Category Archives: General

361. Routes, Reindeer & Reasoning

Well, we are nearly at the end of a very crazy year. Congratulations on surviving it!

So, it’s been a while since the last blog post. Apologies for that. At the moment I am involved in Mixed Attainment teaching with Year 8. To finish off the term, I thought we deserved a bit of fun. We have a week of lessons left so I’m going for a mini project each lesson.

Lesson 1: Santa’s Route
I found this fab task on the Maths Drill website. There is a real chance for extension in this task, which is great for the mixed attainment classroom.

Lesson 2: Reindeer Ratios (Updated 13th Dec)
We have been following the White Rose Maths scheme for Year 8, which covers a lot of proportion and reasoning through ratio, multiplicative change and fractions. This task tries to cover some of these skills. The answers will be uploaded soon.

Lesson 3: Elf Box Packing Problem (Updated 14th Dec) Elf Box Packing Problem Solutions
This task involves using multiplicative change and fractional multiplication and division, with a dash of unit conversion. There is some work on shapes, but formulae are given where necessary. The first four pages print nicely into a folded A4 (A5) booklet. There is a help sheet for the box packing problem; this would be better printed on A4.

358. A spatter of trig

The fabulous Mrs D (@mrsdenyer ) shared this forensics video, by crime scene analyst Matthew Steiner, on Twitter. At eight minutes in the presenter looks at blood spatter analysis. The use of basic trigonometry in a practical situation is a gift of a video for a starter in lesson.


My class were absolutely silent throughout and wanted to watch the whole video, however they may have just been trying to avoid work. I shared the video link with them via our digital classroom platform. We are now using blood spatter for 3D trigonometry examples rather then mobile phone masts. Gory, but effective!

355. Toyota logic

My fabulous colleague, Mr G, has recently been to the local Toyota factory to find out about the Lean model.

The key principles involve efficiency of process. He told me about a school using the Lean model that had tape diagonally along the spines. Students put their folders back in order and the teacher can instantly see if a file is missing. Genius!

Now I happened to be about to cover my textbooks with sticky back plastic. I put duct tape around the spine before covering them. Each book has tape 1cm lower than the previous.

Now you are thinking – that looks nice, but it will never work.

I’ve got news for you – every time I use the textbooks with my class of 34 Year 9 students, they put the books back in order. On the first day I made a big deal of how tidy the books looked and challenged them to put them back tidy. And they did – every lesson!

354. Iced gems

Just a quick idea today. You know the feeling when the multi-pack of sugar paper has dwindled down to just the brown. Great if you want to do trees, bleurgh if you want to do anything else.

I did a tarsia recap with Year 7. There were three different tasks going on and so I photocopied them onto three different colours of paper. The only colour of sugar paper was brown. We went with it. As the class finished their work, we discovered that their work looked like iced biscuits or iced gems. Hence our wall of Algebra Iced Gems:

Some of the cutting and sticking is a bit wobbly, but the class really enjoyed this task and we consolidated a considerable number of skills.

348. A-Level colouring (Updated)

Those of you who follow this blog will know I have a thing for explaining with colours. This isn’t just a gimmick for younger students, it also works for 16-18 year olds.

In the picture below we were looking at proving a statement involving reciprocal trigonometric functions and fractions. A common source of misconception with this kind of question is that students split the question into working with the numerator and denominator separately, then make mistakes when they put them back together. They can’t see the big picture.

Image credit: Mathssandpit

When I discussed this on the board I used separate colours for the expressions in the numerator and denominator. The class could follow the logic so easily. It’s probably my most successful introduction to this topic. I saw that some students used highlighter on their notes after I’d gone through it, so they could track the solution.

The second type of question we looked at was solving a trigonometric equation. The straight forward expansion was all in one colour, but the roots of the quadratic were highlighted in different colours. The reasoning behind this was that students often solve half the quadratic and neglect the other impossible solution. Our exam board likes to see students consider the other solution and formally reject it. It makes the solution complete. By using a colour, the impossible solution stands out and reminds students to provide a whole solution.

Image credit: Mathssandpit

So when you are planning for misconceptions at A-level, remember that coloured pens aren’t just for younger students.

Update: 22nd October

The brilliant Mr B has shared how he uses colour to identify the forces in perpendicular directions in Mechanics.

347. Maximising space

As you start to plan the layout of your (new) classroom, I have a handy little tip for you. It’s really useful to have key dates up in the room, but where to put them. Print them out and you lose valuable wall display space, odds are you’ll forget to update it during the year. Put it on the whiteboard and you risk some scamp (or over enthusiastic colleague) wiping them off the board.

How about a blackboard?

This is sticky back blackboard vinyl that you can get very cheaply from places like ‘The Works’ or Amazon. You can cut it to size and put it on any flat surface. I’ve put it on the back of my desk and used chalk pens. Once they dry they take some effort to remove.

Students have already noticed it and have said they like having a big picture of what’s going on next term.