27 September 2015


Yesterday La Salle Education held their fifth National Maths Teacher Conference. I didn't attend the first one (I was very new to Twitter at the time) but I've attended the last four conferences and have really enjoyed them all. I love learning more about maths teaching - I always go back to school feeling inspired and full of fresh ideas.

This time the conference was held at Ponds Forge in Sheffield. The venue was a bit rough around the edges and it was a shame that there was no technical support available for presenters, but Sheffield is always a pleasure to visit. I travelled up after school on Friday, spending my long train journey marking terrible S1 homeworks (note to self: teach standard deviation again!). At Doncaster I bumped into another Jo (the lovely @JoLocke1) - it was nice to have a companion for the rest of the journey. Following a brief stop at the hotel we went to the pre-conference drinks at All Bar One. It was really nice to relax and talk to people with mutual interests - I enjoyed chatting about maths teaching with tweeps including (pictured below) @suzekward, @Ms_Kmp, @MoreThanMaths and @MsSteel_Maths.
In the morning I walked over to the conference with Jo Gledhill (the fellow Lead Practitioner I'd met on my way to Sheffield), Charmayne Bailey (also a Lead Practitioner, just back from Shanghai) and Mo Ladak (AST and author of the brilliant website MathedUp!). What fantastic people - I couldn't have asked for better company. On arrival I spotted not-so-grumpy Ed Southall (of solvemymaths.com - creator of the Maths Mr Men) - he kindly bought me a bacon sandwich and told me about the book he's writing, which is going to be absolutely essential reading for maths teachers.

I'm now going to share my thoughts on the three workshops I attended - I'm not a great note taker so these are not detailed accounts, just a few highlights.

New GCSE - Andrew Taylor and Craig Barton
This workshop left me slightly terrified about the new GCSE! I love Craig's work but I've never seen him present before. He is a highly entertaining and engaging presenter and I very much enjoyed listening to his thoughts and insights. I'm quite familiar with the new GCSE content - I've complied a whole page full of resources for the new topics - but taking another look at sample exam questions, with Craig's commentary, was incredibly helpful. My immediate thoughts were:
  • The new content on Foundation - for example trigonometry and quadratics - is simply not suitable for this tier. The inclusion of these new topics seems to totally negate the point of a two-tier GCSE. This kind of nonsense makes me cross. 
  • In my opinion our maths curriculum is far too broad at Key Stage 4 (for both tiers) - instead of including new topics, topics should have been removed so we can cover the important stuff in more depth. The government is desperate to improve our international maths rankings, but I believe that what we teach is a bigger problem than how we teach - and in my opinion the new GCSE has gone in the wrong direction.
  • The new GCSE will include familiar topics in non-routine questions. I like the style of the new GCSE questions very much but they will certainly present a big challenge for most students. The examples Craig showed clearly demonstrated this. We have our work cut out! 
Craig announced a new resource from AQA and diagnosticquestions.com which I'm sure will prove very helpful.  Here you will find a collection of multiple choice quizzes in the style of new GCSE questions (more coming soon). As there's a Foundation and Higher version for each topic, Craig suggested using the Foundation tests as a baseline, then teaching the content, then using the Higher tests to assess progress. An example question is shown below.

As I've said, I don't make great notes at conferences - but I was sitting next to Ed during this session and, as you can see, his notes are crystal clear... Yes, that's a sheep.

Paper Maths - Jenny Steel
Pink-haired Jenny is fabulous, and I knew exactly what to expect from her workshop - lots of time to play with paper, interspersed with teaching ideas. It was really fun and there was a lovely atmosphere in the room. I'm not great with this kind of thing (I've never had any success whatsoever with origami) but foldables (which are big in America) are definitely something I can manage.
Check out Jenny's blog for lots more about this. She's planning to set up a website for sharing foldables too.

During this workshop I was very lucky to sit next to Kim (@Ms_Kmp) who writes the wonderful website mathssandpit.co.uk - she's very creative and was showing me all sorts of fantastic paper maths. Here's my table enjoying themselves:
Thanks to Suzanne Gardner for showing me a clever trick for making a quick revision booklet. And Ed (@solvemymaths) told us how to revitalise glue sticks - put a drop of water in the lid, put the lid on and leave it upside down overnight. 

Overall this was a great workshop - thanks very much to Jenny for organising it.

Shanghai - Bruno Reddy, Craig Jeavons, Matt Fox
With three presenters just back from Shanghai, I knew there'd be a lot to learn here. I enjoyed this session very much. As well as all the myth busting (most strikingly, the child sleeping at the back of a classroom), plenty of transferable teaching ideas were shared in this session. Craig has blogged about it here - slides and notes will be available soon so these ideas can be shared more widely. 

We looked at how indices are taught, including the progression of questions which was fascinating. We also looked at translation (that's slide/glide to my non-UK readers) - I love the way the topic is introduced using videos and pictures, followed by very clear, well structured explanations.

Narrative plays a big part in maths lessons in Shanghai - I wrote about the benefits of teaching through storytelling in my post about High Expectations.
Picture by @DrBennison
Overall this was an excellent session - I liked hearing about maths teaching in Shanghai from three different perspectives and the content gave me a lot to think about.

I was pleased with all my workshop choices. I'm getting better at picking the right sessions - those that contain original ideas or helpful insights and are directly relevant to my role or cover an area of interest to me. I was very sad to miss Kris Bolton's workshop on the Stories of Maths, but Tom Bennison came to the rescue and filmed the whole talk (video here) - hurrah!

I hope that people who attended my workshop on A level resources found it to be content-rich and well structured - any feedback is welcome. I wish I'd had more time so that delegates could have a go at more of the activities I shared. But I did my best to cover as much as I could in 50 minutes and I hope people found it helpful. I've written all about my workshop here for those who didn't attend.
A Susan Wall activity from my workshop
Julia Smith (@tessmaths) did a brilliant job of organising the TweetUp at lunchtime. I was in charge of the photobooth - thank you to all who posed for a photo.

Cakes and Gifts 
Huge thanks to Andrew Paget, Julia Smith and Rob Smith for the gifts - such generous people. Thanks also to Luke Graham for inviting me to get involved in his GCSE collaboration session which I'm sure he'll blog about soon. 

Apologies for not mentioning everyone who I spoke to - it really was lovely to meet new people, and to see people again who I've met at previous conferences.

I always love the cake competition - the inside of the Rubik's Cube cake was particularly impressive! All the cakes were awesome, but I was pleased to see the circle theorem cakes win the prize - check out the tiny tangents.

Overall it was a great day - I met many many lovely people, talked a lot about maths teaching, felt inspired, and survived my workshop in one piece (phew!). Thanks to La Salle for another brilliant conference. See you all at the next one.

#mathsconf5 in action - picture by @dmg_13

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