National Maths Conference 2014

Straight off, and lest I forget: thanks to La Salle for organising a great conference (and to everyone who sponsored!); it was really well run and the hosts/staff were so gracious and welcoming with an obvious love of maths and maths teaching (as had everyone who attended). I’m now aware of what I’ve been missing by not attending these things and am already looking forward to the next one. I am also furiously competitive in a small number of fields, of which cornily-themed cake-baking is one, so future opportunities to indulge that obsession are most welcome (disclaimer: clean-up involved a hammer and chisel at one stage (CARAMELAAARGH), and there was just under 2kg of butter involved, so the result might have been different if anyone had tasted it).


Lots of people have already given overall summaries of the day, so I will just write about the main things I’ve taken away from it (i.e. there is a pretty niche audience for this blog post, but I would definitely like to hear your thoughts if you disagree with how I’ve interpreted anything). Perhaps through poor workshop selection on my part, or because I like to read around (e.g. from DFE releases to people’s blogposts), or because our principal is engaged in a valiant attempt to keep his staff appraised of what is happening outside of our school, I ended up mostly hearing things that I partially knew about. That said, it did give me a chance to interrogate if I’d properly understood what I’d read/heard and, more pertinently, it was useful to have listened to things at the same time as Bethan (@MsBWellbrook – HOD at our sister school, Dixons McMillan Academy) so that we could discuss implications for our own decisions and plans.

Dr Pittard

I thought Dr Pittard gave a pretty good overview of a huge amount of material and was easy to listen to. On paper, ‘summary of changes from the DFE’ doesn’t sound like a riveting opening address, but I thought she was a good choice to start off, as it gave another lens for thinking about how to apply the rest of what we learned or talked about for the day. It’s a shame – but understandable – that there wasn’t time for people to ask questions. Of course, this is based on the naïve assumption that people will ask questions and not segue to “Mini-speech about how much I believe Every Bad Thing is because of Michael Gove, disguised as a question.” J

Mark McCourt / Complete Mathematics

I’ve always enjoyed Mark’s blogposts (@emathsUK) so was pleased that we got to hear from him. Although BW and I are chuffed to have the subscription to Complete Mathematics for the year (thank you #competitivecake), it made me realise how unclear it is what maths teachers need to move their practice/departments on, at least in terms of external provision. The only gap in the market, at least in terms of what I currently think about the most, is for more detail and shared thought on the rationale and approach for teaching different things (i.e. NOT resources and long-term plans, and not lesson plans). From what I’ve seen in my (short) career so far, what marks out effective* teachers is the quality of their exposition and the order and timing of how they sequence explanations and steps; this seems to be relatively neglected in ITT and in CPD. It only seems to happen in cases where very small groups of colleagues choose to work together to have in-depth discussions about how to teach a topic. Even then, it often only happens very shortly before it is due to be taught, or in response to a disaster lesson, and doesn’t feed into medium- or long-term planning that gets shared any further. One example of what I’m picturing is this great post by Bruno Reddy (@MrReddyMaths) on his department’s approach to teaching negative numbers: I would LOVE to be in a position to have access to that level of thought and conversation (the comment section is a thing of beauty for its glorious earnestness). Perhaps the lesson from this is to consider writing more posts like that myself, and to encourage colleagues to do the same, and not wait for a commercial solution.

@Just_Maths on KS4 Intervention

Mel and Seager have phenomenal charisma and their session was a reminder of how different my (professional) life is now, as compared to in my last school. I spent most of it wishing my old HOD could have been there as I think he’d have taken so much from it, and intend to give him a thorough description of everything they said as I think they had identified the right strategies for their context. I felt frustrated, though, that half their work was the exhausting task of trying to create a micro-culture within their department, when that should be (in my opinion) a school-wide task for which the head/SLT is accountable (although Mel and Seager were far too professional to voice that complaint themselves).

Andrew Blair (@inquirymaths)

I attended Andrew’s talk as I am very sceptical about using inquiry to deliver the maths curriculum, but didn’t want to be close-minded about it (i.e. I was open to being convinced). Perhaps because most of the audience value the same things as Andrew, he didn’t focus on making a case for it (maybe I’m just a horrific person for waiting to be shown a study about how it translates into improved maths attainment) or how he sees it fitting into the curriculum (he did clarify later that it was something that is used a few times per term, and not a teaching approach in its own right). Andrew clearly believed in what he advocated and was thoughtful in his responses to questions, but I’m no closer to identifying what aspect of the curriculum I would be willing to replace with inquiry lessons.

Andrew Smith (@oldandrew)

I’ve always found Andrew’s challenges on Twitter to be useful or thought-provoking, if forthright, so was looking forward to having my mind changed on lots of things. Happily or unhappily, it turned out that I agreed with just about everything that he said, so it mostly was useful for helping me think about how I’d refine my own justifications when trying to get other people to change their minds. His talk confirmed my despair with regards to existing resources for sustained practice (even those he suggested have issues in terms of being too flat (i.e. no change in the level of thought required) or ramping up to quickly). I would happily pay a significant chunk of my budget on some GOOD textbooks (this is mostly a plea to David Rayner). One audience member asked an (unintentionally?) over-complicated question that disguised a genuinely interesting one: beyond the specifics of ‘teach the content explicitly, provide opportunities for sustained practice’, I would  love to know more about Andrew’s thoughts on lesson design (e.g. what approaches he favours for checking understanding, or for responding to the (common) situation of 20 students being ready to start working on their own and 10 students still needing for explanation and supported practice) or what makes for good and bad manifestations of ‘teach it to them directly.’

Kris Boulton – curriculum design (@Kris_Boulton)

Trying to talk to Bethan about what we’d both seen in session 3 made me realise that we’d get more out of the conference if we went to the same things so that we could discuss them jointly, so I went with her to Kris’s (I hope that wasn’t too rude to do to the person hosting the one I was meant to attend). I share Kris’s views on most aspects of curriculum design (but lack the capacity to express them neatly or make use of anecdotes) so was relieved that most of what he advocated was already present in what we do at our two schools (teaching fewer topics and taking longer, identifying the most important topics and spending a disproportionate amount of time on them, separating minimally different concepts, distributing practice, building in ways to revisit topics to strengthen retention, building retrieval strength through regular testing, etc). It’s a topic that could sustain a week-long conference (the dream!) but was enough that, between that session and reading David Thomas’s slides this morning (@dmthomas90), Bethan and I geeked out all day today making sure we weren’t missing anything with curriculum or assessment (of course, it generates even more things to go sort out; sometimes I feel like my job description should just say ‘attempt Hydra-slaying’).

I don’t have any further conclusions, other than that our cake is still untouched and I hope no one in school goes into a diabetic coma tomorrow if they taste it.

konigsberg folk

– – –

*In this case, I’m thinking about ‘effective’ in terms of the academic results they get over time, and the explicit progress that is made in their lessons. Obviously there are myriad metrics for effectiveness, but a significant chunk of my job is to care a lot about that particular one.

1 Comment

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One response to “National Maths Conference 2014

  1. Nice post, thanks for the link. I too feel sceptical about Inquiry maths. I have used elements as,start points, but can’t see it being effective as a full lesson strategy.

    And that is one amazing looking cake.

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