19 April 2019


This week I spent four days at the ATM-MA Conference. It was great! I went to a wide variety of sessions and have come home with a lot to reflect on. In my current role (working mainly to improve Year 11 results) I feel like I've started to lose sight of what mathematics teaching is all about. Next year I'll be teaching only Year 7 and 8 and am looking forward to trying some new approaches. This conference presented the perfect opportunity to gather my thoughts.

A residential conference is a very different experience to the one day events I usually attend. There were numerous opportunities to do lots of maths and meet lots of new people. I enjoyed the social activities and I was impressed by the venue and the way the conference was organised by the ATM.

I'm a trustee of The Mathematical Association and very proud to represent them at events like this. The members of MA Council are lovely and I believe that the work they do is really important to our profession. Not only do they have an incredibly rich history going back to 1871, but they also have exciting times ahead with Ems Lord of Nrich as President and Hannah Fry as President Designate. If you want to join, secondary membership is only £5.20 a month. I'm already looking forward to the two night MA Conference in 2020 which I'm absolutely certain will be awesome. I hope that lots of my readers will join me there.

I've decided to use this blog post to share five ideas and resources I saw at #ATMMA19. Obviously I'm not sharing any of the big ideas and deep thinking in a short blog post - you have to actually go to these conferences for that sort of thing - but there might be a few helpful things here that people haven't seen before. I enjoyed literally every single session I attended at this conference and haven't talked about them all in this post, but do have a listen to me and Craig Barton chatting about the first two days of the conference on Craig's podcast:

Conference Takeaway - #ATMMA19 Day 1

Conference Takeaway - #ATMMA19 Day 2

1. Etudes
Colin Foster did an excellent opening plenary. Here I'm just sharing one activity we had a go at during his talk: 'Percentage Change'. Visit his website mathematicaletudes.com for lots more like this. You really have to have a go at these tasks to get how good they are. The idea is that students develop procedural fluency in rich problem solving contexts.
2. Nrich
Craig and I had a great time at the Nrich workshop run by Alison Kiddle and Charlie Gilderdale. We did three tasks which are all linked from the conference page on the Nrich website.
In Which is Bigger?  students can try out some numbers, do some algebra, draw some graphs... it can go in a number of directions. Consider how sketching the graphs might help you think about the final two pairs of expressions above. The task comes with some great extension activities which I really enjoyed completing.

Polygon rings was a highlight of the conference for me! I love a bit of angle geometry. I particularly liked how fun it was to put together our polygon rings using ATM Mats, knowing with absolute certainty that they would fit together perfectly because we'd worked out the angles.
Steve Lyon and Mike Anderson from STEM Centre ran a session in which we all got to have a go at some tasks from old SMILE resources and then talk about which tasks we enjoyed. There are c2000 SMILE resources which have been scanned in and uploaded to the STEM Centre website. It's an overwhelming number of resources so a good place to start is with the SMILE cards here which are organised by topic. 

There were a number of delegates in this session who had never heard of SMILE. I use SMILE resources occasionally but I know there are hundreds I've never seen. The resources that Steve and Mike had chosen for this session are in booklets here. I didn't try all of them but particularly enjoyed 'Multiplication Review' (SMILE Card 2386) where students are asked to look at five different multiplication methods and try to understand what's going on. Although I'd looked at 'Russian Peasant Multiplication' before I'd never actually taken the time to think about why it works. It was a nice thing to work out.
If you like this then also check out this brilliant pack of SMILE activities 'Multiplication Makes Sense'.

I think that working on a set of SMILE resources like we did in this workshop would make a really good maths department meeting.

4. Standards Unit
Heather Davis led a workshop on 'Reasoning with geometry and fractions in KS3' where we discussed some tasks that I'd not used before. I use the Standards Unit a fair bit but had not seen the 'Dissecting a Square' task.
Students are asked to work out what fraction and percentage of the square each section is. When looking at this task we had some interesting discussions about what prior knowledge is required, what reasoning is involved, and what assumptions must be made to complete it. Following this task students are asked to make up their own dissection on a grid with 100 squares - this becomes a really interesting task for understanding percentages. Some great examples are also provided for class discussion.
Although I was introduced to the Standards Unit on my PGCE it took me a quite a few years to realise that instead of just using the tasks, I should actually read the suggested approaches and discussion prompts that go with each task. The resources and their accompanying notes are absolutely brilliant.

We did a lot more in Heather's session that really got me thinking, but I will just mention one more thing here: Heather gave us a 'what's the same, what's different?' picture to ponder:
I noticed that both shapes had one pair of parallel sides. Heather started the discussion by asking who had spotted the most boring thing that these shapes had in common. I was about to offer my suggestion because I thought it was going to be a pretty common answer, but then others offered answers like 'they're both shapes' and 'they're the same colour'. Then it got a bit competitive, with people trying to come up with something even more boring. And as a result I started noticing more and more things about these shapes. The great thing about this start to a discussion is that it gets even the most reluctant or least confident students contributing, noticing things, and smiling. What a lovely idea.

5. Don Steward
It was wonderful to see Don Steward again. I first met him when he presented at my school back in March 2016. His workshop was on probability - he spoke about its place in the curriculum, showed us some wonderful tasks for teaching it, and shared some fascinating historical context.  He has shared his presentation in three blog posts:

Obviously there's loads of great stuff here so you should download the presentations. In this post I'm just sharing a few extracts.

This question is lovely: 
Students can of course try some numbers, though I expect that most teachers would go straight for algebra.

Don's set of 'probability and words' tasks are great fun. I have used these before. 
Don's ideas on teaching systematic listing are fantastic. For example, here is one way of thinking about the ordering of A, B and C.
A nice idea when teaching students systematic listing is to present them with lists with bits missing:
And check out how beautifully animated this is:
There is so much more to talk about from this presentation but I can't share the whole lot here! So do check out all of Don's slides on his blog.

My Presentations
I presented twice on Wednesday. First I did a five minute slot during David Acheson's talk 'Proof by Chocolate etc'. I spoke about amusing contexts from old maths textbooks. Later I did my own 1.5 hour presentation on the evolution of vocabulary in maths teaching. I might present some of that at La Salle's next conference in Sheffield so I'm not sharing the slides on here. If you were at the presentation feel free to email me for a copy.

I take every opportunity to present at conferences for two reasons - first because I'm always so excited to share all the fascinating stuff I've found, and second because I think it's really important that both women and classroom teachers put themselves forward to speak at education events. We can't complain about being underrepresented if we don't volunteer to speak. At this conference, where anyone was welcome to submit a workshop proposal, I worked out that about 43% of the speakers were female. That's not bad, but given that our profession is dominated by women, we could do better. I really really encourage all teachers, particularly females, to consider submitting a presentation for next year's conferences when the time comes. If you have a particular area of expertise, or do something interesting in your classroom, or if you've done some research, or you want to share some great tasks and activities, then please do get involved.

Finally, listeners of the podcast will know that Craig and I were rather hopeful that we might win the quiz again after last year's surprise victory. We pulled together a great team (me, Craig, Andrew Taylor, David McEwan and David Bedford), and here we are all looking rather optimistic at the start of the night:
We definitely chose the wrong round to play our joker, but we still ended up coming third which made me very happy because we won Easter eggs! Well done to the teams that came first and second (including our quiz nemesis, the lovely Alison Kiddle) - very well played.

I also want to say thank you to Jen Shackley, Andy Sharpe, Ben Sparks and David Bedford for keeping me company at and after the slightly bonkers (but delightful) open mic event on the last night of the conference. What fabulous people.

See you all again next time!

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