334. Frustrating worksheets

Now, I’m straying from my usual positivity today because I’m frustrated by a worksheet. It was set for the eldest in Primary School as non-calculator classwork to be finished at home for homework. Topic is straightforward enough: Percentage Problem solving.

First gripe: I don’t think the teacher had time to check whether the later questions were suitable to be non-calculator. There were divisions my KS4 students would baulk at. Fair enough, we’re all human, we’ve probably all misjudged an activity like that.

Main gripe: this was a paid for resource. The Primary school will be paying a yearly subscription for these worksheets and I think they are being written by someone who actually doesn’t understand percentages. Someone is being paid for writing poorly worded questions.

But it gets better (or worse depending on your viewpoint). The last question is just … Well, let’s just say I’m not a fan. I was so annoyed I picked up pencil and paper and did it myself.

The set up asks you what percentage a tree must grow by each year, if it needs to reach a certain height by a certain year. Any decent student should know that percentage is proportional and thus it will grow in proportion to its existing height each year. That’s a compound percentage problem.

I remind you this is a 10 year old without a calculator doing this work. They calculated the required growth, divided by years and multiplied by 100. The result was a recurring decimal!

I assumed compound growth and worked out the answer as 20%.

I think the person writing the question added on 20% each year, then put their final answer in the question. That is a rubbish understanding of what a child would have to do to solve the problem.

As a teacher, I am fuming that schools’ valuable depleting budgets are being wasted on dross like this. I’d like to say this is the first worksheet from this online provider with questionable mathematical knowledge, but it isn’t. A teacher has trusted that the resource they printed out was accurate and useable and will now have to go back over this in class. 

Of course critics will say that the teacher should have thoroughly checked every question, but this is the real world. If there was time to do that then there wouldn’t be companies making money from charging for resources.

333. Resource of the week

Just a quick resource for you today and apologies if you are already using this!

Plickers

Not some new ‘youth slang’, but an amazing online tool. Students have an individual card with each side labelled A, B, C or D. You ask a multiple choice or True/False question, they hold up their card with their answer at the top, you scan the class set of cards.

Image credit: Plickers.com

It really is that simple and here is what to do to get started:

  1. Create a free account at www.plickers.com
  2. Download the app to a portable device with a camera (phone, tablet etc)
  3. Print out the cards
  4. Allocate the cards to your class on the website
  5. Stick the cards in your students’ books
  6. Set a question
  7. Scan the cards

I have a tablet device that I use for school purposes as I keep my phone for personal use. The only problem I had was my android tablet doesn’t have a light source or as high quality camera as my phone, but we sorted that by having students move to a brighter part of the room for scanning. Instant feedback with no handheld devices!

Finally I have to say a huge thank you to Mr L, our trainee teacher, for introducing this to the Department.

332. Movement Maths

I’ve got to share a new YouTube channel with you. It was created by a former colleague who is not only an ace Maths teacher, but also a trained children’s fitness instructor. ‘Movement Maths: How to survive High School Maths’ is all about daily chunks of Maths with a fitness boost.

First – it addresses basic concepts that many students forget or stress over (initially it will be aimed at Foundation students)

Secondly – the videos are engaging and show that you can do Maths and exercise anywhere (my current favourite is the airport in video 13 – how did he find an empty sp?)

Thirdly – there are recaps and summaries built in

Finally – it was reviewed by students, who loved it!

Subscribe to the Channel, get fit and see what your students think

331. Personalised student/parent feedback

How did I do in the test?

We get that question all the time. Is that a good result? Is it bad? Where did I come in the class? In general I never answer any of those questions, instead I have a little one to one chat as I’m handing out papers or in subsequent lessons.

But what if you’re not there to have that interaction?

I had that problem this summer. We were due to give our end of year test results back to students on the same day I was on a school trip. I couldn’t give the results out early and I didn’t want to make my class wait. If they were just given their test results or papers back, that would be a feedback opportunity missed. What to do?

I ‘wrote’ a letter to each student.

I use the word ‘wrote’ in the loosest sense. I mail merged their results and targets into Word, using my markbook spreadsheet as the data source. That addressed the facts element. The bigger picture for the class was the interesting part. If you search for ‘DESMOS’ box plot, you will find a sample box plot. If you replace the data with your test results, you will obtain a box plot of your results. I put my box plot into the master document and hit merge:

Each student recieved a personalised letter, in an envelope, in my absence. I could even give results to the students who were on the trip with me.

The letters were a big hit with my class. They liked that I had gone the extra mile for them, even though it took under 20 minutes. In the subsequent lesson we could get on with the test review without lots of questions about numbers and grades.

It got me thinking – could I use this idea in other ways?

I have refined the format (the initial letters served their purpose, but we’re basic) and have since used variations on this for other assessments and at Parents Evening. Parents Evening was particularly useful as I had all the target and assessment data, key exam dates, class summary box plots for the last two tests, suggested GCSE revision resources and a reminder of what the new GCSE grades mean. I didn’t have to keep refering to my mark book as all the relevant information was in front of me and the parents didn’t feel the need to make notes. I had very few questions about set changes as they instantly got a feel for where their child was within the class, but without any rankings. Several said that they wished all subjects would produce information sheets like this.

I could also give the personalised sheets to students whose parents couldn’t attend or email them home. It was a very useful tool for getting identical information to those families who are apart, but are equally supportive of their children. When the Head of Year asked for a brief summary of a student’s progress, as they were meeting with a parent on Parents Evening, it was already done.

Of course, the great thing is that I will only have to do a minor update for the next Parents Evening saving me even more time!

The next time you have to give out and/or discuss data with students or parents, try this. It really improve the experience.

330. Still Dancing Men

You may already know about my blog posts on the ‘Dancing Man’ cipher. If not, check them out here;

34. The Dancing Cipher

97. The Dancing Cipher (part two)

Now, I have two parallel classes and I want to set the Dancing Man project as a homework, but they’ll be doing the task at different, but overlapping times. I don’t want the second class to have an unfair advantage, so I’ve written a second task. All the instructions are the same, but it’s a different text. I’m not sure whether to give each class a different text or whether to randomly assign both texts within both classes to avoid copying/generate confusion.

This text is a little more interesting than the last one … think zombies!

You can download an advanced (Beta?) copy below and I’ll update you on how it went, after I’ve done it.

Dancing Men Project 2

Letter frequency analysis project answer B

 

329. Quick acrostic starter

Here is a zero preparation revision or recap starter for you and it might tick a literacy/spelling box too. It’s fiendishly simple, but can be devilishly difficult to complete.

  1. Give students a topic word (eg circles) or use your school name.
  2. Tell them they have to complete an acrostic of maths words related to that topic or general revision words.

That’s it! You can make it more difficult by saying partners must have different words or narrowing the focus of the task.

Interestingly none of my students used the textbook index or Maths dictionaries to help them. The finished product could be used as a wall display, revision prompt or stuck on the front of an exercise book.

A Wise Word of Warning – W Maths words are in short supply.

Here is the example I used in class:

328. Slice of genius

So, I was doing my usual Human Piechart  activity when an interesting point occurred. I had the class split into a group of 20 and a group of 18 (I had a student in charge of each group so that the circles would be factors of 360). I asked the class how we could combine the groups to make a whole class pie chart. One student suggested we add together the angles and divide by two. Several other students agreed that it was a good idea.

There goes my lesson plan.

I put this prediction on the board and asked them to prove it or disprove it using hard facts. I was very impressed by the different techniques they used. Most students started by adding the angles and dividing by two, then:

  • They went to the raw data and calculated the actual answers, disproving the prediction.
  • Some looked at the angles on the ‘combined’ pie chart and worked out the number of degrees per person for each angle. They used the irregularities in angles to disprove the prediction.
  • Looking at how many degrees there were per person and using logical deduction that you cannot add the angles.
  • Others noticed that categories with the same number of people had different sized angles.

All this before they’d answered a single pie chart question! The moral of this story is: don’t ignore the wrong suggestions, embrace them and use student knowledge to dispel the myths.