25 March 2017


This is just a quick post to let you know about some improvements to resourceaholic.com and some upcoming events.

New Menus
My website has grown quickly over the last three years. It started with a short post about Matrix Multiplication in April 2014. Two months later I decided to set up my resource libraries, where I share hundreds of hand-picked resources for Key Stage 3, 4 and 5. I use these libraries everyday when I'm planning lessons. My aim is to ensure that teachers can quickly and easily access free, high quality resources for all secondary maths topics.

Resourceaholic.com now has 239 published blog posts and 34 pages, so I worry that it's becoming hard to navigate. To improve this, I've added some new functionality.

At the top of each resource library, you will now find 'quick links'. The example below is taken from my number library. These links will take you straight to resources for each topic, which should save you time when you're planning lessons. I hope you find this helpful.

I have resource libraries for number, algebra, shape, data, Core AS, Core A2, statistics, further and mechanics. The best way to access my resource libraries is from the main menu at the top of the website. By September I will publish a resource library for the new A level too.

Other pages that might help you find what you're looking for on my blog include the blog archive, the gems page, and the side menus. There's a search tool on the sidebar too.

Upcoming Events
On my Conferences Page I list maths conferences in the current academic year.

On Sunday 7th May I'm going to Stuart Price's A level event Maths in the Sticks. I attended this event last year and it was really good - particularly because it includes a delicious roast dinner and a glass of wine!

On Saturday 24th June I'm going to La Salle's #mathsconf10. This is taking place in London (but not Central London like last time - those of you coming by train, note that it's all the way out in Zone 6). I always enjoy La Salle's conferences. I'm thinking about presenting at this one.

On Tuesday 27th June I'm excited to be going to Alton Towers for the JustMaths Conference. Representatives from the awarding bodies will be out in force at this event and it will be a good opportunity to take an in-depth look at the new GCSE shortly after the first sitting.

As I like maths conferences so much, I will probably go to #mathsconf11 on 8th July in Cardiff too.

I also plan to organise another maths teachers' trip to Bletchley Park - I'll provide more information on this soon.

Lots to look forward to!

Popular Posts
Finally, just to mention that my revision posts are getting a lot of attention at the moment as exam season approaches:

And did you catch my recent posts?

Thanks for reading! I hope to see you at an event this summer.

19 March 2017

Papers Society

When I worked at a girls' grammar school, I took it for granted that my students would do loads of past papers in the months leading up to their GCSE and A level exams. They didn't need much encouragement, they just got on with it. At A level they'd often end up doing every single past exam paper so I'd have to hunt for extra resources. I thought this was normal.

Two years ago I moved to a boys' comprehensive school. Last year I taught a Year 13 boy who had achieved a grade E at AS level. One day we sat down and talked about what he could have done differently in Year 12. I asked him how many papers he'd done in the lead up to his AS exams. "None", he replied - totally straight-faced. I almost fell off my chair. "None?! No, seriously - C1 papers for example - did you do many?". "No. I didn't do any papers at all," he replied, with a smirk... He ended up with a U at A2. My first ever U at A2, and hopefully my last.
Later in the year, I was teaching a Year 11 class who were worrying me. Many were working at a grade C or B when they were more than capable of grade As. I took numerous approaches to fixing this - one of which was to impress on them the importance of exam practice. I knew that it would be a challenge to get them to do lots of exam papers - it just wasn't in the school's culture in the way it had been at my previous school. I invited them to come back after school and do papers with me once a week. A group of four students took me up on my offer and came every week for a few months. Those four boys ended up smashing their GCSE exams... Perhaps the papers they'd done with me had made a difference, or at least the work ethic I'd helped develop.

I've approached this a bit differently with my current Year 11 class, in the hope that it will have a bigger impact.

In January I had a Year 11 Parents Evening. During Parents Evening I spoke to every student and their parents about the importance of doing lots of exam practice. I told them that they are competing for top grades against students who would had already done dozens of papers by that point in the year. I told them about the four students I taught last year who exceeded expectations because they'd done papers with me after school. It got their attention. I then handed them my leaflet:

The plan was simple: I'd be available after school every Monday from February half term until their summer exams. I'd have biscuits. I'd have papers. It would not be a lesson or an 'intervention'. It would be optional. Papers with friends, simple as that. I'd just be there to provide help if and when they needed it.

The parents' reaction was fantastic. Most immediately said to their son "Right, you're definitely going to that". The best bit is, the students agreed. "This way, I get to do regular maths revision, and I don't have to make myself do it at home. Because I know I won't do it there".

One mum even enthusiastically said to her son "There'll be biscuits! You love biscuits. It's worth going just for that"!

I'm pleased to say I now have 21 students who come to my Papers Society every week. They come along to my classroom after school, grab a paper and work through it for an hour while they eat biscuits (well, they hoover the biscuits up in the first five minutes... it only costs £1.40 a week and genuinely seems to entice them to attend!). It's quite relaxed - some listen to music, some chat with friends while they work.

I'm so relieved that my students are now doing exam papers regularly. I'm mainly using Linked Pair papers because we have loads already printed out from previous years. The weekly practice my students are doing after school is in addition to the Churchill Papers that they took home to do over half term and in the Easter holidays.

I have detailed plans for helping my Year 11s prepare for their exams in maths lessons after Easter, and I expect that the amount of independent practice they do at home will increase as the exam gets closer. My Papers Society is just part of a bigger picture. But it seems to be a very successful initiative for increasing the amount of exam preparation my students are doing from earlier in the year, so I thought I'd share it here in case other teachers want to try the same thing. In schools where Year 11s already have a great work ethic, this sort of thing probably isn't necessary. But if you think your students could be doing more, this idea might work for you.

If only I had more days in the week when I was free after school, I'd run something similar for my A level classes too.

15 March 2017

Ultra Outreach Project

One of the most important parts of a maths teacher's role is to get students excited about maths. The next generation of mathematicians is sitting in our classrooms right now, waiting to be inspired. I've written previously about in-school speakers and workshops for maths enrichment. I've also written about maths trips and maths clubs. These things are all brilliant and just require a bit of organisation and some money in the maths department budget. But who has money in the budget? Not many schools. Most of it goes on photocopying! Today I'm writing about an opportunity to have an amazing day of maths enrichment in your school for free!

Last summer I visited Bletchley Park with some maths friends from Twitter. It's a wonderful place and I highly recommend a visit. While we were there, we were treated to a private viewing of a genuine and fully-functional World War II Enigma machine, along with an entertaining and informative talk from their Education Manager, Thomas Briggs. Tom and his team spend a lot of time visiting schools all over the country with their Enigma machine, getting children excited about code breaking and mathematics. This outreach programme is extremely popular, and many schools book visits year after year. 

The sessions at schools are based around codes, ciphers and the story of Bletchley Park. Most schools request that the same session is repeated to a number of class-sized groups throughout the day. This usually costs £562.50 plus expenses for a full day's visit. 
I don't think many schools know about Bletchley Park's bursary programme, which is named 'Ultra' after the codename given to Bletchley Park's intelligence. Under this programme, the in-school experience is totally free for schools who meet the programme's criteria. Schools with a high level of Pupil Premium eligibility are likely to meet the criteria, so if this applies to your school then I encourage you to make enquiries by completing this form. It's such a wonderful opportunity for your students.

You can read more about Bletchey Park's school trips and outreach programmes here

I'd love to hear about your school's experiences with Bletchey - please comment below!

Twitter maths teachers trip to Bletchley Park, Summer 2016

12 March 2017


What a fantastic weekend! I'm feeling inspired.

I travelled to Bristol on Friday morning to attend an AQA Expert Panel meeting. These meetings take place three times a year and always involve really interesting discussions. One of the things we looked at in detail on Friday was the new wordier format of AQA mark schemes - I think people will like the approach they are taking here.

On Friday night I enjoyed a lovely dinner with fellow teachers, then we joined the rest of the pre-conference gang in the pub. Ed Southall, Craig Barton and I shared a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the launch of Ed's fantastic new book 'Yes, but why? Teaching for understanding in mathematics'.
It was a great night and I stayed up relatively late (as a mum of a two year old and five year old, I don't get out much!) so I was a bit delicate in the morning...
The conference on Saturday was brilliant as ever, with a particularly good set of workshops to choose from. The venue was unusual - a school rather than a conference centre - but it worked well. I was far more relaxed than usual because I wasn't delivering a workshop - it was nice to enjoy the day as a delegate without the nerves.
The first new thing I spotted at the conference was Propellor's A3 Whiteboard Kits. These double sided dry wipe activity boards are designed for primary but might also work well as a daily activity at Key Stage 3.
John Corbett was also there selling his lovely GCSE revision cards which you can order here.
Nick Waldron (@W4LDO) gave me an oloid, which is awesome - I spent much of the train journey home rolling it across a table!
The first workshop I attended was 'From Abacus to Zero' in which Ed Southall talked us through the interesting origins of various maths words and symbols. There's so much I hadn't noticed before - I enjoyed hearing about the mathematical connections in words like onion, twine, simple, finger and dubious.
I made loads of notes and hope to weave my new knowledge into future lessons.

Watch Ed's video on polygons for a flavour of this workshop. You can download his slides here. And do buy his book!

The second session I attended was 'Where your Y11s will go wrong in this summer's Maths GCSE and what you can do about it now' by Craig Barton. Craig is such a great presenter. His session really got me thinking about where I need to focus my Year 11 revision lessons after Easter. He listed the ten topics that current Year 11s have provided the least correct answers for on diagnosticquestions.com (Craig's data set consists of a massive 4 million questions answered). We looked at some student responses to try to understand their misconceptions. The topics were: 1. Working with y = mx + c 2. Writing ratios 3. Enlargement 4. Tree diagrams (conditional) 5. Upper and lower bounds 6. Expanding double brackets 7. Angles in parallel lines 8. Multiples and LCM  9. Circumference of a circle 10. Sketching quadratics.

Craig talked about the best way to tackle gaps in students' knowledge and understanding, emphasising the need for 'purposeful practice' rather than rushing ahead to more complex problem solving. As Craig said, 'If they're not secure in the basics, what's the flippin' point?'.

Craig pointed us in the direction of his fantastic website for good resources, drawing particular attention to some of Don Steward's rich tasks (or, as Craig calls him, 'Big Donny').

At lunch it was the Tweet Up - many thanks to the team @danicquinn, @letsgetmathing, @ColonelPrice, @BetterMaths, @MrMattock and @MrCarterMaths and to everyone who came along to try the activities.

I ran a light-hearted 'vote for your least favourite topic to teach' table (the opposite of the #mathsworldcup). The winner was congruence. It was very interesting to see what teachers chose as the topics that they find hardest to teach or don't enjoy, and to hear their reasons. Thanks to everyone who came and said hello!
My third workshop was 'Guide to the A level Reforms' by Katie Arundel from Brix Learning. I'm fairly familiar with the changes but I feel like I need to start focusing on A level reforms a bit more now that some of the specifications have been accredited. We took a look at some of the new A level questions, and my main takeaway from this session was a better understanding of how the 'large data set' stuff will work in practice. I found out that Geogebra is much better than Excel for drawing graphs (box plots in one click, apparently), which was news to me - I thought that Geogebra was only for geometry. I also had a good chat with teacher Shaun Hatton (@shaunh2357) who uses Brix's learning platform - this is an online homework package for A level students. He spoke very positively about it and it does sound like something I'd consider for my A level classes next year, depending on cost.
In the final session Lucy Rycroft-Smith (@honeypisquared) from Cambridge Mathematics stepped in at the last minute to run a workshop on research. Because it was a late addition to the programme we were a small group - around 15 of us - which was lovely because we all got to introduce ourselves and join in the discussion. There was a really interesting range of experience in the room, including both primary and secondary specialists. It made me realise how diverse attendees of La Salle's conferences are. Lucy's session was about the importance of - and barriers to - using research in teaching. We had a look at her Espressos in which she succinctly summarises recent research that's relevant to maths teachers - these are definitely worth a look. There's some really interesting work being done on curriculum by the team at Cambridge and I look forward to hearing more from them over the coming years.
I was pleased with the good mix of workshops I attended - one on subject knowledge, one on GCSE, one on A level and one on research. I got a lot out of the day.

I always really enjoy chatting to maths teachers at conferences. It's wonderful to be reminded that we're part of a huge maths education community that reaches so much further than the teachers I talk to on Twitter every day. Common themes of discussion at this conference were the challenges of behaviour (which is unacceptably bad in so many schools... what's going on in this country...?), the upcoming GCSE, and the changes to A level.

I know I say this every time, but I can't wait for the next conference! Conveniently for me, it's in London on 24th June. Saying that, I'm always happy to travel for these conferences and am also looking forward to the Sheffield conference on 30th September, and possibly the Cardiff and Dunfermline conferences too. We're very fortunate that La Salle run such high quality, accessible and affordable events for maths teachers throughout the year.

If you want to present at one of the four upcoming conferences, La Salle are taking workshop proposals here.

In case you're interested, my previous maths conference blog posts can be found here:
#mathsconf8 (September 2016)
#mathsconf6 (March 2016)
#mathsconf5 (September 2015)
#mathsconf4 (June 2015)
#mathsconf2015 (March 2015)
Gems 8 (September 2014)

See you all at the next one!

4 March 2017

5 Maths Gems #70

Welcome to my 70th gems post. This is where I share some of the latest news, ideas and resources for maths teachers.

1. Yes, But Why?
The big news in the world of maths education is the launch of Ed Southall's new book 'Yes, But Why? Teaching for Understanding in Mathematics'. I was fortunate to get an early look at this book before it was published. It's fantastic. Both new and experienced maths teachers will get a lot out of it. You can preview it here. I'm in the process of re-reading it and will share some of my favourite bits in a separate blog post soon.
2. Statistics 
Thanks to @MrDraperMaths for sharing this wonderful website for teaching statistics: Seeing Theory.
This website is a pleasure to explore. There are some useful teaching tools here - some are suitable for GCSE but most are for A level and beyond.

The basic probability page has a simple coin flip simulation which neatly demonstrates the idea of experimental probability vs theoretical probability. The clever interactivity lets you make the coin biased and see the impact on observed outcomes.
There's also a lovely Venn diagram tool.

3. GCSE Problem Solving 
Thanks to Edexcel for adding a set of GCSE problem solving questions to the Edexcel website. Download the Higher and Foundation tier questions in a zip folder here.
4. Equation Editor Shortcuts
Bear with me if you already know these shortcuts - I'm pretty sure this will be a new discovery for some people...

I use Equation Editor in PowerPoint and Word fairly regularly, and have always done so via the top menu bar (insert > equation). I was pleased to spot a little tip on Twitter - thanks to @chilledmaths for this tweet:

@c0mplexnumber replied to share this helpful guide entitled 'Rapidly Using Equation Editor in Microsoft Office' from @DrFrostMaths. This guide describes all the shortcuts in Equation Editor.
Thanks to everyone who shared these time saving tips - I've learnt something new!

5. MathPickle
There's been a bit of buzz about MathPickle.com recently. This website from @gamesbygord has lots of lovely activities to explore - 'Mondrian Art Puzzles' is a nice example.
In case you missed them, my latest posts were:

My GCSE 9 - 1 Revision Resources post has been really popular over the last few weeks - the exam preparation season is well underway!

If your school runs Times Tables Rockstars, did you see that they've opened a Reward Shop? I've stocked up on prizes.
I'm looking forward to #mathsconf9 in Bristol next weekend. If you're there on the Friday night, do join us for pre-conference drinks at the The Navy Volunteer from 7:30pm.

On the Saturday, come and say hello to me at the Tweet Up where I'll be running another 'World Cup of Maths', but this time finding out what everyone's least favourite topic is! There'll be loads of other stuff going on at the Tweet Up, including the famous Pringles Challenge which is always popular.

I'll leave you with this dodecagon problem which is taken from a set of puzzles created by Don Steward to mark the launch of the new £1 coin.

25 February 2017

Dan Walker's Resources

Dan Walker is one of my favourite TES authors. His clear, uncluttered resources for Key Stage 3 to Key Stage 5 contain quality explanations and clever activities. His slides are well formatted and ready to use, with clear fonts and excellent animated diagrams. In this post I share some examples from Dan Walker's extensive collection which currently stands at 72 resources.

These slides cover the whole breadth of this lovely topic, from identifying similar triangles to working with volume and area scale factors. I particularly like the set of questions on forming and solving equations to find unknowns in more complex similarity problems.

These slides incorporate some of my favourite similar triangles activities from Don Steward and the Mathematics Assessment Project. A number of challenging extension tasks are also included.
Here you'll find clear slides on coordinates, with smart animations and excellent activities for both fluency practice and problem solving.
I love these slides and activities for teaching vectors. There's a good seven lessons worth of material here, with a couple of activities adapted from Peter Mattock's resources and from an activity on jensilvermath.com (these are all listed in my shape resources library).
Powers, Roots and Index Laws
This set of slides explains how powers and roots work and then goes on to cover index laws in detail. It is packed full of awesome rich tasks and excellent fluency exercises.
Associative and Distributive Laws
I've got a feeling that the associative and distributive laws are often undertaught (or even untaught) at secondary schools this country, so it's nice to see a good quality resource for this topic.
Circle Functions
I'll be using the activities from these slides next week with my Year 11s when I teach them the equation of a circle and tangent to a circle. Like all of Dan's slides, the explanations are clear and the questions are clever.
Completing the Square
This set of slides for completing the square is designed to run from Year 9 through to Year 11. Starting with the basics, it progresses at a good pace to cover trickier quadratics (eg completing the square when a > 1) and identifying turning points.
Pythagoras Puzzle
So far I've only featured slides, but Dan's resources also include worksheet activities (often codebreakers). This puzzle is a nice way to get students doing loads of Pythagoras practice!
Algebraic Manipulation Maze
I like this maze - it's great for exploring common misconceptions.

Dan has made a few of these mazes, including a fractions maze which also has a nice spot the mistake activity.
Statistics 2 PowerPoints
Dan has a number of A level resources in his collection (including D1, D2, M1, M2S1, FP1 and FP2). I've chosen to share an extract from his S2 resources because I successfully used them last year. These are for the Edexcel specification - you get a set of slides for each topic along with an accompanying workbook.
Problem Solving
This is an awesome resource. Dan has pulled together a large collection of puzzles and animated solutions, many from the Junior or Intermediate Maths Challenges. One of the best things about this resource is that it's organised by topic, so it's easy to find challenge questions on specific topics for your lessons. I featured this resource in Gems 48.
Dan's resources also include enrichment topics such as base arithmetic and fractals.

I genuinely would love to share extracts from every single one of Dan Walker's resources, but this post would be rather long! You'll have to explore the rest of the collection yourself. It's all free! I'm in the process of adding all of his resources to my resource libraries.

Dan Walker could have his own website, and for me it would be up there with my favourites - Don Steward and MathsPad. Enjoy exploring his resources! Let me know what you find.

17 February 2017

Working Well: C1 and C2

I'm feeling pretty positive about my A level teaching this year. I thought it might be worth sharing the things that I've been doing a bit differently. If you teach A level, please comment below or tweet me to tell me what changes you've made to your approach over the years that have had a positive impact on your students.

I teach at a boys' comprehensive school, having moved there from a girls' grammar school in 2015. This year I have my largest ever Year 12 class, with 27 students. A quarter of the students in my class got a B at GCSE, and I also have a few strong mathematicians who got an A* at GCSE and a distinction in Certificate of Further Maths. So the class is a very mixed group with varying levels of prior knowledge. Their target grades range from an A to a D. When I first started teaching this class they were very chatty. Because of the size of the class it felt more like Year 11 than Year 12. In October I introduced a seating plan - the first time I have had to do so for sixth form - and things improved immediately. The class has matured a lot since then and they are now focused and hard working. I'm hopeful for plenty of As this summer. The size of the class is not as much of a problem as I thought it would be - the main impact is on my marking workload.

Here are some of the things I have changed this year...

1. Modelling good work
In the first few weeks of Year 12 I made a big fuss about the presentation of work. I clarified my expectations by taking photos of good work and displaying these photos on the board when I returned homeworks. Students were visibly proud when I showed their work on the board.
The rest of the class then knew exactly what I was looking for. I gave detailed written feedback on the first couple of homeworks and it wasn't long before I was getting a good standard of presentation from all students, with well laid out workings and clear mathematical notation.

I recently marked a coordinate geometry homework and was pleased by how many students had made use of clear diagrams to solve problems - this was far better than in previous years. I think this improvement is a direct result of my continued modelling of best practice and making my expectations crystal clear.
2. Vertical binomial
This is a minor thing but I really think it made a difference... A couple of years ago I read a blog post which suggested a vertical layout for binomial expansions:
I taught it this way for the first time this year. I think students were better able to follow what I was doing on the board. Every students' expansions were set out vertically in their mid-C2 assessment, resulting in clear, systematic workings and accurate answers. I will definitely use the vertical layout again next year.
3. Formulae
In September I handed a 'test me' card to every student and told them to ask their parents, friends or siblings to test them on the quadratic formula at home.
The next lesson I had them line up outside the classroom and asked each student to recite the formula to me at the door! Good fun. 25 out of 27 got it right first time. I will use this approach again in future.

4. Grid method
I first wrote about alternatives to algebraic long division here, but I didn't teach the grid method properly until this year. I practised it extensively and decided that it is both more conceptually clear and more efficient than long division, but I was still nervous about teaching a method that is not widely taught. I took the plunge and was so pleased that I did! Even the weakest students picked it up immediately. I'm sure I'm seeing less silly mistakes than I used to with long division.
5. Logs
I introduced logs using the 'power' approach explained in this guide from James Tanton. It's a great introduction to the topic!

5. Independent study
I've always set an assessed homework for each chapter at A level. I give feedback and a grade for every piece of assessed work, which means I have a pile of sixth form marking to get through once or twice a fortnight. I don't do anywhere near this level of marking at Key Stage 3 or 4, but I think that regular feedback is vital at A level. My students are really good at doing their assessed homeworks independently and submitting them on time.

However, the big challenge is getting them to do independent practice (ie work that I don't mark) at home and during their private study periods. This year I issued a course booklet to my students which makes suggestions for how they should use these periods. I refer back to it regularly. At the end of every lesson I set a specific 'independent study' task and remind them that there should never be a time that they say they have no maths homework. In previous years I wasn't so specific about the exercises they should be doing but I've realised that more guidance is necessary for those who are less motivated. This is an ongoing struggle though - I still have some students who do very little independent practice, and it really shows.

6. Exam preparation
I was quite shocked last year when I discovered that one of my Year 13s hadn't done a single past paper in Year 12. Seriously, not even one. This is a huge contrast to my previous school where all of my students would have done every paper available.

This year I made a big thing about the importance of papers at Year 12 Parents Evening and gave my students a checklist of all C1 papers. I will make a similar list for C2 at Easter. If I had the budget I'd print packs of papers for my students to complete rather than get them to print their own.

After half term I will be available for weekly 'paper support sessions' after school where my students can drop-in for help with any questions they've found difficult.
I won't have much time for C1 and C2 revision this year but I do have a good bank of A level revision resources - I have posts about this here and here.

Still improving... 
I haven't yet worked out what to do with the students who are likely to get a U this summer. They attend weekly intervention after school but unfortunately it's not enough - there are significant gaps in their underlying knowledge. Ideas gratefully received! At my previous school I taught a girl who worked at a U all year and then ended up with a C, so I know it's possible for a student to turn it around.

The time pressure to get through all the content before the summer exams means teaching sixth form always feels like a race against the clock. I really enjoy teaching A level though. It's a shame that this is the last time we'll be teaching C1 and C2. I will miss these modules! It has been such a pleasure to teach them.