16 August 2014

5 Maths Gems #2

Last week I promised I'd write a weekly post summarising the new teaching ideas I'd seen on Twitter. Afterwards I worried whether I'd have enough material to write about, but this week I wasn't disappointed. Plenty of ideas were shared - here's five of them.

1. Revision Whispers. As I've said before, I'm always on the look out for engaging ideas for revision lessons. Billy Adamson (@Billyads_47) shared this fantastic idea 'Maths Whispers!' in which pupils are given a fact or formula to communicate with their classmates, 'Chinese Whispers' style. Billy says that when his students were walking down the corridor afterwards, they were excitedly talking about what each statement was initially and what it became. I love this idea. It would work well in other subjects too. Check out Billy's resource on TES. Here's a variation I might try for A level revision: split the class into teams. The teams form lines from the back of the classroom up to the board. The pupils at the back are given a message to read. Here's an example from S2:
All teams have the same message. The message is simultaneously passed along the lines in whispers. The last student in each line writes the message on the board. The most accurate team wins! Then shuffle the students and try another message. My A level revision cards have plenty of ideas for messages - definitions and formulae would work well.

2. Post-its. Mr Allan (@mrallanmaths) wrote this blog post about his use of post-it notes in lessons. He displays questions on boards around his classroom. Students (in pairs or teams) work their way around the room answering the questions on post-it notes. It's a quick and easy way of assessing understanding and finding misconceptions. It's also very engaging, even though the questions are just from a textbook. The idea originated from a tweet by Chris McGrane (@ChrisMcGrane84) back in January. Shelley Smith (@saxsmith27) successfully tried it out this week.
Speaking of post-it notes, I like this 'What stuck with you?' idea, shared by @RemindHQ. It could be a nice plenary activity once a week, or even at the end of every lesson.

If you want more post-it note teaching ideas then check out 'Post-it addict?' on Number Loving.

3. Visually appealing resources. I’m a sucker for good graphics. I know it’s low on the ‘what make a good resource' list but to be honest if a resource doesn’t look good then I’m reluctant to use it. Kristin (@mathminds) wrote a post about using Aurasma in maths lessons. I haven't explored Aurasma in detail yet - I'm in awe of teachers who use all the latest technologies in their lessons. But what jumped out at me were the visually appealing questions created by Kristin's students (two examples below). I love the simplicity. I'm going to start making my starters look like this.

While I was doing research for my fractions blog post this week I discovered the blog Authentic Inquiry Maths which is full of good ideas, like T-charts for highlighting similarities and differences. Pupils use ICT to create their charts and you get a nice mix of presentation styles, like the example below.
Ed Southall's (@edsouthall) tricky maths problems on his website solvemymaths.com are also really visually appealing and I look forward to using them to challenge and extend my students next year.
Area problem #2 - solvemymaths.com
Here's another 'attractive' activity I spotted on Twitter this week. This one was shared by Khan Academy (@khanacademy).  It's an engaging activity because it's visually striking, accessible and has a good level of challenge for pupils who've studied Pythagoras' Theorem. Shame I don't have the budget for colour photocopying!

4. Starting a new school year. With only two weeks left in the summer holidays, I've started to see blog posts about things to do in first lessons of the school year. I wrote a couple myself a few weeks ago - one on your first lesson with Year 7 and one on kicking off Year 12.  Here's a few more I've spotted recently that are worth a read:
  • This 'First Day of School Activities' post on the blog Existential Vertigo (shared by @math4everybody) has some great ideas - I particularly like the suggestion of asking students questions such as "What is the least probable (but still possible) event that you can think of?" and "What is the largest number you can write in the space below?". The writer also references Dan Meyer's clever Personality Coordinates Icebreaker.
Biggest numbers!

stock image 5. Wisdom (and sweeping statements) from Jo Boaler.  Linking with my earlier post, Deliberate Mistakes, Jo Boaler (@joboaler) talked this week about the value of mistakes in ‘Setting up Positive Norms in Maths Class'. In this document, she suggests that we make a habit of inviting pupils to the board to share their conceptual mistakes. She also suggests that pupils crumple a piece of paper and throw it at the board - just once, in a symbolic kind of way - not every time they make a mistake... Though I wonder if that would be worth trying too, to establish a classroom culture of ‘everyone makes mistakes’ and to encourage risk-taking. Can you imagine if your pupils threw all their mistakes at the board? It might get a bit messy. Fun though.

Jo makes a number of other useful suggestions in her article, such as writing students' good questions on posters around the room. She also talks about the importance of valuing depth over speed. Many of my students arrive in secondary school with the impression that it’s important to do maths quickly. ‘Beat the clock’ type activities encourage this. What’s the rush?

So, some helpful thoughts from Jo Boaler. Shame about the negative article she wrote this week about maths teaching in the UK, but yay to the NCETM for defending us! It’s nice to know someone has our backs.

And finally...
I'll finish off today's post with three recommended reads:
Have you made yourself a #Twordle yet? Utterly pointless, but five minutes worth of entertainment (instructions here). By the way, all my weekly Maths Gems posts will be filed on this page, which you can access from the 'Extras' menu on my blog. Thanks for reading.


  1. Great post. Love the twitter wordle! Will be trying it when I get on a computer!

    1. Thanks! I tried to make a wordle with the first 10,000 digits of Pi this morning, to see if all the numbers came out the same size. Couldn't make it work for some reason though - I don't think it likes numbers.

  2. Thanks for the ideas that add an element of fun to the learning, keeping the students active. Whenever I use post-it notes, they always seem to fall off quite quickly. I could perhaps use strips of 'magic whiteboard' instead (which are great for showing working out on the window).

    Is it too soon for 'back to school' / 'first lesson' type blog posts? I wonder if this time next week we'll see a multitude of them around, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's certainly a very wise idea to ensure that you're prepared for the new year, although don't forget the 'bombshells' that could be dropped during the inset days!

    The use of technologies like Aurasma are interesting. I have a studio account for our school and have used it for a couple of projects. The limiting factors were incompatibility with school equipment (old browser) and internet access requirements (wouldn't be fair to students for them to use their own data).

    There are lots of great display ideas in the 'interactive bulletin board' link. It would be great to get some out in the corridors where the students congregate.

  3. Thanks Tim!

    Great idea re magic whiteboards - I've not seen these before. Found these which are like erasable post-it notes - perfect! http://www.magicwhiteboard.co.uk/product/pink-magic-sticky-notes-pad-50-sheets-includes-free-pen/

  4. Thanks for your post, I have now made my own "what stuck with you" board at school, ready for September!!