Category Archives: Maths Ideas

#MathsRocks Round Up! 19/02/18

Welcome back after another half term and here we are embarking on Spring 2! Lighter mornings, going home when it’s not dark – looking forward to summer. And of course another #MathsRocks round up! Let’s do this!

1. Number Day 2018!

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This great idea was brought up by @lea_forest_dht. Friday 2nd February was Number Day driven by the @NSPCC. It seems like a great idea where Maths activities can take centre stage, Maths can get everyone involved and even the odd dressing up event also. Unfortunately the day has passed but it may be worthwhile pencilling in to look this up December-time so the preparations can begin.

2. Gary Hall Resources

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Wondering where to begin resourcing lessons for Maths? @leah_moo highlighted a great website where every curriculum objective is linked to a number of potential sources or resources to use for Years 1-6. It’s very much worth bookmarking this on your laptop so that when you are planning you can quickly refer to this. Not only are there unique resources to use but there are the occasional links to other activities such as on nRich and NCETM so it will hopefully challenge all your learners as well! See the link below:

https://garyhall.org.uk/primary-maths-resources.php

3. Brutal Challenge!

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And finally, here at #MathsRocks the majority of things we share are great resource ideas or ways to enhance your mathematics teaching in the classroom. However we occasionally like to give you a challenge to solve yourself and this time we have one from @Mister_Hubbard which (I’ll be honest with you) will take some time and patience for you to solve. He has also provided a solution which I will post at the bottom of this #MathsRocks Round Up…happy number crunching!

Please don’t forget to share any great Maths ideas, resources, displays, lessons, manipulatives, challenges…and so on to #MathsRocks  on Twitter. There are more and more items being shared and it’s really appreciated! Please share the @MathsRocks_2 handle as well so more can join the Maths fun!

 

(PS Here is the solution to @Mister_Hubbard’s problem)

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Multiplication Tables Check: A Balanced Argument by @Mroberts90Matt

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So it was Valentines Day yesterday, and the DfE celebrated this in the only way they could: let’s announce updates on the Multiplication Tables Check and teacher assessment frameworks for this year and beyond. We love you primary teachers everywhere! What happened next was, what could only be described as a cacophony of opinions, debates and discussions (amongst other things) about this issues amongst primary teachers, secondary teachers, school leaders, education consultants, parents, mathematicians and poets (thank you Michael Rosen)!

The first thing that came to my mind was this: haven’t we known about this since at least September 2017? Certainly a times tables check of some form has been bandied about since 2014 when I started teaching and maybe before as my Maths Coordinator at the time, when we were talking Maths-y stuff, mentioned it was in discussion. Of course, three recent changes in Education Secretary, two General Elections and one whopper or a Brexit vote in around 3 years have set a bit of a stall in the coming forth of this initiative I think. Not to mention this coming alongside the implementation of a new Curriculum, bringing with it #SATsShambles, a leakage of a KS1 Paper and the ineffective, defunct form of a writing assessment which does not allow an accurate picture of children’s writing nationally. A Multiplication Tables Check hasn’t really been top of the list of priorities…but it seems the finer details may have been finalised – hence the update yesterday. But this is what surprised me – yesterday was just that, and UPDATE. So why were so many teachers and school leaders shocked, surprised (and some offended) by this announcement? My school’s staff certainly have known about this incoming assessment since September at least. Anyway, whatever the reason, that was the state of Edu-Twitter yesterday – almost every single tweet I saw being about the MTC.

As I sat back and trawled through the torrent of view and opinions, almost like a war of words, I couldn’t help making a few points and insights myself. The reality was, and still is, I’m very mixed on this news. There are clear arguments for and against this update. And this is what you are reading now (if you’ve made it this far in my ramblings). Read on for an unbiased view at the arguments either side of this debate. As I like playing  Devil’s Advocate, I will make a point against each of them.

For the Multiplication Tables Check

1. This will improve children’s knowledge of times tables

Before you call out ‘this is probably the worst reason for the MTC’ I am very aware of this. I’m just using Nick Gibb’s argument at the beginning of this. And yes, the counter-argument is that if high-stakes testing is the answer to improve knowledge and skills, then why don’t we do more? Let’s bring back the Science SATs tests because this will ‘improve Science knowledge and skills’ or maybe a PE Check because we know a 2nd session of the subject (which has been recommended) is often lost in a packed curriculum so a PE Check will ensure it is done.

All educators know that a one-time, high-stakes test does not improve outcomes. It is the quality teaching and support that does this.

2. This will bring times tables up as a priority – only a good thing

I’ve read this phrase ‘only a good thing’ a lot over the past 36 hours. If the Brexiteers’ slogan became ‘£350 million for the NHS’ – this phrase ‘can only be a good thing’ would be slapped onto the pro-MTC bus. I am a Year 6 teacher. I spend agonising hours over children who reach me in Year 6 and do not know their times tables. The argument here is that if there is a MTC on this skill, then teachers in lower years will be encouraged to make quality teaching of this skill a priority. No one is saying they aren’t doing their job – they just need more of a focus on this basic skill right?

Unfortunately there are two issues with this argument for me. The first is that to say this is actually insinuating that Year 2-4 are not doing their job properly. If I were to be given a ‘check’ in a monitoring situation, say a book look, in challenging the more able – I have been given this ‘priority’ because I need to improve that aspect of my teaching. Now of course, as a teaching profession we should be open to suggestions and guidance on what we can improve on, but sticking a formal assessment in to me is counter-productive. What I would prefer is guidance from my school leader on how to improve my ability to challenge the more able, not that I will now have it as a priority and face a high-stakes assessment on it in a year or so. The second issue is that every school I’ve walked into already make teaching and practising times tables a priority. Does your school not place importance on this vital Maths skill? If not and it will take a high-stakes assessment to make your school do so then that is concerning…

3. Having a MTC will identify which children need more support

As a classroom teacher in primary, we are immersed in knowing, planning for, teaching and assessing our children 90% of our school’s opening hours. Are some people really insinuating that a cold, online-based assessment of their times tables knowledge will tell me which children need support on their tables more than my daily classroom practice?

The one of the biggest responses to this was that ‘I don’t know what this MTC will tell me that I don’t already know.’ As soon as this is voiced by numerous teachers, you have to question what is the purpose of the assessment? Is it to support children’s learning or hold schools to account with data? If it is not the former, should our precious funding and resources go towards this or some other initiative that will actually be required and enhance children’s education, rather than inform teachers on which children need for support on times tables knowledge (something which they already know).

4. If schools are not ensuring children know their times tables, this will make sure they do

This is similar to point 2 but has a much more sinister tone about it. We will make sure you as a school create tables-knowing children or else we’ll have the evidence to prove you don’t. This moves from simply knowing which children need support on tables and turns it into ‘What are you doing extra about it?’

There are many Year 3-4 practitioners I know (a brilliant bunch in my school) who do an excellent job trying to develop children’s times tables. Implementing a Tables Check to me, if I were in their position, would be a signal from the DfE that I am not doing my job well enough when I am already stretched and doing everything I can in my job. I know, with inevitable pressure from school leaders because they will have pressure from higher up, that I will be followed up on and pushed to try harder. The answer to ‘How do we solve the teaching shortage crisis?’ is not ‘Well, one thing we do will make very well sure the kids they teach are being taught their times tables properly’. I am concerned this decision will lead to the loss of more teachers. It certainly doesn’t go about making teaching a more attractive profession to enter…

Against the Multiplication Tables Check

1. This will place pressure on the children at only 8-9 years old

Let’s be frank here. It is a 5 minute, online times table test. Is your school implementing some form of times tables test/challenge/game/competition/extravaganza/parade/(…I could go on) on at least a weekly basis? As a Maths Coordinator I know I would want my school to be. We do in fact – Times Tables Rock Stars is our vehicle which is great fun. However, this means in my Year 6 class we are doing a total of 9 minutes of times table each week! That’s almost double of what’s being suggested in this MTC! Goodness me – our children begin using TT Rock Stars towards the last term of Year 2! If we give them the minimum of 9 minutes of times tables challenges a week from Summer Term of Year 3, by the end of Year 4 they will have engaged in…approximately 756 minutes of times tables challenges (let’s be honest, a glorified practice test) over the 7 terms between Summer Year 2 and End of Year 4. Over 12 hours of tables challenges in just over two years of school – aren’t Times Tables Rock Stars and I monsters??

As soon as we receive guidance on how to administer these tests I’m looking for the statement that it must be done in silence. If not, I know I’m going to seriously consider sticking on ‘Living on a Prayer’ in the background and tell them to rock this TTRS challenge which just looks different on the computer screen! Pressure, come on! As a general rule tests are pressured, but the nature of this MTC means it actually will not deviate from most classroom practice at all, unlike most other assessment in the suite of lovely tests we have before us. And I think that is what most are failing to look past if they use this argument.

2. Children are over-tested as it is

As true as this is, I think again we are looking at a small mote in the beam that is crushing us. We, as a general profession, tend to hear the news the government are enforcing their control of the teaching profession and immediately groan as we are used to doing – and with good reason. As @MichaelT1979 pointed out later in the day, we are all so focused over a Tables Check that really will only take 5 minutes on a computer and how this damages children in the long run, when they also announced – on the same day ‘coincidentally’ – that the writing framework as we have it, will continue for the foreseeable future. There are much bigger issues in how we assess children currently than this 5 minute MTC which can easily replace one of the times tables games that children should be engaging in on a daily basis anyway.

It could be argued ‘Fair enough, but why add another assessment when children are over-assessed anyway?’ The truth is I don’t think, if it’s done the right way, children will see this in the same way as the KS2 SATs or the KS1 SATs. The challenge will be for schools not to turn this into a hoop-jumping exercise but rather a culmination in times tables learning. This is the best way to implement a check and identification of children who need times tables support. Why have they done it like this? I think in a big way it was the fact they took consultation from over 1,000 educators on how and in what school year it should be implemented. Fortunately they listened. Let’s hope they listen further to the educational professionals.

3. Don’t we already have times tables tested – in the KS2 Maths?

Again, very true. Elements of times tables knowledge and application are indeed assessed two years later in the end of KS2 assessments. However, every Year 6 teacher knows that if children arrive at this assessment with a targeted focus on knowing their times tables then this will only be a benefit. The fact is that the children will never have a question like ‘6×6=__’ in the KS2 SATs (except for maybe one in the Arithmetic Test). They are more likely to encounter something like ’60×6=___’ or ‘__x60=3600’ along with the multitude of problems they will need to solve which within them will require a quick recall of tables in order to solve effectively.

Children are not, in the current framework, given an opportunity to clearly demonstrate their basic times tables knowledge so that it can be followed up on. Yes, again the argument cries ‘But I know this already about my class’ to which my answer may be ‘…so what’s the problem?’ The root of the issue is not that this MTC will not tell us what we already know. There are bigger issues at play…

4. Teachers pressure is already at boiling point – won’t this increase the pressure?

The DfE have again taken note of over 1,000 teachers views which (should) mean this will not be an issue. They have been very clear that individual school’s results will not be published. This will avoid a MLT (Multiplication League Table – if there were I’m sure that acronym would catch on!). Although, to be fair, not to have data published which they can’t use in some tracking form, Local Authority data will be published.

I suppose the argument against this concern is that, in the way it’s been proposed, any concerns about chasing up individual schools, therefore having that data used by Ofsted for judgements or by school leaders for PRP, should not be a concern. Of course, no external data should be used for PRP but I have heard the horror stories of Y6 teachers needing to have a certain % reach ARE% or they have not met their Performance Management targets…this issue is not caused by the assessments but in the way leaders manage pressure on staff. Nick Gibb has also tried to reassure schools in saying the data “will not be used by Ofsted and others to force changes in schools.” The MTC itself will not cause more pressure on school staff. In order to ensure potential pressure isn’t then projected by school leaders, the DfE will need to manage  the situation carefully to ensure this is not felt as if leaders have to push results up…something which unfortunately hasn’t worked well thus far.

My Verdict

I do not see the MTC as an issue. I recognise it may make tables learning more of a priority and it may well encourage more teachers to think more carefully about how effectively they are teaching and enabling practice of times tables. I think it will have an impact on children’s times tables knowledge.

I do have an issue with the fact that this has been implemented at this stage when are much bigger issues at play in education. I would LOVE to know how much this MTC is costing the DfE. I imagine the number goes into the millions but that is a very uneducated, uninformed figure. If this is the case why not either provide some sort of times tables programme which all schools can use consistently to practice times tables effectively and has regular ‘checks’ which schools can analyse and work on? If we are serious about improving times tables knowledge (and it MUST improve) then provide support and enhance the teaching, don’t just coldly assess and expect an already struggling profession to pick up the workload without help. Someone actually suggested doing a bumper deal with TTRS – not a bad idea that 😉

I do not think the MTC will cause stress to children. The schools will if they implement it poorly. That’s their problem.

I do have an issue with the MTC if it becomes ‘a stick to beat schools with’ (another phrase I’ve heard a lot in the past 36 hours)! We have been given assurances Ofsted will not use it. If they try to I have the article from Nick Gibb himself saying they won’t (see here). However, the way it has been set up and announced, schools shouldn’t have to worry about this.

As such, I’m up for it in principle. I just wish they’d made better use of the funding to be more supportive, or even tackled the bigger issues at play such as the fact we are having a teacher shortage crisis and nothing has been done about that (oh, except make a QTS Entrance Test more accessible…yeah…)…

photo credit: Canadian Pacific <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/18378305@N00/8264974115″>Do Your Math!</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

#MathsRocks Round Up! 08/01/18

Wasn’t the most intelligent idea to try starting a #MathsRocks Round Up routine before Christmas holidays but here we are – the first Monday back for some, a few days in for others – and we have a new round up of Maths ideas and resources for you to peruse. Again, any ideas or resources you have for Primary Maths please use the #MathsRocks thread to share it and it may feature in the next fortnightly(ish) round up!

1. Quick practical activity

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First up is a quick activity shared by @MissSDoherty a little while ago which is a great activity for KS2 in particular. It’s especially useful with Year 6 beginning Algebra in the next few weeks if other Y6 teachers are following the new @WhiteRoseMaths scheme of work. Only numbers 0-12 may be used. The rest is up to you/your class to work out!

2. Setting for Maths Issues

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This topic has been at the forefront of my mind for the past few months as I have taken on the role of Maths Lead in my school. We currently are setting in year groups for Maths but I am becoming more and more against this practice. @MaryMyatt summaries my concerns brilliantly in this thought-provoking article. A must-read for all those responsible for teaching and learning of Maths in their school and the best way to proceed in considering how to provide access to the Maths curriculum for all children. Follow the link below:

https://t.co/9KblHzgzjD

3. Super Resource – MathsBot

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For the final entry this week I went with a resource which hasn’t been necessarily mentioned on #MathsRocks (yet!) but it’s a website which EVERY teacher of Maths should have in their weaponry. Mathsbot is a Maths-specific site where you will find many things from manipulatives, worksheets, question generators, starters and tools. I really could spend a lot of time and I may dedicate a Mathsbot-specific blog post in future but I really just suggest you go NOW to the site Mathsbot and follow @StudyMaths to be given a lot of quick tools and visuals for the teaching of Maths. Dienes blocks, bar models, counters, counting stick, differentiated questions, worksheet generator, number of the day, fraction wall, sieve of Eratosthenes and much, much more! Go now and enhance your practice!

Please keep following and sharing to #MathsRocks for more Primary Maths gems!

#MathsRocks Round Up! 18/12/17

In the past few weeks I have resumed my attempt to have a dedicated Primary Maths platform on Twitter. I have a passion for Maths in the primary sector and it was mentioned by @etaknipsa that there should be a #MathsRocks group where Primary Maths can be promoted. Having set something like this up in June but then losing track of it with events at the time, I took the prompt to resume this idea. The response has been much better and gives me great hope for what can be shared over time.

In fact, the suggestions, ideas and advice given by the teachers on Twitter so far have gotten me really enthused. I have learnt some useful things myself already and so #MathsRocks is becoming almost a selfish venture where, if anything else, I will learn a lot from doing it!

One thought I’ve had is to share a brief overview of a handful of the best things that have popped up on the thread every couple of weeks or so. Hopefully then we can make Maths rock more! So onto this week’s edition of #MathsRocks Roundup!

1. Great Maths Display

@crisp_aholic posted this a couple of weeks ago and I loved it! It allows children of all abilities to have an accessible stimulus to consider how many ways just one number can be investigated. You can also see some challenges are more challenging than others to enable deeper thinking for those children who need stretching. As well as this, you can see a space at the bottom for entries to be posted which is very easy for the children for submit at any time. And finally (one of my favourite features of this) it looks very easy to manage, maintain and vary! Simple, effective idea for a space in your room.

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2. Manipulative Pies

It’s difficult to pick a favourite idea out of #MathsRocks looking over the past two weeks but this is certainly up there! @Rosemarycalm began the discussion about attempting pie chart construction at the end of this term. I have always struggled to get this concept effectively across to the children so I wondered how best to introduce and deepen the understanding of pie charts. There was some ideas shared and @Elsie2110 shared this nugget:

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She suggested created bar charts out of multilink cubes and then using these on a string to create a circle. What you get is then a proportionally accurate pie chart! Whilst it does not assist in the children drawing the sectors accurately themselves, it does assist hugely in their understanding of where these sectors come from and what they should represent. This is a great introduction into the concept and something I will certainly be incorporating in my lessons this year.

3. Maths Tricks or Maths Traps?

One of the greatest disservices we can give to children in their Maths learning is teaching them methods without having conceptual understanding. “Borrow the 1”, “divide by the bottom, times by the top”, “multiply the denominator by the whole number”, “move the digits 1 place to the left”, “add the numerators only” and the list could go on and on. All of these are perfectly valid and do work – but when a question comes requiring them to have conceptual understanding rather than just procedural fluency then they will fall into a trap. Often, the questions given the children in  test situations or other settings are designed to either get them to think about adjusting their method or fall into a trap. I shared @thatboycanteach’s article on @thirdspacetweet on #MathsRocks as to why these tricks can be detrimental to children’s core understanding of Maths. Follow the link here – bit.ly/2nznjG2

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Well, that’s your lot! Look out for more great Maths discussion on #MathsRocks and look at the #MathsRocks profile for a pinned post with a link to a Google Form where you can post suggested discussion topics. Who knows, you may see a #MathsRocks chat in future!

Observing Shanghai Teaching by @Mroberts90Matt

Since becoming Maths Coordinator, I’ve taken the opportunity to align our school with our local Maths Hub. I feel this is a valuable link as not only does it mean we can learn from other school’s and their good practice but we are given the chance to observe and learn about current advances in Maths education.

 

Two of these unique experiences have taken place in the past couple of weeks. One was an opportunity to observe a lesson from an educator from Shanghai. This was an incredible experience.  Shanghai is one of the top performers in Mathematics according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and I was fascinated to see what all the fuss was about!

Me and my colleague entered the school hall and found around 70 chairs set out for teachers to observe and sets of tables set out in a classroom layout. This surprised me already. I had heard of lesson studies and observation opportunities like this but had never seen one. I was very intrigued to see how this would work. As the lesson commenced there were clear differences between this approach and the usual starter-main-plenary approach that we have become used to in the UK, with plenty of differentiation and limited teacher-talk. This is what I noticed:

1)    Use of language and vocabulary
I was particularly pleased to notice this straight away. The Shanghai teacher repeated the key mathematical vocabulary and sentence structures throughout the lesson. Whenever a question was asked, the children were always expected to answer in full sentences and in clear response. The class that I was observing were trained in this style of instruction for almost 4 years so they were very adept at this. However, it does not necessarily take that long to implement. I mentioned I was pleased because we have begun to implement the same value of mathematical talk and vocabulary in our school using our TalkMaths approach. It also encourages staff to use stem sentences, similar to the Shanghai lesson that I saw. Interestingly, the teacher deliberately chose a higher attaining pupil to model the correct use of vocabulary in full sentences. This provided a good role model and other pupils then followed suit. This practice therefore requires a mixed ability class. The practice of setting or streaming Maths classes would frustrate the efficacy of this approach.

2)     Conceptual Understanding 
I was watching a lesson where the objective was to compare fractions with the same numerator to a class of Year 5 children. The progression from previous lessons was laid out for us by the Shanghai teacher and they had been using a fraction wall to enable the children to work through the concepts step by step.

Fractions

Although the children did not move completely into the abstract without the pictorial representation in the majority, they were beginning to solve problems at the end of the lesson without the pictorial aid.

3)     Focus on the objective
In this lesson I observed the objective was to compare fractions with the same numerator. The children had previously learnt about comparing fractions with different denominators but, after a brief review of that objective at the beginning, this wasn’t mentioned again. This was not the only thing though that showed a complete focus on the learning objective. The teacher planned a game at the end where the children had to create the largest fraction when given a numerator. For example, they were given the numerator ‘5’ and had to make the largest fraction. Now, me and my competitive self, wondered how long it would be before some clever child realised all they had to do was write the number ‘1’ as the denominator and win every time. However, one child tried ‘4’ and the teacher simply addressed this by requesting  the denominator be greater than or equal to the numerator to create a proper fraction. Evidently this year group had not yet dealt with improper fractions and they were required to focus on the objective at hand. If any of my children had done this I would have applauded them and said they had indeed found the larger fraction. This made me question which was the better approach.
However, on reflection, I realised the genius behind staying on the objective. If the Shanghai teacher had gone in a different direction to explain the improper fraction concept then some children would have become confused and question their understanding of the concept at hand.

4)     Differentiation and Teacher Talk
This was a stark difference, noticeable instantly as the lesson progressed. The teacher spoke to the class, modelling language and demonstrating concept knowledge, for the majority of the lesson. This is where external watchdogs and validators such as Ofsted have had a real influence on teaching practice. Around 10 years ago it wouldn’t be uncommon to see, where teaching had been graded as less than outstanding, that there may have been too much talk by the teacher. This led to a wave of dislike over too much teacher talk in internal observations and a culture of no teacher talk ensued for many years. However, in the past few years Ofsted have shifted and have stated that they will favour no particular teaching style, so long as there is progress in the lesson. As such, this means that teaching approaches, such as Shanghai Maths, are now becoming more accepted in the classroom.

The other noticeable difference was the distinct lack of differentiation. All children in the class engaged, all children in the class aimed for the same goal and all children in the class completed the same activities. This again would be condemned by the previous Ofsted regimes. It still would be frowned upon in most schools. However, if the approach is to work this is clear, all must take part in the same language and same learning opportunities. From the staff that I spoke to who had taken this approach on board at the school this observation took place, they felt very strongly that the Shanghai approach had contributed to the gap between the lower ability and the higher ability reducing, whilst still pushing on the higher ability children. This was a question that came up, how are the gifted and talented stretched and challenged if they encounter the same challenges as their peers. There were many responses: peer coaching, finding more methods to solve the problems, creating their own similar problems and explaining their methods in numerous ways.

Next Step

For me, the week later I was able to network with a number of schools that had implemented the Singapore Maths approach to their schools through the ‘Maths – No Problem!’ textbook and principles. These principles of the Singapore Maths I found to be very similar to Shanghai – teacher-led, no differentiation, subject knowledge focused, focus on small steps and specific learning objectives. And of course, the ‘Maths – No Problem!’ textbook is the only textbook approved by the DfE. All of this has definitely caught my interest…

As Maths Lead my focus is the well-being of Maths at the school and so far I see two issues to be addressed: subject knowledge of staff and the workload on our staff to plan sessions. We follow the White Rose scheme which breaks down the content well and has good questions to use with the children but not really enough activities to deepen understanding fully. As such, staff are required to look in different places such as nRich, NCETM and other sites. These are sufficient however it is a huge drain on staff time when they could be sharpening up subject knowledge on what they will be teaching instead.

There is a long way to go but all of this is food for thought for the weeks, months and years to come…

Times Tables Rock Stars by @Mroberts90Matt

It’s been a few years now that a mandatory times tables assessment as been banded about. Snap general elections, changes in Education Secretaries and basically the fact that other more important things had to be sorted meant that this took a while to come into force. However, the time has come and we have an answer. From the 2019-2020 academic year, every Year 4 child across the country will undertake a mandatory, online assessment of their times tables.​​​​​​ Whether this is required or not is another debate – however I am personally pleased with the way in which the format and timing of the assessment was decided – namely through an open online consultation for education professionals. It’s a shame that just under a thousand teachers responded (if we want decision-makers in education to listen to teaching staff then we need to take the chance to have our voice heard) but it is still a positive step I feel.

One thing that this announcement has done for me as a new Maths Coordinator is take action – I suppose if that’s the case for others then the new times tables assessment may already be successful?…

Anyway, as a school we decided to improve our mastery of our children’s times tables by investing in Times Tables Rock Stars. And was it worth every penny! What I will aim to do here is explain how we have trialled this programme in my Year 6 class, how the school is buzzing about it and the impact we are already seeing from our two-prong approach:

Paper Challenges

One feature of TTRS is the worksheet challenges they offer. In the past our school would do times tables mental starters every now and then, followed by a main times tables challenge at the end of the week. These would take the form of times tables grids with randomised numbers. Older year groups would take on a big grid and the younger year groups some smaller ones. However, we wanted to integrate times tables challenges more throughout the week and drive more purpose into the challenges. Times Tables Rock Stars does this very effectively with a number of banks of challenges. Teachers can personalise these schedules of challenges to certain times tables, whether they do 3, 4 or 5 challenges a week and whether they include division.

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All challenges within these banks give the children three minutes to complete sixty questions. The children can then add up their scores and time over the entire week of challenges. This is where the magic really begins to happen…

There is a place on the website where you can fairly easily input this data onto the website. When each child’s score is put into the week (we do this on a Friday) the children can see their individual rock speed. They take great delight in trying to reach our target speed and trying to be the best class in the school (more on that in a minute). You can then see your classes progress on the website also:

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(Ignore week 5 – we have not yet added our fastest group’s time to the class average)

What we have done with this as a school is created a Weekly Times Tables Trophy and the class that does the best with their target speed wins this. This is calculated by the number of children who reach the target time for that class divided by the number of children. Of course, the target time is differentiated by year group and class as can be seen here:

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We have done this twice now and something very interesting has happened. Because the school challenge is far more fair as each class teacher is using their professional judgement to focus their times table challenges on what their class needs and the target speed is differentiated, the award is much more open. And who doesn’t love filling in a quick times tables challenge whilst listening to Living On a Prayer or We Built This City on Rock and Roll? 😉

However, this is not even the most exciting part of using Times Tables Rock Stars…

Online Challenges

On the website there are four engaging and exciting modes to play:

Festival – This mode allows all children across the world to play one minute challenges against each other with random times tables up to 12×12. This is the default mode that appears but must be used with care for younger children as it does include all times tables.
Studio – This is a single player mode that again includes all 12x tables. However, this is a particularly important mode. It allows you (once you’ve completed a minimum of 10 games) to set an online rock speed which you can compete against others in your school on a leaderboard to get the best rock speed. This really brings in a competitive edge to the online version and our children love looking at our class leaderboard in our room to see who’s moved up! You can even compare average rock speeds with other local schools! A must-use method!
Garage – Another vital mode. This is a single player mode where the children receive 10 coins for each correct answer (whereas the other modes reward a correct answer with only once coin). This encourages more children to try this mode which is important as it is the main mode where the teacher can set the times tables questioned. There are even 5 groups that you can put the children in and differentiate the questions that they will receive. This is what I would encourage most younger year groups to use before they have a firmer grasp on all times tables.
Rock Arena – Basically the same as the Garage but it is a multiplayer version for just the children in your class to compete against each other (with their differentiated tables). A good mode to use if you’re going online as a class.

We encourage our children across school to go on the website at home and we have purchased the app add-on which allows them to access it on our school iPads and most devices at home. We incentivise it using ‘Most Improved’ awards and ‘Highest Earner’ awards which are posted in each classroom and can be easily downloaded off the resource-rich website.

Impact

One half-term is usually too soon to note significant impacts on times table progress. However, two pieces of evidence seem to indicate with my two Year 6 groups that this two prong approach using Times Tables Rock Stars is already making a difference.

First, the percentage calculated in both our higher ability and lower ability maths sets has steadily increased each week. This is not a generalisation. I have recorded the percentage each week and (apart from one week right at the start for both groups) each group’s percentage of children reaching their target speed has increased steadily! Evidence that the paper challenges have had an impact in the Year 6 trial!

Secondly, within Year 6 there is a difference between the two classes. One class have a 0.75 quicker average rock speed than the other. This is might not sound like a lot but it is significant. Interestingly this gap has slightly increased over time. What is the difference between the two? The class with more minutes played online on Times Tables Rock Stars are the class with the fastest average speed which has steadily gained a faster speed than the other.

I would encourage all schools to seriously take this programme on. Not only will it help prepare their current Year 2s and future children for the new times tables assessments (which by the way will be typed online, which Times Tables Rock Stars will also prepare them for) but it will help the children gain a quicker ability on the recall of their times tables. Also, it is very affordably priced in a world where schools have to make more and more cuts.

Right – off I go to try and overtake that pesky Year 6 who has once again beaten my rock speed – this time with a 0.77 answers per second!

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Developing Deeper Understanding of Calculation Methods by @Mroberts90Matt

A word that seemed to be a buzz word when the new National Curriculum was published was ‘fluency’. The definition of fluent online is ‘smoothly graceful and effortless’. In looking at the aim in the National Curriculum, it seems to refer to bring able to understand why methods work in Maths (not just go through the motion of doing the method) and apply the method to appropriate questions and problems. So how do we develop Mathematical fluency in children? Do we give them a list of calculations? Or is there more required?

Recently our Year 6 began that wonderful journey of dividing by two digit numbers. Why doing this with an extra digit is such a great jump I’m not sure – maybe another focus for a future blog…

Anyway, as many Year 6 teachers will know – along with the teachers who introduce any formal methods of calculation, helping the children understand why they use these methods and the maths behind them is much harder than just getting the children to work on the mechanics of the calculation. Thus, scores and scores of children are taught the method without necessarily understanding the maths behind them. Since the introduction of a mastery approach to teaching maths, this has been improving.

This is how we tackled this challenge whilst trying to develop a deeper understanding and mastery of the calculation method.

1. Pitch

Naturally in the first session there was already a range of confidence. Some of our Year 6 children were already familiar with and confident with long division whereas some had just about still got a grasp on dividing by a single digit number. Those children were offered the opportunity to either go and attempt a few calculations to make sure there were confident or attempt an estimation challenge involving the long division from nRich: Dicey Operations Game 6

With the rest of the children, initially after a visual representation of the method, a number of demonstrations and a discussion around how the remainders and other aspects of the method worked, the choice was again given to the children where to pitch themselves. Those who felt confident then went to try either of the before mentioned challenges where those that did not stayed in the ‘Long Division Clinic’. The Clinic involves whiteboard work, discussion and targeting from the Teacher and explaining to their peers the process they are working through with careful listening in by the Teacher.

In order to enable the children to practice the calculation and get a real-time assessment on whether they were correct or not whilst I worked with those who still needed to grasp the method we used the website MathsBot which creates instant problems and the chn could quickly uncover the answer on the IWB to check they were correct. If not, they were to analyse, with a partner if needed, to uncover the error.

2. Clinic Continues

Because of the nature of the first session being much more introductory, there is more time given now for those who are less confident to continue working in the Clinic and then try independently. By this stage also, by scrutiny of the previous lesson’s learning, some children may have been discovered who were not as confident as previously thought. These can come into the ‘Clinic’ briefly to check where any misconceptions are.

Meanwhile, those who are more confident have choices on how to push themselves further. Try some more challenging problems set by the Teacher, work on showing their remainders as fractions or decimals and finally some reasoning and problem solving problems set by White Rose Maths which develop understanding on how to apply this method to problems.

3. Tutorials

It is well documented that we learn 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see and so on… But we learn 95% of what we teach others. So the question was for me then ‘How could I get my class to teach others in a way that will include all?’ Of course I could go down the route of whole class presentation… But if I were a10 year old child I would struggle to stand up and teach my peers the basics of long division. Teaching to groups is always fun, less intimidating. The question that method throws up is how could I accurately assess if each individual child had met the LO when different groups are teaching each other at once? To have each group teach other one by one so I could listen to every child would be too time consuming. So what?

I was led to an app called Explain Everything which was perfect. @ICT_MrP was the first to introduce this to me.

image

 The app allows the user to create a video whilst using a drawing tool or a highlighting tool and images. This gave the perfect opportunity for the children to ‘teach’ someone how to use skills in Maths. In doing this, the children themselves become increasingly competent, developing their fluency.

This video not only gives the children an opportunity to engage in a meaningful and purposeful activity, but it can also serve as a future stimulus to remember previous learning. These are some examples:

http://www.kingsroadschool.com/year-6-long-division-tutorials/

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Not only does this allow the children the opportunity to explain the workings behind the formal method, it encourages them to take it step by step and plan how to break down the calculation for someone that is new to the concept. There is also that extra incentive where they could have their work used for a huge purpose – to have on the school website as part of our calculation policy and teach others who are interested in how to use this formal method.

Considering how to group the children is key in this task. Children should be allowed the opportunity to work independently as some will feel inhibited by not being able to express their explanations with extra discussion. However, some children will not yet be fully confident in their abilities and so mixed-ability pairing is extremely useful here. This is not only enable the children to further internalise the formal method but also make peer coaching another input for all children to get this calculation approach.

4. Take on the Problems!

By this stage – most children should be fairly competent in the method or at least much more closer to grasping it than they were before. This is where the real application, the whole reason why we learn these methods, comes into play. A selection of problems are available of differing levels (strictly no straight calculations) – the children are in mixed ability pairs and take on the challenges they wish to try. This ‘Hot/Spicy/Chilli’ approach means they can start where they feel comfortable and then advance or step back where they feel is necessary.  The challenges can be sourced again from the White Rose Maths documents (they have a lot of sessions when teachers are required to teach a new calculation method) and also many other areas. These challenges are completed on large, graffiti paper so that concerns about presentation or neatness can be put to one side and the maths is the main focus:

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As the session progresses, the children are expected to discuss their thoughts and their answers. This will again develop children’s ability to talk through the calculation. This would be the equivalent of the ‘Ruler of Reasoning’ session in my ‘TalkMaths Approach’ shared in a recent post. The Teacher’s role is to step back and listen in to discussions. From this observation they can address any final or further misconceptions that can be dealt with as a whole class.

No approach is foolproof. There will still be children who won’t have grasped the concept after this approach – however, this will give children a pace to suit them. Faster and more in-depth if needed, slower and more probing if required. Teaching and learning formal methods of calculation is a necessary facet of maths teaching in KS2 Maths and a lynchpin in any child’s mathematical toolkit. A deeper understanding must be developed – hopefully this will help.

Daily Whole Class Feedback by @Mroberts90Matt

A recent idea shared by @_MissieBee has prompted me to share this. It links very closely to a brilliant idea where the class are given a whole class feedback slide or sheet to stick in their book which highlights good things done and common misconceptions. I shared a very similar idea previously and have updated it over the years. It is different to what was shared as it offers a regular, even daily, model which could fit into most, if not all, subjects which require recording in books.

One of the most frustrating things I  (used to) deal with as a teacher was the amount of time marking takes. It really is one of the biggest causes of workload. The most tiresome aspect was writing the same comments in multiple books. Things such as “Don’t forget to line up your place value,” or “Check you use punctuation at the end of your speech,” or even “Name one impact of exercise on the body.” Yes – not only can this approach address misconceptions, but give a follow up challenge without either the teacher writing it 20-odd times or cutting it out and sticking it in multiple times. This Daily Whole Class Marking allows me mark a set of books within 30 minutes complete with personalised comments on misconceptions and challenges. It hones in on each child with the teacher only writing in two or three symbols into their book.

Some examples are here: Cinquain Poem Writing

12Another one for Suspense Narrative writing:13

Maths this time – with challenge questions:

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And finally a Science:

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The Idea

I would start straight away by emphasising that this is not my original idea. I came across the method in a series of excellent summer blog posts by @LearningSpy who referenced it to Joe Kirby’s blog! The idea is so simple – basically instead of writing comments that is expected by a teacher to praise what the child has done and give constructive steps on how to improve – you write down three symbols. Then, in the very next lesson (as this method allows you to mark books for the very next lesson with ease) children are given 5 mins to copy down the relevant feedback to those symbols. Typically I have numerous various comments that are used across a set of 30 books ranging from correcting common misconceptions to a gentle reminder to underline the date and LO. During this specific 5 mins at the start of the next lesson, I am then able take the time to target individual children I have made a note of to give some extra verbal feedback on what they’ve done and try to progress their understanding further. I personally have labelled this time ‘MAD Time’ (Make A Difference) but the concept is that the children write the personalised comments down, rather than the teacher.

Does it MAD?

Well, I have been using this method in my feedback approach for over three years now. There are issues:
1. It may be more challenging for Phase teachers younger in the school (particularly KS1) to adapt this. Possible, but more challenging
2. The first week is always the most ineffective as the children get used to the method of feedback and are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their learning. It does take focus from them and reminders on how to use the time best but each year I have done this, the most challenging learners I have had have seen the advantage of this and taken it on board.

Despite these potential barriers, there has been clear outcomes. These are listed below:

  1.  My workload has balanced

Before I would spend up to an hour, maybe more, marking a set of class books. After having written repetitive comments in books the children would then barely give them a second glance, despite my attempts at the start of each lesson to get them to read and initial the words painstakingly etched by me. This would become disheartening after time. Now, I find I am spending 20-30mins or so on the same number of books. This means I have more time to prepare engaging follow on lessons from the learning I’ve just assessed. We all know providing written feedback is a huge drain on time and whilst some schools may be moving away from written feedback reliance, many are still expecting this. This approach allows this still to be met, whilst freeing time for the teacher.

2. The feedback has improved

I am not afraid to admit it – after marking 20-23 books, my enthusiasm would deplete and my comments to the children in their books would become more and more generic and rushed. I suppose this is human nature (and why a wonderful piece of writing from a child might get more rushed toward the end!) Because of this technique, the level of personalised feedback is constant for the whole class, not just the children whose books are nearer the top of the pile! One big loss in the later books in my pile would be follow up questions. I would be less likely to write these in later books. Also, if I planned to stick in follow up challenges, I often forget to print these off and take them home. Once I have the books home, I have forgotten them and therefore no challenge question to push my learners further. This way, there will always be opportunity for follow up challenges.

3. The technique gets the children to take the feedback in

Now that the children are, in essence, writing comments on their own work they seem to take it in more. I have seen direct improvement on a child’s work from comments they have written. Would those improvements have been made if I had written them? Maybe, but it is less likely the child would have read them. This way, the feedback is certain to be acknowledged, even if then the child makes no effort to act on it.

We all know the frustration when we spend all this time writing comments then the children just turn the page without taking it in. This approach means the children have to at least read, write and respond to the feedback (in their purple pen) to indicate any difference to their learning.

4. It shows innovative practice which is centred on one thing – learning

This marking approach has been used under two senior leadership teams. Both of them have stated that they feel this is outstanding practice in feedback. The MAD Time was stated as an extremely good way of helping children make a difference in their learning and straight away set a precedent for that lesson that we were there to learn, and they would have the feedback yesterday to work on. The whole reason I have decided to use this is because it has an impact on the children’s learning. This can be seen in session, in the books and in the data. Learning is the centre of this approach.

5. FInally…the children GET it!

I did NOT expect this outcome! Quite honestly, I thought my class would hate it to begin with. However, now when I display the 8-10 comments they may find in their work, they actually get excited to see what they receive! Some even utter a ‘yesss’ when they know it’s MAD Time before they then find they have a ~) or a +) which they need to work on. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because it’s a new idea and it’ll lose it’s freshness after a couple of weeks. Maybe it’s because they feel they are actually engaging in something they feel is new and a good way to improve their learning. They actually care that they understand why they’ve received certain feedback and what they can do to achieve that.

Will you try MAD Time in your teaching and learning? How do you get written and verbal feedback across to your class and are there any other ways that have been effective for you? Are you MAD?

Developing a World-Class Maths Model by @Mroberts90Matt

Previously I wrote about a whole school initiative I was planning to implement into my school called Talk4Maths, a Maths-focused drive on vocabulary and maths talk drawing on ideas from the well-known Literacy initiative Talk4Writing. The research and thinking behind this Talk4Maths can be found here. After some development with a team I was fortunate to work with in school and implementing it, I have refined this strategy into a model which is now at work across my school and has been for almost 5 months. It seems to be going well – some of the impact will be addressed later in this post.

What is Talk4Maths?

Talk4Maths is an approach to teaching and learning Maths which is based on talk and discussion. It asserts that Maths learning is taken in more when children are given the chance to explain their reasoning and describe different skills and processes. There are opportunities for children to internalise mathematic skills and concepts using oral retelling and actions. They then talk. Talk has been shown to develop mathematical understanding significantly:

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As talk is the focus of this initiative, the Talk4Maths strategy then breaks down into three main approaches.

How does Talk4Maths look?

There are three key elements of our Model that we started to implement:

  • 1. Using oral retelling and actions to internalise mathematical terms and skills:
    This is the part of Talk4Maths which draws from Talk4Writing in a similar way. The children are encouraged to internalise mathematical skills and terms using mnemonics and actions to improve their memory of them. As a school we developed universal actions which all staff could use:

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What you see above is the action for ‘multiply’. My Y6 class used this method to memorise terms such as ‘factor’, ‘prime’ and ‘square number’ as well as how to use the four operations on fractions.

  • 2. Creating ‘concept maps’ to show step-by-step understanding:
    The fluency developed from oral retelling and actions is then built on by children developing concept maps to help them break down skills and concepts and visualise them. They can create the concept maps, talk through them with their peers and even create other types of ‘concept maps’ such as tutorials (an example is when we created Long Division tutorials on Explain Everything on the iPads). An example of a written concept map can be seen below:

    Factors

    What you see is ‘Factors multiply together to create a product’. As mentioned in my previous post I had a child working at a low Year 3 level who went home and taught his parents about what a factor was and gave some examples. This was a great example of how creating concept maps could work.

  • 3. Special ‘Talk4Maths’ sessions which involve problem solving, talk and informal recording on sugar paper.
    This is my favourite part (and probably the most important) for what is the purpose of developing fluency in mathematical  skills and concepts if this fluency is not developed in reasoning and problem solving challenges. As such, we set staff the challenge to involve AT LEAST once a fortnight a session dedicated to problem solving and talk. Of course they are expected to incorporate this in most sessions, but this session is special. It is out of books on a more informal style of recording, whatever that may be, and provides ALL the opportunity to discuss and tackle problems using the skills they have developed up until that point.  Some examples below:

To add extra incentive for the children to engage fully, the teacher circulates the groups and picks out through observation one learner who has stood out for their use of mathematical vocabulary. They are crowned in that week’s celebration assembly as (wait for it…) the Ruler of Reasoning!

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And it gets even better – the Ruler of Reasoning from that fortnight receives a personalised RULER OF REASONING (a special ruler with the above logo inside it) which is theirs for the next two weeks until the next winner is crowned. The kids love it!

Why Talk4Maths?

Already, the soft data from the Talk4Maths initiative has been evident. The language used by the children and the staff in discussing who is the Ruler of Reasoning and why they have won that coveted title shows the focus being given to vocabulary, problem solving, determination, talk and mastery – just some of the key words being used in all communications around this strategy.

Hard data – we are just waiting to receive our school’s end-of-year data but a question-level analysis of the KS2 SATs Maths shows that the problem questions were not the vocabulary-based questions or questions that required explanations (of which there were two this year). As well as the improvement in isolated questions, the overall progress of this year’s cohort was greater than last year’s. Also, about 5 classes trialled the Talk4Maths strategy back in Autumn Term – of all the classes in our 2/3 form entry school the top 3 classes that made the most progress were classes that were trialling this strategy. I’ll hope to update it when we can see the impact across the school once that data comes through.

Any questions – just let me know 🙂 – you heard it here first!

Eradicating Maths Anxiety by @Mroberts90Matt

I recently came across this post bringing up an issue in Mathematics which has an impact on learning across the nation, for adults and children:

http://ukedchat.com/2015/08/31/maths-anxiety-by-mathscraftgame/

The natural reaction to anxiety in Maths is avoidance. Even in members of teaching staff there are some who feel they are ‘no good’ at Maths and therefore they avoid all possible interaction with the subject. Of course, when children are then raised by these parents with anxiety about Maths, this attitude can be passed on.

The biggest challenge we face as teachers in Mathematics is encouraging those children who experienced doubt or anxiety to engage fully – otherwise these children may fall further and further behind. As such it is vital for all Maths practitioners to identify what can cause anxiety in Maths and how they can support learners to either avoid this anxiety or guide them through it. And is anxiety even a bad thing?

1. Parental Influence

Children receive the strongest influence in their early development by experiences in the home. They are moulded and taught there first. Parents teach (actively and passively) behaviours and preferences to their children. This can be magnify feelings about Maths. If parents convey negative messages about Maths (or indeed any other subject), that is more likely to rub off onto the child. Of course, this is not guaranteed but it can be a factor. If a parent also experiences maths anxiety, they are likely to avoid it and therefore not support their child as much.

As teachers and schools, we can support parents and therefore children through this. We can provide experiences for parents where they can begin to understand the way that maths is taught to their children and how they can support their child in simple ways. Events such as subject workshops, Curriculum Meetings and Parents Evenings are vital moments where change can happen in the children’s home. With the support from home, children can then begin to feel supported in all areas of their life and feel less anxiety about maths.

2. Ethos of the Classroom

As a teacher, I still have a lot to learn. I am only in my third year of teaching and I recognise I still need to develop in a number of areas. Something which I feel strongly about though is developing the correct ethos in the classroom. Whilst there are times for high-stakes learning, children need to feel secure in making mistakes. If they make mistakes, these are big steps in their learning journey. For any subject, it is vital for children to feel they can take ownership of their learning without worrying about feeling they will be looked down on (by their peers or staff) for making a mistake.

I think about my ability in Art. If I were to go to an Art workshop today then I would certainly feel anxiety. A scene involving stick men is beyond me. However, I know that if i were placed in a scenario that I would not be belittled or looked down on for my ‘weakness’ then I would be more likely to have a go with the task that I was given.

3. A strict diet of problem solving

This may seem like an odd strategy for tackling anxiety – placing children in situations early on where there may be an increased likelihood of anxiety. However, if children are trained to take on problem solving challenges more, rather than comfortable pages of rote calculations, then they will develop their problem solving toolbox more for later on.

The average score in the 2016 KS2 SATs Arithmetic paper was in the mid 30’s out of 40 (around 80% score) and the average scores on the Reasoning Papers (Paper 2 and 3) were 7 and 10 out of 35 (around 20-30% score). This is telling. Children are not being exposed to enough problem solving challenges. As such, it’s hardly a surprise that children experience anxiety when faced with mathematical challenges.

 

It is no secret that a controlled level of anxiety in the classroom can push children out of their comfort zone and encourage greater learning steps. However, there will be a fine balance for teachers to strike which will mean children feel secure enough in their learning to take risks but also push their learning further.