Category Archives: General

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.

343. Butterflies, dreams and stories: How to say goodbye

It’s finally here. My Y11 form group are going on study leave next week. I’ve been their tutor since the summer of Y8. They really are a lovely bunch of students. I’ve been planning their goodbye for some time.

Dreams

Since Year 9 I’ve periodically given out “100 things I want to do with my life” sheets. I found the image on Pinterest. They’ve added their aspirations over the years. Some are more detailed than others, depending how seriously they took it.

Butterflies

Inspired by the origami of Clarissa Grandi and her amazing website, at the start of Year 10 each student made a butterfly. Each student wrote a hope or dream or positive message on a coloured luggage tag. They attached the luggage tag to their butterfly and I put them up on the wall. They’ve been there ever since.

Stories

I wrote a silly story with every students’ name included. Some are obvious, some are sneaky.

Finally

I put each ‘bucket list’ back to back with the story, then laminated them (if students want to add to their lists they can just use a permanent markers). Each laminated sheet was rolled up and secured with a cheap hair elastic. I then slipped the luggage tag under the band. They look like graduation scrolls.

All these things could be done in a much shorter period of time. I think they will be a personalised memory of their time at school.

342. Revision jotters

With the exams looming large, I thought I’d share how my class have been revising. To give you some context roughly a third of the class are doing Foundation GCSE, aiming for at least a Grade 4. The rest are doing Higher and aiming for a Grade 5 or better. We have three, one hour, lessons a week. I’m rotating between doing an exam paper, a whole class revision activity (eg a revision clock) and tiered revision.

I know if I tell the students to revise independently the results are going to be mixed. Some will be brilliant, some will be more laid back. To resolve this I pick a topic (or two) from each tier that I know they need to improve on from or that they have requested. It’s helpful if there is a theme to the work. I’ve recently done things like y=mx+c (F) with plotting inequalities (H).

Now the genius part: PixiMaths revision jotters

How to run the session

Photocopy a big stack of revision jotters. If you are doing black and white copying, use the b&w version. We requested the b&w version and, because PixiMaths is awesome, it is now on the website.

Clearly put on the board which topic each tier is revising

Eg Foundation: exact trig values, Higher: trig graphs

Give students 5-10 minutes to fill their revision jotters with everything they know. Have textbooks or maths dictionaries available to fill in the gaps. You may find that Higher students want to do the Foundation topic too – no problem, just make sure they have two jotters. Due to the complexity of the Higher topic, they will need more time to make initial notes.

My students are allowed headphones in revision sessions. At this point it’s headphones in for Higher and out for Foundation.

Do a skills recap on the board (exact trig values), with maybe an exam question too. Students can ask questions on the topic and add to their jotter. Then have a worksheet for students to do eg Corbett Maths or KeshMaths GCSE exam questions booklets. They can refer to their revision jotter or scan the Corbett Maths QR code for extra help.

Swap over. Headphones in for Foundation and out for Higher.

Repeat the process for Higher, with drawing trigonometric graphs. Issue an appropriate worksheet.

Once you’re done, make a judgement call. Are there students who could push it further? Maybe transform a trig graph or problem solve? Go for it. Foundation are busy, Higher are busy, spend some time stretching your most able. Every mark counts.

A huge thank you to PixiMaths for the revision jotters (and everything else).

Examples of students’ work

Shared with permission of students. You can see that they have personalised them to meet their needs and some are a work in progress. Also, the b&w jotter photocopies so nicely.

341. Dragon Bridge

Here is a little starter picture for you:

This is the ‘Pont y Ddraig’ at the marina in Rhyl, in North Wales. What mathematical questions could be inspired by this?

‘Pont y Ddraig’ means Dragon Bridge. Find out more about the bridge here

339. Broken rotation

This is a quick post following a discussion in the office today. The prompt was a colleague asking “How do you teach rotation to a child with two broken arms?”

The last ‘child’ I taught with two broken arms was a sixth former and it involved profuse photocopying of notes.

But back to the problem. You could cut out shapes and rotate them on a gridded whiteboard. The student could get a feel for what was going on and be part of the whiteboard Q& A session. For the main classwork, photocopy the worksheet or textbook and increase it to A3. Make a second colour copy and cut out the shapes in the questions. The student can then move these into the correct places to answer the questions. The work could then be photographed, emailled to the teacher or printed out.

Of course I do mean use a phone to take a picture, because it’ll take more than two broken arms to stop a teenager using their mobile phone.

(BTW I’m not making light of the student’s problem. It’s important we think around these issues to ensure all students can access the curriculum)