Monthly Archives: September 2013

150. TeachMeet fever

This weekend I was at TeachMeet NorthWest at Calderstones School in Liverpool. A TeachMeet is a free event where anyone can present so long as it’s relevant to education and only lasts 5 minutes.


It was the first TM I’ve been to and I also presented. I’m not sure if anyone understood the opening line of ‘S’mae, dw i’n hoffi deinosoriaid’ (Hi, I like dinosaurs) but at least I did my best for languages day as a Maths ASTosaurus*.

Reflecting on the whole event, I can safely say that it was the most energising CPD event I’ve ever attended. You could never run such a diverse event as a fee paying course. The element of the unknown, not knowing what the next topic would be, kept everyone engaged. The pace didn’t let up – there was no time to get bored or doodle on handouts. By the time I got home, my colleague J and myself had already discussed half a dozen ideas we would implement and come up with a Departmental project that would be good for both our Performance Management and whole school BLP focus.

So, I’m taking a week out of blogging to try out all these amazing ideas that are buzzing around my head. Then I’ll share who the brains are behind the ideas (so you can follow them on Twitter) and the impact they’ve had.

* I describe myself as an ASTosaurus as the AST grade was abolished nationally this year. There are still ASTs, but most are being moved to Lead Practitioner roles.

For those who don’t know, an AST is an Advanced Skills Teacher. To become one, you must prove yourself to be outstanding in all areas and pass an assessment. Unlike Excellent teachers and Lead Practitioners, ASTs can only be assessed by an assessment body from London. Less than 5% of teachers are ASTs and now we are going the way of the dinosaurs.

149. Cold Questioning

Cold calling is the infuriating practice of randomly contacting people in order to sell something that they don’t want and didn’t ask for. Don’t ask me for my opinion on this business idea!


Cold questioning is the practice of putting a random question on the board and asking pupils to solve it.

Example: GCSE revision
I have a class of critical C/D students who are sitting their GCSE in November. We have been revising prime factorisation, indices, simplifying, standard form and HCF/LCM. Today I put this question on the board:

A pair of trainers are reduced by 30%. The sale cost is £75, how much were they originally, to the nearest £1?

I was pleased to see them talk about the problem and have a go.

Students were randomly selected to share their answers and only two answers occurred – both of them wrong, but with a hint of understanding. Answer A resulted from calculating 30% of £75 and adding it on. Answer B resulted from subtracting the 30% from £75.

Now this isn’t as depressing as you may think, because as we discussed this it became evident that the class were confident calculating simple percentages – they just struggled to apply this knowledge. One student said they had used a multiplier. This opened up the task as we developed the link between reverse percentages and multipliers. Some of the class weren’t convinced, so we had a quick ‘converting percentages to multipliers, including inc/dec’ quiz. We even extended it to fraction to decimal conversion.

Finally, we looked at rounding as it was specified in the original question.

I could have prepared a step-by-step revision lesson, gently taking them through these topics. I think ‘ambushing’ the class with a topic they haven’t studied for a while was more effective as they used a variety of skills to solve the problem, rather than repeat given procedures.

Ambushing your class
*Pick a topic you haven’t looked at for a while
*Avoid easy/obvious questions
*Try to include more than one skill
*Allow sufficient thinking/discussing time
*Finish off with another question, which requires similar skills
(Eg my second question was a reverse percentage involving an increase)

148. Ordering Decimals

Here’s a mini-investigation on ordering decimals, suitable for Year 6/7 (maybe even Y5 too)!

Exercise book (or equivalent)
Felt tip pen
Sheet of paper: A4 or A5

1. Fold the paper into 8 and cut along the fold lines. This will give you some spares, just in case.
2. Clearly write 0 and a decimal point onto two pieces with felt tip pen.
3. Choose two different digits and write them down – you now have four activity cards.
4a. What is the biggest number you can make? Arrange it on the desk. (The decimal point can’t be at the end of the number)
4b. Discuss what you notice about the digits and size.
5a. What is the smallest number you can make? Arrange it on the desk (The decimal point can’t be at the start of the number).
5b. Discuss what you notice.
6. What other numbers can you make? There are 12 possible ways to arrange the four cards (according to my class). Encourage the class to be logical and record their answers carefully.
7. Arrange the numbers in order from smallest to biggest.

Activity 2
Add another digit and investigate. My class insist there are 52 possible numbers – I’m waiting for a reasoned justification of this.

What happens if you duplicate a digit?

Follow-up Activity
After completing either activity, ask the class to find the numbers in their lists which are closest to 0, 1, 10 & 50. This helps consolidate their understanding of place value. I asked my class to write their answers on the board. We then discussed the accuracy of their answers.


147. All hexed up

So, we all know that regular hexagons tessellate beautifully, but name an example in life that isn’t a honeycomb … takes a bit of thought before you start listing examples.

Here’s a picture to add to your list: the gates at a local playing field.


Top detail:


Bottom detail:


What is more interesting is each hexagon is made from and connected by overlapping S shaped strips of metal. Recreating the structure out of strips of card could be an interesting challenge!

146. Sales Fractions

A quick idea for you today:

What is the cheapest each item could have been?


Which of these is the odd one out?


Why is it the odd one out? What discount does it represent? What is this as a decimal or percentage?

Keep your tags the next time you go to the sales – you never know what questions you’ll find.

145. Soroban counts

I found this really useful book set on a second-hand market stall in the summer. I felt it was worth a look for £3.


It is Aba-Conundrums by Evelyn B. Christensen, published by Fat Brain Toy Co. The set includes a soroban, 120 number puzzles (& solutions) on spiral-bound dry-wipe card and dry-wipe pen.

The problem solving elements of the tasks are really good for improving basic number skills.


After boring four generations of my family with it, I did a bit of web-searching and came across the Soroban Cymru website – don’t worry if you don’t ‘siarad Cymraeg’, it’s in English.


I think proper use of sorobans  could be a really useful tool for developing the understanding of number in low ability Year 6/7. I know they are used by all abilities in Asia, but pupils here don’t generally know how to use a soroban correctly and it could be a way to make numbers more interesting for those who disconnected from maths at a young age. I’m certainly going to try it out this term.

You can get basic sorobans on Amazon from about £2.50.

144. Gadget of the Day 5

A thing of geeky beauty today:


This is a Pocket Decoder for Geocachers, for codebreaking on the go! If you are not into geocaching, it’s still a thing of beauty. The dial is replaceable, meaning you can use it to crack a variety of codes.

Find out more here.