A cracking maths conference #mathsconf13

Sheffield, maths teachers at the pub, stand-up maths, a calculator cake, lots of new connections and of course the invaluable CPD of the conference, #mathsconf13 did not disappoint.

I stumbled into La Salle by first going to the London #mathsconf10 earlier in the summer this year. I was mindblown by that first conference and ended up attending their MTN event in London and went to a workshop last week. The network of teachers, resource creators, examiners, speakers etc. they have got together is very impressive. And the value of such events is not just what you hear at the workshops but from meeting those in the front line of education.

Planning to go to the conference and making time for it
Unlike the London conference which was on my doorstep in East London this one needed more planning. I booked my train and hotel for the Friday night and I moved my Saturday students to Sunday instead. I even tutored my Friday evening students from the hotel room in Sheffield. I like to keep things rolling along as regularly as I can for students and lost hours are lost income for the self employed.

#mathsconf13 in Sheffield. Intro talk on two floors.

#mathsconf13 in Sheffield. Intro talk on two floors.

Pub time with teachers and two birthdays to celebrate!
Sometimes things just align in unexpected ways. The Friday night before the conference was my birthday. And the day before was the birthday of my good friend Richard Glasgodine (@RGMathsTutor) a fellow maths tutor and all round enthusiast of all things tech and Engineering. We had talked on video several times and known each other on social media so it was so cool to meet him in person. By coincidence it was his birthday the day before so we had lots to celebrate.

Pint of guiness

Double birthday celebration!

The theme of meeting real people from social media continued all through the night. Gone are the days of exchanging business cards, all the maths teachers there were on twitter. Seriously if you are not on twitter you must get on to it, it’s where pretty much where the maths teaching CPD action is.

I was glad to meet Jonathan Hall (@studymaths) who runs the mathsbot site. I have used his site extensively over the last months after I learnt how to use Algebra tiles at a short workshop that Mark McCourt (@emaths) ran in July this year. I was also nicknamed “Algebra Tiles Man”! I am nowhere near having that title as I have only just started using these and mostly with positive numbers.

Throughout the night I met more and more teachers, we chatted all sorts of things from my experience of online tutoring, to theirs of class teaching and exchanged teaching ideas. I got to know a lot of teachers before the Saturday in a relaxed setting and this really set the scene up for the all important conference the following day.

Intro by emaths, AQA, keynote stand up maths talk and speed dating
A packed school main hall with two floors of 400 maths teachers from all over the UK. Mark McCourt (@emaths) who runs La Salle introduced us all to the conference and set the scene. This was followed shortly by Andrew Taylor from AQA maths who gave us some insights on post 16 maths options. And then we had the keynote by Matt Parker (@standupmaths) who I had never heard of before but is clearly a really funny and smart maths speaker.

Superb at holding a large audience, keeping us all intrigued and with a quirky sense of comedy in maths he kept us all hooked to his every word. He showed a fair bit of maths magic to us, ranging from fractal cubes to all sorts of number trickery. The centerpiece of his talk was the thing us maths teachers love, spreadsheets! He zoomed out of a spreadsheet into a pixelated picture, and showed us how all RGB pictures are really just spreadsheets. He even took a picture of himself with the audience and then observed the phone screen under a microscope to reveal the RGB pixels. Not only that but he’s written code to transpose the image into an actual spreadsheet. Honestly, I loved spreadsheets before but now I see them in a different light 🙂

The speed dating was a quick 2 minute chat to exchange teaching ideas with teachers. I used folding paper with fractions and learnt some things about a functional skills volume exercise.

Maths Tutors UK group tutors unite and meet in person for the first time.

Workshop 1: Making Maths Work in Science
This workshop was given by Luke Graham (@bettermaths) who I have seen host maths chats on twitter. As I tutor the Sciences (up to GCSE and Physics A Level) I was curios to know what was going to come up on this. Luke had sat in many Science lessons at A level and GCSE to understand the maths content in there. We looked at some questions on estimating populations using quadrat sampling. An example being used was of white painted snails. Then to think beyond the simple assumptions to refine the model and getting students to ask “What if?” questions like what if the white painted snails are more likely to be eaten by predators. Punnet square genetic diagrams were shown to be essentially like quadratics. I’ve always likened them to grid multiplication so it was great to hear this.

And there was some great A level Chemistry content to do with Maxwell-Boltzmann distribution curves. These are essentially normal distribution curves in action. The cut off in the curves can be used to explain things like rates of reaction. This is a really great application of normal curves so this gives me a new idea to use in my teaching. All in all an inspiring talk for me, there was some elegant A Level Science/maths crossover that I had not thought about for a while.

Workshop 2: Richard Skemp: Relational Understanding & Instructional Understanding
I had met the speaker of this talk Gordon Brough (@gordon_brough) at a Bar Modelling workshop and had also been following him on twitter before. I first heard about the formalised idea of relational and instructional understanding through previous La Salle events. It was reassuring to confirm what has come naturally in tutoring. A lot of the time you just need to get students fluent in using certain techniques (a rote type of learning) and then later explain why it works. Or with some students you can start with the “why?” straightaway. The approach I take is customised to individual tutees and varies on a case by case basis.

Lots of food for thought after that talk and something I will think about in the coming few days.

NCETM guide on teaching scenarios

Different maths teaching scenarios

Workshop 3: Patterns, primes and purposeful practice
This talk was by Jonathan Hall aka @mathsbot He had already asked me what 8.5^2 was in the pub the night before so I was curios to know what shortcut he had. Turned out that (x+0.5)^2 can be used to make a simple rule to find this. This certainly looked like an impressive trick and had me hooked. I really liked his philosophy that it is important to spend a couple of minutes to do something interesting that will engage students before diving into content. There were plenty of other number tricks in there including prime diagonals and happy numbers. A visually impressive piece was the demo of a Serpinksi triangle animation followed by a “Chaos game” which would recreate the triangle with a multitude of dots.

Besides all the number stuff, he also went through his mathsbot site in some detail including all the virtual manipulatives that I use with my students. All in all a very impressive showcase of what he does, showing both breadth and depth in his material. I am a big fan of his site and I recommend others have a look at it too.

The resourceful Mr. Corbett.

Workshop 4: Interactive Problem-Solving Models
My last workshop was given by Matt Dunbar (@MathsDunbar). This involved us actually doing some maths as we were all given an A4 sheet with blank spaces as part of interactive problem solving questions from an interactive spreadsheet. There was linear algebra in more gneral form, probability using cuisenaire rods, a vector grid and finally an impressive exercise using a circle in 36 parts.

Matt Dunbar had a custom made interactive spreadsheet where inputs can be changed to see the output and the other way round. There’s even circle geometry possible on there. We all got a copy of his spreadsheets and I look forward to trialling them out and having a play. Even as the last talk of the day it sure kept us engaged, and on our toes!

In addition to the workshops there were plenty of stands by suppliers for books. I was most interested in some of the online book platforms so I will possibly sign up to even more online ebooks. I was also glad to meet Corbett who has produced some superb resources for GCSE maths. That was definitely a fan moment for me. One of many fan moments that day.

Casio Classwiz cake

Maths cake competition. The Classwiz calculator cake won.

New things I learn get passed on globally as a third of my students are currently in many countries, typically going to British schools in Asia, the middle East and mainland Europe. What I learn from La Salle gets beamed across the world and to my students. I am learning ever new ways of teaching things and being more aware of the methods gives me increased confidence in teaching new things. The maths teaching community is ever so supportive and diverse. Despite 7 days a week of maths during these last two weeks, I find the conference refreshing and a blast of inspiration. The next conference #mathsconf14 is all the way in March which seems like an eternity from now. I could certainly do with the time to start implementing more of the things I have taken away from the two conferences this year. So I wait eagerly for March 2018 and the next La Salle conference.

Indie Tutors Meetup – 23 September 2017 London

The grassroots Indie tutors community in London is growing! Working for yourself as an independent tutor can be a lonely job and even if you put all your effort into providing the best possible service, it is always invaluable to know how others manage the teaching and business part of their tutoring.

Typically we discuss things like tutoring rates, how to get new work using The Tutor Pages or otherwise, websites, cancellation policies, the best agencies, and I am happy to offer my advice as a full time online tutor for those considering starting out in that market.

This is open to all tutors, independent or tutoring for an agency. The Larrik Pub is a well lit airy gasto pub which does snacks, food and drinks. Nearest tube Edgware Road, Marylebone or Baker Street.

Looking forward to meeting you and feel free to contact me if you want more info or to let me know you are coming 🙂

Independent Tutors Meetup – 19 August 2017 London

We are back for our next monthly summer meet-up! The independent tutors community in the UK is slowly growing to become a force in its own right and gaining recognition. Working for yourself as an independent tutor can be a lonely job and even if you put all your effort into providing the best possible service, it is always invaluable to know how others manage the teaching and business part of their tutoring.

London Independent Tutors Meetup

London Tutors Meetup at Hyde Park

Typically we discuss things like tutoring rates, how to get new work using The Tutor Pages or otherwise, websites, cancellation policies, the best agencies, and I am happy to offer my advice as a full time online tutor for those considering starting out in that market.

This is open to all tutors, independent or tutoring for an agency. The Serpentine Cafe is in a great location inside the vast expanse of green in Hyde Park next to a lake. There’s food, drinks and snacks available at the cafe. We usually sit on the grass or at one of the benches on the outdoor area of the cafe. Nearest tube stations are Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge and Marble Arch.

Looking forward to meeting you and feel free to contact me if you want more info or to let me know you are coming 🙂

My first maths Conference #mathsconf10

Cake, workshops, ideas from examination boards, new connections, free books and so much more. Here’s some thoughts on my first maths conference.

Maths and cake. A yummy combination.

Saturday morning on a London bus in Dagenham and all alone I was wondering if I am even supposed to be going to this conference as a private tutor. It was after all a classroom teachers’ event and I was feeling like a fish out of water on my way there. Luckily the active maths teaching community on twitter and teachers I know on the Maths Tutors UK Facebook group had encouraged me to go (with cake promised nonetheless). So I booked my ticket without knowing anyone else in person who was going. And what a superb decision that turned out to be!

I arrived into a huge hall of teachers and met someone I knew through the Facebook group, we had chatted before online so it was easy to get chatting in person. Even if I had known no one at all the maths conference had the perfect ice breaker with the “mathematical speed dating” later on. More on that in a bit.

Meeting up for the first time, the Maths Tutors UK gang.

The opening introductory talk was by Mark McCourt of La Salle education who organised this event. He mentioned that these conferences have only been going for 3 years, and are sponsored by AQA so they can be very cheap (my ticket was £26.87 with VAT). The idea being that it is the teachers who know best how to tackle education in this country and this is a platform to bring everyone together. One big thing he said at the start stuck with me all day:

Education is UK’s 5th largest export.

I have first hand experience of this and my tutoring business is now part of that statistic. Last year I decided to tutor all online to cut out my commute and be able to reach my Yorkshire clients without the long train journeys. To my surprise I started getting enquiries from parents in the US, India, Singapore, Malaysia, UAE and Bahrain. Some were British families abroad sending their children to British schools but many others simply chose British schools. My clients have such respect for the British education system, they equate it to a certain level of sophistication and elegance that we often don’t realise it being here in the U.K., which is also a point Mark McCourt made. My dad worked in the Indian embassy and he persuaded his senior officers to have me entered me into Braeburn primary school in Nairobi, Kenya when I was 5 years old.

The mathematical speed dating was a 2 mins session with another teacher/educator in the room. On the date you had to discuss your favourite teaching ideas and there were 4 such dates. I learnt about a puzzles book a teacher has written, the Irish education system (a teacher had travelled from Ireland to be at that conference) and a teacher who had recently been to schools in China. I exchanged ideas on how I tutor online, Dyscalculia and my “meaning of pi” experiment. The teachers had such great enthusiasm for what they do and new things they wanted to learn and share. The speed dating got me socially relaxed and ready for a full day’s worth of workshops and socialising.

Lunch time at mathsconf10.

There were 5 workshops to choose from out of 22 that were running on the day. I wish I could have chosen all 22 so going down to just 5 was a tough choice.

My first workshop was run by the chief of examiners for the AQA board for A Level on mathematical proof and notation. I was truly surprised when he pulled out a SURD rationalising the denominator question. It could be legitimately all done by typing it on the calculator and hitting the answer button to score all the marks as it was not a “show that” question. There is an increased emphasis on the use of calculators for the new A Level AQA spec. Unless of course questions explicitly ask for “show that” type proof which requires full rigour of explaining. As it happens there was a discussion going on the use of calculators on the Maths Tutors UK group on the same day. In that moment I realised the value of being right in front of a chief examiner for a board to discuss this. This was coming straight from the horse’s mouth. And it was an open discussion too so if there was anywhere I could best learn about this or let my thoughts known to the board, this was the only place to be.

Concrete material to play with.

My second workshop was run on bar models for algebra and number work. This was Christmas to me as I’ve been tutoring Dyscalculia students for a year and I’m hungry for ideas on this. There were concrete materials like numicon, cubes, counters and strips of paper. I was amazed on how differently you can approach algebra in the earlier years before introducing it an abstract manner later on. This type of bridging material is exactly what I need for my Dyscalculia teenage students. I will be attending another workshop by the same speaker in London later in July again.

My third workshop was on a new qualification by AQA called Core maths. I had taken a punt on this one as I had no idea what this workshop was going to be. This turned out to be about a ton of real world maths, calculations on loans, taxes, inflation etc., Stuff that could be taught on the actual GCSE. The presenter showed a number of student responses on a task called “Why Santa Claus is not real?” with some creative calculations by students. This seems like a very useful practical maths qualification.

My fourth workshop was all about tech in the classroom and digital resources. An enigmatic retired teacher was totally down with the tech. He took us to Melbourne airport on Google maps and showed us that you can actually see cross-sectional views of the runway with gradient data. We traveled to the pentagon building as well. I was so happy to see him use the Wacom graphics tablet that I use in my own tutoring. He also had some very cool graphing software and some very clever uses of spreadsheets. His workshop alone has filled my head with numerous ideas and I’ll slowly be implementing these with my students.

My fifth and final workshop was about reasoning and problem solving. The teacher showed some innovative ideas on the correct use of language and the idea of problem solving through creative brainstorming and questioning. By applying those techniques she had improved the scores of her set of students very well. What a skill to be able to influence so many students so effectively. By my fifth workshop my brain was overloaded already and I took as much note as I could for teaching KS3 and KS4 material.

Free books. Thank you CGP 🙂

Between the five sessions there was lunch and the odd short break. The highlight of lunch has to be the cake competition with a whole array of wonderful maths themed cakes. I knew two teachers from the Facebook group so I had two large slices of their cakes. I was buzzing on sugar now too.

There were also several stands from suppliers and publishers. As if the day didn’t have enough value already, I then got hold of the brand new A Level maths textbooks from CGP for the new syllabus for free! The books are absolutely invaluable to me and I am one happy bunny now.

The day closed with Mark McCourt on the main stage again and some drinks outside. Working as a tutor can be a lonely affair and no matter how good you think you are doing with your tutoring it is impossible to shake that feeling off that you know you need CPD and could be doing a better job. After 11 years of tutoring, 9 of them without knowing any other tutors I was so relieved to have gotten CPD at this conference. I have attended short training courses before but this was truly on another scale and level. I met many teachers and exchanged ideas from my world of 1-on-1 work with their inspiring work in the classroom. As a tutor one can often feel in the periphery of the education system. I now truly feel connected to the heart of the teaching ecosystem.

It was an intense roller coaster of a day which went very fast and there was so much to absorb. I have returned with tons of goodies, subscriptions, contacts and I’m still processing many things from the day. I now genuinely feel like a better, more rounded tutor and am raring to try new ideas with my students. I’ve also got the maths conference bug, so I will be going to a few more of these now 🙂 I urge all my maths tutor friends to attend future events like these. Thank you La Salle.

Terminal Velocity Skydiving Video – GCSE Physics

As part of GCSE Physics students learn the idea of an object that reaches terminal velocity when it is moving in a fluid. A great demonstration of this idea is through the example of objects in free fall. And what better object to think this idea through than a skydiver!

The embedded video bring this idea to life. Velocity values of an actual skydiver are given through the different phases of the journey. Right at the very start when the diver jumps off, the weight is the only force acting on the vertical plane. By using Newton’s 2nd law you can work out that the acceleration is all due to gravity at that point. As the diver gains speed due to this acceleration, the air resistance (or drag) also increases. Now the resultant force downwards is smaller and so is the acceleration. Nonetheless there is acceleration downwards and the velocity is still increasing. Eventually the drag increases so much that it is enough to counteract the weight. At this point the forces are balanced and the acceleration is zero. But by this point the diver has a substantial velocity. As such the diver will continue in free fall at a constant velocity. This is what is known as the terminal velocity.

Once the parachute is deployed, the drag increases and the resultant force is now upwards as the drag is more than the weight. This causes deceleration. At the same time the reduced velocity decreases the drag. But there is still deceleration so the diver keeps slowing down. Until the point when the drag is once again equal to the weight. The diver then reaches a second terminal velocity.

This is all explained in the video as well. So hit play on the video and be taken on a skydiving ride joined up with Physics revision. Good luck to all the Physics students taking their exams tomorrow.

Independent Tutors Meetup – 8 July 2017 London

After a break we are back for another meet-up! The independent tutors community in the UK is slowly growing to become a force in its own right and gaining recognition. Working for yourself as an independent tutor can be a lonely job and even if you put all your effort into providing the best possible service, it is always invaluable to know how others manage the teaching and business part of their tutoring.

Tutors meetup Hyde Park London

Tutors meetup Hyde Park London

This is open to all tutors, independent or tutoring for an agency. The Serpentine Cafe is in a great location inside the vast expanse of green in Hyde Park next to a lake. There’s food, drinks and snacks available at the cafe. We usually sit on the grass or at one of the benches on the outdoor area of the cafe. Nearest tube stations are Hyde Park Corner, Knightsbridge and Marble Arch.

Looking forward to meeting you and feel free to contact me if you want more info or to let me know you are coming 🙂

National Grid – Live Data

During my online GCSE Physics tutoring sessions I mention how Electricity is made. And a key extension to that is also how electricity is distributed. The system is called the National Grid and is Great Britain’s electrical transmission and distribution system. In my 2nd year Summer Engineering placement I worked for an electrical distribution company and visited substations.

The National Grid and pumped storage are both part of GCSE Physics, albeit module P1 for AQA Physics, for which the exams have already been and gone in 2017.

Nonetheless the following website is absoltuely amazing in giving you a live up date on nationwide electrical production. It gives you a live pie chart on the different sources of energy, and the distribution of renewable vs non renewable. Not only that but it also gives you an indication on how much pumped storage electricity is available. Pumped storage is in the Physics syllabus as well.

Some other pretty cool things you can see are that there are direct electricity lines between the UK, France and Holland. That way electricity can both be imported and exported.

So click on this link here and check out what’s happening in terms of the National Grid right now.

National Grid : Live Status

Mendel and his peas – GCSE Biology

It is the GCSE Biology exam for my AQA students tomorrow. And one of the key topics in the B2 part of the syllabus is on Genetics and the work of Gregor Mendel. Mendel was an Austrian monk and Biologist in the 19th century. Mendel was very systematic and methodical in his experiments with peas. He was able to work out that traits can be inherited by future generations. And that there are dominant and recessive characteristics. We know these as alleles now.

This short 3 minute video is a great introduction into Punnett squares and the basics of genetic inheritance. Mendel was a pioneer of his time as we didn’t know about DNA or Chromosomes in the 19th century. The animations of the peas in this video are also very engaging and funny.

Rutherford’s Gold Scattering Experiment for GCSE Science

Being able to write out the key results of Rutherford, Marsden and Muller’s famous gold leaf scattering experiment is one of the requirements of the GCSE Physics syllabus. It comes up both in the AQA P2 module and the iGCSE Edexcel Physics syllabus as well. This is usually accompanied by a comparison with the older “Plum Pudding” model of the atom. I use this section of the video in my online tutoring sessions for Physics as it is a must watch for a deeper understanding of Rutherford’s experimental set up and his findings.

Gold leaf nucleus

It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.

– Ernest Rutherford

But writing out the correct answer on a test is one thing, and understanding the human story of ingenuity, perseverance and scientific intuition is another. We tend to learn things better when they are presented as stories. And the story of Rutherford’s experiment is truly remarkable. What he found was mind boggling at the time, and even today it is hard to imagine how empty an atom actually is.

Professor Jim Al Khalili visits the actual laboratory in Manchester were Rutherford got his two assistants to explore the atom in detail. In this superb BBC documentary piece he shows the actual equipment Rutherford used, and the story of how one seemingly random decision by Rutherford ended up unraveling the mystery of the atom. The video is part of a BBC series called Atom. Over here I have linked to the exact point in the video where Khalili starts to look at the props Rutherford used and his story. A must watch for all GCSE students studying this for their exam next week. It will bring this particular topic to life. So press play and be taken on a journey of the most important chapter in the discovery of the inner workings of the atom.

Extraction of metals and the Bronze Age

The reactivity of the metals determines how abundantly they are found on the earth. And an appreciation of their reactivity gives us a timeline of our own development as a species. A study of the reactivity of metals is also a study of very own history. This part of AQA and Edexcel GCSE is one I go through with students all the time. How the Bronze age started and then the Iron Age. All linked to the reactivity series.

Early Bronze Age Tools

Pre-historic humans used stone tools and items in their day to day lives. Tool making was a big deal indeed. But we couldn’t have known of metals besides silver and gold as they were all locked away in unrecognisable oxide form.

A most remarkable discovery moved us from the Stone Age period into the Bronze age. Bronze is an alloy (mixture of metals) of Copper and Tin. And copper would have been found as copper ore in nature. An accidental hot fire near a copper ore in the presence of coal (which contains Carbon, which is more reactive than Copper) would have revealed copper’s true existence. The Carbon reduced the Copper Oxide into Copper. A beautiful gold like substance, soft and malleable. It must have been an extraordinary discovery of its time and it changed the game for humans. We were now able to make much much more sophisticated tooling, ornaments and jewelry. It was the first metal we discovered and set us on a path to more discoveries later.

Here are a couple of great videos that show how a green ore of Copper called Malachite can easily be reduced into Copper. The implications of discovering Copper, and how it was a prime trade item are shown on the videos.

This is a superb resource for GCSE AQA Chemistry students studying the C2 module, or the iGCSE Edexcel 1C modules, both of which I tutor. And if as a student you are feeling bogged down by learning cold facts, then these videos will bring it all to life again.

Do you have any thoughts on the magic of Copper? Feel free to comment 🙂