Monthly Archives: January 2014

188. Ducks, chalk and gravity

So how did TeachMeet result in me standing in a supermarket one evening doing a price comparison of duct tape?

Let us go back in time to #mathsmeetnorthwest. Dave Usher did a brilliant presentation on ‘Big Maths’, including the use of gaffer (duct) tape in lessons. I thought this was a genius idea – sticky, sturdy and temporary. I didn’t get a chance to buy any at the weekend, so I ended up in the supermarket on a weeknight.

But what to buy?

Cheap own brand duct tape at £2.95 for 15m or branded ‘Duck’ tape at £3.95 for 25m?

I started school the next day with one idea on how to use it, which quickly developed into three..

Lesson 1: Averages

Equipment: Duct tape, liquid chalk marker

I did averages and range indoors. This meant I couldn’t chalk the walls or floor. However I could mark out key features with tape. I used the activity Averages and marked out the median, the highest and lowest values on the floor. It was at this point I figured out I could write on black duct tape with liquid chalk marker – brilliant! We labelled the wall with the highest and lowest heights of the class so we could see the actual range of heights.



Lesson 2: GCSE Revision

Equipment: Exam papers, scissors, glue, wall paper, duct tape

I have been using the Foundation GCSE Review with my Higher GCSE resit group. Reviewing ten Higher GCSE papers involves over 200 questions – that’s a big wall display! Both of the TeachMeets I have attended have used the idea of learning wallpaper. So that’s what we used – I’m grateful that some of my students are over 6ft tall or the wall display wouldn’t have gone up.


Now the duct tape was used to secure the top of the wall display and to ‘passer-by’ proof the bottom. It should last longer now that the lower end is reinforced.



Lesson 3: A-Level Mechanics

Equipment: Duct tape, liquid chalk, mobile phones, calculators, soft ball (I used a ball of wool)

It’s all very well drawing diagrams for A-Level Mechanics questions, but how about a life size diagram? We were looking at vertical motion under freefall/gravity. I gave the students pieces of duct tape chalk labelled with a, s, u, v, t. We went to the staircase and labelled the wall with the tape – so u (initial velocity) was taped to the top of the bannister and v (final velocity) went on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, etc.


The students then labelled what they knew: a=g, u=0, v=?, t=?, s=?

The students used mobile phones to time the drop from the bannister to the floor and calculated the distance and final velocity. The physical activity allowed us to think about how to draw these kinds of diagram.

And finally …
Just some pictures of an alternative whiteboard:



188. Top Teachmeet Trumps Resource


I’m currently trying out ideas from the #mathsmeetnorthwest TeachMeet. Emma Weston did an excellent presentation on ‘Marking for motivation and progress’. She inspired me to look for a Top Trumps activity for my class – they needed some consolidation of solving equations with an unknown on each side and with brackets. I found this brilliant solving equations Top Trumps by Dusher on TES resources.

The Marvel comic themed algebra cards have three tiers of difficulty and went down a storm. My class would have happily played all lesson, if I had let them.


Who would have thought that equations could be so engaging?

187. Clever circles

Here is a quick, multi-function resource for you: a set of overlapping circles for angles, pie-charts and fractions/percentages.

Straight edge or ruler
Pair of compasses
A 360 degree protractor printed on paper (or a tracing paper protractor cut out)

1. Cut out three identical circles and the paper protractor.


2. Stack them on top of each other and put the pointy end of the compasses (or a drawing pin) through the middle. Wiggle it around to make a bigger hole – please don’t stab yourself.

3. Draw a radius on the circles.


4. Cut down each radius on the circles and the 0 degree line on the protractor.
5. All done!

Activity 1: Angle Estimation
Slot two circles together:


Estimate the orange angle.
What could the blue angle be?
Show me an acute angle.
Show me a blue 170 degree angle.

Activity 2: Reading a protractor scale
Slot the protractor into a circle:


How big is the blue angle?
Show me an 80 degree angle.

Activity 3: Pie-charts
Slot the three circles together:


What could this pie-chart represent?
Show me a pie chart with two equal sections

Activity 4: Fractions and percentages
Use three circles again:


Estimate what percentage is purple.
What fraction could the blue section represent?

186. Fantastical algebra

Have you ever played the parlour game ‘Fantastical Creatures’? Click for a lovely description and example of it by Little Cotton Rabbits.

I’ve adapted this concept for teaching aspects of number and algebra.

Basic arithmetic
Inverse operations
Order of operations
Setting up simple equations
Using brackets with numbers/letters
Solving single sided equations

Strips of paper – one sheet of A4 makes about 6 strips
Coloured pens (optional)

Basic instructions
1. Write an instruction on the top of the strip (portrait orientation). Label it (a).


2. Fold over the strip twice to hide the writing. Write (b).


3. Pass on the strip, do not unfold it.
4. By the ‘(letter label)’, write the next instruction. The letters help you keep track of how many times it has been passed on.
5. Fold over the strip twice and put a label for the next letter of the alphabet.
6. Repeat steps 3 – 5 as required.

The beauty of this activity is that each problem is constructed by a group of pupils and they are in control of the level of difficulty.

Activity 1: Setting up simple equations

Follow the basic activities with the following instructions:
(a) I think of a number and write an instruction
(b) & (c) Now I write an instruction
(d) The answer is write a number

Pupils fold the puzzle up tight and either pass it on one last time or hand them in (to be randomly distributed).

Pupils unfold their mystery puzzle and construct the equation, step by step. My pupils quickly realised the importance of simplifying, but many forgot the importance of using brackets. This was a useful misconception to identify.


Pupils then use inverse operations to calculate the unknown.


The algebraic operations and numerical operations can then be compared.


Activity 2: Problem solving

This follows the same structure as the equation activity, but pupils are describing a geometric problem. In the examples the blue sections are up to the pupils to choose.

Example 1

Example 2


In the second example pupils can visualise the problem as well as using algebraic terms.

Activity 3: Number Skills

This activity can also be used for setting up BIDMAS problems by omitting the algebra.

185. I’ve lost a Dime


I haven’t actually lost a dime, rather I’m missing a Dime – specifically the second Dime probability pack. It was a great teaching resource for experimental probability from the first school I taught at. Unfortunately it is no longer available, although it is listed on the Tarquin archive site. Each student had a plastic tube with different coloured beads, a related experiment card and a record card. They could investigate the meanings of key vocabulary, carry out repeated trials and use this amazing graph paper, designed by Geoff Giles, to record results:


The graph paper works a little like a bagatelle or pinball machine. You start at the top ‘pin’. A success means move along the line to the next pin on the right, a fail means move to the left. You always move in a downwards direction. The more trials that are recorded, the further down you go. When you reach the bottom you will have carried out 50 trials and will be able to read off the experimental probability as a decimal. I found this blog (medianchoices of ict) with links to the Nrich website and interactive probability graphs. The graph paper from the Nrich site is here: RecordSheet.



I decided to recreate the old Dime investigation sheets:

Students start by explaining what their experiment is and define what is a success/fail. They give the theoretical probability as a fraction and decimal, then predict the number of successes in 100 trials.


Students then carry out their experiment, recording their results in the tally chart and graph. After 50 trials, they write down the fractional experimental probability of success using the tally total and the decimal probability from the graph – hopefully they are the same! Students then reflect on their work and consider how to improve their results.

Download the worksheet here: Experimental Probability investigation



184. TeachMeet New Year

Here’s a nice easy 2014 challenge for you: get yourself to a TeachMeet!

What is a TeachMeet? A definition can be found on Wikipedia, but in essence it is a series of five minute presentations about any aspect of education by educators (mainly current teachers).

If you can’t go to one, find one which was recorded and posted online. Why not go for it and present at a TeachMeet?

It’s National TeachMeet day (in the UK) on 6th February (@TeachMeetUK). Most TMs are posted on the TeachMeet.pbworks site and publicised on Twitter. If you are in North-West England there is a Maths-themed TM happening in Liverpool on Saturday 18th January. Click here for more details or follow #mathsmeetnorthwest

If you are still doubting the effectiveness of TM consider these points:
1) I went for it and presented at the first TM I went to in September (You can watch it here) – it was a great experience.
2) I’ve used short/medium/long term ideas from the TM in my lessons, in Dept meetings and in my Performance Management.
3) My colleague, J, and myself were positively bouncing with ideas and energy for teaching for weeks afterwards.
4) Imagine the worst day-long course you’ve been on and how much it cost. A TM is a couple of hours and generally free!

What are you waiting for?


Updated: 20th Jan 2014 to include Calderstones TeachMeet link

183. New Year Resolutions

Why not get your students to make a New Year’s Resolution?


Image credit:

There are so many little things that we remind students about, so how about getting them to take responsibility?

Start by discussing what they think you nag them about. When students peer review, what annoys them about each other’s work? Extend the conversation to include why these things are important.

Now the tricky bit: making the resolutions.

Get your students to pick two targets – an achievable one and a challenging one. They should be carefully worded and give a reason.

I will show my working out so that I can get all the marks I deserve.

The resolutions should be clearly written on their books (maybe on the front cover?) and a copy should be handed in to you – hand out small sheets of paper for this.

The Future
We all know that resolutions often don’t last. So how can you support your students?

There was a reason why the students handed in a copy of their resolutions. Put them in a jar or box on your desk. Once a week, make your starter a resolution reflection. You could just give your students time to self evaluate or discuss their progress in pairs.

Alternatively you could dip into the resolution jar and pick out a resolution. You could generally discuss that resolution or ask who has a similar resolution and find out how they are getting on.

The key thing is to revisit and also recognise the progress students are making with their resolutions. They’d also make a nice talking point for Parents Evening.

The Twist
If you are asking your class to make a resolution, what would yours be?

Check out these thoughts on resolutions and downloadable resolution templates from
Kev Lister’s blog