25 October 2014

5 Maths Gems #11

I've got some brilliant gems for you this week. As usual Twitter has been on top form.

1. Quick Key
Last week I wrote about Plickers, which is an app you can use in the classoom for formative assessment - you need a device but your students don't. Today I'm suggesting another app that you can use for assessment - Quick Key. With this app you can set multiple choice homeworks or tests and mark them in seconds by scanning the answer sheets ('Quick Tickets') with your phone.

Quick Key is the invention of American teacher Walter Duncan (@4_teachers). It "turns your phone into a scanner and eliminates hand-grading of assessments, even for teachers working in paper-based classrooms without a computer or internet. Analytics and data exports are easy, so you can focus on your students".

My initial thoughts were that although this app could be very useful (less time spent marking = more time spent planning quality lessons), it won't allow me to check students' methods, which limits opportunities for useful feedback. But for straightforward knowledge checks, to inform me how much my students know, it would work very well.

But then I read this post from Kristian Still (@KristianStill) and now I'm more convinced of the effectiveness of multiple choice questions - he points out that they give you objective and precise information and free up time to spend on remedial learning and feedback (ie you quickly identify which students need support, then you have time to examine their methods and address misconceptions).

Do multiple choice questions work in maths? They do indeed. The Scottish Qualifications Authority uses multiple choice questions in their Objective Tests and some of the excellent FMSP resources are multiple choice. My school has loads of multiple choice questions (extract below) on file which I think may have originated from Edexcel. These would work well in conjunction with Quick Key, as would Diagnostic Questions transferred to test format.
Geoffrey Slack (@slackmath) has produced a quadratics quiz (suitable for Year 12) which incorporates a scannable 'Quick Ticket'. I followed his lead and made one on significant figure rounding.  It would be great if there were a large bank of multiple choice maths test papers (perhaps this will be my next project!).

If you try Quick Key, do let me know how it goes.

2. Exercise books
This week I've seen loads of creative ideas for students' exercise books.

First up is Bruce Ferrington's (@BruceFerrington) reflection stickers. Students stick a 'Not yet yeti' or 'I got it' sticker in their book to let you know whether they've understood the work.

Speaking of stickers, Adil Jaffer (@adil_3) shared his fantastic feedback stickers so you don't have to keep writing the same thing all the time when you're marking.

One of the post popular tweets I saw this week was from @MathedUp who shared his fantastic 'request a selfie' idea. I can see this really improving the quality of students' work - many of my students would love the opportunity to impress their parents. If you use iDoceo then it's easy to take a picture on your iPad and email it to a parent.
Did you see these exercise books, tweeted by @dandesignthink? The boxes at the bottom of the pages contain a checklist (accuracy, spelling, grammar), key words, further questions, key points, what went well, and feedback. An 'Exercise book 2.0' costs 50p - full details are available here. There's also a maths version - Maths book 2.0 is equally awesome. I wish I had a budget to spend because I'm desperate to order these!

The more I use Twitter, the more inclined I am to hashtag everything I write (or say!). I have to restrain myself from putting hashtags in text messages to my husband ('what do you want for dinner tonight? #pleasesaytakeaway'). It's nice to see that I'm not alone - Cathy Yenca (@mathycathy) uses them in class (read her post 'Just Playin''). #twitteraddict

3. Find the Factors
Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) discovered a brilliant and engaging activity for practising times tables - here's his post about it. Find the Factors is designed by @IvaSallay who says it's an excellent way for children and adults to review multiplication facts, use logic, and strengthen brain power. The puzzles are based on a multiplication grid where most of the numbers have been removed. The grid can be completed using logic and knowledge of factors - in the example below you could start by completing the two circled cells. The puzzles come in varying levels of difficulty, as explained here. Find the Factors has already been very popular amongst tweeters who've tried it this week.

4. Chalk Pens
Kev Lister ‏(@ListerKev)tweeted about chalk pens. I've written about writing on desks, windows and walls before, but these are new to me. Kev says the chalk wipes off non-porous surfaces easily with a damp cloth. He uses these pens to write targeted questions or provide scaffolding for selected students. I think my boss would be happier with me writing on desks with these rather than whiteboard markers.

5. Alternative Number Line
I'm reluctant to include two ideas from Ed Southall (@solvemymaths) in one post, but he's a legend so I'll allow it... In the same way the maths clock in my kitchen makes a great talking point for guests to my house, his alternative number line should be displayed in A level classrooms - students (and teachers!) will be intrigued. Mr G Walton (@mr_g_walton) has made a fantastic header to go with it.

Stuart Price (@sxpmaths) suggests making an activity out of this - cut the number line up and give it to your Year 13s so they can sort it into order. They may not be familiar with some of the notation but it's a good opportunity for interesting discussions (I found out how to read ternary to understand Ed's choice for number 5. I'd also not seen floor and ceiling notation before).

Stuart also suggests that students design their own number lines. I love this idea - it would work with students of any age, from primary school to university. It's similar to an activity I suggested in my Open Evening post where you hold a 'design a maths clock' competition. The clock pictures below are all taken from sbcrafts.net where you can check out a big range of clock number ideas that could also be used on number lines.

And finally...
Algebraic long division is fun when you know how to do it, but it can be a bit tricky to teach to Year 12. It's nice to know there are alternative methods. I've factorised polynomials by inspection before but not using a grid as suggested by @jamestanton in Tanton's Take on Polynomial Division. Have a look at his method, you might prefer it to long division.
That's it for this week. Remember to let me know if you use any of these ideas at school. As I mentioned in my last post 'The Art of Collaboration', it's always great to hear when these ideas make it into classrooms. Have a great half-term break everyone!


  1. Just a question about the pens that write on desks - is this just for the sake of it? If I rack my brains I can't think of why it's better than writing on mini-whiteboards, or even, (hey - what about this!?) - on PAPER!? I can't think what the process of writing on the desk can bring to learning (once the novelty has worn off). And I am 100% certain also that it will eventually stain the desk, because nothing stays absolutely smooth and scratch-and-blemish-free for ever. I can't help feeling this new trend for writing on everything is a bit faddy. Scrap paper is cheap and recyclable, I don't see how it can be improved on! There are better things to spend money on that will make a real difference to your teaching, IMO

    1. OK, I haven't tried this yet so just basing it on comments from people on Twitter who enjoy a good bit of desk-writing. When I help a student with their work, they don't like it if I write an explanation in their book (it's nice that they have pride in their work and my writing isn't particularly neat). I often use scraps of paper to for individual explanations or to provide additional questions - but I don't see any reason not do it on the desk instead. Yes, it's for the novelty value but there's nothing wrong with that. If I want to spend my own money on stationery because I enjoy using it then there's no harm, is there? It's like me buying nice pens for marking or pretty folders to keep my notes in - it doesn't add to learning but (in a very very small way) it makes me a happier teacher, and that's good for everyone...

      My maths gems are mainly about sharing things that have been popular on Twitter. I think it's nice to see what other teachers are doing, even if it's something you see no benefit to or have no intention of trying. :)

      If you have some suggestions for things we could spend our money on that will make a real difference to our teaching, please do let me know so I can feature them in next week's post. That would be brilliant. Thanks!

  2. Hmm, I write in their book, over to the side, in pencil, so they can choose whether to rub it out or leave it. If the state of a mini whiteboard that's been in use for a couple of terms is anything to go by, these pens will stain the desks and the cleaning/rubbing will abrade them, so future uses of the pens won't come off cleanly. And I'm dead scared of our bursar!
    I spend my money on interesting things to hang on the walls and from the ceilings, and on pretty pens for marking (doesn't a class set just whisk by more smoothly when you've got a beautiful pink pen to mark with?) and pretty stickers (they love it the most when they get some kind of animal or character with a speech bubble coming out of its mouth saying a comment). We get stickers provided but they're booooorrrrrring!
    And on trinkets and sweets for the raffle box, of course!