10 January 2015

A Week in the Classroom

My first week back at work has been challenging to say the least. Eight new classes, a new Year 11 tutor group, over 200 names to learn, changes to school policies and practices, new nursery routines for my toddler and baby... the list goes on. I also celebrated a Fibonacci birthday this week, so I’ve been really busy both at work and at home. I know it will get easier when I get back into the swing of things.

I received my timetable by email during the Christmas holidays so there was no opportunity for a handover with the previous teacher. This week I've been busy trying to figure out what topics to teach and, for my exam classes, how I'm going to fit everything in before study leave commences in May. I'm out of my comfort zone without detailed plans! I only work three days a week but this year I'm teaching eight different classes under a job share arrangement (double the number of classes I had last year!). I'll have to be very mindful of the experience of my students, who all have at least two maths teachers now - switching between teachers and topics can be difficult for them.

Job sharing has its challenges but there are some advantages, the main one being that I now have my own classroom (most part-timers are school nomads). I love not having to move from room to room all the time - it really does make my days less stressful.

When I left work to have a baby I was Key Stage 5 Coordinator, a role that I loved. I don't have a TLR anymore so am focusing all my efforts on teaching. Since starting to write this blog and entering the Twittersphere I've become a much more reflective teacher. In this post I want to share a couple of things that have gone well this week.

Angles with Year 7
The thing I find hardest about teaching Year 7 is that I don't really know what maths they've done in previous years. I need to visit some local primary schools and observe some Year 6 maths lessons. This week I found out that most of my students were aware that the interior angles of a triangle sum to 180o, but not aware that vertically opposite angles are equal. I found some questions (example below) in which they had to combine their existing knowledge with their newly acquired knowledge. They found these quite challenging - I don't think they're used to multi-step questions like this.

Brilliant.org is an excellent source of extension questions for lessons on angles, like the example shown below.
I'll be moving onto angles in parallel lines with Year 7 next week and I'm looking forward to using 'Spot the Angle' from mathspad.co.uk which I mentioned in my post Angle Facts.

I did quite a lot on vocabulary with Year 7 this week because there's lots of new words in this topic. When I was defining 'vertically opposite angles', I spotted the fact below on mathsisfun.com. This was new to me - I probably should have known this! It was helpful to share this with my students because I'd just taught them the meaning of the word vertex.
Finally, I recommend the short video All the different types of Triangle - Euclid by Shoo Rayner (featured in Gems 19). I showed it in my lesson on triangles and it went down well.

Problem Solving with Year 11
It's important that I quickly establish a good relationship with my Year 11 class. I've become their teacher at a late stage in their GCSE course, but I still have time to make a difference. I need this class to trust me. I see them five times a fortnight and that gives me 36 lessons to finish the syllabus and prepare for their exams. This week I decided to spend a lesson getting to know them. I handed out a problem solving activity then went round and met each student individually, chatting to them about their predicted grades and the topics they want me to review. While I circulated, they worked on eight problems of varying levels of difficulty. In the end I ran out of time to talk to everyone but I still think the lesson went well - they were really engaged in solving the problems and I heard lots of discussions about mathematics.
These problems are from a variety of sources (thanks to all originators!). At the end of the lesson the only problem that remained unanswered was the 'find the radius of the circle' problem from Chris Smith's newsletter - most students hadn't even attempted it but I promised them we'd look at it another day.

I did a similar lesson with Year 8 (top set), except all their problems involved Pythagoras' Theorem (I told them to use Pythagoras, meaning they had a starting point for each question. Perhaps I shouldn't have told them). Again, my students were really engaged in this activity. They particularly liked the 'Spider Box' question. The only question that no-one answered was Ed Southall's semi-circle problem (I suggested they challenge parents or older siblings to have a go). Also, the question below was answered incorrectly by almost every student (they squared the height to get 4w2 instead of 16w2).
Another change I've made this year is to set up a Twitter account for my students. Last year I ran a couple of blogs for student support and they worked well (my Year 11 class said their blog was really helpful, so it was well worth doing, albeit a little time-consuming for me. Read about it in my post Student Communication using Blogs). I'm trying Twitter as an alternative this year, the idea being that students (or their parents) follow me for useful links (eg for exam revision), interesting maths, reminders (eg 'you have a test next week') and so on. I've already started tweeting links to homeworks so students can print a copy if they lose their sheet. I've also said that I will offer maths support through Twitter, so they can ask for help anytime they get stuck on a homework or when revising.

I'm not sure how successful this will be. Other schools are much more Twitter-friendly than mine. We don't have a school Twitter account to communicate with parents, and I think I'm the first teacher at my school to try to use Twitter for educational purposes. So I got nervous giggles from my classes when I told them about it. I doubt many of them have a Twitter account so it might not work, but we'll see. I'll report back on this in a few months!

What's Next?
Well it's only been a week so I've still got loads to try. I downloaded iDoceo but haven't had a chance to look at it yet. I'm also increasingly keen on setting up a visualiser (via my iPad), to show examples of student work on the IWB (amongst other things). Funnily enough one of the most useful things I've done this week is use my own website, resourceaholic.com, to find resources! My resource libraries have saved me a lot of time. I've already noticed gaps in them though - nothing on angles in triangles for example - so I'll work on boosting my libraries over the next few months.

That's it from me. I've found it quite therapeutic to reflect on my first week back at school and I hope there's been something helpful for you here too. There'll be no gems post this week because I've not had much time to get on Twitter, but I'll write one next week. Please don't forget to get a free ticket to La Salle's National Mathematics Teacher Conference which is on Pi Day in Birmingham (I'm delivering a session). I hope to see you there. Also, White Rose Math Hub's Celebration of Maths is definitely worth attending. I'm gutted I can't go (I can't afford the train fare to Leeds!) but it looks awesome.

Selfie with my girls on my last day of maternity leave

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