Making maths more interesting part 2

i was sent into a state of near panic when I received the email that TeachersTV would not be available after 29th April. I have never really bothered downloading the videos, just watched them as I needed. However being given a final cut off date spurred me on to actually find and download the ones that I needed.

I was absolutely amazed by the sheer amount of stuff that is on the site. I have used the outstanding lessons to help my teaching and the murder mystery video was the subject of my previous post on this subject but there is so much more.

I kept getting sidetracked by the suggestions of “you might also be interested in……..” One of these suggestions was a set of four videos on teaching algebra and good starting points. As algebra is going to feature heavily in this year’s MaST course I felt that it would be a good idea to investigate. The series consists of two lesson starters involving pattern and formulas as well as the handshake lesson. I have downloaded them and will now think about where I can incorporate them into my planning for next term to try and liven up my teaching a bit.

I was also inspired by a colleague on my MaST network who has done lots of work on using picture books in maths lessons. She bought a selection along to our last network meeting and I instantly fell for them. I have been on to Amazon and bought How big is a million (Usborne picture books) which will fit into our space topic next term (well sort of) and Anna’s mysterious multiplying jar. I will use these with my children and see how they go down.

It isn’t that I think my lessons are boring but that I want to try and make it as accessible as possible for all of my children. They all love watching videos and looking at picture books so this may capture the interest of some children who don’t think that Maths is for them.

Making Connections

This is what I have been doing and what we should all be doing according to my ‘extensive’ reading anyway.

One of the first texts we had to read for MaST was chapter 1 of Primary Maths, Teaching for Understanding by Barmby et al. The thing that struck me most was the stress on how important it is for connections to be made with what children already know. It seems obvious but I wonder how many teachers really take that on board, especially bearing in mind the conversations that I have had with secondary colleagues in the past!

The idea of making connections for children to really understand what is being taught comes up again and again in my reading. Earlier this year in Derek Haylock and again this week when I read Mike Askew’s article on effective teachers of numeracy. He makes the point that the most effective maths teachers are often those who make connections explicit for children.

This seems to me to tie with Skemp’s work on instrumental v relational understanding. If there are no connections with what the children already know then the learning can only be instrumental, or rules learned by rote.

As I said earlier, it seems obvious but how many of us really make all the connections that we can? And are the connections that we make the ones that the children need? Thinking about this emphasis on connections reminded me of something else that I had read and I had to spend half an hour tracking it down.

In her book The elephant in the classroom, Jo Boaler looks at the differences between more and less able pupils (or the pupils that have been labelled as more and less able). In Chapter 7 she looks at ways of working by different groups of pupils when solving problems. The different strategies used by less able compared to the more able is startling. None of the less able were able to solve calculations by using derived facts. None of them could use known facts to derive others that might help them to perform their calculations.

This seems to link directly with the emphasis on making connections when we teach. If we don’t teach those children to make connections with the number facts that they already know and to help them to be able to manipulate those facts, then we are leaving them to struggle unneccessarily. Boaler makes the point that the maths the lower ability children are doing is actually a more difficult subject than the one done by the higher achievers. And so the cycle gets reinforced that maths is a hard subject and can only be done by clever children!

We need to make sure that we always start with what the children already know. However sometimes that place is not always where we think it is.

Holiday Tasks

Well, I signed up to postaweek but have obviously failed 😦

This is my first post for over a week and the last one was just a slide show rather than anything deep and meaningful. Not that I am claiming that this blog is ever deep and meaningful, it’s mainly just me thinking aloud.

However as it is holiday time, I will have more time to try and get things back on track. So my first task is to try and work out what I actually need to do in the next two weeks.

Firstly there are the obvious things like catch up on sleep and tidy the house. However I do need to get my MaST work sorted. The new module started in February and we have had 4 meetings but my independent work has so far amounted to Zero!

Well, that’ s not strictly true. I have submitted a proposal for my assignment. At some point it will be returned and I will actually have to do some work on it. However I need to look at what I can be doing out of the classroom.

I need to look at my Professional Learning Log first of all. They are being looked at in June and I really need to have some work in it by then! I never actually got round to filling in the sheet for the end of Module 1 so that might be worth doing. I also need to go over my notes from the 4 meetings that we have had so far and see what I need to do in the classroom.

I need to read more. I need to research my assignment and find things that I can quote or that might help me as I carry out my research. I also need to read more around the subject generally. I haven’t really read anything since I read ‘What’s the point of school?’ in January. I have bought the latest edition of  Issues in teaching Numeracy which is actually a collection of articles and therefore maybe easier to digest than a whole book.

I also really need to get myself organised. I have a student next term which creates possibilities and difficulties. It means that I will have time to talk to children and actually carry out my research. However it does restrict the amount of time that I have to teach and so carry out things that I want to do.

I have also got to do the necessary planning for next term and spend at least half a day in school sorting out my classroom.

And it would be nice to actually spend some time just being on holiday!