Yesterday I attended mathsconf16 at The High School of Glasgow, courtesy of La Salle. I was really looking forward to the day and it did not disappoint. I’m going to try to summarise the day but am sure I won’t do it justice in words.

After an introduction from Mark McCourt @EmathsUK the keynote speech was given by Craig Barton. This was the first time I’d heard Craig speak in person and he sounds exactly like he does on his podcast. Craig spoke about variation theory and how to apply this in class. What interested me most was the idea of reflect, expect, check. I have never done this in a formal way and liked the idea of giving pupils a sheet to record their findings.

We then had the opportunity to discuss different sets of questions and consider how a pupil would approach them. This was tricky as we have “the curse of knowledge “. Here are a few examples of sets of questions.

Craig emphasised looking at the connection from one question to the next and for pupils to reflect on the answer and consider what they expect the next answer to be.

My main takeaway from this is to always dedicate time to working through sets of questions I’m going to set and carefully consider connections and relationships.

Next Craig talked about the “rule”. This is when you use a set of carefully selected examples and non examples so that pupils can think about a definition or a rule for themselves. Craig gave the example of defining a prism. Rather than telling the class what a prism is, show them a shape and have them guess if it is a prism or not. Continue showing different examples and non examples until they build up an idea about what constitutes a prism. This picture gives an idea of what I’m talking about.

The crucial part is the variation of the shapes from question to question- one change at a time. I’ve never considered this method of teaching before and will definitely be using it next term.

There was so much more to Craig’s talk and he has written about it in detail at www.variationtheory.com

This talk was the perfect way to start the conference and had my head buzzing about how best to structure questions to explore patterns and relationships. I was a little disappointed by the lack of “flippin ecks” though.

The first workshop I attended was from Gary Lamb @garyl82. This workshop was about mastery learning and maximising up time in lessons. Gary spoke about all the time wasted in lessons that could be put to better use. One idea that I don’t agree with is not having starters in lessons. Whilst I agree that not all starters are well designed and useful, the right starter can add much richness to a lesson. I’ve been using retrieval practice grids (my blog post about these is here) with senior classes and they are having a positive impact on retention. Gary then spoke about minimising the number of questions by being more selective of the questions chosen. Here is an example.

I love the extension questions at the end which provide challenges for the quick workers and involve creating questions from answers. I need to incorporate more of these into my everyday lessons.

The second workshop I went to was by Naveen Rizvi @naveenfrizvi. I’ve previously read blogs by Naveen and when I saw her on the workshop selection I knew I had to attend. Naveen took us through the process of atomising a topic, which is essentially breaking down a topic into smaller and smaller sub skills. When planning a topic it is essential to consider every angle and think of every type of question that could be asked. While this could be time consuming, Naveen suggested dividing it up across the department to spread the work load.

The example used was perimeter. Who knew perimeter could have as many as 12 subskills? Here’s one of them with a sample question.

There was so much consideration given to every single question asked – whole numbers, decimals, fractions, reversing steps and more – with sequencing and interleaving playing a part too.

Naveen spoke so passionately about this that it was hard not to be captivated by the process. I will certainly be checking out her blog post on this so I can digest all the information.

Lunchtime now and my brain was in need of some rest. There was a lovely lunch provided and time to catch up with others and hear about workshops I’d not attended. I was too busy talking to remember to do the treasure hunt. Maybe next year.

Workshop 3 was run by Bernie Westacott @berniewestacott. This workshop involved using different manipulatives to improve conceptual understanding of fractions. The importance of mathematical language was stressed such as talking about 2/3 as 2 thirds and using equal parts when saying 1/4 means 1 out of 4 equal parts. Various misconceptions were discussed such as 1/3 is larger than 1/2. We explored how to use manipulatives to overcome these. I really appreciate the use of concrete materials for teaching fractions but as a secondary teacher I am not sure how I could use them as pupils will already have prior knowledge of fractions from primary school. If this knowledge has not been built on conceptual understanding then it is very difficult for me to undo their misconceptions as they assume they already know it. My takeaway is that I need to get out into primaries and explore these methods together.

Time for a quick coffee break and some cake. I baked a cake but the decorating was a disaster. it was meant to be a log table but got mistaken for Napier’s bones. Nevertheless I thought it tasted good and the salted caramel buttercream icing was yum.

Final workshop of the day was from Stuart Welsh @maths180. This was a great way to end the day as Stuart cracked lots of jokes. He shared with us some of the strategies he uses with his classes. The two ideas which stuck with me most were using a timer for starters (be interesting as I have lots straggle in from PE often) and having pupils rate their confidence when answering low stake quizzes. Stuart also talked about structuring practice in lessons and has a system in place to ensure that as well as current topic questions there are always questions from previous topics built in too. This is a great example of retrieval practice and something for me to consider.

End of the conference, I didn’t win the cake competition (no surprise there) but I did buy two books from ATM. Nice to have some holiday reading.

On the drive home, after safely navigating myself out of Glasgow, I was still buzzing

with excitement and ideas. Hopefully I can give myself some time to properly

work on these ideas and strategies.