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Here’s what I wish…

A few years ago I moved to a school with much wider ability range than I had ever taught in before. For the first time in a while, I felt truly challenged as a teacher. It also coincided with my first ever #mathsconf,  and so it really made think about the materials I use and the scheme of work I follow.

We tried Pearson Activelearn with KS3 – it seemed so promising. Different tiers for different levels of students, regular tests, the ability to project examples onto the board. In reality though, it didn’t work out for us.

I recently read Craig Barton’s excellent book ‘How I wish I’d taught maths’ and it got me thinking.

So here’s what I wish…

  • I wish there were textbooks and schemes of work which, like the Activelearn idea of theta, delta, pi, are suitable for different levels of students but, unlike the Activelearn model, follow the topics in the same order so that if set changes are necessary students can switch level with minimal disruption.
  • I wish each lesson had a PowerPoint I could project. The first slide would be a 10 question quiz, carefully structured around Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve to ensure previous topics were revisited just at the point when students were about to forget them.
  • The next slide would be a few multiple choice questions so I could check students have the prerequisites required for this topic, allowing me to spot any misconceptions and fix them before beginning the main part of the lesson.
  • The next slide would show examples and non-examples to introduce the topic.
  • Then there would be example-problem pairs so I could model to the students how to do the questions.
  • I wish the textbook exercise would begin with some (sorry not some, LOTS of) deliberate practice – minimally different questions. I want the students to develop the procedural fluency first.
  • I wish bigger topics would be broken down – an example, then some questions. Another example, more questions.
  • I wish that after the topic has been introduced and the basic skills mastered, the textbook would then provide more intelligent and purposeful practice, including an open-ended task at the end (so that super speedy kid who completes the exercise in record time still has something to do!)
  • I wish there were many many tests provided – end of unit, half termly, end of year. Those tests would include many questions to test basic procedural skills, and then other questions which include a problem-solving element.

It’s not too much to ask, is it?



Pythagoras lesson

Just had to share about a lovely Pythagoras lesson I just had with a bright Year 8 group.

Thanks to the amazing Jo Morgan (@mathsjem) I found some great resources through her resourceaholic blog – specifically these Pythagoras problems from The Chalk Face and Spiderbox and this problem from Illustrative Mathematics.

I cut the problems up and put one on each pair of desks. The girls were allowed to work in pairs and simply had to present me with as many correct answers as they could in one hour. They had 3 ‘hint’ tokens that they could trade in for help at any point.

I was really pleased with how they worked, one pair even manged five correct solutions in the time allowed. What was great was how persistent they were about going back and trying again and again if they got it wrong – something they would never do under usual circumstances!

My group have only just learnt Pythagoras’ Theorem, but this is something you could bring out for revision with older classes as well.

Year 10 have a go on iMovie…

My classroom smelled like oranges for the rest of the day…lovely!

Becca and Bronte’s Video

Rachel and Katie align their orange peel so carefully! (And I can forgive the misspelling of pi!)

Short and sweet from Cara and Sophie!

Nicely (and quietly!) done by Alex.

I’m not sure why Izzy and Emma are using an American accent!

First ipad lesson review

Fresh from a day’s training with Dragonfly – ‘The iPad in the Maths Classroom’ with Neil Atkin (@natkin), I was keen to try my first iPad lesson with top set Year 8 girls.

I say first lesson, we had actually used a previous lesson for familiarisation. Thanks to Neil for all the ideas!

  • Ground rules. Starting each lesson closing all open apps and clearing the history. That way if you suspect anyone is messing around you can check to see if they have any apps open that they shouldn’t. I also warned them that misuse of the iPad would result in them losing the use of it for that lesson.
  • Introduction to the various sites/apps we would use – Padlet, Socrative, QR codes, Educreations (including them setting up a free Educreations account).
  • When I’m talking, iPads are on the desk with the covers closed.

In the main lesson itself I used one of Dan Meyer’s Three Act Math problems – The Domino Skyscraper in particular.

We used Padlet for students to pose an initial question, and to make their guesses about how many dominos they thought it would take to knock over the Empire State Building. I think next time I may use Socrative for this and then see which I prefer.

I then let them loose on Google and Educreations. Initially, I thought it would be nice if they researched the height of the Empire State building themselves, but inevitably a couple of them Googled ‘domino’ and ‘skyscraper’ and found the answer which somewhat spoiled it! Next time, give them the information they might need and they can stay off Google, methinks!

Problems? Well, time first and foremost. Many of them didn’t finish their Educreations video, and very few managed to send the link to me so I could see what they had done. And as the iPads are not their own, I’m now faced with starting the next lesson dishing out the iPads just so they can log in to Educreations and send me what they’ve done. Next time I will endeavor to make sure this is all done before the lesson end so I can review all their work before the next lesson, and show the best few next time.

Also, the girls are not all using Educreations to show the journey they took to the answer, but just giving their answer much like they would on a piece of paper. Hopefully, in time, they will use the technology to show their thoughts and how they got from A to B.

Once again, I am reaching the conclusion that iPads will not truly change the way I teach until the kids have their own iPad for use at school and at home.

PS. A slightly unforeseen problem when we were using Padlet – clearly some of the boys in a previous lesson (possibly a sexist assumption but I’m sticking to it) had created some shortcuts. One poor girl, whenever she typed in ‘the’, it was replaced by a string of expletives. And we were on Padlet at the time, which flashes up on everyone’s iPad in real time….well, you get the idea. (For the record, Settings>General>Keyboard will take you to shortcuts, then swipe to delete.)

How is the iPad really affecting my teaching?

Well, it’s been half a term now, and having just written a report for all the kids I teach,  I figured it was time for a report on the iPad as well.

Has it changed my teaching? 

Honestly? Not really. Or rather, not yet. I am sure in the future, when the kids also have iPads, I will be doing all sorts of jazzy and amazing lessons but for now I’m sticking to the same old chalk and talk. It’s simple. It’s effective. It doesn’t require much forward planning on my part because I’ve been teaching like this for ten years. And when you are in the middle of a busy term when time is a luxury few of us have, it’s the path of least resistance.

Occasionally, yes, I will have a moment of inspiration and deliver an (I think) outstanding lesson, but for the most part I teach and the kids learn and there are no bells or whistles or dancing monkeys. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Has it changed me as a teacher?

A resounding yes to this one.

Let’s be honest, every teacher has a shortcoming – something that you know is your weakest area. Come on, be honest…

Mine? I’m disorganised. I mark the work, but I sometimes forget to put the marks in my mark book. I take attendance (in my head) but sometimes forget to keep note of who is missing. I give verbal feedback, but I sometimes forget to make a note.

Does this affect my teaching? I don’t think so. But it does affect me when it comes to writing reports – and given that we write about 6 per year for each child, anything that could make my life easier in that respect would be helpful!

So what is the ipad doing to help?

iTeacherbook shows me my day laid out and ready to go. From that one page I can see who I’m teaching, what I’m teaching, take attendance, see what’s up next. Items from my ipad calendar are slotted in seamlessly so I shouldn’t miss a thing. I also use it to set homeworks and record homework grades. Is it perfect? No. Can I think of ways it can be improved? Yes, and I hope iTeacherbook will take on board the ideas I have already suggested to them, but even in it’s current state it does most things I want it to.


Evernote is an excellent tool for monitoring progress over time, and a fantastic way of having lots of evidence together in one place when it comes time for writing reports. I have a folder for each year group, and a tag for every student. It’s the tags that matter though.

A student has done an outstanding piece of work? Take a photo, upload it to Evernote and tag it with that students name.

A student has done an disappointing piece of work? Take a photo, upload it to Evernote and tag it with that students name.

You’ve been given an SEN report for a student, or have some MIDYIS data? You’ve guessed it…Take a photo, upload it to Evernote and tag it with that students name.

Anything that you might want to refer back to either for writing a report, or for a parents evening…upload it all. And then when the time comes, just select that students tag and it will all be there on one page for you to peruse to your hearts content.

Yes, of course there are other apps I use, but it is these two that are currently having the greatest impact upon myself as a teacher.

I’ll play you for homework…

Today, my class had worked really hard and so I decided to “play for homework”. I challenged them to a game of Nim which, if I won I would set homework and if they won they would get no homework. A class representative stepped for but, unfortunately for them, I won because I knew the strategy. However, within 3 minutes they had (as a class) figured it out and were begging me for a rematch so they could have no homework.

Having really liked how quickly they engaged when a night off from homework was at stake, I thought this is something I would like to do every few weeks but I need more games that I am (almost) guaranteed to win.

Please tweet me your suggestions! @mrsoclee

Setting up your ipad – Wi-Fi, Emails and Google Drive

Getting online at school – the school iPads should already be set up for you but just in case…

  1. Go to Settings > Wi-Fi and choose Staff
  2. You will be prompted to sign in using your usual username and password, and then choose ‘Connect to the Secure Network’.
  3. Click ‘install’ when prompted.
  4. You should connect automatically after a minute or two, but if not go back to Wi-Fi and choose BSG_SC

Getting your outlook messages

  1. Go to Settings > Mail,Contacts,Calendars > Add Account… > Microsoft Exchange
  2. Enter your email address, and password. Description is your choice, but something like ‘School outlook’ would fit the bill!
  3. On the next page, under Server put, under Domain put incents, and under Username put the username you use to log on to the computer.
  4. Finally, choose what your would like to sync. Mail (obviously) and probably calendars, but contacts and reminders are up to you. This should mean you can access your outlook mails from the mail icon, plus it will sync any outlook calendar items into your ipad calendar and, if you have chosen, sync your contacts and reminders as well.
  5. If you’re not seeing any emails, it is only set up to sync the last 3 days of messages. You can amend this in Settings.

Getting your school Gmails

There is a way to have them in the same mail app as your outlook, but IT haven’t yet filled me in on this one. However, there is something you can do in the meantime.

  1. Download the Gmail App from the App Store.
  2. When you first open it you will be prompted to sign in. 
  3. Sign in using your email address and password.
  4. It will then ask you to sign in again – you don’t need to reenter your password, just click ‘sign in’ and it will then give you a screen similar to thelp – sign in as you normally would on thelp. 

Getting your Google Drive

  1. Download the Google Drive App from the App Store.
  2. The sign in process is just the same as for Gmail above.
  1. Download the Citrix Receiver from the App Store.
  2. Add account – type in
  3. Type in your username and password, and the domain “incents”
  4. On the left, you can add the desktop and isams to access them anytime.
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Summer plans

If I write it down, is it more likely to happen? Well, here goes anyway. Over the summer I would like to achieve the following.

1. Write one set of forgetting home works for Year 8 or 9.
2. Prepare resources to trial a flipped classroom for revision with my Year 11 prior to their mocks.
3. Reteach myself FP1 & FP2 because I’m teaching them next year and I’m a little rusty!
4. Find some great apps for the iPad to recommend to the department.

End of term videos

Now, I’m not advocating the watching of videos in class on a regular basis, but there are times (end of term, class decimated by a sports fixture etc) when you do want to show a video but you want it to be of VALUE to the students. Here is a list of videos I recommend:

Anyone have a suggestion to add to the list?

Resources for the second half of term

Year 7 – Grouping data; Symmetry; Multiplication and Division of Fractions

  • Pie chart flags
  • Funny pie charts here and here.
  • A nice video showing rotational symmetry. Warning! Flashing lights!
  • A video showing mirror dancing – plane symmetry.
  • Synchronised swimming video – fast forward to 2 mins for some great rotational symmetry.
  • Exploded flowers – might make a nice homework to make their own symmetrical exploded flower.
  • Face symmetry – use celebrities or photos of themselves.

Year 8 – Solving Equations; Scale Drawing; Travel Graphs; Scatter Graphs

  • A TES resource on scale drawing a theme park (login required).
  • A TES resource on travel graphs (login required).
  • My favourite video, and a nice way to introduce scatter graphs.

Year 9 – Travel Graphs; Averages from frequency Tables; Inverse Percentages; Upper and Lower Bounds.

  • A TES resource on travel graphs (login required).
  • A TES resource looking at upper and lower bounds with Popeye (login required).

Year 10 – Financial Arithmetic; Functions; Tangents to a curve; Vectors.

  • A nice comparison of compound interest and simple interest.
  • Have a look at and their loan calculators (shocking!)
  • A TES resource looking at world debt (login required).