#mathsconf5 vs. Ninestiles 10

I doubt there are many groups of people from any walk of life who would give up a Saturday to go to Sheffield.

Ten of the Ninestiles mathematics department, along with hundreds of other maths-based humans from around the country, descended upon the city for #mathsconf5 this weekend. This is my review of the conference.

The Pre-Meeting

Seven of our team went to the pre-meeting, with the aim of networking with a range of people off Twitter. However, we quickly realised that we didn’t actually know what anyone looked like in real life, which presented us with an obvious problem. We eventually spotted Bruno Reddy and followed him to the crowd, allowing us to match the faces with the Twitter handles. After some interesting chats about times tables and things, we retired for the night.

Session 1 – What can we Learn from Trials? with Craig Barton and Andrew Taylor

The first session of the day contained Andrew’s presentation of the results from the first trial of sample papers, along with Craig’s analysis and his current plans for tackling the new GCSE. The bad news is that pupil’s results were awful across the board, but the good news is that through some amendments, time to teach the content and a bit of hopeful extrapolation from the data set, the higher marks should be accessible by the time the papers go live.

We were informed that pupils should expect to meet harder material much earlier in the paper, and conversely to expect some easier questions later on. They also need to know the trig ratios for the non-calculator foundation papers.

Craig suggested using the diagnosticquestions.com/aqa site for tackling the new content, and referred to an ‘Inspect the Spec’ slot which takes place during his own departmental meetings to ensure that all staff were up to speed.

Session 2 – Time to Slow Down? with Danny Brown

It might just have been me, but I was expecting this to be a session on things to do with teaching topics in depth rather than rushing through them, along with strategies and evidence relating to this. It was actually a session about reflecting on our practice and a discussion about things, which was still reasonably interesting. More details and further reading can be found here.

Session 3 – Concrete Approaches to Abstract Maths with Peter Mattock

Generally, the only time my pupils leave their seats is to leave the room at the end of the lesson. The only 3D manipulatives they use are the pen, pencil and ruler, or a protractor if they’re lucky. I know there’s a place for other things in the classroom, but I do require a very high standard of evidence that using them is substantially better than not using them. Peter provided some particular examples of this.

My favourites included using linking cubes in the shape of a staircase to teach sequences (natural numbers, powers of two, triangular numbers and the Fibonacci sequence all contained within ten cubes), and using dual number lines for proportion and using connecty-square things and counters to teach ratio problems. I’ve already tried the staircase thing with a Year 10 class, and it worked well.

I wasn’t entirely convinced about the turning around and walking backwards method of teaching negative numbers, as I felt it introduced another series of things to remember alongside the series of things which pupils already had to remember, but I could see how it could be useful.

My highlight of the session was the plea to describe the mean as ‘sharing the total equally’ rather than ‘adding them all up and dividing by the number of things you’ve got’.

Session 4 – Shanghai is not a Dirty Word! with Bruno Reddy, Craig Jeavons and Matt Fox

Another highlight of the day was the summary of Bruno et al.’s mythbusting trip to Shanghai. We learnt about the rapid, but carefully considered, progression through topics as well as the regular homework, the resources being invested into poor schools, and Tom, the boy who was wealthy enough to be ignored. It would be interesting to see if this attitude is common enough to present itself as an equivalent of an anti-PP gap, where the underachievers across Shanghai are those who are wealthy enough to know they’ll be fine regardless of outcomes.

Following the session, I had a chat with Dani Quinn, author of one of my favourite blogposts of all time, and Rose Dalders from Dixons TA in Bradford. We spoke about all sorts of things relating to the different contexts of our schools, a number of which have inspired future posts on here. One interesting idea, which merged Mr Barton and Shanghai, was the idea of using faculty time with the new GCSE topics to consider all the things which could be asked and create the best possible sequenced question sets to be taught in our classrooms.

Session 5 – Stories of Mathematics with Kris Boulton

Our day ended with a series of stories from Kris. They covered such ideas of how to count without numbers (use pebbles), whether Pythagoras was a boxer (probably), the mathematical secrets worth dying for (proving irrationality in the days before algebra) and the harnessing of the sun’s energy to burn the ships (unlikely). I really enjoyed the talk, as well as the animated tales of Pythagoras.

Mark McCourt ended the day by stating that collaboration was the single most important factor in improving mathematics education, before giving out some prizes to people who weren’t us.

Thanks to everyone involved for a great day, and I’ll see you all at #mathsconf3! (that’s 3 factorial, but it makes people sound even more excited about it).


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