Favourite blogs for A pilgrim in an unholy land

My favourites » Elizabeth's PGCE blog

May 25, 2011

I GOT THE JOB!!!!!!!

Happy, very happy. 


March 19, 2011

How do I join the PGCE dropbox thing?

It's been on my to-do list for ages and now I forgot how to do it :(. Please help!


March 07, 2011

Reflections on Week 22

So it's not been a bad week. Relationship with Year 8 group has been my main focus and I think that's been vastly improved. Very fond of them already. They're starting a lot of low level behaviour which I'm going to have to start giving consequences for. My shared Year 9's have been given a 5 min breaktime detention for Monday which I'll do with the other trainee. I've done the admin side of this during the lesson while she is busy teaching so that we have an exact list of who needs to turn up and when, etc. Don't want anyone slipping through the net or being accused of not turning up when they weren't in the lesson, need to know who actually turns up and so on.... there is a lot of hassle to giving detentions and I haven't even mentioned having to give up break to do it in! I'm really pleased with the way we are working together now, it feels like I have a more purposeful role in the room and we're getting much better at the dynamic.

I'm getting more used to advance planning and quite like it. I still think my lessons are pitched a little on the low side, for most pupils. It's hard because one girl in my Year 8 class is getting lost but basically everyone could be pushed onwards. They have very short attention spans so work best in 3 min bursts, which rules out them getting on with tasks at their own pace.

And good news! I'm staying in Warwick for the next 3.5 years so can start looking for teaching jobs in this area now. I've been on the TES but the current selection isn't for me, loads miles away and a couple of private schools. Keep looking! I'll start writing some personal statement-ish paragraphs soon.


February 23, 2011

Reflections on Week 20

Transfer week! Which meant I was taking over some but not all of my classes.

Year 8 aren't too bad, I've quite content infront of them and we did some good stuff together. The first lesson plan had way too much (as I wanted, better too much than too little) but to a greater extent that I expected. This was partially due to my late arrival (no choice; tutor group across the grounds), their teacher wanting a word with the class about something or other and the register taking forever because the class is large, I'm learning names, and some people aren't on it so have to be added each time. Second lesson had too little because I wanted to finish area of a triangle without starting the next bit. A little bit of something then a week off before seeing it again isn't good.

I find the room quite hard to adapt to, my old classrooms were long and thin (ie board at the shorter side of the rectangle) whereas these are the other way around. The seating plan makes my eyes spin because it's 3 or 4 rows deep and 6 or 7 wide! I struggle with spacial awareness at the best of times (eg working out which knob works a particular ring on the hob) so I can't use this one quickly at all, I can only give myself co-ordinates from my desk then count them out in front of me. Not ideal!

I also have a projector and whiteboard which are next to each other so I can't scrawl over my projected diagrams. Horrible! It's so hard to work without that, I never realised what a useful tool it was. It's really useful for presenting the basics and making the pupils fill in the rest, or an exam style question and how should we annotate it? Asking that then clicking the next bit of info up when they say one I've done already feels false. Loses the spontenaity and makes answers which I didn't prepare for look 'wrong'.

Year 9 are tough. Team teaching is new to me and it's the combination of my toughest class yet and the way there is an extra person to factor in (from both our perspectives) that make it hard. We're still getting used to each other and each other's expectations. I've been worried about us treading on each other's toes and I've been afraid of accidentally making one/both of us look like an idiot by doing something eg telling a kid not to do something when he was specifically given permission by the teacher, which could easily happen with my attention elsewhere. I've possibly gone to the other extreme so there is stuff left with neither of us covering it in an effort to be too nice. I've been trying hard not to undermine her's authority especially at the start when it's important she can establish it. I've never team taught before and she has team taught where they both stand at the front and do the teacher role at the same time so this set up is a new experience for both of us. After the first lesson our mentor said I need to have a more specific role so the teacher asked me to work with two specific boys who were sat one behind the other. I was to avoid hovering over their shoulder all lesson (I approved of this, nothing more offputting or obvious) but would stick in that general corner of the room. Unfortuantly one of the boys had crutches and so was sat across the room - which we both didn't realise would happen. I instead moved between the two, looking at the pupils around them instead, which turned out to be an unpopular move with the mentor. It's difficult I think because the job description of TA is different to teacher, it's not my place to do a general overview of the class which is what I slotted into. So the things I will do differently:

*Bfl for pupils talking when the teacher is talking.

*confront pupils who get out of their seat.

*Focus on the pupils that my support has been planned for and don't spend time I should be helping them, getting other pupils on task.

*A difficult one is that I explained a big concept to another girl who passed it on the 5 around her - again, not where my provision was planned! As time goes by we'll know the pupils better and be able to judge beforehand if I should facilitate this - perhaps we could anticipate this girl or others being in that situation and therefore plan for me to facilitate it. We did both like how this happened though, peer teaching is good and wouldn't have been able to take place if I hadn't helped the first girl.

*Don't wander around the room - again too general when I should be specifically targetting.

*An interesting one is the advice not to stop talking when the teacher is addressing the class. I have done from advice I picked up from readings or sessions: a TA should not carry on when the teacher has asked everyone to stop as it shows the rules don't apply to everyone. I like it as it shows where everyone's focus should be, any kids who I was taking to needs to pay attention to her anyway, and it gets ambigious if my talking requires an answer as then there are pupil voices during the "silence" too. But it does mean I stop the targetting help I was providing and the pupil looses out on the personalised learning opportunity. Mentor suggests I carry on then if pupils start talking the teacher can ask "who's voices should I be able to hear?" and they can say "yours and Miss Knapp's". Given that he does this with his classes, they should be trained to know how to answer and it would go smoothly.

Lots to think about! I'm starting to think team teaching is harder than solo teacher because of the extra coordinating that needs to take place, especially during the lesson as events unfold. I can see that when the partnership has developed more then we will be more effective together than alone. I am lucky to have someone similar to me to team teach with - it's something I requested before placements were decided as I thought it would be a useful experience.

These lessons have been a challenge, as planned for us! My mentor put in two lesson before half term as he warned us the first lessons would be a shock and it would be useful to have the break to prepare ourselves for it. It certainly worked!

Master's is going terribly. Despite expectations of a light teaching load until Master's is over, I've spent all my spare time planning for lessons, having it fine tuned by my mentor and replanned again. So Master's is making me panic.


February 21, 2011

An interesting maths question

You have 2 supposedly unbreakable light bulbs and a 100-floor building. Using fewest possible drops, determine how much of an impact this type of light bulb can withstand. (i.e. it can withstand a drop from 17th floor, but breaks from the 18th).

From http://maxnoy.com/interviews.html(and no, I will never be going to a Programming interview, it was just random interneting). 



February 08, 2011

Reflections on PP1

This has taken a long time to write. I've changed so much that it's been hard to articulate my thoughts.

Firstly, it was a wonderful experience. I got to teach! I found that actual teaching is much to my taste and I loved having a class for lesson after lesson and getting to have responsibility for all the extras that go alongside it. There was something wonderful about my girls trusting me, my Year 7's especially came to me with anything and everything. I took on the somewhat heavy role of listener for one girl who had a dying relative that she struggled to cope with. I'm lucky to have had some training in listening so I could keep boundaries in place and not say anything incriminating. All I needed to do was listen attentively and recall details the next time she was upset.

I changed quite a lot as a person too, or rather, parts of my personality which don't usually get to come out finally had the opportunity to. I'm far more patient that I expected - I'm getting better at not expecting perfection off everyone! I especially have endless patience with the pupils as they're all so young (even the 6th formers), even when they deliberately do things I don't like - kids make mistakes, push boundaries and generally do unexpected things. Not stuff to get fussed about. I'm also very forgiving, for reasons along the same lines. Also, by necessity before I'd learnt names and faces. A random pupil would do something unimpressive and I'd be lucky to remember the class let along the pupil!

One very unexpected thing about the placement was that I got sick of planning. I love to plan things in general and spent ages lovingly honing my plans during the initial stint at university. After having my mind overflowing with good ideas fresh from uni, it was a shock to run out of inspiration after a couple of weeks and have to create increasingly elaborate resources to make up for my uninspired ideas. I soon ran out of sources, I went on places like NRich all the time but soon found that I'd read everything suitable for that topic and still had several lessons of it left to teach! I found that good lesson plans really did determine behaviour management: my darling Year 7's were capable of tantrums through work that was hard and too boring to get stuck in to, my challenging Year 10's fell into a focused silence during a spot-on starter.

Target: Use interesting activities in all lessons.

Action: Speak to mentor for general themes and ideas, read Micromath and other journals for inspiration.

Another contrary-to-my-personality development was last minute work. I knew it would be inevitable in teaching, stuff appears throughout the day which needs acting on immediately. I didn't realise how much I would get into leaving stuff as late as possible and going with the flow. It turned out to be the most effective thing to do, as the best plans were those that took everything into account and so leaving it until the previous lesson had taken place meant I knew their starting point the next lesson. I knew what I wanted to cover in the sequence of lessons, it was just knowing exactly where to begin, what points needed to be brought up in a different way, and which way in to a concept would be best. Equally in the lesson, I tended to react to real time information as and when it arrived and diverge from the plan. It did make for a lot of late night working, especially Thursday evening when I collected in Year 7 books that day to be returned the following morning and had to do the plan that evening too, for a lesson without photocopying since there was no time to get it done. I also spent ages making resources, and choosing my own questions to be exactly tailored to their needs. I think this needs to be changed lots.

Target: Improve efficiency of planning.

Action: Reduce time spent making resources, especially lots of time on one short activity. Reduce photocopying. Allow planning in advance by choosing recourses that can be used even if they plan changes drastically. Find good sources of resources (struggle so far to trawl through the bad resources to find something ok).

I want to get pupils to be reflective learners. What are my strengths/weaknesses in this topic? What makes this question harder/easier compared to this similar one? What are the easy mistakes and pitfalls? My PP2 mentor is really into this sort of thing which is excellent for making my lesson more like it. I struggled to do it at all on PP1 as my classes were shocking bad at thinking about things like that. I describe it as "surface thinking/learning", the part of my brain that I use when I'm doing menial tasks. Proper learning takes place through "deep thinking". It's taxing but satisfying, like a good workout session. Continuing the exercise analogy, it's similarly hard to get started, a bit painful and you don't always get instant benefits. You'll wear out if you try to do it all day, but hey, interval training is good. My classes were so unused to deep thinking that I sometimes wondered if they'd ever accessed their brain like that at all and didn't quite know how to get them into it. When I asked my Year 7's to write a 'hard' question, they were invariably a copy of one of my questions but with bigger numbers. Because bigger numbers are universally harder. Yeah.

I think frequent self assessment would be a good idea. I started the placement thinking of it as an activity in it's own right and therefore to be used in every other lesson at best. Nearer the end, I started thinking of it as an ongoing activity, something to be done at the start of a lesson, near the end (or at suitable end-of-a-section points) and at the end of the lesson.

I wanted to try it out over a topic, starting with a self assessment A4 page to inform planning of the first lesson. Trouble with that is that I have to decide all the objectives right at the start and my girls have a tendency to panic when faced with questions they can't do, even if told they aren't expected to be able to do them all! Would be nice to do the same list (traffic lighted) at the start and end to demonstrate progress, and they'd soon get used to the 2-3 weekly cycle of events. I should get more into sharing objectives each lesson (I'm forced to do must/should/could on PP2 so I'll need to work with how to make this effective anyway) as then they can rate themselves against the objectives.

Target: Improve self assessment and reflective thinking in pupils.

Action: A4 start/end of topic sheets. Traffic light/smiley face against learning objectives and by written activities in book. Comments next to questions "I understand how to....", "silly mistakes to avoid here are..."," this question is easier/harder than that one because.....".

I discovered lots about my teaching style. After spending the summer worrying, and therefore reading about, using my voice and behaviour management, I was pleasantly surprised with how it went. After starting pretty nervous, but discovering that the first 5mins of the first lesson went exactly to plan took away those nerves. As I found all lessons started fine, I got less and less nervous as time went by, ending not being at all nervous with my tutor group, Year 7, 11 or 12 classes. It was only Year 10, and only for the first few minutes. It turns out my non-nervous teacher persona is very calm. This came as quite a surprise to me and I'm sure will surprise the people I know who know me (somewhat caricaturely) as a highly strung, tense person. I was well aware I wasn't going to be the energetic type, bouncing around the room. I was afraid I'd be the quiet, overlookable non-authority so I'm very glad that's not the case and that I actually have a positive presence in the room.

I'm very glad I did the Student Associate Scheme a few years ago as it meant I made all the rookie mistakes back then: nervous stance, shaking pleading voice, wanting to be liked. I went straight in from the start with how I wanted to act and be perceived and this made it much easier later on when I no longer needed to fake it. I decided what I would do was walk in greeting the class, put down my stuff and set up my laptop with the projector, then say simply and loudly "I need silence now please", followed by a rather tough "Year X, I asked for silence!...thank you". This was very effective in all my classes, although I found later talking to be difficult. I didn't know the pupils names for a few weeks, even then I was unsure of my Year 10 class because many of them had unfamiliar names but very similar faces! I found knowing names to be the key to behaviour management so not knowing (or not being confident enough to just say it when the situation is getting a bit sticky) their names hindered me.

I also need to decide my behaviour consequences ahead of time. Praise comes quite easily and I had little trouble praising my girls as and when they deserved/needed it. My behaviour management 'ladder' was quite poor, it consisted of me getting more and more stern but ultimately didn't lead anywhere. No names on the board, no sending outside, no detentions (except for staying behind after the lesson for not doing homework). I'll really need to get this sorted, especially for PP2 when I'll be team teaching as we'll need to be consistent with each other.

Target: Improve behaviour management.

Action: Decide on personal behaviour management 'ladder' for each class before take over classes; re-read the wonderful books from the summer to get positive behaviour management ideas. Make learning names a priority. Discuss behaviour management of shared group with Emily to ensure consistence.

One thing which came as little surprise was that I had problems with my voice. Not, as I actually expected, that my voice would sound pathetic, but that I got an awful sore throat in no time at all, and a hacking cough that lasted forever. Talking at any volume hurt, projecting my voice was not fun at all. It didn't get better until the holidays and I'd spend a solid 2 weeks barely talking. I had similar problems with my health, I was so ill and run down in that horrible way that doesn't get better until you can actually rest for days upon days (again, the holidays!). I got sick a lot, especially in the mornings, which I think was due to lack of sleep. I really struggle with sleep deprivation, avoiding it in favour of long nights of sleep during what should have been wild student days. 8-10 hours is standard for me, I got less than 6 night after night during PP1 and woke up feeling dreadful thanks to it.

Target: Stay healthy.

Action: Use full range of cold preventing products - hand sanitising foam, cold preventing nasal spray. Sleep and rest where possible. Have thermos cup of herbal tea (the sealable lid makes it health and safety friendly, I hope) to sip from before and after lesson. Use a range of voice-saving behaviour management alternatives like tapping on tables with a board pen or clicking fingers at pupils who are talking. Could try the hand up for silence, much as I hate it.


Reflections on Week 15

Well, that was awesome. I worked a mere 26 hours last week and this week is looking much the same which is a wonderful decrease on PP1's 50-60+. I'm trying very hard to do less work, I have a habit of filling my time with work of some sort because it feel like there should be something to do. I take great delight in honing something to perfection, which takes hours for little additional benefit. As in a task could take 30mins to do to a (pretending grades apply to stuff like lesson planning, resource making and prereading ) C grade, 1 hour to a A and 2 hours to do to a A*. I can't help but spend the 2 hours on it, I'm trying now to forget about the A* and make good judgements as to whether a task needs to be done to a A or a C. I'm trying to convince myself that working like this doesn't limit the standard I'll reach at the end. It's more likely to mean the standard of my teaching increases through PP2 as there will actually be time for sleeping and I'll be refreshed enough to teach properly.

I'm enjoying working with my (new) group. I've taken on a "if someone else can do it to 70% of the standard I can, let them", rather than fighting to get everything with my name on it to the standard I want. I'm way more relaxed and laid back as a result, which I think my group prefer! We're working pretty well together although there is a quieter few I'm going to be focusing on while we're still in uni, I like to hear what everyone says and it's really nice when we can all talk freely. If you have to fight to get a word in edgeways then you're lucky to speak for yourself let alone bring in others. So I'm glad that's improving. Our work output is way better as a result.


Reflections on Week 14

It's good to be back at uni! While the hours are in fact very short compared to school days, it does still feel like a lot of work. I had the holidays off as much as possible, I was at least kind to myself in terms of sleep and workload. So it was a bit of a shock to the system having to get up early and to have deadlines looming. I notice there is a lot of directed time written in to the timetable over the coming weeks which I'm immensely grateful for... what with my student loan being messed up and having routine things like doctors appointments to make, it's highly useful to have some flexible time during the day.

The university sessions have been really useful at focussing me on what I'm doing. The problem I found in school was that I got unsure of what would be "good" teaching for a particular situation and I'd get a variety of advice from different teachers and sources. It was only stuff I was very sure about that survived the placement, like comment only marking, the rest went astray a little as the difference between good teaching and easy teaching got blurred. My standards had slipped by the end and while I was aware of what had happened I couldn't say exactly how and what to do about it. Coming back at uni has helped me figure that out.

It's great to see everyone again; there has been far less comparisons of placements than I expected! This is really great in many ways. I'd still like to get an idea of what other trainees teaching looks like, being on my own has meant I only have proper teacher's practice to compare mine to. Obviously it's wildly different, I have far more paperwork and formal structuring going on, but also in terms of what actually happens  in planning and assessment. I was told at the start of the placement that because they are proper teachers with many classes, they will be grabbing sheets out the filing cabinet at last minute, in no way is that ok for me to do. Agreed but it meant getting ideas of how to plan in a non-time-consuming way was a bit thin. I compared myself to the output of the teachers and expected the same things of myself which I know is unrealistic but I had nothing else to compare to. I think having another trainee in my department for PP2 will be helpful on that front. But I'll need to be careful not to assume that what they're doing is what I should aim for, obviously they're learning just like me!

The Master's essay is going ok but slowly. Which is a shame as it's due very very soon! I have an idea of the quality I want to write to, actually writing to that standard is proving harder. The inevitable consequence is that I'll have to drop it a little so I can actually write it but I'm reluctant to actually start that process.


January 12, 2011

SCT 4

Writing about web page /cbates/entry/sct4_wall_display/

Writing about an entry you don't have permission to view

This should link to a photo of Group 5's display. 


SCT 3

Here is my maths trail around Coventry Transport Museum. It is aimed at GCSE pupils. 

The trail and risk assessment are in one file, which should be available here: 

download here


Thanks to Warwick Blogs setting a very small file limit which this was the first to make it go over, I've had to find another way of getting stuff on here. 




December 27, 2010

Spiral or Circular Curriculum?

During my INSET day at my PP1 school we watched a video presented by Dylan Wiliams who asked if schooling was spiral or circular. Are pupils presented with the same material each year, with more and more of them understanding a little bit more than last time, or does it spiral: the same theme but at a higher level? One teacher in the audience was horrified by the idea that teachers could end up circling.

I've just seen it again, in some reading for my current essay: "In each successive year of schooling, we go over the same material, with slightly more students picking it up each time - not so much a spiral curriculum as a circular one for many learners". This totally sums up what I've been struggling to describe for myself. During the observations at my PP1 and SAS school, I couldn't help but be amazed that a year 7 and year 11 lesson on fractions could contain basically the same material at basically the same level. In fact, a higher year 7 set would in all likelihood, progress further during that lesson that a lower set Year 11 and so next lesson with be ahead. There seem to be two problems - higher sets progress faster, or at least cover material faster, that lower sets. A couple of years in that system and you'll have an enormous range in what the pupils have been exposed to, let alone learn. But there should still be progress, in this system, lots for the top people and little for the bottom. But next year when the top lot jump forward several steps, the bottom ones should move at least a little. Instead they do the same stuff. Maybe with more skill, more confidence? Are we playing catch-up? Pupils need a little longer but we need to move on now, don't worry, you'll meet this again next year. Then next year, thanks to the lack of concrete learning and a year of confidence dampening, it takes almost as long to redo it leaving no time for new material. 

I've also found there is an assumption that a top set will know stuff it was taught in the previous years. Equally: with a bottom set you'd best start from scratch. I'm not sure how fair that is. Certainly during my SAS placement I irritated top and bottom level pupils alike by not obeying this. I patronised a Year 11 class with a "Who can remember SOHCAHTOA?" when everyone was way ahead having correctly identified which one we needed and applying it. I also panicked a Year 8 class with assumptions of some basic thing or other. I wonder if it's a confidence thing. My darling Year 7 lower-half-of-the-year-but-mixed-ability class were quite confident and optimistic. They loved easy repetitive activities involving simple sums but also didn't hold back telling me something was too easy! They still shied away from though provoking activities in favour of yet more sums but with harder numbers, but that's a separate issue. My Year 10 class were the opposite end of the spectrum. They coped nicely with some more thoughtful starters I did with they which mainly relied on basic number skills. I chose these because of their severe lack of confidence with maths of substance. I was warned that, especially for homework, I had to set them very simple activities which they would be successful at. Their lack of confidence, not ability, dictated the slow pace and low level of our lessons. 


December 08, 2010

"To Mrs Knap

It's been quite a nice week so far. In at attempt to get well again, I'm doing a miniumum of work and getting lots of sleep. So I did almost nothing all weekend, which was great. Monday and Tuesday after school I went to bed, got up a couple of hours later to eat and did the bare miniumum of an hour or so's work for the next day. Then a nice early night at 10 or 11 pm. I feel more well already, although still aching with a cold, and my teaching has improved as a consequence.

I had a lovely lesson with Year 7 on Monday, we started with a mental arithmetic test which I thought would be a nightmare - I had to time exactly 5, 10 or 15 seconds between questions and they weren't allowed to call out or ask for help when they didn't unnderstand. That's something they struggle with! But they were fantastic and after we finished they sat silently waiting. I basked in the moment by collecting in the sheets myself then asking them to move back to their seats. More silence once they were back in their usual seat. I want to start every lesson with a mental test now! The rest of the lesson went really well, objectives met, pupils happy and confident, and a great atmosphere throughout.

I got my first Christmas card from a pupil, to "Mrs Knap". Married and misspelt! Adorable. It was from a very sweet girl in my tutor group and maths class. She might not be so sweet as she seems though, she knew a bit of a swear word that she accidentally said in front of me! Her endless "oh miss, I'm so sorry, I meant to say...., I really didn't mean to, I'm really sorry" and obvious embarrassment was punishment enough so I just very seriously asked her never to say that again in front of a teacher and she equally seriously promised not to. Ah bless little year 7's. So sweet.

I did the money project today with our Year 10 class. They had to deal with various bills and demands from their "children". Do they buy their daughter a new backpack? Do they let their 18 year old son get a credit card? It was wonderful how their decisions later impacted on them "weeks" later - eg if they let their son have the credit card, then he racked up a £325 bill that he can't pay so you have to. Much complaints at that! They wanted to change their mind - nope, you can't time travel in real life! Another "husband and wife" found their balance was in the negative numbers - "can we just write zero because we can't go below zero?". Nope! No bank manager will do that for you! It was a satisfying painful process for them having to take money out of their savings to cover it. A lot of them did some excellent maths without thinking about it. From another class, one couple decided they were going on holiday to Florida while their 3 kids were being sent to Cornwall - so they worked out 2/5 and 3/5 of the costs and calculated accordingly. Impressive for a low Year 10 class! I was impressed not only with the dedication to the task shown by my class but also the reasoning they came up with and how they related it to their own lives. "No, I'm not buying Sky TV for my kids, that's way too expensive! ..... my mum bought Sky TV for me, and we have extra packages." So I'm very fond of this project, as is the main class teacher so we're going to spend an extra lesson on Friday to complete the whole project (we were due to finish last lesson). I might have to make my own one of those at some point!


December 05, 2010

Reflections on Week 9

An interesting week. My most depressing by far. Still well ill. Wake up feeling really sick. Missed Tuesday as I was being sick before school, woke up in the early hours with that one starting and was still being sick by 7:30 so just gave up that day. I felt very miserable missing school since I'd planned something good with my Year 10's which the class teacher did instead. I didn't even manage to get work done at home as I was too ill. 

My lessons have gone really downhill with Year 7. My feedback, which is on the 2 stars on a wish form when it's not a formal observation, has barely had half a wish hidden amongst 3 wishes. I see why Jenni told me to balance out my wish with more stars when we peer assessed each others essays. Repeated feedback which effectively told me I was rubbish is horrible to receive. 

My lesson with Year 12 was better, I tried to be more sensitive to their confidence which seemed to work. I had a go at them about their terrible homework efforts (they write out all the questions but only occasionally write the answer after it, there are pages upon pages of questions followed by a gap. Do they expect me to write it in for them!?). Their other 2 teachers have already done this but I did it from a "I've never come across this before, I don't understand how you think you're going to be able to answer these questions in an exam" point of view, before offering to give them another chance to try the homework they were going to hand in today, because they'd get more practice with the concepts in the lesson. Many accepted (how many accepted because they thought I'd get mad at them now but have calmed down by next time, I don't know). One asked to see me Friday lunchtime to go through some stuff, but didn't show. Apparently promises of renewed effort is the response the other teachers got to telling them it wasn't good enough. It didn't work for them. 

I felt incredibly ill on Thursday and would have had the morning off at least if it hadn't been for Peter's visit on Friday (I teach Year 7 on Thursday and collect in homework). I didn't want to be formally observed in a lesson where I hadn't seen them for the lesson before - my success depends on knowing exactly what they pupils know already and how they like to think, so I would have had to start the lesson establishing that and then my plan would be changed based on that. Best avoided for a formal observation! I was rubbish, I just lacked the energy to do anything, and my illness came across to the class, who worked less than usual. The class teacher had a bit of a stern word with me about the importance of hiding illness from a class. Given I felt really ill, had just had a rubbish lesson and was being told to do something that felt impossible, I wanted to cry. I didn't, which is something I suppose.

I maxed out medications to perk myself up from Friday's lesson in order to hide my illness. It was an ok lesson, not my best in terms of thinking on the spot as my brain felt like mush. Some of my explanations were less sharp that usual and I sometimes said the wrong word out loud and had to correct it. I forgot to get everyone to write down the general rule for what we were doing, which would have been nice, and I also forgot my second learning objective (I'm not a learning objective person).

Peter was actually really great in terms of feedback. I was a bit scared as he's not really teaching the PGCE any more (all part of some plan to hand over to Jenni, I think) so I only remembered him from taking his module on teaching 2 years previously where he was a lecturer to many people so we didn't get personal chats. Some stuff he's written has come up for our reading which is what I've based most of my thoughts on. He was very different in person, actually talking about the realities of teaching and lack of time meaning we can't do everything which is a first for a uni tutor! We had a really good chat afterwards and he helped me see things a bit clearer. 

My exit question, for example. I set a question, ask them to do it without help just for me to see what they know all by themselves. I've done these 3 times and immediately after the lesson look through them. I don't mention them to the class next lesson. I chose something for it which is a key point or easy misconception eg one gave 4 triangles with various pairs of sides and angles equal and asked which are isosceles (would they realise the sides and angles have to match up? Would they know which way it has to go?). This time I did one which was far too hard, they had to go way beyond what we did in the lesson (the steps were basic arithmetic, it was the realising they were needed and putting them in the right sequence which was difficult). Everyone managed to start it, the first part needing what we'd done in the lesson. Over half got it right, through unknown methods (guesswork!?!  They had a choice of two answers). 6 of those had figured out the whole, quite sophisticated, method and written it with great clarity. I was unhappy that so many had got it wrong and blamed myself for pitching too high. Peter argued that the question allowed all to access it at some level, all to demonstrate they had met the first learning objective, and stretched some, allowing them to demonstrate just what they could do. In that light, I'm a genius for managing to do all that in one question. I think I'll aim for that with my future questions, especially since I don't go through it afterwards, or tell anyone they got it wrong. 

What was interesting what that Peter and my subject mentor think I'm stressed. I don't know. I didn't think so. I've been stressed before (a lot!). Through my A levels - would I get into Warwick? Such stress. Through almost the entirety of my degree, I felt like I would lose my mind with the stress of it all. This summer I was pretty chilled. I got stressed quite quickly on the PGCE course, the first two weeks with everything being new and not knowing what to do. Browsing the website last thing before bed, and oh, what's this page on reading? 3 chapters for tomorrow?! One available online, ok I'll read that now (shame, I want to sleep now!). 2 in books in the library. Hmmm, early morning start too, oh well. Both books not available!?! Heart attack! Will the tutors get really mad at me? Will they cite some thing I signed at the interview day and question my suitability and dedication to the course? Will they embarrass me infront of everyone by asking me something from it? Will I not be able to follow session? Horribly stressful until the 3rd week, because requested books come in a week later and so I could get ahead of the reading. I haven't felt stressed since then. I thought I would. I was told I'd have a sleepless night before I taught my first lesson. I was fine. I felt nervous for the first week or so in my school, but since then I have about 1 min of nerves at the start of each lesson before it all starts and I can deal with it and all is well. My feedback from many lesson including Friday's formal observation is how calm I sound and I'm no great actress! I really did feel calm. Also, I thought stress is supposed to be a "fight or flight" thing, in which case if I was so stressed before the lesson then I should have gladly grabbed any opportunity not to do it. I was sick during tutor period (ran out and made it to the toilets but abandoned my tutor group to do it) and so Peter offered to rearrange his visit for another day. I could have agreed but I wanted to do the lesson. Is it a subconscious VS conscious fight? Subconscious stressed and wanting to run away, conscious enjoying the challenge and wanting to be the best I can? Perhaps it's the ups and downs - the start of lesson nerves several times a day followed by the calm for the rest of the lesson - which is making me have the symptoms of stress. 


December 02, 2010

Reflections on Week 8 (is it 8 already?)

Poor reflections this week. 

I'm horribly ill. Feel like I'm dying. Standing up is a horrible achy effort, talking and making sense even more so. My voice is painful and crackling. Everything hurts. I need way more sleep. A simple task takes me forever because my head is so foggy and I'm so tired I can't just get on with it. Stuff going wrong feels like the end of the world (school's staple gun is out of staples so I have to leave my display half up). Day to day stuff like eating regularly and finding clean clothes are enough of a challenge as I have zero energy. Standing and talking is immensely difficult. 

My feedback from observations reflect how I feel - all over the place. Sometimes I explain stuff clearly, sometimes everyone is confused. Sometimes I'm organised and present stuff well, once the board was a mess. I'm got about a million things to work on. My targets for this week are 1) survive without crying/throwing up on a pupil/losing it entirely. 2) Find the stuff I used to do well and have lost and maintain it consistently over lessons. 

On Friday I will be observed by Peter and my subject mentor. I wish we could have done this already when I wasn't feeling so ill, I don't have the energy or mental clarity to hold all the components of a lesson together at the moment. 



November 22, 2010

How to give instructions?

I struggled again today. In the last few lessons with Year 7 I've experimented with verbal instructions (bad move: in one ear , out the other/ not listening at all/ etc) and writing them on the board (bad move: pupils do not bother to look at the board). Today I used the differentiated worksheets that I spent ages creating, which had very clear instructions at the top and a worked example. It should have caused fewer problems, not more! The other worksheet I've used in a lesson was a 10ticks piece, which I chose pupils questions from. Some had problems understanding which questions they were supposed to do, even when I told them individually and wrote it on their actual sheet. It's a mixed ability class so I do personalise the activities where I can, and tell pupils to do or not do certain questions depending on whether they need it at that stage or not. After an initial comprehension of the instructions, and a check from me, it somehow gets lost. By the end of the activity they have done something far removed from what I asked. 

I really don't know what to do. I tried asking someone to repeat the instructions back once but they seemed patronised by this. In any case, it only checks that that random person understands, and only checks they follow at that minute. Given how quickly instructions seem to leak away, this isn't a useful activity at all! 

I'm also getting irritated by so many of the pupils lack of initiative. They cannot write the date and title unless given to them. They won't underline it with a straight line unless asked (and in many cases, lent a ruler). They can't do a question unless given an identical answer. If they can't do it they shout, in increasingly loud and annoyed tones "Miss I can't do it! I need help!" then "What so I have to wait, *not learning anything*, while you do something else?". They won't try. I can't tell if it's because they are used to being spoon-fed or if I'm being a pushover. 

In previous lessons it's gone pretty well and the level of help needed has been manageable. They put their hands up, and sometimes they'd gently and tentatively say "Miss?" to make sure I'd noticed them. It's descended into loud and aggressive demands for my attention. Much of it is that they want me to read the question to them. 

Today we did the angles in a triangle. There was a somewhat long and confused starter cutting up triangles and rearranging the angles into a straight line (lo and behold, 180 degree total!),  confused since they weren't given step by step instructions, we just did one together with my giant sugar paper triangle on the board. I thought they would be able to replicate what they'd just seen and been involved in. Heck no. 

Then was my carefully differentiated worksheets, tailored especially to them, containing all the information they needed, instructions, an example, hints on the questions which combined angles-on-a-line with angles in a triangle. Simply couldn't start, as no-one could read the example and then replicate it on the first question, deliberately chosen to be the same question with different numbers to start them off. They needed me to read through the example for them. I literally read out my own writing! 

Then, after a series of questions giving two angles in increasing wonky strange triangles, and find the unknown angle (deliberately putting it in different corners), there was a question with a triangle and one side extended with the exterior angle given instead. AKA use facts about angles on a straight line to find the interior angle. Then you have two angles in a triangle like the previous ones. Impossible. Even with a hint which said "use facts about angles on a line to find this angle first". When I read it out, they could tell me the angle on a line. But, as more than one girl informed me rather angrily, that doesn't work here as the angle given in the triangle and the exterior angle given elsewhere added to 195. Obviously, they just wanted to blindly add the two angles then take away from 180 degrees. At least they noticed that 180 -195 doesn't give a valid angle in a triangle. Several of them told me this meant angles on a line don't work here - as if the angle on a line only sums to 180 in certain, triangle free (planar) environments!? Shame they usually insist that either I'm wrong or maths is broken, no-one *ever* says "Miss, my answer can't be right because xxxxx, but I can't see where I went wrong". 

My feedback was to give an example of how to do it before each different variety of question. I'm going to next lesson. I'm in the maths computer room, where I wanted to do an awesome Geogebra activity. Here is an (isosceles) triangle. Move the points in the corners around. What do you notice about the angles/lengths. Repeat with equilateral triangle. Next:  names of the triangles. Can you accurately draw some of your own? Can we have two sides match but not two angles? And two angles match but not two sides. 3 angles/3 sides? Plenary: Mini whiteboards. What were they called again? What does that mean?

But we don't have Geogebra. I'm told the maths department have been asked IT for some dynamic geometry for a long time and it's a no-no. I stand no chance of getting it by Thursday. All I have at my disposal is Autograph, which isn't ideal for angles in triangles. In any case, it's only available on computers which aren't in the maths computer room (logic!). 

Also, so far these pupils hate to be given a "think about it for a bit" task. They want instant answers. If it doesn't occur to them, they ask me and I am expected to provide an understandable and near-instant solution. "Just play around, see what you notice" is not an acceptable start, no matter if I later add questions to help them. I can't imagine them trying. They start class-wide "it's tooooo hard! I don't get it!" yet won't accept class-wide support, they want their own. 

What was successful last lesson, which was a surprise at it was at the frazzling end and was the first time together, was a mini-whiteboard plenary. I asked for angle sum in a triangle, angles in a right angle, etc then "Give me an acute angle. Any number of degrees which makes an acute angle". After an initial "huh?" I added that there were lots of possible answers and some of them really went for it. I had lots of 45 and 30 degrees but also some 1 deg, 89.9deg. Yet if I'd give them such angles they'd freak about how hard it is! Definitely a good move. I then asked everyone for an obtuse angle, to one decimal place. Lots added .0 to the end of their angle. I quite liked that answer. It satisfies the question and demonstrates they knew they could just use what is effectively their previous (and correct) answer. Bonus points for mathematical corner cutting. 

So my plan next lesson may not involve computers (depends if I can find a suitable non-safety-blocked activity - I've got one awesome "here are a ton of triangles, put in isosceles/equilateral/scalene piles") and will probably only involve them a little. I'll give very exact instructions, slowly and in multiple formats. I'll give an example of equal hardness to the questions I'll then set. I think open questions are my way in to independent thought, as I can set questions which can have easy answers. Perhaps I'll do the Geogebra demo I planned on the board, with the angles and lengths appearing next to it in a list. Which equal each other at the start? Keep an eye on them. Do the numbers change? Do the pairs of sides/angles still equal each other though? Then: these are the angles and sides which match up. Draw this one. Colour matching sides and angles. Check they copied correctly. Is this (incorrect triangle) allowed? Accurately (pencil, ruler and protractor) draw your own. Label angles and sides. Swap with partner. Check it. Do again. Then mini-whiteboard plenary of properties of the various triangles. 

I'm not accepting all this calling out and demands which are bordering on disrespectful anymore. They also dawdle their way through simple instructions they used to be good at doing. Seems my requests to be ready in X amount of time are meaningless. Especially as they'll call out for individual help/reassurance at this point when it's clearly whole-class time. The fight for individual attention really is intense. 

Lets see how that goes. 


Reflections on Week 7

It's been a long and tiring week. I keep track of the hours I work each week, last week was a new record at 62hours. I suspect, thanks to the many 13 hour days I did this week, I'm going to beat it. 

I've now taken over my classes and taught 7 hours last week. Should have been 8 but I was struck by a sickness bug on Friday and spent a fun day starving hungry but unable to keep anything down while feeling very guilty about leaving the lovely Year 7 class teacher in the lurch for the Period 1 lesson I was supposed to take. 

I'm not doing too badly at this teaching lark. Fewer, and different, mistakes this week. Pitched too high with recurrence relationships for Year 12. They really *aren't* hard, finding a term-to-term rule is often way easier than nth term! (Fibonacci, anyone?), it's just the notation that throws people, plus they really like to be given an algorithm to follow then follow it for some examples. I didn't do that so I'll need to at the start of next week's lesson. 

My Year 7 class are adorable. It's going really well with them even if my tasks are a bit unsuitable at times. I'm struggling with resources. We're doing angles. I have a girl with a broken arm. She can do the work on Geogebra (I love Geogebra) but this is only available on my personal laptop, not the school ones. If I give it to her, I can't use it on the board. Also, I teach them Monday, Thursday and Friday which means I have photocopying to do with no notice for the Monday and Friday lessons, which annoys the photocopying lady (since all maths teachers have Yr 7 at this time, there are loads of us all at the same time!).

I tried avoiding this by drawing questions on the board but this was rubbish as we all had to work through at the same speed and I talked too much. It's clear from their books that only a few followed it all. Yet, they didn't say! I ask if they understand and they smile and nod. Why can't they be truthful!?! After that, I tried a mixed difficulty worksheet, photocopied in advance then chose questions from it nearer the time. Didn't go down well with my mentor as there were excess questions on there. I've made beautiful tailored worksheets, choice of 3 for differentiation, for tomorrow's lesson. Hopefully will be an improvement. 

I set homework for the first time ever and therefore marked books for the first time ever. Struffy work, no titles or dates (how am I supposed to know what those random numbers scattered across the page are referring to?). Random sheets lost or stuck in random pages. Sometimes they stuck the wrong side down and therefore obscured a load of their work. I know it's about the maths not presentation, but seriously, I can't assess them effectively when it's unclear what they've done. Some of them didn't do the homework to the expectations of the class teacher (show working; see me if lose it/unsure/it's too hard) and so I'm going to have to talk to them about that next lesson. I'll do something nice after that so it's not a mean teacher, doom-and-gloom lesson. 

My Year 10's are a bit of a handful but nice girls under all the attitude! They panicked big time the first time I taught them, they'd had an unfortunate experience with a trainee teacher only last term (as in term 3 last year) which had left them a bit traumatised by the thought of losing their highly effective class teacher for hopeless trainee. My first activity went much better than I expected, it was ordering negative numbers. I pitched low to built confidence and that was a hit. I'm thinking they need a confidence boost every lesson or will just say "no I can't do any of it, I can't do maths, it's all too hard" and then are stuck there all lesson!

I do the first bit of the lesson and the class teacher does the rest. It's tough starting. They start arriving 5 mins before the lesson begins (it's after break). The first time I accidentally thought that was the start of the lesson (well, there was a bell!) and they didn't take kindly to that. The second I left it until the start of the lesson and they deliberately tested me with a slow start. The teacher suggests I do what she does, which is go around the room giving out books and asking individuals to get ready. It's a bit of a tall order at the moment as I don't know everyone's names yet! Some girls only show intermittently so there was a new face last lesson. The time before there were loads of new faces - girls who'd come in for a chat and who were supposed to be next door! How was I to know? 

They're not too bad though, one girl appeared in the doorway and shouted "Are you a cover teacher?" to which one of my class replied "Shut up, she's nice". Awwww. 

I've utterly neglected reflections this week as I've spent so long planning. As an experiment (in the context of "outstanding trainees experiment with their practice" :p) I've going to do scruffy, bare minimum planning for all lessons expect my formal observation which will be some super multi-page typed up thing. Thus leaving time to reflect, file my work, do my essay due tomorrow at midnight, read more of AfL, and possibly even sleep. 

Which reminds me, Essay. Argh! We must read our school's safeguarding policy. I finally got a reply as to where to find this on Wednesday, after my last PPA until Friday last lesson. Quickly attempted to get a copy and found I'm denied access. So I need beg for access tomorrrow. I've got registration (I do Mondays solo with my tutor group), PPA/Observations in the morning, Solo Year 7, Team Year 10, Support Year 11 then afterschool Department meeting then my parents are passing through and are going to take me out to dinner. If my PPA/Observations are Observations then I'm in trouble! 


November 09, 2010

Starter 1

And here begins my cataloguing of the lessons (or part lessons) which I do at my PP1 school. My first activity, a starter, ended up not existing because I had to go to a meeting, but here is the plan. 

Class

Year 7 Class 7

Day

Monday

Date

8/11/10

No. Of pupils

16

Lesson time

11:25 - 12:25

Topic: Angles and Bearings

Previous work: identifying acute/obtuse/reflex angles and estimating the size of given angles

Next work: angles in triangles

National Curriculum References

Estimate the size of an angle using 90 and 180 degrees as guidelines (level 5)

Name acute, obtuse and reflex angles (level 5)


Pupil Learning Targets

To recall and consolidate previous work on angles


Personal Targets

To monitor progress of individuals, not just get a “general idea”

To use incorrect answers as a learning opportunity without embarrassing the incorrect pupil


Resources:

Mini whiteboards (in pupil planners)

Whiteboard pens x16 (plus spares)

Tissues to clean whiteboards

Activities

Time

Activity

Assessment

11:25

Pupils arriving, sit down and get ready to begin. Whiteboard pens and tissues given out, pupils asked to find the whiteboard page of their planners.

11:30

Drawing acute/obtuse/reflex angles (Look out for interesting "borderline" angles, as a learning point eg acute angles can be tiny or almost 90 degrees. Is likely most diagrams will be 30-60 degrees)

  1. "Draw me a right angle...and hold your whiteboard up"

(If there are incorrect answers, chose someone with a correct answer to explain to the class what a right angle is. Ask incorrect pupils to have another go and hold it up.)

  • "Don't rub out your right angle, draw on that diagram: an acute angle"

(If there are few incorrect answers, do as above.

If there are many incorrect answers: probably have some which are obtuse. Borrow an acute and obtuse whiteboard from pupils. "We have some answers like this [acute] and some like this [obtuse]. Which one is right?" "Why?")

  • "Draw me another right angle and an obtuse angle on the same diagram"
  • "This one is tricky. Can you draw a reflex angle?"

(If there is confusion ask "who remembers what a reflex angle is?", take answers from class, then they can draw it)

Can pupils recall what it means to be acute/obtuse/reflex?

  1. Repeat acute/obtuse/reflex if there were incorrect answers. (To save time, could draw all three on one diagram and put a A, O, R next to each one)

Have the ones who previous got it wrong got it right this time?

11:40

Drawing estimates of given angles

  1. "Draw me a right angle, and write next to it how many degrees there is in a right angle".

"How many degrees are there in a right angle?"

  • "On that diagram, draw a 45 degree angle. I'm not expecting it to be exact, just do an estimate".

(With incorrect answers: draw on the board an estimate of the ones I've seen (far too big/small) and ask class if they accept those as around 45 degrees? Why/why not? How did they draw their (correct) ones? (Aiming for 45 is half of 90 so should be about half of a right angle))

  • (Unless diagrams are very messy) "On the same diagram: draw a 30 degree angle".
  • "Ok, rub all that off. Now draw a 180 deg angle."
  • "We'll finish off with one tricky one: have a go at drawing a 135 degree angle. "

(Expect them to struggle. While they think about it, write 90 deg + 45 deg = 135 deg on the board. Draw class attention to this and ask "How could this help?"

Can pupils estimate simple angles? Can they explain why?

Can pupils estimate angles as a composite of simple angles?

Spare time

Estimating the size of a given angle (less interested in precise accuracy, more interested in justifications.)

If class find drawing estimates of angles unexpectedly easy and have some spare time: draw random angles on the whiteboard. Ask pupils to write an estimate on their whiteboard. See range of answers and pick interesting ones to be justified to class.

IDEAS: 55, 15, 120, 340 Remember that angles don't have to be drawn anticlockwise from horizontal.

Can pupils justify their estimates, using simple angles as guidelines?


November 06, 2010

A Mathematician's Lament

A long time ago I read something that really summed up the dire state of Maths education. Happily, I came across the exact same thing quite recently. Please, read this:

http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf


It really explains so well what has gone wrong. I still, although I'm quite used to it by now, get shocked by how few people think they can "do" maths, and how "difficult" maths is perceived to me. If I had to sum up the process of "doing maths" I would say it is 

1. Pattern spotting

2. Conjecturing

3. Proving/disproving the conjecture.

Humans are naturally great at 1, just watch an episode of "Deal or no deal?" to see the ridiculous and elaborate patterns people have spotted and are basing their decisions on. 

2 is also very easy. All you have to do is make up a rule. Doesn't have to be true and you don't have to give any evidence whatsoever towards it being true (that's part 3). 3 gets nasty, yes. It requires a great deal of creativity and perseverance. For research mathematicians, they don't even know if their conjecture is true or false, so may spend ages attempting a proof that is doomed to fail simply because their conjecture is false. And you can't tell from the conjecture how easy the proof will be either. If you're given something to prove that is at the right level for you, then proving stuff is great. You have to be so creative, much of the time you end up bringing in areas of maths that seem totally unrelated. It gets really frustrating ("character building!") when you can't do it though, which is why I think part 3 is something to be thankful that someone has done for you.

This is why maths shouldn't be seen as "difficult". Maths is reliable, it always works. If some conjecture has been proven then you can use it, build all sorts of things on it, and it won't fail you. In science, gradually new theories replaces an old ones (the earth is flat, anyone?) so what you're learning isn't concretely true like maths is. Plus if you're unlucky, something will be changed while you're still around (Pluto isn'ta planet!?). Maths doesn't get outdated, like media or technology or ICT might be. Much of the maths we learn is very very old. It gets built on and added to, rather than be replaced. In short, the fundamentals of what makes maths maths are awesome and everyone should have a natural affinity towards it. 

But what we learn, and teach, in school rarely fits into one of those 3 catergories. It's what could be put as 

4. Applying the theorem. 

(Conjectures get an upgrade to theorem when they are proven to be true.) Applying a theorem is what much of school maths seems to be. Here is Pythagoras' theorem. Now apply it to all these very boring little triangles. If I'm really trying I'll make you find a variety of sides, vary the notation, and perhaps even draw some triangles at funny angles. I'm going to try really hard with my teaching to do more of parts 1-3 (especially 2, who can'tmake up any old wild claim?). 


Reflections on Week 5

It's been a long and tiring week. Monday was INSET. It was on assessment (hello, Master's topic!) and focused on the importance of formative assessment. Much was made of Black and Wiliams findings and suggestions. I didn't learn much about assessment itself, having spent the previous week studying this stuff, but that didn't bother me at all. I completely buy into formative assessment so I was far more interested in seeing the school's take on it and see if the Maths Department supported it. Everyone was enthusiastic about it - my Professional Mentor even has a stash of traffic light cups and lolly sticks to borrow if I want to try them out. 

After the whole staff sessions we went into Departments to discuss how to implement it. Some of them have been doing peer-assessment already as part of their previous CPD. Lots of them liked the names-on-sticks idea but will make laminated versions to save money, or use a random name generator on their laptop instead. I'm going to do names on sticks, probably with my Year 7's. I also love mini-whiteboards so I'll be using those where I can. I'm debating using the traffic light cups with my year 7's since they behave well (there will be a temptation to mess around/break them) but I'm afraid of accidentally not noticing someone sat with theirs on red and them getting upset with the lack of help. 

I've been given the task of taking past papers for the final GCSE exams and splitting the questions up into categories. It's a big o'task but right up my street - I used to do it myself for my own exams. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday I was back in uni. More of the same really. Some more peer assessment. There was what I can only describe as a sales pitch by some calculator company. I'm quite morally opposed to that sort of thing, though, given what it was, it was done very well. It was by a current maths teacher who uses the stuff himself (it's some sort of fancy calculator which can draw graphs, do dynamic geometry, spreadsheets etc. It could be wirelessly hooked up to the teachers computer which was nice - so the teacher could take screenshots of everyone calculator to monitor progress). The teacher running it was excellent and gave me some excellent ideas for teaching. 

The main idea he used was the idea of much of maths being special cases. For example, Pythagoras' theorem is a special case for squares attached to a triangle, when there is a 90 degree angle. So he'd give them some dynamic geometry and ask them to find out when the sum of two of the areas (which it calculated for you) equals the other. Then get them to discover it's when there is a 90 degree angle. I really liked it, it gives far more meaning to the theorem as just a string of letters doing stuff. It also hopefully avoids the misconceptions that Pythagoras works for any triangle, and emphasises which sides it is which are added. (That came up on the INSET day actually, we had a question "For which of these triangles does a^2 + b^2 = c^2 hold?" with a load of right angled triangles with the a, b, and c labelled in various ways. Lots of staff said they all do because pythagoras holds for right angled triangles, overlooking the fact that c must be the longest side.)

At my school, classes get to spend one lesson a week in the maths computer room so I think later in the term I'll write some special lessons to do in there with these sort of ideas. I'm not interested in used the calculators (we can borrow them from the company if we want to) since I could spent that time getting better at the software I have access too - I doubt I'll ever see those calculators again so I'm not going to waste that time getting used to using them. 

Thursday and Friday were back in school. It's quite daunting to know I'll be there until Christmas now with no breaks, also quite saddening that I'll be leaving there in such a short space of time. I've got more involved with the classes now, I haven't be actually given anything to do with them yet but managed to sneak a bit in anyway. I went to a Year 11 class for the first time, their teacher wasn't in. By lucky coincidence I met the (maths-phobic) cover teacher on the INSET day and she happily let me take a bigger role in the lesson. They were doing past papers for their imminent exam. I marked them as and when they finished (don't know if I was supposed to, oh well) which was very useful for me to see what they are asked to do in this exam, and how good they are. Some of them finished in half the time, and got full marks. Some of them only missed a few marks. I wrote comments on them like "ask xxxx to explain how she did this" (xxx being someone I'd marked and they'd gotten that question right) next to the empty question boxes, but the girls were just looking at the front page and saying "12/15 is good enough"! Not impressed! They'd also been allowed to work together which meant I marked the same incorrect answers time and time again. One of them didn't even make sense which makes it look like they just copied it down without even thinking. They also finished early and were told to get on with homework. I felt bad about this but could hardly contradict what the cover teacher had said, in any case my ideas (more practice papers; go through the worst done questions on the board) wouldn't had benefited all those who got full marks, which is most of those with nothing to do. One girl saw me specially to ask for more exam practice so I got her another paper. I felt really bad for her being in that situation. I'm used to having to try to chivvy pupils into the mood to learn, to have someone ready and willing to learn but prevented from doing do was sad to see. 

I saw my Year 12's again and I feel more comfortable with them now. I've found with all new classes, as a teacher or as support, there is a period of time where I have to prove myself before they will accept me as good enough. I know I did it as a pupil! It was frustrating enough to be stuck enough on something to put my hand up for help, let alone to have the student teacher wander over, not understand what I'm saying as quickly as the teacher would, then sometimes not even be able to help so I'd have to wait for the teacher anyway. What a waste of time! I got more involved this time providing help and it's made me very thankful for my maths degree and the confidence it gave me with maths as "easy" as C1. I don't like to read through a pupils' answers at that level since the answer is long and spotting a mistake in a long piece of maths is hard. Instead I work through their method next to them without looking at their working. I get them to follow what I say out loud, confirming they have the same answer as me at various "check points" in the method. At some point, there is a discrepancy and we can then look back through the lines to see what happened. In this lesson, there was a tangent used instead of a normal, a x value substituted in for a y value, and someone taking something= -2/17, multiplying -17 across and leaving -2. Worryingly, in the last one, she didn't think that was a mistake (in the previous two there was a "oh no, I've made a stupid mistake" moment). As long as she's sat in the same place (learning names and faces is really hard!) I'll check on that idea again. 

Next week is a busy week and hence this weekend will be a busy one. The more I do now, the earlier I can go to bed in the week! I'm doing a starter on Monday with my Year 7's. I'm running after school revision classes on Wednesday and Friday for the GCSE exam (I'm well excited about this). I have to make a poster to advertise said classes (less excited about this - computer designed posters are not my forte. I might give up and make one by hand with my paints and scan it in). I need to plan my Year 12 lessons to roughly divide the material between the lessons I have. I have two 2-hour lessons with them to do C1 sequences and series. It's less time than I was expecting but it's not that hard a topic, so as long as I present it in a way that's not scary (mental blocks against a bit of maths is far more effective at preventing learning than lack of ability) all should be ok. I'm really lucky that my mentor is happy to accept late planning. The way I like to work is to have a vague plan of concepts that need to be taught over a certain time frame. I put them in order and divide it up roughly. But I can only do a full lesson plan after the lesson previously, in order to match to what they need next. I also like to mentally note misconceptions and mistakes which are being made and check up on them next time (like the -2/17 girl in my C1 class). This way I can pose a similar question to the class in a "make sure you can do this type of thing" way rather than a "someone here made this mistake, all tell her she's wrong" sort of way.  My mentor is happy for me to give her one lesson plan at a time, which makes for some tight turn arounds when I have the same class the following day!  I'm so very lucky for this to be the case, one trainee has to have in plans 2 weeks in advance!


October 31, 2010

Reflections on Week 4

It's half term! Shame it's almost over, I need more sleep. It hasn't exactly been a break! 

On Monday, I went to the academic writing session. It was really good, and I've got loads of ideas about essay writing now. 

On Tuesday, my group went to the Transport Museum to do SCT3 (Maths Trail). It was actually quite an interesting museum, at least for the first half hour. I got very serious bored after that, something to bear in mind as many pupils will go the same way, and will probably reach that stage in less time than me! We came up with some reasonable questions, I really wanted some open ones but couldn't come up with any good enough to make the group vote. I took down some data on Ground Speed Records and I'm still thinking up a question based around that. The information on it comes from a large room with chairs in it so it's the perfect place for an extended question. The other one I quite liked which isn't on the list so far is based on a ton of parallel lines on the floor, windows, doors, ceiling, etc that made up one little section of the museum. Emphasis on little, though. I thought it could be a health and safety hazard to encourage pupils to cram into a tiny space and shove each other out of the way to check they haven't missed any parallel lines. If we could come up with a way to stagger the groups of pupils/put a member of staff there to limit access, then it could work. 

On Wednesday my requested books came into the library for me to do SCT2 (Questioning and Differentiation) so I had a good old read of those. I got fond of differentiation in the early weeks of the course. I started with the thought that you can differentiate in 3s, low, medium and high ability. But it's not really to do with ability (ok, it is a bit). It's about doing what the pupil needs to learn this topic best. For example, SEN isn't "low".  It could mean working better with text on yellow paper. It could mean working better with less writing. As a pupil my A level maths classes contained 3 people. Me, a very fast writer. Another guy who wrote pretty fast. And a dyslexic guy who struggled with writing and was painfully slow. One of our two teachers would spend every lesson writing stuff on the board until it was full, then would ask us to copy it down. Then two of us and the teacher would wait in silence, doing nothing, until the other guy would have finally finished. He would get really embarrassed and write as fast as he could, which was probably really awkward and hurt his hand. I never understood why the teacher didn't prepare a sheet for him (she wrote on the board stuff she copied off a sheet or from a textbook much of the time), leaving blanks for the important words and formulae. I have some issues with SEN designation anyway, but here isn't the time to go into it. (Briefly, I think the labels are somewhat damaging. Non SEN Children can have similar needs not met because they don't have the designation, SEN children have assumptions made about them. I know I have some of the characteristics of dyslexia. I have some of the characteristics of Aspergers. I think basically all of us have some characteristics of something, some people just have enough of certain ones to get the label.) 

On Thursday I finished off my SCT2. I realised I'd written too much description and too little analysing and evaluation in my first draft so I rewrote it, which was hard given the word count. Lots of people struggled with the word count, most people's essays I looked at are near the 1100 mark, I haven't seen any so far down near 900. Some people seem to have stretched the use of Appendixes to write more. I guess we'll see what is and isn't allowed in the Appendixes when we go through them on Tuesday.

On Friday, I had a tutorial with my personal tutor. She's outside the usual people we have teaching us so it was really good to hear her opinion on things we'd done. I'm got increasingly unhappy with the feedback we've had, there has been very little and much of it has been peer feedback which is hard to work off as one of the times it was in subject sessions and we were all clueless and the other my assessor didn't want to be mean. My tutor has already said to ignore one point for improvement which I've been given from my peers as she thinks it's wrong. I've now hit a plateau, I've done all I can to improve but I've going to need input from elsewhere to do any more. Since we're almost entirely based in school for the next 6 weeks, I guess it will come from them. I get on really well with the maths staff so hopefully they'll be comfortable telling me what could have been better. I'm at a stage where I'm happy so don't need any of the good comments, probably later on I'll get really stressed and need to hear I'm actually good at something. 

On Saturday I did lots of lovely reading for my Master's assignment. I've been reading all week too, around the tons of other tasks that got dropped in. I've got into 'request wars' over lots of books. 'Request wars' are something my arts student friends would talk about. You take out a book. 3 days or 1 week later you have to return it because someone requested it off you. You request it back and 3 days or 1 week later you get it back. And so on. It's meaning daily trips to the library which is a bit of a pain, but I've got through lots of the smaller books (most of the Black Box related ones) now. 

Today, now, more reading to do. Also preparing  to go back to school tomorrow. It's an INSET day! And it's on assessment! (AKA my Master's topic.) I've been looking forward to it for a while, we've already had a session with one of the senior staff about their assessment practices (I like them) so it will be excellent to find out more and work out what things I'll be able to implement in my classes.