Lesson Planning – Again!

Lesson planning – again, that’s what we teachers do and something I have been giving a great deal of thought to recently.
I wrote not long ago on the subject and since then have tried Ross Morrison McGill’s 5 minute lesson plan and decided I was right to like his idea! Using the template places a real emphasis on what the students are learning, how they will learn it and how will they progress from here.
As I said in that post I wanted to adapt the template a little for my own use and have done so. Combining mostly Ross’s ideas with the Maths version I discovered (I originally found this on the Suffolk Maths site, I believe Emily Hughes is the author) and then tweaking a little for me I have my own version! I wanted a bigger box for Assessment for Learning, to include vocabulary and to have the option to complete the plan electronically. So I have modified the shapes and added text boxes to the various parts of the diagram to make it possible to use electronically.
Knowing that this subject is one I will return to, I have given this 5 minute plan its own page (as part of the I’m Looking For.. series) which I will keep updated as I use this method for planning.T
Thinking also about observing lessons I have been reading various articles and blogs and came across David Didau’s ‘Where Lesson Observations Go Wrong’. Many of David’s comments really struck a chord with me, particularly his comment ‘no one knows my kids in my classroom like I do‘. That is so true; I think we would all like to think that any observer coming into our lesson has that in mind. If I observe a lesson in any capacity I want the teacher to know that I appreciate how well they know their students.
I do like David’s suggested questions (reproduced below – thank you David) for observation feedback – questions like this make for a good conversation between the observer and class teacher. If I have planned my lesson properly, thinking about all the aspects mentioned in the five minute plan above then I should easily be able to answer these questions and in fact be glad to be asked them. The questions emphasize quite rightly that this is but one lesson in a sequence of lessons and only a tiny snapshot of my interaction with that class.
  • Where does this lesson fit into your sequence of teaching?
  • What have students had to learn in order to get to this point?
  • What did they already know?
  • How will you develop what students have done so far?
  • How might the next lesson be adapted in light of what happened this lesson?
  • How do you know if students are making progress?
  • Why did you make the decision you made today?
  • Is there anything you might do differently?.

These questions are useful for reflection – have an imaginary conversation with yourself even if you are not being observed. Actually come to think of it – isn’t that best of all – to get really good at observing ourselves?!

From Year 7 to Year 13…

Such a busy week…

But I have written a weekly blog post since January 2011 when I made a New Year resolution to write a blog post every week, a habit I don’t intend to stop, so this week I simply offer two slideshows I created for my students recently.

With Year 7 (age 11-12) we have been studying Algebra. When solving equations, I included for a class of high ability students, equations with the unknown on both sides. Having given them one homework where they were exploring various resources for practising solving equations, a sudent asked in a comment on our homework blog how to use Duncan Keith’s excellent linear equation calculator for practising this type of equation:

The slideshow below shows how to use the calculator to solve equations where the unknown is on both sides.

At the other end of the school, with Year 13 I had completed the various integration techniques required for our exam specification. Aware that students sometimes muddle differentiation and integration, I started the last lesson of the series with one of my ‘self-checks’ / mini tests to see what they could easily recall. I have stressed the importance of knowing the basics with this group. The questions I used are presented in the following slide show – a sort of KS5 mental Calculus test!

Smarty Pants and other badges!

7 Badges

Near the beginning of this academic year I wrote that Year 7 (UK age 11-12) and I decided we would use Class Dojo this year to record learning behaviours. We have since adopted the term badges to describe our system which I rather like; it reminds me of the excellent work by the Mozilla Foundation on their Open Badges and I wonder if at some point in the future I can somehow link our system to an open badge.

See also – the later post on ClassCharts which can also be used to record learning behaviours and additionally offers the facility for students to view their own complete online record.

Our system seems to be working well, particularly as it is very much ours not mine and it’s all about being the best you can be, which is quite different from being the best in the class. Year 7 have come up with many suggestions, I quote some of them here:

  • Some of my ideas for a badges are: Well prepared, Contributes in class, Good Marking.
  • I have an idea that maybe there could be a good effort/trying your hardest badge, so this doesn’t necessarily mean that someone has got 10/10 but when you know they are struggling in a particular topic and then they might get a just above average mark in it , you will still know they tried there hardest because they were struggling with it before.
  • There could be a badge for a great badge idea! Also neatness. A tidy page is easier to read and mark.
  • I think we should have an organisation badge because it’s important to have everything you need for a lesson.
  • You could also include a gritty child badge.
  • I think we should add a presentation badge, a best effort badge and a badge called Smarty Pants so if we get full marks for quite and few times in a row we can get a smarty pants badge!
  • I think there should be a ‘happy to do my homework’ badge. Where we ask ourselves, are we ok to do our homework because I only really get my homework correct if I am motivated enough to do it! Also none of us want to feel like we ‘hate’ homework!
  • Mrs Young, do we have an enthusiasm badge on classdojo? Because I think that that would be quite useful ;)

…and the suggestions are still coming. We have discussed how these badges will be awarded, for example when I asked how will I know that you are happy to do homework, we decided that their homework would show care, would always be done on time and if they had any problems they would ask before it is due in. What has been so pleasing about all these discussions is all the talk about what it means to be a good learner.

JDI!I do like to get a class working immediately, I have written on Bell Work before; Year 7 are aware of this and just recently a student suggested a JDI! badge for those students who come into class and without fuss get straight on with their work. The student who suggested that was obviously listening to me at the beginning of the year when I mentioned that there were times when you just have to get on with things – just do it!

In our discussions on homework we have decided that sometimes it would be a good idea to have an independent homework where each student decides for herself what she will spend time on. This offers the chance to practise more examples of any topic a student feels she needs or perhaps try some extension work; there are many possibilities. I have reproduced below the instructions I have written for students (on our homework blog) on how this will work. I will report back in a later post on how this is working.

Independent Homework

Independent Learner DojoWe decided it would be a good idea to have an independent homework sometimes, giving you the freedom to work on something of your own choice. This will enable you to demonstrate your independent learning skills. There are several suggestions here but you may choose any activity that will support your learning in Mathematics. Your activity should usually include trying some problems.

When we have an independent homework you should include in your work an introduction to say what you have chosen and why you chose it. You should also evaluate your chosen activity when you complete it. Was it useful? Have you achieved what you hoped? If you have used any particular resources would you recommend them to others?
Feedback responseNote that the independent homework gives you the chance to respond to feedback; for example you might want to try to solve some equations and present your solutions very logically and show that you are checking your work. It may be a response to your ‘self-feedback’. When you reflect on something we study in class, sometimes you might think ‘I’d like to practise some more examples’. Your independent homework provides the chance. Remember you could choose any topic, your homework offers you the chance to revise work.
A chance to practise a topic you feel needs extra work. You could use any of the following resources:
Your textbook: the Test Yourself exercises at the end of each chapter have the answers at the back so you can check your solutions as you work. You could also work through examples in the Yellow boxes or try some of the puzzles. If you do use worked examples – never just read them, work them out yourself.
Online activities: if you choose any online activities you should show some working in your book.

  1. MyMaths –  remember to use your second level password if you try any of the homeworks.
  2. MangaHigh – the quizzes – not just games!
  3. CIMT Tutorials Year 7 or Year 8
  4. The Maths Teacher
    The Maths Teacher Number

    The Maths Teacher – David Smith

    David Smith’s site, The Maths Teacher has an extensive collection of videos to help you study Mathematics. Many of the foundation GCSE topics are also ideal for KS3 (age 11-14). For each topic not only is a video available but also a transcript and exercises with solutions. This makes the site ideal for revision – you have the choice of perhaps just trying the exercises or if you feel you need more help you can watch the video – whatever is right for you.

  5. Any website of your own choice, many students like BBC Bitesize for example. There are other suggestions on this page.
  • A chance to study any new area of Mathematics that we have not studied in class yet that interests you, you could use any of the above resources or perhaps you could try a problem from the Nrich website. Note that you can search NrichSuppose you want to work on Algebra for example, you will find lots of activities here.
  • Try some Maths challenge questions – see this page. Note the challenges from the University of Mississippi, the Middle School Madness and Elementary Brain Teaser problems are for school age children, Middle School Madness for grade 8 (age 14 and under), the Elementary Brain Teaser for grade 6 (age12 and under). If you submit a correct solution by the deadline that week your name will be published on the website.
  • Work on your mathematical vocabulary, you will find the dictionaries here helpful. You may want to look at some other reference material, many students find these notes from Craig Barton very helpful.
  • Learn to use WolframAlpha to check your work.
  • Learn to use the Desmos Graphing Calculator
  • If you want to practise (and assess yourself) at a particular level then try Convinced from Kangaroo Maths. Also from Kangaroo Maths see the Levelopaedia and Level LaddersEmily Hughes has a clear and attractively presented guide for both KS3 and KS4.
  • Are you guilty of making any of the Classic Mistakes here?
  • All the above are suggestions if you are not sure what to try. You are of course free to make any choice of your own as long as it supports your learning of Mathematics!

Remember that getting stuck helps you learn. Gritty students persevere and work things out when they get stuck, asking for help is fine too! Try and ask specific questions.

Do you have any observations / suggestions for independent homework? Please add your comments below.

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013

Jane Hart, Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies has released the list she has compiled of Top 100 Tools for Learning 2013 –  the results of the 7th Annual Learning Tools Survey.  Jane Hart compiled the list from the votes of over 500 learning professionals worldwide. See the C4LPT site for further details including an analysis of the list. The site includes a ranked list with links to all the tools mentioned and commentaries on each.

I thought it would be interesting to see where my own favourite learning tools are in the list – and also see if any of my personal favourites are missing! Note that Jane defines a learning tool as follows “A learning tool is a tool for your own personal or professional learning or one you use for teaching or training.”
My own favourites have been favourites for quite some time, I have detailed these below with their position in The Top 100 Tools List.

Evernote (6) – an outstanding note-taking tool and something I use every day. I have a notebook for each of my classes to which I upload any resources I want for that class; I also jot down any ideas I have for each class. I can use it on any PC or my tablet or my phone. It is also a good way to share for example a list of websites with students – using a shared notebook. (Blog post on Evernote).

WordPress (8) – obviously – you are reading a WordPress blog right now! I have several other blogs, GamesStarters and Mathematics Tools for example. I find a blog such as this an excellent way to share information with colleagues and students. For students I have created Mathematics for Students and something I am very pleased with is a blog I use to give the details of homework for each of my classes. I created ‘What was that homework?’ as a result of a survey of students across several schools where many students said that they would like homework details online. No student can ever say to me that they didn’t know what their homework was! I also regularly update blogs on useful tools for students and teachers generally. (The very first post on this WordPress blog – which includes some useful WordPress links).

Twitter (1) – great for professional development – I have contacts in education all over the globe and have been led to many useful resources by my virtual colleagues! (Blog post on Twitter).

YouTube (3) – there are numerous videos useful for Mathematics teachers – perhaps to show in class or for students to use at home, for example the Math Centre videos or those from Khan Academy. (Videos page with many sources of Maths Videos).

Google Docs (2)– I have used Google docs to collaborate on documents such as presentations with other teachers. Using Google Forms provides an excellent  way to get feedback from a group of people, their responses are all returned to a single spreadsheet. A comprehensive manual can be downloaded here.
For an examples of  forms see this one used to collect student self-assessments of their PLTS skills development in Mathematics and this to collect student feedback on their Mathematics experience at the end of their first year with us.
I’ll sneak in the fact here that I also use Google Search (4) and Google Drive (2) all the time!

Moodle (11) – I have a Moodle course for each year group in school; each course has links to any websites that we use in class so students can investigate further themselves if they wish. VLEs are sometimes criticised for being no more than ‘filing cabinets’; I would argue what useful filing cabinets they are – containing resources chosen by teachers for their students all in one organised place. For example prior to a recent GCSE Mathematics module the relevant Moodle course received hundreds of hits as everything students needed was available, not only syllabus information and papers but worked examples that we had uploaded. It is also of course possible to use forums and quizzes on a VLE. (Digital Tools blog page on Moodle).

Slideshare (16) – it is very easy to upload presentations to this (free) presentation sharing site. Any PowerPoints for students could be uploaded for example. There are several examples on this site, such as the WolframAlpha slideshows.

I’ll use this category to mention that I use PowerPoint (5) all the time (particularly as our whiteboard software does not export to any standard file types) and that I’m pleased to see that it is still so popular; whilst Prezi (15) makes a change, it’s the content that matters, not the tools.

Diigo (21) – I have saved many hundreds of bookmarks using this social bookmarking / annotation tool; I can even find them again! There are numerous examples of Diigo lists on this site – see this list on Statistics and Probability for example;  (Digital Tools blog page on bookmarking). I think it is because I find Diigo so easy to use that I still like it. Always liking the idea of a backup plan – all my Diigo bookmarks are sent automatically to Evernote (6) via ifttt (I also have Diigo set up to send the bookmarks to Delicious (60)!)

Wikispaces (80, and wrongly down in my humble opinion – this is really easy to use if you want a collaborative space and is fine for students of all ages as teachers can enroll users)- I have used wikis with Mathematics classes – for doing exercises together for a change, as journals for example where each student has a page; also for any collaborative projects as it is easy for a student or students to be responsible for a page of a project. (Digital Tools blog page on Wikis).

Screenr (45) – when trying to type Mathematical text is too slow, a quick scribble on some kind of screencasting tool can be the answer (graphics tablet essential). (Blog post on Online Whiteboards – consistently one of the most popular posts here).

So that’s 10 mentioned and it is not enough to mention what I use all the time, how could I have not included Excel (54) which I use everyday in my job to present data to staff? Of all the applications in the Office suite this stands out for me, the changes from Excel 2003 to 2007 with the massive improvements to conditional formatting for example make this one outstanding application. There are also many Excel spreadsheets out there too to help in Maths lessons – see Maths Files for example.
A new entrant, worthy of a mention is coursera with numerous free online courses and note the new UK siteFuture Learn.
Now obviously the list is not about specialist sites for various subjects (The Top >10 Mathematics Websites is another story) but for me the missing site on this list has to be WolframAlpha (this week one of my Year 13 students confidently told the rest of the class that she knew there had to be a typo in the textbook answers as she checked it on WolframAlpha which confirmed her own answer was correct – that is a result!). WolframAlpha is not just all about Maths though, it covers so many subjects and even though they would love us to pay for WolframAlpha pro, the free model still offers unlimited queries everyday!