28 June 2017

JustMaths Conference 2017

I love the summer term for CPD - I've been to two conferences in four days!

I'm very grateful to the JustMaths team for inviting me along to their first annual conference. I don't normally attend events on school days, but because all my exam classes have left I didn't need to set any cover for this one. It was a great idea to hold this conference after the end of the exam period.

I attend quite a lot of conferences and always pay my own travel and accommodation - although it's financially challenging, I think it's worth it for all the ideas, insights and networking.

I got the train to Stoke after school on Monday and was very grateful to Emma (@El_Timbre) and Laura (@LauraCodd1) for collecting me from the station. Once I'd checked into the Alton Towers Hotel I went along to pre-conference drinks, where Jenny (@MsSteel_Maths) was busy painting nails with mathsy designs (the templates can be bought here, and hopefully Jenny will be doing nails for charity at #mathsconf13 in Sheffield).
The Alton Towers Hotel was full of quirky features. The children's entertainment went on surprisingly late, with dancing toddlers everywhere at 10pm!

On the Tuesday morning, I enjoyed collecting bits and pieces from the conference exhibition including A level SAMs from AQA, GCSE problems from Edexcel, and stationery freebies from ypo. Ypo had some good Brain Booster packs which each contain 50 cards giving teachers ideas on how to use manipulatives in the classroom.
I was surprised to see a BBC stand as I've not seen one at a maths conference before - they told me about their new maths videos for use in the classroom.

The conference venue was beautifully decorated. I was surprised by the size of the event - it was much bigger than I expected. There were around 300 delegates - many were at their first ever maths conference. I normally see lots of familiar faces at La Salle's conferences but this was a totally different crowd - it was really nice to meet so many lovely new people. Some teachers had travelled from overseas to attend. The majority of teachers I spoke to had never heard of resourceaholic.com, so I guess I still have a lot of work to do (but I make no money from my website, so my marketing budget is non-existent... I rely on word of mouth, so was very grateful to Mel for mentioning my blog during the conference).
There were lots of nice surprises throughout day - including a huge number of prizes (I was delighted to win a bottle of champagne in the prize draw!), and a free JustMaths marking bag and fidget spinner for every delegate.
The day was organised a bit differently to conferences I've been to before - instead of choosing smaller workshops, we all stayed together for the whole day and listened to six sessions - one from each of the exam boards, one from Ofqual and one Q&A at the end. It was a shame not to have a session from the excellent Mel and Seager of JustMaths (it would have been good to hear what they do at their school that earned them TES Maths Team of the Year last year) but they did an awesome job of hosting the event and were very entertaining.
In the exam board sessions it was good to look at exam questions and to hear about some of the resources available to teachers (such as OCR's check-in tests, Edexcel's Access to Foundation Tier resources, and Eduqas's takeaway menus).

The absolute highlight of the day was Craig Barton's session for AQA. I've seen Craig speak at a few conferences before and it's been fascinating to see his approaches develop over time. Craig has read tonnes of research recently, and has very helpfully summarised it for maths teachers on his research page. In his session he discussed how teachers often rush ahead to complex exam questions before students have developed fluency in the each of the individual skills involved, and he said (controversially...?) that students shouldn't be doing a full GCSE paper until the March before their final exams.

Craig's suggested approach was the catchy 'IDAP': 1. Isolate the skill, 2. Develop the skill, 3. Assess the skill, 4. Practise retrieval later. He showed us examples of resources that worked well for skill development in novice learners.

The thing that stood out the most for me was what Craig said about 'non-problems'. At the moment, many of us teach Pythagoras and then give students a load of Pythagoras questions in different contexts and guises. These problems have the same deep structure (Pythagoras) but different surface structures, like these:

Students don't have to work out that they should use Pythagoras in these questions, because it's obvious if the lesson is all about Pythagoras. An alternative approach would be to give a set of questions with the same surface structure (eg an isosceles triangle) but different deep structures (eg not all involving Pythagoras). This makes a lot of sense.

I kept a tally of how many times Craig said the word flippin' - I got to 15, but I may have missed a few as I was very busy taking notes! It was an utterly awesome session and I'm really glad I was there to see it.

At the end of the conference all delegates had free access to the theme park - including a period of exclusive access to the big rides. I was really excited to try out a few rides but, annoyingly, I had a train to catch. By the time Craig and I got off the monorail and walked around the park, we didn't have any time left for rides because I had to rush off and get my taxi. But at least I had a good catch up with Craig!
I bet that everyone who stayed for the rides had a fantastic time! What a fun way to end an event.

Well done and congratulations to Mel, Seager and Fize from JustMaths - I can't imagine how much work is involved in pulling together such a big event. The next one is on Thursday 28th June 2018 - save the date!


  1. Here here - I really enjoyed the day too. Your blog summarises the day really well. Thank you for the links, saves me a job!!

  2. This is fabulous. I just loved reading about the “JustMaths Conference 2017”. I am preschool teach and our preschool is also going to organize such an event at the local corporate events NYC. We will invite kids’ parents too.