18 December 2014

Back to school

In two weeks I'll return to school from maternity leave. I've done this before, but not mid-way through a school year. I'll only be working three days a week but teaching eight different classes, all shared with another teacher. It's going to be a challenge.

On top of the anxieties associated with teaching lessons for the first time since May, I'll be getting my seven month old baby settled into nursery - I know from experience that this can be difficult and emotional. Although these challenges are a little daunting, I'm excited to try out all the new teaching ideas that I've picked up from all the blogs and tweets I've read over the last six months. I'm going back to school with fresh enthusiasm for teaching maths. In this post I want to tell you about a few of the things I've got lined up for January.

1. Exercise Books
I despair when I see teachers spending their hard-earned meagre salaries on supplies for work, but I'm guilty of it too. I've stocked up on pretty stationery, folders, board pens, post-it notes... and this time I've gone a step further and bought my own exercise books!

As an experiment, I'm going to try out these maths books 2.0 from Design Thinking. One of the features of these books is the checklist, key words, further questions and key facts sections at the bottom of each page. I think my students will love having these special books and will take more pride in their work. I also think I'll look forward to marking these books (at first!), to see what words, facts and questions my students have chosen to write in the boxes.
Including postage these cost me £40 for 60 books so I'll try them with two classes and see how it goes. I'm crossing my fingers that they arrive in time for the start of term! (and that my husband doesn't find out that I spent my own money on supplies for school!).

2. Expectations
I'm planning to set out my presentation expectations with all my students at Key Stage 3 and 4 using a poster: 'Five Expectations for a Beautiful Maths Book', an idea stolen from @danicquinn - see gems 14 for details.
3. Hashtag Marking
I featured my ideas for hashtag marking in gems 12. I'm planning to have a go at this - each of my students at Key Stage 3 and 4 will be issued with a Hashtag Marking Key (I'll print it on A5 so they can stick it in their maths book or planner). I have a feeling I'm going to have a huge marking workload this year so hopefully this will save me some time.
Extract from Hashtag Marking Key
4. Work Review Log
Based on an idea in this tweet, I plan to introduce a feedback log at Key Stage 5. I normally set a piece of assessed work for my A level students every week. I always put a lot of effort into providing written feedback, so I'd like to ensure my students are reading and reflecting on my comments. I'll ask them to keep this Work Review Log at the front of their folders and I'll give them an opportunity to complete it every time I return a piece of work.
Extract from Work Review Log
The other thing I want to do better this year is ensuring that my A level students are doing homework on their own. I'm happy for my students to help each other in class and on non-assessed homeworks (eg 'finish the textbook exercise'), but if I set a piece of work for marking it should be reflective of each student's individual level of understanding, not that of a group of friends. In the past I've had sixth form students getting As in their homeworks throughout the year (because they have a clever friend, or even a tutor) and then doing terribly in their actual exam.

5. Mistake Log
All my students will receive a Mistake Log to stick in the front of their book or folder. The idea is that whenever they make a mistake, whether because of a careless slip or a misconception, they record that mistake. Again, like the Work Review Log, I hope it helps ensure that students are reading my feedback and reflecting on how they can improve. I think they'll find this log useful when they come to revise.

6. #ByYourSide
I really think every teacher should ensure their subject knowledge is up to scratch as a matter of priority. And what better opportunity to test your own subject knowledge than sitting the qualification that you're responsible for teaching? I hope to sit the Maths GCSE exams with my students this summer. I think they'll appreciate the act of solidarity, and hopefully my teaching will benefit too. Although I'm very confident of my GCSE knowledge, I'll feel huge pressure to get 100% so I better be careful not to make any silly mistakes! I also intend to sit A level maths this summer. This is a much scarier prospect. For C3 (which I've never taught) and C4 I'll certainly have to revise and practise. I'm convinced this will make me a better A level teacher. I already fear being stumped by a tricky C4 integration question! I did a statistics degree so haven't studied pure maths since I did my A levels in 1999. But if I teach it then I should know it like the back of my hand shouldn't I? I hope I get permission to do these exams because I think it will be a really worthwhile exercise. Anyone with me? :)

7. Apps
I'm thinking about taking my iPad into school, if I can prise it away from my toddler. I'm really keen to try Idoceo because teachers on Twitter rave about it. But my school has started using Mint Class this year and I want to avoid duplication. So Idoceo might have to wait until next September, when I'll be at a new school.

I'm also keen to try Plickers and Quick Key, both of which I've written about in my gems posts, and I'm considering using iVisualiser too.

8. Resources
I've been lucky enough to receive a couple of lovely freebies recently - one of my favourite resource websites MathsPad have given me a free subscription that I can't wait to use! I'm also interested in Create a Test. The nice people at Create a Test have given my school a three month free trial of their test-writing tool. I wonder whether other schools are in the same situation as us - we give all our Key Stage 3/4 students three or four tests a year (including an end of year exam) and this is how we determine maths sets for the next year (I should mention at this point that I'm not supportive of a 'teach to the test' culture in maths and would love to hear alternative approaches). Anyway, because these are 'high stakes' tests, we want to avoid any risk of papers being seen in advance, so we create new tests every year. This is really time consuming so we'd benefit from a good quality test-writing tool with a large bank of questions. I'll report back on how we're getting on with Create a Test in a couple of months.

So that's a few of the highlights of my current 'going back to school' resources and plans. Now I have the most important thing to do - I need to start planning my lessons. I'll be doing circle theorems with Year 10, which is convenient because I recently wrote a post about teaching circle theorems. Unfortunately I've also been assigned 'constructing triangles' with my Year 8s - my least favourite topic in the world! Any ideas to make this more bearable would be gratefully received!


  1. All sounds great, don't beat yourself up if you don't manage it all, I've got a 4yr old and a 7mth old and am just thinking about the amount of planning I need to do over the Christmas holidays to be ready for the first week of January! I'm going to be doing construction too and going to see how much they can figure out themselves. Just going to start with a triangle that I've drawn, give them the equipment and see if they can figure out how to construct the same one! No idea how successful it will be but hopefully not boring and will kickstart a discussion about what info they need/how much info is sufficient.

    1. Thank you, really good idea. It's so hard to find time to plan lessons with young children isn't it? Family has to take priority at Christmas - my daughter is ridiculously excited about it all! :)

    2. Before I had kids I used to spend ages on each lesson making sure all the resources were perfect and now I throw ideas together and hope for the best! My daughter keeps asking tricky questions about Santa and has only asked him for one thing: an accordian! Going to be a noisy Christmas morning...

  2. Jo, you have everything organised. You will be great! I agree with Sarah. Just put everything together and see what happens. From your posts it comes across that you are organised perfectionist, so don't worry if things don't work out the way you think they should go. At work and at home! I learned that the hard way when I went back to work. I went back full time, it was a struggle! And that was with a very supportive husband! Next year I went part time. It was bearable. Here are few tips from my experience. Plan at least a week ahead. Get your photocopying/resources sorted ahead. In the evening, plan to work only the days you are working. So your weekends are for your family completely. You will still end up putting more hours than you should but that is us being a teacher. The most important, remember it is a job. I sometimes forget that! I love your posts. I always share them with my dept. We like your PRET hw. I am encouraging our dept to make them like that and share them. I wish you all the success. I will look forward to hearing how you are getting on.

    1. Thank you. That's very kind of you. I think my problem is that it still takes me ages to plan every lesson, so I always end up working on the days I'm not meant to be working, and then my girls suffer. I'm not sure I'm a perfectionist - you should see my messy handwriting - but I don't like to let people down, least not my students. I'll do everything I can to help them succeed. I'm glad I don't work full-time with young children - I don't know how people manage that!

      Anyway, workload aside, I'm excited to try out loads of ideas! But some of them can wait - for example Plickers could come after half-term, I don't have to do it in my first week back! :)