I started my first algebra unit with Year 7 on Monday. It’s the essentials of algebraic manipulation: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing terms, including those with indices, as well as expanding and factorising single brackets, all pretty standard beginnings in algebra. In the past I think my first lesson on algebra would consist of a brief introduction then some simple collecting like terms. From what I’ve seen, that’s generally what comes up first in most schemes of work. This time, though, I’ve tried to be more deliberate and more pedantic over the details. Really, really pedantic, because it’s insecurity with the small details that causes *so many mistakes* for the rest of our students’ experience. I’m starting out by assuming they have done no algebra. Many of them have done a little but I’m not prepared to risk that all their different primary experiences were the same, or solid. (This is a not a criticism of primary teachers, more that I want to take sole responsibility for something so important). Continue reading “Algebra: you use the letter ‘x’ more than you ever have done in your whole life!”

I taught my year 7 class today and had the most wonderful time. I really love my year 7s, they’re so enthusiastic. So far this year we’ve done place value, rounding, four operations (with natural numbers and decimals), powers, roots and primes, negative numbers, order of operations, fractions (including four operations) and are early into our unit on percentages. Today it was common FDP conversions (quarters, eighths, fifths, thirds, ninths, etc).

We looked at 1/3 and 2/3, which led us to the fact that 0.999999….. = 3/3, which is, of course, 1. I love teaching this fact, I tell them I’m about to blow their minds, and when I show them the initial reaction is always something like, “but it *can’t* be 1, it’s less than 1″. Continue reading “Adventures in Mastery 5: Making Connections”

Glaring truism alert! Subject-specific vocabulary is extremely important. The right academic vocabulary turns a clumsy conversation into an elegant and precise one.

In mathematics we have the issue that certain words have a different meaning in common speech, take “roots” or “degree” for instance (degree has more than one meaning even in mathematics – the degree of a polynomial, degrees in a turn). We also have words that it is perfectly plausible to leave out of the curriculum, and that you will find many students never encounter (such as “commutative” or “subtrahend”). But how much better is it if teacher and student have a shared technical vocabulary, one which helps us to be mutually understood and to express ourselves unambiguously. Continue reading “The Importance of Vocabulary”

In my maths department we are starting on a journey of building a new curriculum based on the principles of mastery. To find out what mastery is, read Mark McCourt. Implementing something different comes with all sorts of challenges but, if it’s a good thing to do, it brings benefits too. One of the benefits I am finding this year is the liberation from the compulsion to produce a three- (or four- or five-) part lesson with objectives and mini-plenaries and some kind of forced activity to (falsely) demonstrate the “progress” my students have made over the course of an hour. By having a curriculum with clear aims and (hopefully) coherent thinking underpinning every aspect I feel more confident to teach the way I feel will be most effective rather than making my lessons a conflation of lots of “best practice” techniques in order to satisfy a checklist. Continue reading “Adventures in Mastery 4: Lesson Sequences”

When rewriting our scheme of work for years 7 to 11 I was conscious that there were some perennial problems I wanted to try and solve. One such problem was that of algebraic misconceptions that arise year-in, year-out. I decided that I would try to address these with what I can best describe as *prognostic practice, *which is practice that directly prepares the students for the algebraic work earlier on in the year. Here are some of the problems, and the associated practice we will do: Continue reading “Adventures in Mastery 3: Prognostic Practice”

This is post 2 in a series. In post 1 I discussed why we’re beginning a mastery scheme of work, some of my initial objections, and a brief description of “mastery” in its current incarnation.

In this post I will describe the process that produced my scheme of work, and share the working draft of the scheme itself. Continue reading “Adventures in Mastery 2: Writing a Scheme of Work”

When you’ve been in education a while you see plenty of fads come and go and you become carefully cynical about the latest big pronouncement or the new product that’s going to “transform” your practice. And so it was that I responded (in my mind) when everyone started to talk about mastery. Continue reading “Adventures in Mastery 1: Starting Our Journey”

When Tom Bennett announced researchED Maths and Science I was more than a little bit excited: a subject-specific conference informed by strong academic research? Yes please! The programme for the day was packed full of sessions I wanted to see, so selecting which ones was very difficult. Here’s what happened on my day, a mixture of what I heard with my own thoughts. Continue reading “researchED Maths and Science 2016”