Multiplication Tables Check: A Balanced Argument by @Mroberts90Matt

1

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;

Advertisements

#MathsRocks Round Up! 05/02/18

Welcome again to another #MathsRocks Round Up – where you can find useful ideas for teaching Primary Maths! Let’s jump straight in – and guess what, one more week until another break. You can do it!

1. Books to inspire Maths

1

Recently on #PrimaryRocks there was a wonderful focus on Maths. It was a magical, mathematical evening! One of the questions was a great one – what books do teachers use to inspire and generate discussion on Maths? It was incredible but a little overwhelming to see the replies flowing in. Fortunately @Mister_Hubbard who led the discussion has collected the suggestions and they can be found here on an editable document – link here

2. Visual fraction games

Spring term is a wonderful time of year where Fractions are often on the agenda for a number of year groups. The question is – how do we make fractions engaging, purposeful and give the children a wide variety of models to interact with? @MissSDoherty shared a wonderful, eye-catching activity where children had to sort a variety of 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4 models as a group. This allows them to see how one example of a 1/3 can look different to another but still indicate a 1/3 also!3

In a similar vein to this, at our school (@Mroberts90Matt) to round off our Fractions unit in Year 6, we created a fraction game. This game was based on the @nrichmaths activity found here: https://nrich.maths.org/8283

The game requires children to understand different ways of representing fractions and matching equivalent proportions. They were then able to go to various Year 3 and 4 classes to have to explain and teach how to play this game. Not only does this requite a secure grasp of equivalent fractions but also explain it to younger children.

2

3. Curriculum Mapping Tools (nRich and NCETM)

You may or may not already know about this incredibly useful tool but nonetheless it is absolutely worth a share!

@goulds_mr drew attention to the @nrichmaths one first on #MathsRocks but whilst we mention it we may as well draw attention to the @NCETM version also. @nrichmaths and @NCETM are absolute gifts to any Primary Maths teacher. They take the concepts and provide deeper problem solving challenges which will stretch and challenge all children of any ability. However, the difficulty in using these sites is that it can sometimes be a challenge finding the right activity. These guides that nRich and NCETM provide solve that issue, allowing teachers to pinpoint the activities they need.

1

2

The links to the interactive pages can be found here:

nRich: https://nrich.maths.org/12662

NCETM: https://www.ncetm.org.uk/resources/41211

I really encourage you to save these documents/links as they will save many hours of your time. Have a great (final for most of you before a well-deserved week off) week! And remember – #MathsRocks!

Ofsted: A Teacher’s Perspective

Well – we have had The Call and Ofsted have come and gone. Amazing how the tension generated by a single organisation can mount over years and then be gone in over a day (of course if the inspection goes to plan). Recently a number of headteachers and senior leaders have shared their experiences which have been extremely useful for others in preparing for their own visits. In fact, we only just looked over an example of one of these recounts in a Key Stage meeting literally the Tuesday before we had the call – which was spookily convenient. As it turns out, it was very accurate to our experience.

The New Framework 2018

Many of you will know that the framework for Ofsted has changed. In terms of Good schools, one of four outcomes can happen from a Section 8 inspection now:

1: The school stays Good.

2. The school shows evidence they are Outstanding. However, they keep the label of ‘Good’ until another full inspection in 1-2 years.

3. The school shows evidence they are Requires Improvement. However, they keep the label of ‘Good’ until another full inspection in 1-2 years.

4. The school does not have adequate provision of safeguarding for children and adults in the school. As such, they are automatically judged as ‘Inadequate’.

On top of this, in order for a school to now be Outstanding, they must be outstanding in all areas. In the past reports, a school could be Outstanding in most areas and maybe Good in one area and be deemed as Outstanding overall. Not anymore.

With this context in mind, what I wish to do now is highlight how this new one-day inspection approach framework has had an impact on the regular classroom teacher’s experience of this significant day in anyone’s teaching career. I’m hoping this may be useful for anyone who is expecting Ofsted to come any time soon.

The Call

12:25pm – Wrapping up a Maths lesson focusing on dividing by 10, 100 and 1000. It’s gone well, just thinking about pushing the concept further by challenging my lower set. One of our AHTs then come into my room quite quickly. ‘Meeting in the staff room, 12:30’ were the words said. I look back blankly – everyone knows what this means…suddenly I’m very focused on tidying up the classroom and ensuring everyone has finished what they need to in their books in the final few minutes.

12:30pm – Never seen a group of 40 or so people gather so quickly. Indeed, we are told the call has come. We are instructed to send any final adjustments to our timetables to the DHT and…well…get ready! And then, the staffroom vanishes…was quite surreal really. I didn’t go anywhere, I figured that I needed to eat and the time to sort things out would come. Typically I would usually have PPA on a Monday afternoon which would have been really useful but unfortunately the cover for half of it was going to be absent meaning I’d have to catch it up later in the week. So, I ate lunch.

2:15pm – Finally got rid of the class…because they were just getting in the way 😉 (it’s not like I do the job of a teacher for the children, right?) I sort out my classroom a bit, gather the resources for my Maths lessons the next day. I figure that the Maths lessons I had planned originally should surely be the ones I go ahead with. I aim to teach the best lessons all the time to show progression and enable the children to make the best progress – so why change it? I’ve heard the phrase ‘I’ll save that lesson for Ofsted’ and maybe so in the day when Ofsted would observe a whole lesson and give a judgement – but as the next day would prove those days are very much gone (and good riddance in my opinion).
We also had a visit from an AHT informing the children about the visit tomorrow and letters sent home to parents about the Ofsted questionnaire.

3:30pm – Children have gone, staff back in the staff room to listen to more details that have been given on the phone by the Lead Inspector. We were told that they would be focusing on the key areas for development from the previous inspection – challenging the more able, curriculum leadership and marking. However, the inspector said that he actually wouldn’t be taking any interest in marking as Ofsted have no set agenda on what marking should look like or what frequency – they may review the school marking policy should the need arise. Thank goodness for the Ofsted-busting myths! We were informed the inspectors would be taking a learning walk around the school between 9:45am-11am but that would be all the observations they would make of lessons. We were told the general timetable of the day and asked to send a selection (1 HA, 1 MA and 1 LA) of all books to the Head’s office. We even got to choose the books! So far so good I thought.
One thing I did think that was odd was that, as Maths Lead, there was no time set aside in the timetable to speak to the Maths Team. This was interesting considering Maths was mentioned as an area to look at in the last inspection and we had a Maths subject-specific Ofsted inspection in 2015. Our Head though wanted us to be on standby in case we could get to speak to them.

3:45pm – All hands on deck! Displays neatened, books up to date, documents updated in files, targets highlighted…

5:30pm – Our Head ordered in some pizza – was nice to sit together for 10mins and talk about anything other than what was going to be happening the next day! Was a nice touch!

5:30pm-7:30pm – I left at 7:30pm. I know others stayed longer but I figured that everything I needed to do at school (marking, printing etc) was done. I wasn’t completely ready yet with slides or certain lessons but that could be done at home…

The Day

5:00am – Up early. Out of choice. I went to bed by 10:45pm which is fairly early for me. Get my playlist on, finish off the afternoon sessions – bring on the day!

8:25am – All staff meet in the staff room to be introduced to the two inspectors who would be in school. Was a very short introduction, the lead inspector took the lead. He explained that ‘they had been in our position before’, they would be in classrooms at the most 10-15 mins and to please just do the wonderful things we always do. Done – everyone leaves to put the final touches together.

8:40am – The inspectors take to the playground and speak to parents. We are out in the playground (as usual) to greet families to the school. I was also informed that the inspectors just would not have time to meet with the Maths Team. Little disappointed by this but the reason was that they had no concerns about Maths. In fact, it became quickly apparent that they had a very interesting significant agenda…

10:35am – The door opens….enter the Lead Inspector and my Head. I continue the flow of my lesson. After a couple of minutes I am beckoned over by my Head and the inspector asks me about the teaching of Reading across the curriculum. He requests to see a Topic book. Again – I was allowed to go and choose one! I explain our previous topic and how reading was evidenced in the children’s books. This is my one complaint I have of my inspection – I didn’t get any eye contact or even a thank you for leaving my children’s learning to show evidence in my books. That’s all. I was also asked to see evidence of Reading in my Science books (easy). Then they left.

To be honest, that was all my involvement directly with the Ofsted inspectors. I was asked at 11:40am to assist the Head in compiling some data that we did have but just needed to put together neatly for the inspectors. Other than this, I went about teaching my other lessons and didn’t see them again.

What was very clear was that actually, they were not interested in the previous action points from the last inspection. What I gathered was there was a clear focus and setting of specific meetings with certain people on three specific areas. Those three areas will have been identified by the data about the school. It is apparent that because there is only one day to complete the inspection that the inspectors come in with a preconceived judgement, some key areas to look at and they see if anything is being done about those problem areas. There simply isn’t any time to look at things the school is doing well and celebrate their successes. As it turns out our school did well.

I can certainly see positives from this new framework (less time observing and judging lessons, ‘light-touch’ approach’) – however, this does cause problems such as not getting a full picture and focusing only on issues in the school and of course, if a school is now Outstanding, it will not be labelled as Outstanding for another 1-2 years.

If anyone has any further questions about the Ofsted Section 8 experience feel free to ask. Email or DM me @Mroberts90Matt

Hornets and Butterflies: How to reduce workload

Pragmatic Education

Butterfly      Hornet

When teachers were asked about workload, 44,000 responded. Teachers work 50-to-60 hour weeks, often starting at 7am, often leaving after 6pm, and often working weekends. Some 90% of teachers have considered giving up teaching because of excessive workload, and 40% leave the profession within 5 years. There are teachers out there working 90 hour weeks.

For a school, there are great benefits to leading the way on reducing workload. Teachers who aren’t exhausted teach better. We contribute more over a longer time period. We are far happier to invest time in building trusting, caring, affirming relationships with children. We stay calmer in difficult confrontations, and are less likely to be short-tempered in everyday interactions. We support and encourage each other better. New teachers improve faster, veteran teachers stay longer, and everyone works smarter. A school that pioneers healthy work-life balance is more likely to attract teachers to…

View original post 620 more words

#MathsRocks Round Up 22/01/18

Already we are flying through January! Some more wonderful Maths resources and  ideas have been shared again and I can’t wait to direct you to them!

1. Teaching Mathematical Problem Solving

Bit of a longer read here so set a little time aside but I felt this was worth the share and a read. @thatboycanteach exemplifying  guidance on teaching mathematical problem solving with a problem on Christmas trees (it was festively relevant when he posted it…). This article (click here) breaks down the process of problem solving and how this can be seen in the class. Problem solving can often be seen as

2. Corbettmaths Videos and Worksheets

1

@RosemaryBurke pointed this one out for me. It is an excellent site created by @Corbettmaths. It breaks the curriculum down into topics listed in alphabetical order. Not only does it give a set of practice questions which impressively offer a variety of ways to apply the concept, but then gives a ‘textbook exercise’ which gives a large number of questions which learners can sink their teeth into and again have a variety of ways to apply the concept. If this wasn’t enough there is an instructional video with each topic which explains the maths visually and can be used in lessons. The best way you can see how this will be useful will be just to click this link and have a look – it is excellent! I will be sharing this with my staff and I encourage you to do the same!

3. Presentation Display

As we all know, presentation in Maths is very important to us Maths teachers. The reason for this…well obviously in case someone else comes to look at our Maths books. To be fair though, poor presentation in Maths learning can lead to some errors being made so all the “one number per square” phrases can be very important. @_MissieBee shared a wonderful display which reminds her children about how work should be presented (not only in Maths but in English also so this has double use). A quick visual reminder can help you reinforce the expectations to the class and serves as a useful tool to ensure you remember to reinforce it also!

1

That’s your lot for this week – remember to share on the #MathsRocks thread to share excellent Maths ideas!

#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

1

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

2

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

3

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!

#Nurture1718 by @Mroberts90Matt

2017 has been a great year! It has represented a number of developments for me in many areas and seeing the usual #Nuture posts has caused me to try and reflect over the year. So without further ado – here is 2017:

Family:

It’s been quite a routine year for my family. There have been very difficult moments with health scares and other things but we’re all here ready for a New Year. Our two children will become 6 and 4 – with our oldest beginning Year 2 at school! Time is certainly moving very fast and I’m hoping to make the most of it! We have made a tentative plan to travel to Disneyland in 2020 so we’re hopeful to create many exciting memories in the time that we have together. Birthday parties, trip to Chessington, Legoland and other things have made this year one to look back on.

NPQML:

So in terms of school there have been a number of great developments which I’m very pleased about. In the year I ended my 3rd year of teaching I have completed the work for my NPQML and will receive the result in around 13 days! There was something extremely satisfying in creating a whole-school development project, leading the educational change, trying to make it effective, long-lasting change and creating a 20 page pdf about it. Looking at the work that has gone into it, I feel a good sense of pride in the fact I’ve played some part in providing some change hopefully for the better at my school. The project was focused on developing an approach based on mathematical talk and vocabulary across the school and I’m looking forward to seeing how it continues.

Maths Lead:

This was the year that I was also given a new opportunity within my school. I was previously the PE and Sports Lead and we had great and exciting things happen in the school. It’s ironic actually because when I was originally asked to be the PE Lead I wasn’t sure at first. It was never something I had considered. However, I was asked to move to be the Maths Lead in the school and pass the PE Lead on and I was extremely excited (but a little sad to see the PE go). However, since it’s begun I’ve really enjoyed it. There’s been a lot of opportunities for development from it and I’m excited with a few ideas that we’ve had in place – including using Times Tables Rock Stars and considering how to include a mastery approach to teaching and learning in Maths looking at Shanghai and Singapore models.

NCETM PD Lead:

On top of the Maths Lead, a potential opportunity came up from the local Maths Hubs – to become a Professional Development Lead. It was promoted early November from the NCETM and Maths Hubs and I was really interested but thought I wouldn’t be in the right position to apply. It requires you being sponsored by a Maths Hub and it allows you to be accredited to lead professional development courses. I was encouraged to apply by my Head and my previous KS Lead…and I got it! This was a big highlight in December to find out and I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes!

Assistant Head Interview:

This was a very interesting experience! In our school I applied for an AHT position and didn’t get it. Despite this, I was grateful for it! It was useful for the future and I received great feedback. It has given me a huge confidence boost for future opportunities.

Exercise:

In July I began using the gym…and I still am. Well, I say the gym – my parents have a garage which they’ve converted with a treadmill, exercise bike and weight benchpress (and a TV and portable fridge)! On top of this,  they live about a 2 minute drive away! I’m managing to get out twice a week and work at it so I’m feeling very good. I have to say I’ve noticed a difference in my health levels and resistance to illnesses so will hope to keep that going.

So now is the time to look into the New Year – as I have successfully been able to keep at tweeting and blogging for a whole year now I’m hoping that I will now be able to look back at this in 12 months time and see how I’ve managed to achieve things this year in 2018:

Family:

This next year with the family I hope to spend even more quality time with my family. The areas to improve on are the days where there isn’t anything particularly happening and the day slips away – I want to get out to the park more and such things like that.

Next Step…:

This is a bit of an unknown for me. Originally I wanted to try and be in a Senior Leadership position in September and I do think I still would like that. The ideal scenario is that I will be able to attain a position in my current school but of course that would require other things to happen. However, with my new Maths Lead position and the exciting opportunity of taking on the PD Lead Accreditation I might be happy to continue working on this a little more but then as well – Year 6 or not? I think I would definitely like to step away from Year 6 as it’s the only year I’ve known for 4 years now…I guess I’ll have a clearer picture in April time…

NCETM PD Lead Begins!:

Mentioned this already so won’t go into a lot of detail but I am very interested to see how this will go!

Reading:

So, I am a little ashamed to say this but since I began teaching in 2014 I think I have read…1 book maybe? Not even sure as I sit here!! I know I will not be the only one but I want to get into reading more. So, 6 books for Christmas and I’m ready to go – I’m determined to start anew. My birthday is in April and (whilst I know only 6 books in 3 and a bit months isn’t necessarily impressive) I’m hoping to get some more then! Already read ‘Who Let the Gods Out?’ so a great start!

Films:

Well, the year ended with the epic ‘The Last Jedi’ and a surprisingly very enjoyable ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ and I’m looking forward to 2018’s offering of films. ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Incredibles 2’, ‘Black Panther’, ‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’, ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, ”Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’, ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald’, ‘Maze Runner: The Death Cure’…even Hotel Transylvania 3! Lots to look forward to!

Journal:

I have always tried to start a meaningful journal – not necessarily based on school matters but general. The most difficult thing I always found to keep it going was having to write by hand at night and keeping it interesting to read back. I found a brilliant app called ‘365 Journals’ which gives a simple question a day and I can use the ‘Speech-to-Text’ function on my phone to input it in! Easy! 🙂

Exercise:

Very simply – keep this going. And as it’s easily accessible, private and I get occasional treats from my parents on my way through (and a wonderful power shower) – I’m likely to!

2018 – here I come!

#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.

1

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:

2

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

3

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!

Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom by @Mroberts90Matt

Behaviour – Shifting the Paradigm in my Classroom

Since beginning teaching in 2014, I have always considered myself to be a fairly positive teacher. I definitely feel that working with children, helping them to understand the reason behind choices in the classroom and empowering them to take responsibility for their actions. Then the last academic year happened and I was confronted with the most challenging class I had encountered…

At first I felt I had guided the more challenging members in my class to make good choices. Things were positive, and then low-level disruption crept in more and more. Positive mentoring and feedback followed and no change. As such, I began to take action in a more negative manner. Sanctions and discipline in line with the school behaviour management system followed. However, the problem that began was not issuing sanctions – they are an important part of any school behaviour management system – but rather in my mentality.

The Trap

As days turned into weeks of dealing with consistent incidents outside my classroom and then some appearing in my classroom, I subconsciously began to take a more negative stance. My thinking behind this was to supress any poor behaviour that could take place. External influences such as the upcoming SATs, imminent Ofsted inspection and the most responsibility I had taken on thus far (leading the middle leadership team, PE and Sport Coordinator, Maths Lead Team and completing an NPQML whole school project) meant that I felt less and less patience for the children that I was ultimately working myself to the bone so that they could make progress in their education. I was developing a class that responded instantly to threat of sanction for short-term engagement rather than a class who were creating a love for learning and who responded because they wanted to do well.

Of course, I did not want this. However, the day-to-day flow of teaching and pressure in many areas created this environment and mindset.

The Escape

As things were developing in this negative culture, I found myself following the thread of #PrimaryRocksLive and the first keynote speaker was @pivotalpaul (or Paul Dix in the non-virtual world). I wasn’t there in person however the EduTwitterverse exploded with quotes from his comments. One thing in particular stood out to me – we should not praise poor behaviour. Obvious right? However, he made this point which was very poignant for me at the time – why do teachers insist on writing the names of the children who make the wrong choices on the board? Why not write the children’s names on who make the right choices? Reading this was almost like a revelation. I had fallen into the practice of routinely writing names on the board in an attempt to visualise to the children the wrong choices they were making – but ultimately all that was doing was giving them promotion to their actions.

Another major factor on this path back to positivity was a twilight given by @ArtOfBrillAndyW (Andy Whitaker – The Art of Being Brilliant). This motivational speaker really eneergised and enthused the staff with positivity and the mindset that we can aim to be our top 2% and ways to overcome challenges to that positive outlook. When we can maintain that positive outlook that positivity will leak into our teaching into our classroom, into the children we teach.

The Change

So, what did I do? From the following Monday the usual space where I wrote perpetrators’ names was changed to our #BestSeatsintheHouse space (inspired by Ant and Dec’s SNT and @chrisdyson and the wonderful work at Parklands Primary School, Leeds). I moved away from jumping straight to negative reinforcement to try and subdue behaviour problems but tried to overload the class with a better mindset. Did it work completely? No. No matter how much of a positive approach you take in teaching it would be foolish to expect there to be no behaviour problems. However, slowly but surely things started to improve.

 

After this reflection I have learnt very important lessons:

Positivity trumps negativity – every time

If anyone can come and prove to me that a negative, suppressing approach to behaviour has a better impact on a child’s ability to consider their own behaviour then I would readily receive it. However, I am yet to find a circumstance where that is the case.

What you promote in the classroom is what you’ll receive

If you consistently are on the lookout for poor behaviour and that is the commentary in your teaching (e.g. I am looking to see who needs to receive (insert sanction), whoever is talking will…, make sure you are not making the wrong choice) then that will probably be what you find. If you consistently promote good choices (e.g. proximinal praise, I am noticing a lot of good choices being made… and do on) then that will be found more often. Again, nothing is fool proof but it certainly has an impact.

 Positive and promotional approaches must be in place early on to be effective

I found that as we approached the end of the school year whilst I had certainly turned things around in my classroom, things were probably not as positive as they could have been. And this leads to the most difficult lesson – positivity must be persistent. Even in the cold, dark, wet months of November to February. Carry optimistic approaches from October through to March and things will be more positive. It will be difficult to maintain but well worth it!

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…