Friday, 21 October 2016

Love teaching, love maths, love twitter.

As anyone who has known me for the last year and half will know, I love Twitter. As a medium for connecting educators and sharing practice I have not seen anything like it. I have probably had more professional conversations, attended more real CPD meetings and moved my practice on more in the last year and a half than in the previous 8 and half that I was working - and a lot of that can be attributed to Twitter. It is easy to begin to take the impact for granted once you have been used to it for a while, but then something will come along that makes you fall in love with it all over again. For me this happened very recently following the Secret Teacher article about teaching maths.

Perhaps the thing I love most of all, more then twitter (although less than my family) is teaching maths. The joy of developing real understanding in pupils, seeing pupils go from nervous incomprehension to confident understanding is a joy that I am not going to soon tire of. Which is why articles like the Secret Teacher article make me so sad, when practitioners talk about how useless maths is for all but a small minority and how teachers are wasting time trying to teach all but a narrow set of skills to the majority I really do begin to despair of the poor opinion that some teachers have of pupils and of their role.

Which brings me back to what makes me fall in love with Twitter all over again - the response from some of the colleagues, and people I now class as friends, was just brilliant. Within minutes we had responses like this from Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) which so eloquently rebuts some of the poorer arguments in the article and really brilliantly we had a movement starting on Twitter courtesy of two of our newer teachers @MissBLilley and @Arithmaticks called #loveteaching.

With the media and politicians seemingly fighting to report all of the ineptitudes and 'tribulations' (as the Guardian advertises for in its Secret Teacher blog), these two dedicated and driven young teachers have tried to take it upon themselves to be a big part of the opposite voice - the voice that highlights all of the things that we love about teaching and what is bringing and keeping those special people like these two ladies into the classroom. For me this is a perfect example of the power of platforms like Twitter to unite like-minded educators and provide a voice for the profession, and it makes me appreciate Twitter and the people I meet through it all over again.

So I love Twitter, the camaraderie and the connectedness (if that is a word!); I love maths, the wonder and beauty, the way it has of revealing deeper and deeper insights for those that are prepared to work hard at it, but above nearly all I LOVE TEACHING.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Methods of Last Resort 1 - Percentages

Following on from my session in Kettering at #mathsconf8 I will be writing a series of blogs about the areas of maths I find or figure out that might be better looked at separate to any problems that might be solved using a standard approach or a 'method of last resort'. The first area I want to look at is percentages.

Because of the multiplicative nature of percentages there are lots of questions that can be solved without having to resort to approaches such as "Find 10% first..." or "What multiplier calculates...." or other standard approaches. The point I made at mathsconf is that I would want pupils to understand why these questions can be solved quickly and straightforwardly, and that actually by exploring the special nature of some of these calculations we can deepen pupils understanding of the topics - in this case percentages.

Find 32% of 75

This is the example I used at mathsconf. There are still plenty of teachers that don't realise that 32% of 75 is the same as 75% of 32, but once they see it they understand why. What I like is that in explaining why this is true really does get at the heart of percentages and how they are calculated and so it is a perfect little 'explain why' to stretch pupils as well as then serving as reinforcement of concepts for others.

Find 32% of 100

Try it; you will be surprised how many pupils don's immediately link the % with the 100 or are unsure when they want to say 'isn't that just 32?' Again this sort of question gets at the heart of percentages as parts of 100.

Find 32% of 50

If you have built up to it these are actually now becoming quite straightforward, but encouraging pupils to talk and explain why is still powerful.

Find 32% of 200, 300, 400 etc

I probably don't need to say much more at this point.

As well as calculating percentages, equally there are similar questions for writing one value as a percentage of another. Again there are standard approaches for this (writing and converting fractions or similar) but there are questions that anyone with a real understanding of percentages would look at and solve. This set of questions comes from a well known worksheet provider; see if you can spot the ones that could be done without requiring the use of a standard approach or 'method of last resort'.

Even if you don't really know your fractions, questions 3, 5, 6, 7, 11 and possibly 12 and/or 17 can be solved using some relatively straightforward multiplication and division. Do we always teach pupils though that if they can see an obvious way to write it as 'a percentage of 100' that this will be much quicker than a standard approach, and more importantly to support them in understanding why this works which would lead to a deeper understanding of percentages as a whole.