Tag Archives: la salle education

Maths Conference Birmingham #mathsconf17

After a long week of tutoring, travelling and conferencing last week I come back re-energised and inspired. Here are my thoughts while they still swim fresh in my head on #mathsconf17, my fourth maths conference.

TLDR : All four workshops were phenomenal as standalone workshops. In the sequence I attended them, they compounded my learning even more.

Friday – Hotel tutoring and drinks

I have Friday tutees and Saturday is my busiest tutoring day. I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of going to #mathsconf17 though so I rescheduled many of my Saturday students well in advance. I took the train on Friday morning, checked into the hotel, set up my mobile online tutoring office (laptop + graphics tablet) and away I went tutoring until the evening.

Maths Tutors UK with Mr Corbett

Selfie time with Mr Corbett!

Fellow tutor friend and conference buddy Austin (@Lazyrunner78) arrived after a long evening of his own tutoring. We had a catch up and then made it to the bar late. The Friday drinks are always so welcoming, you can join anyone and instantly share your own enthusiasm of teaching amongst fellow teachers who understand the slightly crazy passion we have for teaching maths. I met some new teachers, both local to Birmingham and those who travelled. The friendly Mr Robert Smith was welcoming as always, introducing people to each other and keeping us all ticking socially.

Speed dating with some unexpected Science

The Saturday was buzzing and La Salle CEO Mark McCourt opened the conference with an intro. His story on how the conferences started and his passion of empowering and bringing together maths educators set the scene for the day. We kicked it all off with mathematical speed dating. This was missing at #mathsconf15 so it was good to see the return. A speed date is talking to a teacher for two minutes about your best teaching ideas then hearing the teacher for two minutes. That’s one speed date, next you find a random teacher and then rinse and repeat four more times. Mark reminded us all on how a mathematical speed date in Birmingham led to a wedding two years ago. Love that story!

Andrew Taylor from AQA at #mathsconf17

Andrew Taylor from AQA.

I shared my own ideas on using manipulatives to teach from a mixture of algebra tiles to the meaning of pi experiment. Amongst my dates I met a teacher from Birmingham who was retraining from being a Chemistry teacher to teach maths. As it was his first conference he felt a bit out of place amongst so many seasoned maths teachers. I reassured him that I felt even more out of place at my first maths conference as a private tutor but now I know the community is super supportive. Since we both also taught Science it was so easy to go straight into common themes between the two. His speciality was Chemistry so we had plenty to talk about that. I had my big aha moment right at the end of the day too on maths and Chemistry. More on that later.

Workshop 1 : Tech, Tech, Tech from Steep Roads to CGI Films

This is the second time I went to Douglas Butler’s (@douglasbutler1) talk, previously seeing him at #mathsconf10. This second helping was with a different flavour. He gave an overview of some of the items on this list.

  1. Top Google Earth Objects
  2. Top Large Data Sets on the Web
  3. Top Uses of Excel
  4. Top Problem Solving Ideas
  5. Top Twitterers to Follow
  6. Top Maths Blogs
  7. Top YouTube Channels
  8. Top Mathematics Entertainment
  9. Top Dynamic Software for KS3-4
  10. Top Dynamic Software for KS5
Maths cakes #mathsconf17

Maths cakes. Perfect for sugar rush.

I have installed Google Earth pro on my computer after seeing it in action at this workshop.  I use Google maps with tutees already to show them the similarity between New York’s grid layout and the x-y system. Google Earth Pro can do so so much more though. He showed the world’s largest equilateral triangle layout, parabolas, pentagon and the world’s steepest road. He also gave us all a hearing test. The airline industry is full of amazing data that can be used to show the perils of sampling data from a population. We also got a taster of Autograph and Excel. I am amazed by what those pieces of software can do. He finished off by making an animated version of the Starship enterprise from Star Trek to show 3D dynamic geometry in action, with music included!

Douglas tells great stories and delivers with such great enthusiasm that you are drawn into the world of maths he reveals with the help of simple technology. I’ve got such great ideas from this workshop which will no doubt help my online maths tutoring for KS3, GCSE and A Level students.

All that geometry and visual representation got me in the perfect mood for Singapore maths next.

Workshop 2 : Dyscalculia, Bar Modelling and the rise of Singapore

Dyscalculia and Singapore bar modelling are massive topics. I have been to day courses on both of them before. To deliver a concise idea of the two in one workshop was no small achievement by Judi Hornigold (@DyscalculiaInfo).

Counters are a powerful tool in learning maths.

Counters are a powerful tool in learning maths.

I have totally immersed myself into tutoring and understanding Dyscalculia after going to a day workshop on it 3 years ago. Judi told us how we can better define Dyscalculia so that we can then address it. She also discussed that in many cases Dyscalculia might appear to be the issue when in fact it is maths anxiety. Anxiety triggers a fight or flight reflex shutting students down to learning maths. Again, maths anxiety is a huge topic on its own.

So how can Singapore maths help? Students and teachers in Singapore had never heard of maths anxiety to her surprise. Judi went through a brief history of Singapore maths and then we got to the fun bit! Using counters, cuisenaire rods, Singapore strips (of paper) – Singapore strips sure got some chuckles in the room. We looked at the bar model method itself for a range of situations from number bonds, ratio questions, linear equations in counters to the idea of metacognition for students. Metacognition is about building into students how and when to recognise when a problem can be reduced down and then solved in a different way, rather than applying an algorithm on autopilot. A quick example is on finding 12.5% of a large number without using a calculator. If students recognise 12.5% instantly as one eighth then they can divide the number by 8 instead.

Singapore maths and bar modelling is changing lives for children. Judi had some amazing stories of students cracking things in maths. She had stories of students in tears of joy when they figured out concepts. I can relate to that as I had a Year 11 tutee who had battled with ratios all his life. It made sense to him after just half an hour when I used the bar model with him as the very first tutoring session I ever had with him. The utter delight and sigh of relief he had at understanding ratios is something I still remember so clearly.

What an inspiring, well thought workshop. Inspiring low motivation students was just about to be covered in workshop 3.

Workshop 3 : Re-visioning success and the marigolds of multiplication

Julia Smith (@tessmaths) is a motivational power house, absolutely no doubt about it. She works with some of the least motivated students, those who have retaken GCSE maths and in some cases, are still retaking. She has found many ways of motivating students and has some excellent methods on how to help them revise and pass their exams.

Re-vision workshop at the maths conference

Re-vision workshop in the school music room.

Julia started off the talk by clarifying that if students haven’t managed to figure a method out by the age of 15 and a high stakes retake exam is imminent, then it is time to re-visit the topic in a totally different way. If a method that works for them to give them the correct answer, then no matter how procedural or ‘quick fix’ the method seems, it is more than worth it to get the student to pass, gain confidence and go on to get a better paying career in life.

She broke down the word Re-vision into re and vision. I had never thought about it this way so this was very refreshing. We also discussed possible answers to the “I hate maths” line from demotivated students and a tea towel of her revision techniques was given to one of her favourite responses.

I am really torn when I have to teach to the test rather than teach for understanding. I will switch to teaching for the test in cases when I have to. To many of my students their dream might be to work in Veterinary Science, Sports Science, Nursing, Music Tech or something that requires that all important maths pass. I’ve got such students over the maths hurdle and it is truly satisfying.

Amongst her top tips was the idea of double marking past papers, one with the real mark and the other with what the mark could have been with all slip ups and silly errors were given. Getting students to visualise tough moments in exams and to work out strategies to overcome those tough moments and to continue. Her centrepiece was her toolbox, which amongst other methods uses the marigolds of multiplication. This helps students to instantly figure out the times tables of 6,7,8 and 9. It works and will get students out of jail when they most need it, I really liked it! The other technique that I learnt was Vedic multiplication using just line strokes and counting for long multiplication. Again, what a superb technique.

Maths Tutors UK Facebook group tutors

Maths Tutors UK unite.

She also stressed that the way to do maths is to do lots of it, the importance of good exam technique and plugging gaps in the nine basics. Corbettmaths revision cards were mentioned amongst mathsbot and a few other great revision resources.

What came across so well is Julia’s energy and a can-do attitude to get her students over that line. I will take a lot away from this workshop and have new found courage to help my GCSE retake tutees.

On to workshop 4. I was already primed for linear equations from the bar modelling workshop earlier in the day.

Workshop 4 : Atomising Linear Equations and an aha moment with Chemistry

Choosing this fourth workshop was a tough decision indeed. Between Jo Morgan’s workshop on solving quadratics, this one by Kris Boulton (@Kris_Boulton) and Pete Mattock’s one I had to pick just one. The title of this talk “How to solve linear equations, 100%, guaranteed” and a compelling description is what really sold it to me in the end. Perhaps the biggest motivating factor for me was that solving linear algebra equations is one of those pivotal key skills that once cracked, really gets students a firm grounding for algebra in general. I keep having to revisit it with some students.

Kris started off with Al Khwarizmi. This is  what I do when introducing linear algebra to students, so this struck a chord with me instantly. I ask students to google the origins of algebra and more on Al Khwarizmi’s book. We then talk about some of the words that come up, balancing, restoration, completion etc. Kris went into some detail about the appropriate use of the equivalent, equal signs and the word solve.

Atomising how to solve linear equations

Atomising how to solve linear equations

He has ‘atomised’ the process of solving one step linear equations in some very fine detail indeed, 17 steps in fact. Breaking and repairing equations was the sort of language I have not heard in this context, so it really gave me food for thought. These steps could be put into component process pretty much independent of each other.

  • Deciding
  • Simplifying
  • Breaking
  • Repairing

I was sitting next to Austin for this last talk of the day and we both tried to come to terms with the idea of breaking an equation. This careful ‘atomisation’ and the early Chemistry moment suddenly gave me a Eureka moment. At GCSE Chemistry students are given equations to balance. These are broken equations because atoms are quite literally in unbalanced numbers on both sides. Balancing equations is a nightmare topic in Chemistry and Kris’s talk has given me an idea on breaking the process down rather than teaching it as one big process from start to end.

There was a lot in this last talk of the day and by being forced to think in language I had previously not encountered I have taken a lot away from this workshop.

Fan moments, freebies and meeting other maths tutors

It is so refreshing to see more tutors turn up to these conferences. The Maths Tutors UK group has about five core members who attend these conferences and a new tutor local to the conference always joins in. It is vital that tutors get out there to such events as working in isolation has drawbacks.

CGP free books for teachers #mathsconf17

Free books from CGP!

The rest of the conference was all about goodies from CGP, maths cakes, selfies with the legend that is Mr Corbett (we were in a long queue of selfie takers!) and all round socialising.

In summary this was the best maths conference for me yet. On its own each workshop was perfection. By design or sheer coincidence the order in which the workshops followed one another complimented each other so well. Compounding at its best. Einstein wasn’t kidding when he said it is the eighth wonder of the world!

The positive, supportive, can-do energy of these conferences is what bring me back to them each time. Endless thanks to the La Salle team and Mark McCourt for making this all possible.

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.