18 September 2019

Why Methods?

About 6 years I happened to stumble across a blog post about matrix multiplication. I was teaching FP1 at the time. I was surprised to discover a method I'd never seen before, and I showed my class the very next day. They liked it and asked why I hadn't shown them this in the first place. I admitted that I hadn't known about it.


I later showed this matrix method to my colleague Mariana. In that same conversation she showed me another method I hadn't seen before - the Factor Method for finding a Highest Common Factor and Lowest Common Multiple. It was a method that one of our students had introduced to us, and it turned out that some of my colleagues were already teaching it. I loved it.

I pondered these two methods - new discoveries for me - and wondered whether there was a book or website that had them all in one place. Where could I go to learn new methods? How could I find out what other teachers did? How could I share the two methods I'd just discovered with other teachers? It seemed unfair to keep them to myself when they'd surely be of interest to others.

I couldn't find anything about methods online, and this is what prompted me to start a blog. I thought that gathering together alternative methods in one place would help me remember what I'd found, and if anyone else happened to read it then it might help them too.

My first blog post - when I was just about to start maternity leave with my second baby in April 2014 - was about matrix multiplication. A couple of weeks later I wrote about Highest Common Factor. At that point a friend told me that people blogging about education should join Twitter, so I did. It was eye-opening. I immediately become immersed in the wonderful world of maths EduTwitter. There I found a community of teachers to discuss maths with. I learnt so much from them. It was a game-changer.

I didn't know enough interesting methods to only write about methods, so I started blogging about resources and pedagogy too. Resources began to take over because that was what people seemed interested in, but my curiosity about methods continued.

I went to my first maths conference in September 2014. I loved it. I noticed that the workshops were mainly about pedagogy rather than subject knowledge. So I decided that at the next conference I'd do my first ever conference presentation - I'd tell everyone my cool way to find a HCF and LCM, along with a few other methods that they might not have seen before.

At the next conference I was ridiculously nervous as I delivered my session but it was wonderful to hear a room full of teachers talking about methods. However at the end a man came up and told me that he'd already known all the methods I'd spoken about. This one little comment made me lose confidence in my idea to collect and share methods. I started to wonder if I was embarrassing myself by sharing stuff that was already widely known.

So I focused on resources for the next couple of years. I blogged about methods only occasionally, but I continued to think that subject knowledge development was the most important CPD maths teachers could do.

Back in December 2017 I was at an MA meeting in Leceister and picked up a few old textbooks from the archives. I was blown away by the quality of the questions in the exercises compared to many modern exercises. I immediately began to collect old textbooks, and quickly realised that they were full of fascinating methods and subject knowledge that had long been forgotten. This is what re-ignited my interest in methods. And this is what inspired me to bring all this fascinating stuff together in a book. I'd been saying for years that I'd never write a book. But I was overwhelmed by this big idea, and I couldn't stop myself from getting it all down on paper.

I started writing the book back in February 2019. It's not just about methods - it's a whole lot more. You'll have to wait and see what I mean when it comes out (I can't wait for you to see it!). I've never worked so hard on anything before. I worked on it every day of the summer holidays, and have been busy trying to get it finished off in the last couple of weeks, which has been really tough because I teach full-time and September is crazy busy. It was worth the effort though - I'm really excited about sharing it. I learnt so much writing this book, and now feel pretty confident that I know way more about mathematical methods than most people! My subject knowledge is miles ahead of where it was when I first qualified as a teacher.

I sent all 70,000 words of the book off to my publisher on Sunday. It might be out in December, but I'm not making any promises!

I've been on a five year journey from the day I first stumbled upon that matrix multiplication method. I've created something that didn't previously exist that I feel will be of great benefit to maths teachers. I really hope my readers like it. And if they don't, at least I will finally have what I wanted, for the benefit my own teaching - a plethora of awesome mathematical methods, all in one place.






17 comments:

  1. Wow. This is one book I will definitely buy a physical copy of, because I know it'll be a well thumbed through resource!

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  2. Really looking forward to this, Jo. It'll be on the Christmas list!

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  3. Congratulations on the book Jo! The maths Edutwitter and conference network is incredible. I was a lonely tutor for 10 years before I discovered and formed some tutor groups on Facebook. Through that I found your twitter handle and eventually turned up to #ChristMaths17 and #MathsConf10. It was quite a revelation and even if I felt as a fish out of water, being a career online tutor amongst school teachers, the shared passion of teaching maths keeps me coming to events and engaging in CPD. And now more tutors come to these too.

    I'd find giving a talk pretty difficult as I only ever work with students one on one and don't do public speaking. So I really respect anyone who gives CPD talks. It is a shame that a small minority don't share the enthusiasm a fellow teacher has when they discover a new teaching method. It is the antithesis of teaching. Some of the best teaching methods I learn are from my tutees in fact, either from tutees abroad or the method their teacher is using since each tutee goes to a different school. Even if the tutee only knows a half baked version of the method, I will encourage them to show me whatever they know so I can figure out the logic.

    As Mark McCourt says one never becomes fully expert, they just become more expert. There are always so many new ways to be learnt for teaching concepts, light to be shined on the same concept from a different perspective. I can't wait to read your new book.

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    1. Thanks Atul, what a lovely comment. You have many opportunity to learn from students all over the world - one day you must show me the methods they've taught you! Fascinating stuff.

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  4. Congratulations on finishing your book. I look forward to reading it when it comes out. I agree with Atul that it is a shame other teachers were less than supportive of your excitement over new methods. A lot of the joy I get in teaching is from seeing others experience something new, and sometimes I get to share in that too. I hope you keep finding enjoyment in new methods, even as you become more of an expert in this field.

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    1. Thanks very much! I have really enjoyed all the research I've done for the book. No doubt I will continue to discover new methods in future (and wish I'd put them in the book!). :)

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  5. Brilliant! I will look forward to this.
    p.s. Started teaching in 2013 (second career) but I have been thoroughly enjoying your blog and website over the last few years and learned so much. Really helpful!

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  6. Excellent Job, what an inspiring story. My only disappointment is that I need to wait until Christmas!!

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    1. Thank you! Fingers crossed it's out in December so it can make it onto Christmas lists!

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  7. Brilliant Jo cant wait to get my hands on it love your website for both resources and the odd method or two

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