I am of the opinion that everyone can be great at teaching. Just like I am of the opinion that everyone can be great at Mathematics (or any other discipline). What this requires is knowledge of the domain (in this case subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge), some guided practice to become confident in using this knowledge, and then lots of time to practice with feedback given (and opportunities to self reflect).
With this is mind, I have designed a new PD programme for our teachers to engage in throughout the 2019 school year. The starting point of this programme is a document that I put together with several of my colleagues last year, which was then put through SMT, and is titled "The Principles of Great Teaching". In putting this together, I referred the focus group to several articles and bits of research, and I discuss the process in more depth in this post.
The final product has 16 principles, broken into two categories: 4 core principles that we think underpin every instance of great teaching and will be a part of all learning opportunities; 12 principles that are called upon over a period of great teaching, though may not be a part of every single lesson. Important to me from the outset was the idea that these are principles for great teaching NOT great teachers.
MARGE vs EBC
I finished reading the excellent ebook MARGE, and immediately saw links to the EBC model I was introduced to in the Science of Learning course I did earlier in 2018. I wrote this post comparing the two models, which has been one of my most popular posts.
Why We Sleep
I have recently finished reading the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker (@sleepdiplomat). It was an absolutely fascinating read which covered the theories of why we sleep, how we sleep and how to help ourselves sleep better, and of most interest, the side effects of not getting enough sleep. Many of these were scary, and the studies shared show that sleep deprivation is a serious matter.
There are correlational studies between lack of sleep and a whole host of health problems (cardiac problems, diabetes, etc). There are also links with many mental health disorders (see here for more on this). Going without sleep for 22 hours leaves you in a similar cognitive state as being legally drunk. Being sleep deprived affects your appetite, making you crave worse foods, and also preventing your body's natural "feeling full" signposts.
But the most relevant to us as teachers was the impacts on learning. When we are awake certain toxins build up in our brain, and when we sleep these are cleared away. Without adequate sleep these toxins build up and prevent us from learning new things. Even worse, one of the main purposes of sleeping seems to be consolidating the learning from the previous day, so with insufficient sleep we get a double whammy on our ability to learn: we will forget the things we learned the previous day; and we will be in a worse position to learn new things as our brain is full of toxins.
Another interesting point for (secondary) education is the natural sleep cycles of teenagers, which are later than those of adults. In fact, teenagers naturally sleep in until later (I know, we all know this), but the important thing is that this is not them being lazy, but rather their biology is forcing this upon them. Whereas adults naturally sleep 10pm - 6am (give or take), teenagers naturally sleep 12am - 8am. This is important when considering school start times, as starting too early can actually be very detrimental to the learning experience of teenagers who will probably be sleep deprived if required at school before 8:30 am (as recommended by the CDC).
The book truly was a sobering and enlightening read, and I would highly recommend it to anyone (not just educators). As educators I think it is our responsibility to teach and promote good sleep hygiene to our students.
This year the first cohort of students that I taught the IB Mathematical Studies course to finished their course. I was very happy with their results, all of them except 1 achieving or surpassing their target grade.
New Year Website Reminder
As the new year started I tweeted a thread showing some of the things that my site http://generator.interactive-maths.com/ can do.
Review of Last Year's Highlights
I also posted a thread on some of the highlights of the blogs/tweets from 2018.
Simon Singh Retweeted Crypto Corner
This made me very happy as Simon Singh is a legend, and I love all his books. The Code Book was one of the reasons I became so interested in cryptography in the first place, so for him to recommend my site (https://crypto.interactive-maths.com/) was awesome.
Being in the Southern Hemisphere, Christmas is also the end of the school year for us. Until this year, students have always been on exam leave at the end of the year, but this year we moved the exams forward so we had 3 weeks of teaching at the end of the year, to review exams and get started on the following year's timetable! So, for the first time in 5 years I have been able to a) wear Christmas ties and b) do Christmas maths lessons. Here are a couple of the things I did.
Over the last year I have grown interested in not only the ideas from empirical studies that we can use in the classroom to improve learning, but also the underlying functioning of the brain and what implications that has for our understanding of how we learn.
In particular I have done two free online courses:
And on top of those I have been reading around the subject. Recently I finished reading the excellent MARGE: A Whole-Brain Learning Approach for Students and Teachers by Arthur Shimamura, which I discovered through this post by Tom Sherrington.
In this post I want to compare and contrast two of the models offered through these experiences: MARGE from Arthur Shimamura and EBC from the FutureLearn course.
First a brief overview of each model.
MARGE is the acronym used by Shimamura to stand for Motivate, Attend, Relate, Generate, Evaluate. In the ebook, Shimamura gives both an overview of this model and goes into detail for each of the aspects. He also discusses the brain functions behind each of these.
I recently saw this tweet and it made me stop and reflect on what my successes were for this year, and what I want to work on next year.
So, here are 4 things that have been successful for me in 2018:
And what about my targets for next year? Well, I want to continue to embed all these practices across all my classes, but these are some of the things I want to focus on introducing/improving:
Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back
I have started doing regular retrieval practice with my classes in the form of retrieval starters. These include questions from Last Lesson, Last Unit and Further Back.
Half a class
Whilst half the year group were away on a trip, I reviewed some basic functions ideas before we moved on to composite and inverse functions the following week.
Twitter for Teachers
After a conversation with some people I thought I would share some of the reasons I use twitter, and some of the ways it has impacted me as a teacher.
Collaborative Project Fair
One of the main aspects of our CPD programme is the Collaborative Project. Each teacher joins a group on a particular aspect of teaching and learning, and throughout the year they meet regularly to discuss the topic, and then head into their classrooms to implement some of the ideas they have discussed. In the next meeting they review, reflect and improve the ideas.
This system has been running in school for a number of years, and when I first got the role of T&L Coordinator, I updated the system a little, to include a group leader who met with me, choosing from a selection of topics rather than free choice, and some ways to provide some accountability. One of these was the Collaborative Project Fair, which we ran for the first time in secondary in 2017.
This year it was bigger than ever, as we had teachers from all three sections of the school (we are a 3-18 school, split across two sites) present at the same event. The fair has a stall for each group where they provide examples of what they have done and talk with those wandering around about their project. We had a total of 27 groups this year. That is a lot of things that people have been investigating.
The stalls were amazing, and talking to our teachers it was clear that they were engaged in the aspect of education they were looking into. Of course, some were more into it than others, but everyone got involved.
For me, one of the nicest things was to have the whole school together (it is not something that happens often, and never in a Teaching and Learning capacity), and this is something I want to push for more of. It was amazing to see what our colleagues are doing with 3-4 year olds, and seeing the progression through the school was fascinating.
The days before the fair were rather stressful, and I was running on adrenaline, but by the time it actually got underway, I was ready to see what the groups had prepared. And now it is over? Some time to get back to preparing my classes, and spending more time with the family.
Successes and Targets
After seeing a tweet from @mrgordonmaths, I reflected on my targets for next year, and also the successes from this year.
The hardest time of my life
As my son turns 1, I give a very personal account of the hardest time of my life.
T&L Newsletter Issue 9
The latest issue of the T&L Newsletter is available here which includes
A year ago our son was born. It was the happiest moment of my life. Although so much of those days is lost to sleep deprivation, the feeling of holding my son for the first time is something that I will never forget. And every day since then I have cherished as many moments with him as I can.
But getting there was not an easy journey - and that journey is not something I have talked about with many people, let alone in a public sphere. But at this point I am finally at a point where I can say this out loud.
We went through four miscarriages before having our son.
For me twitter is a source of professional development in my pocket. I probably spend about an hour a day on twitter, reading and engaging with other teachers from around the world. The three ways that I use twitter are:
I have been using twitter for over 5 years now, and in that time I have become acquainted with people I have never met, and developed a professional dialogue with them. I have also been able to engage with edu-celebrities (such as Dylan Wiliam, Jo Boaler and Tom Bennett). I have been able to chat with the authors of books I have read (such as Doug Lemov, Carl Hendrick and Robin Macpherson, Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby) and talk to experts in the field of cognitive science, which is my current area of interest (such as Dan Willingham and Dr Yana Weinstein).
My approach to teaching and my philosophy of education has been shaped by these conversations, and has changed quite dramatically over the last few years, largely because of the conversations I have had through twitter, and the blogs I have read that I have found on twitter. It is also through twitter that I find links to many current educational research articles, and recommendations for books to purchase for our CPD Library.
I also use these in my role as T&L Coordinator, as I share blog posts that I find with all staff (through the T&L Newsletter I put together roughly once a month), and when thinking about developments for our own CPD programme, as well as consulting our staff, I can consult with many others with lots of different experiences. This is invaluable in helping me get my head around my plans and ideas.
For the first couple of years, my use of twitter was very one sided: I sat and watched, reading stuff and using ideas. But it was not until I started to truly engage, and participate in the discussions and sharing that I started to get more out of it. I am still a relatively quiet twitter user, and am sure I could make even more of it.
Below are some other links about twitter for teachers, which are all much more eloquently put together than what I have written here.
My suggestion is to get on twitter, set up a profile, start following some people, reading what they have to say, and then to start getting involved in the conversation as quickly as possible. Remember to keep it professional, and twitter can become your best source of professional development too.
I have previously blogged about How I Teach and in more depth about my Weekly Quizzes. In this post I am going to go into a little more depth about the way I start my lessons, using what I call Last Lesson, Last Unit, Further Back.
This strategy is based on the idea of spaced retrieval practice, which incorporates both the Testing Effect and Spacing Effect, two of the most well documented ideas in the science of learning. The testing effect says that we learn better by forcing ourselves to retrieve knowledge from our long term memory, as opposed to restudying it. The spacing effect tells us that we remember material better if we space out studying out over time, rather than cramming. Both of these ideas are also considered to be desirable difficulties by Bjork in that they make initial performance lower, but long term learning better.
One of the important things with spaced retrieval is that it is most effective if done on the verge of forgetting. This is when it has the biggest impact on learning. However, the time taken to get to this point increases with each subsequent retrieval.
Each year, our students go away for a trip that incorporates some activities, service projects, and outdoor education. But these are done in half year groups, so half the year is away Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and the other half are away Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. When S3 were away in Tambopata, I had two doubles with them, but in each double I only had half the class (and a few from other collapsed classes). In order to make the most of this time, I wanted to do some activities that would get them ready for the next unit we are starting after they got back, which was functions.
Students have previously met the idea of functions, function notation and domain and range, and this unit will focus on composite functions and inverse functions. However, it has been a couple of years since they saw them, so I wanted to review the basics before moving on.
I started with this activity asking students to write functions given in words as algebraic statements (taken from here - thanks to Jo Morgan for pointing me in the direction of this reference).
I am a maths teacher looking to share good ideas for use in the classroom, with a current interest in integrating educational research into my practice.