Monthly Archives: May 2011

Independence in Maths learning

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Last night I received a email from a pupil in my class asking very nicely if she could have some extra maths homework. I was delighted and tweeted about it, of course!

But then this morning Oliver Quinlan replied that it would have been even better if she had contacted me to say “Here is some great learning I have done” rather than asking me to set her some work.

This really made me stop and think. This child is very bright, highly motivated and keen to learn. In her own time she researches all the topics we study in class, emails me facts and interesting websites she has found, writes novels and has shared them with me on Google Docs so that I can see she not only writes, but spends a lot of time editing her own work. Yet maths is the only subject she has asked me to “set work” for.

Similarly, in self-directed learning, the children have been able to locate resources and activities for everything but maths. None of the Y5 teachers routinely use textbooks or worksheets, yet when the children are seeking to practice their maths skills this is invariably what they have been asking for.

Is there something about maths that makes it hard to see a logical “next step” to study? In recent months I have had lots of parents ask me to set “catch up” extra work for pupils. I have been happy to do this, based on analysis of their areas of strength and weakness using data from in class work and tests. However, this always seems to have to take the form of extra questions and worksheets. In the past I have set homework that was just “Learn the 8 times table”, for example, and this was very unpopular – the parents were very keen to have “a sheet” to do.

We have been doing “Class Maths” every single week all year. In these sessions, as I have blogged earlier, we set challenging and rich problems from the NRich website, which require deep thinking, application of mathematical knowledge and skills, and great resilience. I had thought that this was serving to provide context and meaning to the skills based lessons, but perhaps this is not the case – or is just not enough?

I had actually noticed a bit of a problem developing in class maths recently. When working on solving a set problem, the children are fine – very motivated, keen to solve the problem and share their reasoning. However, last week I set them a task which was an open-ended investigation – which, crucially, had not yet been solved. It involved the children looking at spinners and working out which number properties (eg odd numbers, multiples of 3) would be most likely to come up on different spinners. At first it was fine, as they soon discovered that the best property to choose was “multiple of 1” followed by “odd”, “even”, or “multiple of 2”, and that if you picked something very random like “multiples of 1.4” your numbers would very rarely come up. This led to a good discussion about probability and their realisation that if you picked “multiples of 3” and span the spinners 100 times, your numbers would probably come up about 33 times.

However – after this, their task was to design different spinners and investigate what difference this would make. At this point, they floundered. There wasn’t a clear problem for them to solve, and they soon lost interest. I had thought some would be interested in trying out spinners with decimal numbers or only odd numbers, for example, but it really didn’t spark them off. I’ve noticed this before when setting problems with no real, clear solution. It’s a shame because interest in just asking “what if” is a massive part of maths, and life!

So I guess I have to work on developing this interest in pursuing different lines of enquiry! I did briefly the other week I think when the children were talking about speeds and I pondered whether Usain Bolt running as fast as he does in the 100m would set off a speed camera in a 20mph zone, so a group of children took this off and tried to work out whether he would, but then this is still a question with a solution – you really want them to be wondering about different speed limits, different creatures that might set off different cameras etc. Or, ideally, not needing me to set the question in the first place – that they would have thought of it themselves then tried to work out how to do it!

Ah it’s a puzzler. So what do I need to do to get children to see that they can find their own ways into developing their maths skills, can set themselves challenging tasks and find ways to solve them – without necessarily asking me to give them THE DREADED “SHEET”??!!

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Thoughts about TMM11

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Yesterday I had managed to swap my PPA time so that I could leave work at 2.15. We zoomed off to the station and down to Stowmarket to meet Mark Allen (@edintheclouds) to go up to TeachMeet Midlands at the National College of Leadership in Nottingham!

I love TeachMeets and there aren’t enough near me to keep me happy, so I like to go to as many as I can – I wish more of them were on Friday/Saturday! The last TMM11 was brilliant and this one did not disappoint either!

I have come away with lots of excellent ideas. Nicki Wise reminded me of lots of excellent tools, many of which I have either used in the past but not recently, or have been meaning to try out for quite some time, so that has given me a boost towards trying those again. There were also some new ideas such as 3x3links which I will definitely be looking into.

Mark Allen had a great suggestion of using Posterous as a radio station – simple but brilliant, what a good idea! I am really coming round to the idea of using Posterous more regularly as it is such a hardy site which can handle pretty much any type of media and is very easy for children to post to!

I was very interested in Peter O’Brien’s Avatar project. I seem to remember reading about this a little while ago, and it was great to find out more. It sounds like an excellent ethos was introduced into the classroom. I loved the idea of the y6 child calling on the Word Weaver during the writing test! I also really love the idea of having values rather than rules in class. What a great idea! It sounds like a very positive way of working and something I would definitely like to try.

A fab idea from Ian Addison was making use of paper.li in a very useful and constructive way – by creating a digest of the class blog that could then be sent to parents! I have recently felt that parents aren’t looking at the blog particularly often, and that a lot of posts are getting missed by them due to the speed at which the page progresses, especially when we are doing the 100 Word Challenge and many posts drop off the bottom. What a good idea to collate the blog into the paper.li newspaper format and then email the link to parents. Super!

I really liked Oliver Quinlan’s presentation on how he is encouraging his children to use tools independently so that they can learn at their own pace. I had read about this on his blog so it was great to find out more about it. It is his work on independent/child-directed learning that has inspired me to try to develop this more in my class and I would love it if some of my children came and asked if they could make a video about their learning. Maybe I will have to show them the videos and see if any of them are inspired to have a go themselves!

There were lots of other excellent ideas at the event, too many to mention, and I will be looking back through the videos to make sure I get the most out of it all! It was also lovely to meet so many nice people and catch up with people I’ve met at previous events. The people who come to TeachMeets really are a lovely crowd, such friendly and inspirational people. I always come away feeling really positive and uplifted!

Self-directed learning

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One of the things that I have always found frustrating and difficult to plan for is that moment when a child has finished their work and says “What do I do now?”

No matter how well you plan, there will always be some children who finish their work earlier than the others. I have always tried to get them to take responsibility for finding something to do once they finish – sometimes it is reading, finishing off other work, but this time has always felt a bit wasted.

I’m now trying a new approach which I am calling “Self-Directed Learning” time. This will be whenever someone finishes their work before the end of the lesson, and sometimes in the mornings or if we finish an activity earlier than expected.

I have asked the children to write down something they would like to get better at, explain why they want to get better, state exactly what aspects of the skill they would like to improve, and what activities they plan to do to achieve that. All this is self selected.

For example:

What I would like to get better at: Maths

Why?  Because maths is very useful in life and I would like to be better at it

Skills to develop: Times tables and fractions

Activities: Times tables games, worksheets, look at tables and practice them

For those children who wanted to get better at reading, I talked them through a simplified version of the AFs and pointed them to the specific area they needed to work on to improve their reading level and gave them some questions to ask themselves. I am also providing maths worksheets, times table and reading games, access to computers and the school library, paper and anything else the children want as far as possible – but they have to tell me what they want, of course!

All the children now each have a personal folder with their learning goals sheet at the front and have already started putting in sheets of the activities they are going to do. I am also going to give them a planner sheet where they can record the dates and activities that they do.

I’m very keen on encouraging them to become independent learners and hope that this is going to be a good contribution to that. We talked a lot in PSHE last term about going for goals and setting outselves challenges – here is their chance to improve their own learning, on their own terms!

I will update on this project as it progresses!