Visiting Totteridge Academy

As a maths department, what achievement would you feel most proud of?  An outstanding set of GCSE results with a high proportion achieving 9-7? Data showing excellent progress between Year 7 and 11?  Pupils that visibly enjoy maths and actively engage in lessons, showing that they are willing and able to think mathematically?  A team that effectively improves the teaching practice of all of its teachers and manages to continuously improve the teaching in all its classes? Or having the confidence to share these achievements with other maths teachers by inviting them to your school for a day.

Personally, I would like to be pushing towards the bottom of that list and that is exactly what the team at The Totteridge Academy (TTA) are achieving.

I always find it a hugely powerful experience to extract myself for one day from my own familiar routine and setting to see how others are doing it.  I have come away from TTA today buzzing with ideas, an enthusiasm that quite rightly should be tempered by the mantra of “do one thing and do it well”.  It’s great to glean ideas from others, but any change in how we do things back home is worth nothing without the commitment of the team that’s behind it.  I feel that, at least at a department level, we need 100% consensus on implementing new ideas.  If we can’t get that, we shouldn’t do it.

It has been a rapid change at TTA and I’m sure that the things I have seen today are only part and maybe not that big a part of the story.  But I’d like to reflect on 4 things that I found interesting.

1, Standards of oracy, use of domain-specific language.

What struck me here was not just the way that teachers insisted on ‘right is right’, the Doug Lemov principle that I know many teachers strive for, but how pupils were on board with it too. The classroom culture was such that pupils would put up their hands to comment / correct answers given by other pupils.  Not in a smug, you got it wrong kind of way. But to build up the answer so that collectively as a class we can be certain we have it nailed. Maths is seen as something which is precise and there is a satisfaction in completely and correctly answering a question.

2, Use of chants

As an alternative to Knowledge Organisers (see previous post!) the team at TTA have developed an A3 sheet of about 40 “chants” that pupils learn through the year. Examples include:

Comparing fractions…            …find the LCM

Estimation…                              … 1sf

Multiplying fractions…            …top top bottom bottom

Dividing fractions…                  …x by the reciprocal

Factors of a number…             …go into a number

Multiples of a number…         …are the times tables

I loved the way these were used in lessons.  During an explanation from the teacher or from a pupil, they would say the first part, pause and then the class responds with the second part.  This was clearly a well embedded part of the routine that all classes seemed confident with. A really slick way of reinforcing core knowledge whilst keeping pace to the explanations.

3, KS3 5-a-days and parental involvement

The principle of empowering parents to help their children isn’t going to patch all the gaps that you might have with Year 7 and 8 but it makes sense to give it a go.  In a targeted way, parents are given a weekly set of numeracy questions with worked examples to give them the confidence to help their children at home.   I want to find out more about this and how it develops over the course of the year.

4, Group work

The key to success here is group accountability.  The groups are consistent from one lesson to the next and they accumulate points as a group over the term.  Anyone in the group may be called upon to offer an explanation to the whole class.  The lesson I saw started with pupils working individually on a problem presented to them.  It wasn’t a race amongst the group to get the answer first, in fact they seemed to be conscious of each other’s work and would slow down and offer advice if another group member wasn’t getting there.  Once all had agreed upon an answer, they would next rehearse their explanation. Again, there was real collaboration and awareness here.  One would start the explanation, get to a certain point and then pass the baton on to the next member in the group.  They would all practice a piece.  Once they finished, if there was time, they would rehearse the explanation again. It all seemed very natural to them, I don’t think I have ever seen such a high level of collaborative work in a maths classroom!

All in all, an inspiring day. Many thanks to the staff of The Totteridge Academy for hosting so many of us.

 

 

 

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Knowledge Organisers in Maths the journey – Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about “making your own stuff”.  On the one hand I feel that there are thousands of teachers across the world spending time making resources for things that have been taught for decades, so why are we wasting time reinventing the wheel?  But on the other hand there is something to be said for using something in our teaching that we know to be exactly the way we want it, that we know inside out because we wrote it ourselves.  And when that something isn’t just written by the individual teacher but by a team collaborating on a project it becomes that much better in quality and hopefully the team feel that much more confident in using it.

So has been my experience of creating our first batch of knowledge organisers in Maths.  I started the process thinking that there must be loads out there and it is surely just a question of picking the one we most like the look of.  Although I have magpied bits, mostly from Andy Coleman’s comprehensive collection posted here, our particular version has been the result of around 2 hours of department time where we have discussed the specific nuances of how we model solving linear equations, the use of specific terms in our teaching (e.g. a heated debate on indices vs. powers), and written the words live on screen as a real collaboration between the 5 of us.  Admittedly a small team helps here and more people would likely have made the process take longer.  I am always super conscious of taking up teachers time in meetings but everyone seemed to be enjoying it and getting value from it. It is something I hope we can spend some more time doing in our department next year with our new staff members.

So I am sharing our work with a bit of hesitation.  Firstly they are far from perfect and definitely far from finished.  We haven’t actually used them with real live pupils yet, they have been created in a vacuum. By this time next year, I expect them to look very different.  But more importantly I wouldn’t want departments to miss out on the experience of collaborating to create something they own as a team.

During our discussions on the maths pedagogy, we had to keep reminding ourselves of the principles of what we were trying to achieve with the knowledge organisers:

  1. They are not trying to achieve everything, just the key “facts” that need to be learned.  The absolute base knowledge that learners at all levels need to access the curriculum.
  2. As soon as we found we were trying to write teaching points we would stop.  It’s not a text book or a revision guide.  It is not aiming to explain how to do things, but be a concise list of key information.
  3. The definitions don’t need to be perfectly mathematically rigourous.  They should be durable, in the sense that they are not contradicted by future learning.  But of paramount importance is that they make sense to our learners and are written in language they can access. Often in maths examples speak louder than definitions.
  4. Low-stake tests and pupil self-quizzing.  This is the next part of the journey but something we need to be mindful of now.  How do we expect our pupils to engage with this? What will our low-stakes tests look like?  Current thoughts are that we give them a key fact, they fill in the definition and an example of their own, ideally different from the one given to them.

So, for what it’s worth, here they are.  By all means copy individual definitions if you like them and they work for you.  Just don’t take the document and print out 30 copies to give to your class as that is unlikely to get anyone very far.

Knowledge Organiser Maths Yr7 Term 1a 1b v1

Knowledge Organiser Maths Yr8 Term 1a 1b v1

Knowledge Organiser Maths Yr9 Term 1a 1b v1

 

Part 2 is here.