24 October 2015

Some Things I've Tried

The last eight weeks have been the busiest I've ever experienced. There's been lots of factors at play to make this period particularly exhausting, both at school and at home - it doesn't help that my 17 month old daughter still doesn't sleep at night! A break is much needed. Half term also provides a good opportunity to reflect on some new things I've tried this term.
Source: The Guardian/ Ros Asquith
1. Famous Five
This is an idea from @mccreaemma which I featured in Gems 35. It works like this:
  1. Before each Year 10 lesson, I write the words 'Famous Five' on the board.
  2. As my students arrive I have a starter activity ready for them. 
  3. Under the title Famous Five, I write the names of the first five students to settle down and start working. They LOVE being on this list! It's getting harder to choose the Famous Five because they've all responded so well to this.
  4. At the end of the lesson I say, "If you're on today's Famous Five list you can leave now, the rest of you pack up and stand behind your chairs quietly". The Famous Five dash out of the room.
The funny thing is that some of these students have registration in the same room immediately after my lesson, so they have nowhere to rush off to! They just like the glory of being Famous Five. 

This has been a really successful initiative to minimise faff at the beginning of my lessons. Also, because it's a bit different to what they're used to, it has helped me build a good relationship with this class. Huge thanks to Emma Mccrea for sharing the idea - do read her original post to see how it works for her.

2. Assessment 
I've been doing fortnightly quizzes with my Year 10 class since the start of this term. These are open book tests covering the key skills learnt in the preceding fortnight. To make these quizzes I draw on a variety of sources and keep the format consistent - each quiz is 15 minutes long and consists of 12 multiple choice questions.

These quizzes have quickly become an established routine. Most students take full advantage of the 'open book' rule - during the test I see them looking back through their exercise books at notes and examples. This encourages good note taking during lessons.

I grade the quizzes A, B or Not Yet (inspired by this post from Sarah Hagan). If a student receives a 'Not Yet' then they haven't demonstrating sufficient understanding of the topic so they have to take another quiz after school the following week. Of course there has to be remedial action between receiving a 'Not Yet' and resitting the quiz - these students either see me for help after lessons, or I send them links to Corbett Maths or Hegarty Maths videos.

My first quiz resulted in 13 Not Yets and only 8 As. A worrying number of students couldn't multiply decimals so I taught the topic to the whole class again using a different approach. The results were much improved in the retake.

These quizzes only take about 30 minutes to mark - in those 30 minutes I gain a valuable insight into my students' understanding. I hope that these regular low stakes quizzes will encourage my students to remain focused, take good notes and seek support. Do read Kris Boulton's post 'How tests teach and motivate' which inspired me to start doing these quizzes. So far it's been a great success.

3. Modelling Good Work 
Every classroom in my department has a visualiser. Unfortunately none of them seem to work (probably due to recent software updates) so this foiled my plan to utilise visualisers this year to show examples of student work. Instead, I take photos of good work while I'm marking. There's no point in telling students that they should set their work out better without giving examples.

I've been trying this out with my Year 12 class. They're studying S1 and we've been working on summarising data (eg mean and standard deviation of continuous data). It's easy to make accuracy slips in these calculations and students who fail to show clear workings in exams could end up scoring no method marks.

The picture below is an example of a student's answer to a standard deviation question - I showed this photo to the class when I returned their most recent homework. Few students in this class had received full marks for this question.
It's not perfect, but this student has definitely got the right idea. He's drawn out the whole table clearly and written down the formula for standard deviation. He's shown intermediate steps and his workings are very easy to follow. If only all my students set their work out like this - the worst examples were those who tried to squeeze their workings into the margin of the question paper ('Fermat-style' workings). I hope that by showing good examples to the class, the quality of work will improve. I'll report back on this later in the year!

4. Communication
At my previous school the only direct communication I had with parents was on Parents Evening. I never called, emailed or met with parents. At my new school every teacher recognises the importance of engaging parents and this is done very effectively across the school. I decided to engage the parents of my Year 10 students by way of an introductory email at the start of term, followed by half-termly newsletters. Here's my first newsletter:

I've included an update on what we've been studying, praise for students who've done particularly well, information about membership of the Society of Young Mathematicians and more.

I'd been planning to do a newsletter like this for years so I'm glad I finally did it. I found this MathedUp post encouraging - it includes a lovely example of a newsletter produced by Mo Ladak which is worth a look.

As Jim Riley (@tutor2u) said when I shared my newsletter on Twitter, "Most parents might not care - but if just one or two do, it is all worthwhile".

So that's it - four ideas that seem to be working well. I'll blog again later this year to update you on whether these initiatives continue to be effective. Thanks for reading!


  1. Jo
    The image of the visualisers you have used look like Hue cameras. If your visualisers actually are HUE then I would suggest contacting them as I have always found the HUE team of people so reliable and helpful. Live sharing is so valuable in the classroom and I have successfully used the HUE cameras for quite a while.

    1. Hi. Yes, they're HUE. No problem with the product - I can probably get IT to fix it but they're very stretched at the moment (loads of IT changes this year). When things have calmed down I'll ask them to have a look. :)

  2. LOVE your Famous Five idea, tried it immediately after I'd read it. Without even knowing what the prize would be, my 10s were falling over themselves to get onto the list. A much quicker start to the lesson.

  3. Hi Jo, love love love the newsletter, as a new teacher I definitely want to try this with my year 10s too, would you by any chance have any other examples you could post of other newsletters you've made? Thanks in advance.

    1. No problem, here you go:


    2. Thank you, I shall be making my first newsletter for my year 10 and year 11 class in about 3 weeks from now. Your examples really helped, thank you!