 Mathematics Websites

The Top >10 Mathematics Websites post remains one of the most popular on this blog. So – time for a revisit and an update.  Because I have used some categories as well as individual websites this gives me the excuse to sneak a few more websites in there and mention as many as I like hence the >10! Most of the original post still stands – a few additions rather than deletions. Any post claiming top 10 or >10 in my case is clearly the author’s top 10, not the top 10! These are my top >10 because I really do use them – a lot – in the classroom!

…and a slide show to summarize… (download PowerPoint file: top-10-mathematics-websites-v5

Top 10

Expectations – Gritty Students!

Direct link to TED video

Traditionally at the beginning of a school year teachers discuss their expectations of their students, I am going to completely change my emphasis this year and talk to my students about being gritty! It seems to me that for gritty students the often quoted expectations about listening carefully, always bringing a calculator, handing in homework on time,……the list goes on (and on ..) become statements of the obvious!

You can hear Angela Duckworth’s definition of grit in her TED talk, to quote her:
Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

How gritty are you?! 

How do we develop gritty students? Certainly the answer to that is not obvious. Angela Duckworth refers to Carol Dweck’s work, something we take very seriously at our school. We need to develop a “growth mindset” in our students; they need to understand that their ability to learn is not fixed but something they can change through their attitude and effort.You can hear Carol Dweck talking about teachers and coaches developing a growth mindset in their students in this interview with Basketball School. Some points she made struck a chord with me:  for teachers to develop a growth mindset in their students they need to develop their own growth mindset; do we ever judge our students too quickly? Also, such a useful reminder that we may sometimes worry too much about ‘teaching to the test’ when we just need to remember that ‘The outcomes are natural byproducts of engaging in good practice’.

For more on a growth mindset see this very clear article by Michael Graham Richard using excellent illustrations by Nigel Holmes which he worked with Carol Dweck on (look at that website – there’s a man who knows about design!) and Vickie Schafer’s presentation:

Angela Duckworth’s closing remarks seems the perfect ending to this post!

“In other words we need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier”

Gritty Students

A New School Year – Learning Names

Wordle names

Poster created on

Now I know it’s still the holidays for many teachers but it’s a good time to think ahead so my posts for the rest of the UK summer holidays will have a new school year theme. This week – learning names.

Something we all need to do at the start of each year, I’m determined to learn the names of my classes faster this year! I was interested to see a suggestion to seat your class alphabetically by their first name rather than surname on Classrooms and Staffrooms; that could be worth a try.

Name card

I have used name cards before and I am wondering whether to try these again. These are simple to make from an A4 piece of paper which can be folded in half and then folded in half again. Students can then write their name clearly on one side of the card. The other side of the card visible to the student could be a reminder of anything you want; the above illustration shows the card I used for a lesson observation with a class I was unfamiliar with. For the new school year I am tempted to write some reminders for them! For example, always remember your calculator, homework will be set on…and the address of the blog I use to post details of homework. In case it’s useful this is the Word file for the above example; I will probably try and improve this and make it a bit prettier!
name card template

There is plenty of useful advice for learning names, these suggestions might be helpful:

TES – Learning Names on New Teachers

Learning Students’ Names from the University of Nebraska includes many suggestions. I might try a variation on suggestion 15 here with younger students, perhaps they could try and think of a mathematical term which begins with the same initial letter as their name, Colleen calculator, Tina triangle….!

10 Techniques for learning Names from Cuesta College.

Certainly I think this is worth spending time on and should be a priority, we want our students to know that we know who they are!

Perhaps some study of names and Statistics might be appropriate too! See my earlier post ‘What’s in a name?’