Words to avoid

Here are some things to avoid saying in maths lessons if you wish to minimise unwelcome disruption...
  • In probability, don't toss a coin and get a head. In a room full of teenagers, far better to flip a coin and get a tail.
  • Avoid examples involving 'balls in a bag'. 'Discs in a bag' can be just as problematic if not said clearly. Try counters instead.
  • Also in probability, be careful how you say 'the or rule'. Spare a thought for language teachers who have to administer oral exams. 
  • When writing on the board do not shorten the word cumulative. Cum freq is likely to cause a stir.
  • Don't make c proportional to k (c∝k).
  • Careful what you say (and how you gesture) when talking about enlargements, top heavy fractions and going down the number line.
  • Be prepared for giggles if an answer is 69.
  • Avoid having refer to 'the d' or saying 4q ('4q too!').
  • We can't avoid f(x) but be prepared for 'f off' silliness. Avoid f(u).
  • When writing page numbers on the board, beware of p155.
  • If you're making nets in class, you'll need to include tabs (not flaps) for sticking them together.
  • Don't say cos. Say cosine. Cos Omac is an insult and certainly not suitable for a maths lesson if any of your students speak Arabic!

Teenagers, eh? Bless 'em.




31 comments:

  1. I'd been teaching for about six weeks, which was plenty long enough for 30 14-yearolds to recognise that I didn’t know very much about the job at all.

    The question that precipitated my downfall was in an algebra exercise – it involved a rifle range and was something like you pay 10p for each shot and get 50p prize each time you hit the target; after 15 shots you’ve got £2. So, how many hits and how many misses?

    No doubt my feeble teaching was largely responsible for the baffled looks, so I made sure everyone was listening attentively before I offered a hint, uttering the words that stay with me today – “You know how many shots, and you need to find the number of hits. So just let x equal the number of shits ….”

    As your strip above says, a class can indeed laugh for ten minutes. They laughed, they howled, they screamed, they wept. The Head, who’d already formed the same opinion as they had of my abilities, came up from two floors below, shook his head, and went downstairs again.

    There were plenty of bad days to come over the next few years, but at least I can say that nothing was ever half as bad again.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this story Alan, it really made me laugh (sorry!). I'm glad you lived to tell the tale!

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  2. During teaching practice I wanted the class to work from page 155. I wrote P155 in big letters on the board and the class collapsed for at least ten minutes!

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    1. It's good to hear that this sort of thing happens to everyone!

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  3. Can I add not to draw a hemisphere on top of a cylinder... It looks like male genitals

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    1. ...and definitely don't draw the radius of the semicircle from the top down. I had to rub out the whole diagram and start again!

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    2. Teaching shapes of polynomials in my NQT year I drew a positive symmetric quartic on the board (with two minima and 1 maxima) and then proceeded to put points on the minima to discuss the stationary points. The boys were is hysterics, and pointed out to me I had drawn a massive pair of breasts on the board. Thankfully it was a nice class and they let it go pretty quickly (after about 2 months!)

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  4. Any tips on drawing, and indeed talking about... Bell curves.

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    1. We need a new name for them... Um, how about ghost shaped?!

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  5. To show even/equal probability I used "if I had a baby it's an even chance of being a boy or a girl because there aren't any other options"...well apparently there are. Aliens, hermaphrodites (this is year 7)...they regularly bring it up even now.

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  6. It's not always to do with innuendo. I was mercilessly and bafflingly mocked by a class for a good ten minutes for referring to a mobile phone as a "telephone" (I was probably telling someone to put it away). "That's not a telephone, Sir. It's a phone. A telephone is what you have in your house!" I mean, what do you say to that…?

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    1. I love this! You're right.

      I heard recently that teenagers have no idea why we say 'hang up the phone'. They've only ever pressed a button to end a call so don't understand the meaning of 'hang up'.

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    2. Let me tell you (for the future) that "tele" is an ancient Greek word meaning "far away", "remote", "at a distance". Hence "telephone" is the apparatus that enables one to have their voice ("phone" as in "phonetics") transported far away, so that it can be heard by a distant person. Similarly, "television" allows one to see something that may be happening far away.

      So, both mobile phones and those of the type you have in your house are - in fact - telephones. Therefore, Mr. Evans was absolutely correct in referring to the mobile phone as a "telephone". The class was wrong.

      Here in Greece, we refer to these entities as "stationary telephone" and "moveable telephone".

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  7. Teaching practice at an upmarket all girls school in Twickenham, many years ago, making nets of cubes;

    "Just remember girls - always keep your flaps together"

    Kids did not react at all, but I had to leave the room for a few minutes to calm down...

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  8. Similar triangles ASA, etc I accidentally wrote ASS. My lovely top set laughed and at the end of the year presented me with a drawing of me (blushing) at the board with the word ASS on the board!

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    1. I usually feign ignorance and tell them that they must 'somehow' remember that Angle-Side-Side does not prove congruence, while writing ASS in big letters on the board then crossing it out.

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    2. I usually feign ignorance and tell them that they must 'somehow' remember that Angle-Side-Side does not prove congruence, while writing ASS in big letters on the board then crossing it out.

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    3. I do something similar! I say 'Don't be an ASS'!

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  9. I just stumbled across this and am sat in the office laughing and getting some very strange looks. Great post :)

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  10. Great post - I wish I had read it while doing teaching practise.
    I had problems with students from an Asian British background finding ln very inappropriate, ("lun" is Punjabi for a very small penis). Luckily it is far enough through the A level syllabus that the students knew me well enough to tell me what it meant, after that I had to always say " the natural logarithm" and also explain to the other students in future years who had English as their only language why there was a problem.

    I also had several class who as well as collapsing if any answer was 69, would burst into song if the answer was 64 with the theme tune from "64 zoo lane" which was a charming and entirely innocent cartoon for preschoolers in about 2000. Same classes - honest!

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  11. I had a teacher at school who announced: "Boys! It's a four letter word, it begins with w and ends in k, now get on with it!"

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  12. Where to begin...

    Drawing cylinders/quadratic graphs in geometry.
    Shortening analysed to anal.
    Anything to do with Square roots - Drake lyrics "What's my name"

    etc.

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  13. Have you heard the one about the maths debate?

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  14. When one pupil was getting wrong answers for trig questions (calculator in radians) I asked them all to check they had a little d... Couldn't even finish my sentence, class in tears.

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  15. Can't believe no one's mentioned, in a probability question you have to avoid the answer "two blue balls"

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  16. I drew Gloucester (a dot) and Oxford (another dot) and a circle of radius 30 miles around each, just barely intersecting.

    The 32 y10s didn't react but the HoD observing the lesson from the back of the room had to bite his hand to avoid laughing out loud.

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  17. Writing time measurements, in seconds, in Year 6.
    A pupil: "Can we just write secs?" Blushes. "I can't believe I just said that."

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  18. Ha! I love all the comments on this post. Thanks everyone! Keep them coming.

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