Digital teaching tips & tricks, ideas, examples, and general thoughts and reflections. Follow my Inquiry.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Can learning times tables be fun? ...Not really, but you can try to make them less boring!

Since realising that kids struggle to learn their time's tables all over the world and that this is not some rare phenomenon happening only in my class... That I don't have to be some kind of Super Teacher and solve this issue all by myself... I have been doing more and more reading online about how other people teach times tables, and the best ways to learn times tables.

In all the sources that I come across, they all seem to agree that learning basic facts (times tables) off by heart is essential to being a high achiever in maths. They also agree (sadly) that the best and most efficient way to memorise these facts off by heart is by rote learning them in some way.
- The Telegraph
- The School Run
- Mathmo Consulting

While all agree that boring old rote learning is best the way to memorise basic facts. They also suggest that fun and engaging times table games or activities will help provide incentive or motivation for learners, which should help counter the monotonous nature of the rote learning. See my post on Rob Wiseman's time's table rap for what I think is a great example of this.

Hesitant to play too many games such as 'Around the world' which I fear only helps the small number of high achievers grow in confidence, while detrimentally affecting the ones who could really use some motivation, I have looked at other types of "fun and engaging games" on the internet. I have come across a website called Math Playground. This is just one of 100's of websites claiming to be "maths games" however this is one of the better ones I have found, that has ACTUAL maths learning in the games.

Rather than give them a free-for-all access to the site, which I can imagine would naturally become a trolling session looking for the most entertaining game on the site. I have selected a game at the right level for each of my groups and restricted them to that game only for the week. I have explained to my class that these games are on trial basis and if we can't use them appropriately and do our other work as well, then I would remove them from our rotation.

For my target group, I found a times tables race car game. This game can be played against the computer or other real players (including each other) as they race their car around the track and to the finish. To propel your car forward you must answer the time's table questions on your screen. Get a question right and your car accelerates, get a question wrong and your car slows down. Rather than recalling the answers straight from their brain, the game gives you four answers to choose from, only one correct. This is a nice change from some of the other resources they use and helps them answer more rapidly (more fun!).

I have trialled the games this week, and they have been an absolute hit! However it is the first week back, and they are brand new, so I'm not getting my hopes up just yet. I think this is something I will bring back either every second week or something similar so that they don't lose their "cool factor" they have right now.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Times tables Rap - Learning from our own

Rob Wiseman is a teacher at Pt England School and has a Year 7 & 8 class.
Similarly to my Year 5 & 6 class his Year 7 & 8's are lacking in times tables knowledge, but not so similar to my Year 5 & 6 class Rob thought of an exciting, original, and creative way to help his learners learn their time's tables.

Rob got his class to write and record their own song or rap about a times table set. He showed them examples and then scaffolded them into creating their own.
Rob said that his learners were "visibly engaged in the activity and enjoyed the creative process", and what stood out for him was "seeing how enthusiastic the boys were about this activity. Boys who didn't often get excited about maths were visibly enjoying creating their song or rap". 
Rob did admit that he was a bit ambitious trying to have the task finished in one week, and that next time he would require them to learn the script off by heart instead of reading while they recorded it, as some learners "when quizzed on those times tables... struggled to respond accurately".

Rob recorded and shared his lesson and planning via his Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site, and you can watch the whole thing here if you are interested.

I think this idea is a really fun and exciting way to make times tables fun. I don't think it is realistic to learn all times tables this way, but a great way as Rob said to engage learners who don't usually get excited about maths. This has challenged me to try and come up with more interesting ways of teaching time stables in my own class. It was also really nice to be able to have a look inside some one else's classroom, and their teaching.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Same problems different classes

This afternoon we met in our school inquiry groups. These are groups within the school that come together and share how our inquiries are going twice a term. As a school we are all focussing on maths this year, and our individual inquiries have come from targeting our own needs and the needs of our class under that umbrella.

What is really interesting (yet logical) is that throughout different year levels in the school, there is lots of cases of the same issues, low basic facts, place value confusion, and lack of consolidation being the most common.

Being Term 2 we have all tried a lot more in our classrooms, and instead of sharing and listening to each other's inquiries, we could actually engage in real discussion about how we are attempting to overcome some of these challenges. In many cases we have come to the same conclusions, and are attempting the similar changes to our practice. However other ideas were new to me, and gave me great ideas to try. It was just really nice to be able to problem solve and have those discussions with other people in the same boat.

I did reflect that if these are common problems in my own school, then they are probably common problems throughout the country, if not the world. I need to do some more research, as it is rather big headed of me to believe that I can solve the worlds problems on my own. 

I don't know my times tables...

Basic facts is still the bane of my inquiry. It's boring to teach, and progress is slow, however small successes must celebrated! So here's a quick anecdote:

Today I listened to one my girls tell me she couldn't solve the problem because she didn't know her 8 times tables, and she only knew her 1-5, 10, and 11's. I quizzed her to see if she was telling the truth, and to her credit she was right. She had her 1-5's down, as well as her 10's and 11's, right up to 11 x 12. For what ever reason though, she found the others tricky and intimidating.

I told her this was FANTASTIC because she would only have a handful left to learn now. She looked at me as if I was lying, and didn't believe me until I showed her on a grid. I reminded her that times tables reverse, so if you know one, you also know the other.

4 x 7 = 28 / 7 x 4 = 28

Once she understood this concept, and realised she only needed to learn the higher numbers from each of the time stables, she suddenly became confident and determined. For her it was a confidence issue, more than a memory issue. However the grid rule still works well for learners who know just their 1, 2, 5, an 10's as this still covers a huge number of times tables, and can be quite a confidence boost for the kids when they see it displayed like this.

The grid I showed the student in my class.

Friday, 23 June 2017

1 on 1 time + Whiteboard table tops!?

This year I have a big class, or at least by far the biggest I have ever taught. In my maths class there are 35 learners, and because of this my maths groups are much bigger than they have been in my previous years teaching.

I see this as a challenge, definitely not an excuse. I have actually found many benefits to having larger maths groups. A big one being the amount of discussion that you can generate by investigating everyones thinking, as there are almost always different methods for solving the same problem amongst the group. Exploring each persons solution, or misunderstandings is helping us form a more consolidated understanding of the maths problems.

One issue I have found however is finding the time to work with learners in smaller groups who need to consolidate learning, or fill in holes that the rest of the group has already mastered. So for the past few weeks while my student teacher has been in the class on full control, I have consciously been taking the time to work with these kids in small groups or 1 on 1.

Rather than work in the usual spot on the mat with the whiteboard, I have just been sitting down next to them at their table and working with them there. I only learned this recently but our table tops are all whiteboards!!!. So it's been absolutely perfect for this.

Once my student teacher leaves, I will no longer have as much time to do this. However, I am going to try and find the time, perhaps in the afternoons to do this more. As the confidence it is giving those learners in the next group session is easily noticeable. It is also helping me form a better picture of what those holes and misunderstandings are, in my learners.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Image mapping in HTML

If you have been using Google Draw to hyperlink multiple sections of an image on your site, you may be getting frustrated by the number of tabs you keep opening ........or at least your students definitely will be.

Image Mapping in HTML allows you to do the same thing. It is a little bit tricky, and far cleverer people than me have probably got better workarounds. If so please leave a comment I would love to learn.

However, here is a set of instructions I made to be able to use image mapping for your class sites etc

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Gloss Results

Now that my target group is all tested for reports, it's quite interesting to see their Gloss test results. As you can see the results are quite varied. But there are some clues that suggest some things about my teaching and my learners.

Red: Negative Shift*
Black: No Shift
Green: Positive Shift

*I personally don't believe that it is possible for kids to go backwards in maths. More likely, when they achieved the stage last time they answered the question correctly, but still had some misunderstandings that lead to an incorrect answer this time. I see these students as only needed some consolidation to get back to the stage they were at.

Proportion/ Ratios
At first glance this looks like my leaners are strongest here, as there is only one student who has gone down a stage. To some degree I think this is accurate, and I believe this is partly due to the low level knowledge required for these questions. I also think that the E6 question on this test is slightly easier than other gloss tests, which if thats the case they probably aren't consolidated.

I also noted from this, that there is a clear ceiling. I wonder if I am giving enough opportunities to learn higher stages during class time.

Multiplication/ Division
No real surprises for me here. It just further confirmed for me what I already believe to be the problem. Majority of my learners who got stage 4, could answer the E5 question correctly, and confidently. However needed to rely on skip counting to get the answer. This was the case with some of my other students in the higher stages, right answer, wrong stage.

Addition Subtraction
The biggest learning for me from this was around Place Value. I need to revisit, and revisit, and revisit Place Value all the time.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Basic Facts

I have been inquiring this year into accelerating the achievement of my learners in Mathematics, targeting specifically those working below the national standard.

I have been developing some hypotheses about how I can best do this,  and one theory has come to light after discovering some of my learners were struggling with their maths knowledge. I first noticed they were struggling with new strategies but soon realised it was their lack of knowledge that forced them to revert to lower stage strategies.

I have been doing lots of new Basic facts work in class, but it got me thinking about what basic facts actually are, and whether worksheet-esk activities were the best way to learn them (which is what I had been doing).

I found this great PD Resource for basic facts on the NZ Maths website. It has a really clear way of explaining basic facts, and ideas for helping learners both to understand them and value them.
Check it out here

Examples of Definitions

I really like the idea of explicitly teaching the inverse relationships of basic facts. i.e. if you know "this" then you know "that" sort of thinking. 

Credit @NZMaths

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Basic Facts Practice

I shared a post earlier on this blog about the types of basic facts practice I was doing with my learners. I received some really useful feedback here on my blog, and one of the ideas that was sent to me has worked out really well.

Prototec Basic Facts Practice - Link to website here
This is an online worksheet generator. It is aligned to the New Zealand standards, which means it can generate a worksheet at the right level instantly for your learners. It also has two times table options if that is your current focus.

When they complete the test they are given their scores instantly, as well as the correct answers. I think this is great because the children who want to challenge themselves again and again to get 100% can do so, and it allows them to instantly see 'where they went wrong' and learn from it.

There is another option that allows the learners to generate a certificate. This is less useful for me as the teacher, because it does not give me any of the information. i.e. Addition 100%, Subtraction 90% etc. However the 100% certificate has proven to be a great motivator for my learners, something to strive for.

While I think Prototec is a great resource, particularly a time saving one for me. It has limited use beyond quick practice, or a quick snapshot of where the learners are at with Basic Facts. However in the case of my inquiry it is perfect for doing just that.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

April Holiday Blogging Challenge

Following on from the success of the Woolf Fisher Summer Blogging Journey in the Christmas holidays, I thought it would be cool to try and replicate the programme on a smaller scale for my learners over the April School Holidays.  I pitched it as a "Blogging Challenge" and said there would be prizes for the Top 5 bloggers over the holidays. There were prizes for various categories including Quality of posts, Most posts, Creativity, and Audience appeal.

They could post about anything they wanted, but were encouraged to post about activities they were doing in their holidays, or things that they had decided to research on their own. I also created a small number of learning tasks that the kids could work on and blog about if they chose to.

Overall it was a great success and a huge number of our learners engaged with blogging over the holidays.  Kids were posting often twice a day, and about all sorts of things. We even saw kids teaming up and working collaboratively on blog posts, as well as promoting friends work on their own blogs.

Quick facts:

  • Top blogger posted 43 times over the holidays.
  • Top 10 bloggers combined posted 208 over the 2 week break.
  • Learners commented back and forth via blogger, 100+ comments were posted.
  • Learners worked collaboratively and communicated via email and chat.
  • Teacher created tasks were worked on completed by a number of students, others picked and chose which ones appealed.

What I learned from the experience was that hands on activities like the paper planes, and the floating/ sinking experience were more entertaining and engaging for the kids. I would try to think of more challenges like this in the future. Next holidays the Woolf Fisher Winter Learning Journey will kick off again, but I will definitely be running another blogging challenge in the Term 3 holidays.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Strategy Vs Knowledge

As I identified in an earlier post I have come to understand just how important it is to my learners to be learning Knowledge and Strategy at the same time and level in maths. The more I read and engage with the Numeracy Development Project Books ("The Pink books"), the better I am understanding how to do this in my teaching.

The data I received from my learners out of their PAT maths test shows me that many of my learners who are working below the national standard have a noticeable gap between their knowledge, and their strategies. It also confirms for me what I have been seeing in group work, where their lack of knowledge is holding back the acquisition of new strategies, or using them successfully.

Here is the test results from one of the Year 6 boys in my class, you can quite clearly see his gaps in Number knowledge. You can also see that he is capable of achieving higher level Strategy questions, which makes me think he could achieve more of these questions if his knowledge was keeping up.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Practice makes perfect

Usually I teach maths through problem solving and discussion in small groups. You can see an example of this via my Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site here. Naturally I use problem solving questions as part of the learners follow-up activities.

My learners are expected to unpack the problem, and figure out the equation. Solve the problem in their maths books, and then take a photo of their working using their webcam. They are then expected to rewrite their working in sentence form.

Here is an example

Previously I had believed that textbook style 'questions and answers' was old school, and dated.
However I have recently come to realise that good old fashioned practice questions serve a very important purpose in maths learning.... PRACTICE.
Without the opportunity to practice strategy, my learners have been getting confused sometimes when faced with problems. They have figured out the equation and know what they want to do, but are getting confused about how to do it, and therefore feel safer falling back on a previous strategy (usually lower stage).

Therefore I have started including "Book work" into their regularly weekly follow up activities which consists of a list of 10 problems they need to solve in their book. At the moment I have not required them to show proof that they had done it, i.e. I'm not marking it. I do provide the answers to the problems at the end of the week, and they can mark themselves. If I decide that I need to check them, I will ask them to capture it via their webcam.

I am very interested to see how this effects them during group time, and then testing. My theory is that if they are more confident using a strategy from practice then they will be more successful when solving problems during problem solving. I am hoping the pattern will work across all ability groupings.

Teaching Division: Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir

Throughout the year I will be updating my Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site with links to my planning, resources, reflections, videos of my teaching, and links to the learners work on their blogs. There are 7 Manaiakalani teachers from various schools and levels for you to check out. It's 21st century window into our classrooms. 
Check out the whole ClassOnAir site here.

Here's  a preview of my latest lesson.


Direct Instruction 
The learning intention for this lesson was to solve division problems using reversibility. This lesson was the first session for our next block of division work, but is following on from a weeks worth of multiplication learning. I have aimed quite low and used the 5 times table so that knowledge will not get in the way of using the strategy. The key understanding that needed to be taken away from this lesson was that Division and Multiplication are the same, and you can split numbers to make them easier to solve.

Whole lesson here

Friday, 24 March 2017

Bike 101: Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir

Throughout the year I will be updating my Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site with links to my planning, resources, reflections, videos of my teaching, and links to the learners work on their blogs. There are 7 Manaiakalani teachers from various schools and levels for you to check out. It's 21st century window into our classrooms. 
Check out the whole ClassOnAir site here.

Here's  a preview of my latest lesson.

Direct Instruction
The learning intention for this lesson was to retell what we have learned in interesting ways. The video shows the practical experience section of the lesson, rather than the in class instruction. We touch on the safety checks needed for both ourselves and our bikes before we begin, breaking and stopping practice, before doing laps around the bike track.

Full Lesson Here

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Number Framework

Last night we enjoyed some Maths PD by Jo Knox from Maths Development. Enjoyed definitely being the operative word. PD is often interesting and valuable, but rarely will the the staff leave the staffroom energetic and and buzzing after an after-school meeting. Regardless of the amount of maths expertise or teaching experience, every member of our staff appeared to get a lot out of the session. The focus for the PD was to:

  • Understand the progressive stages of development in number.
  • Understand how strategy and knowledge are interrelated.
  • Identify clear links between the Number Framework with National Curriculum levels and National Standards.

Now if I'm being honest, when I read these key points at the beginning of the meeting, my enthusiasm was not at its highest, and I was expecting to leave the staffroom at 5pm in a more typical 'post staff-meeting fashion'. However, once we got started, I realised that these were in fact the exact points I have been working to understand better in my own inquiry into maths. For my own head I translated the points of focus to:

  • What do learners need to understand at each stage.
  • Where, When and How do strategy and knowledge relate.
  • How do the Pink books connect to the curriculum.

A selection of slides from Jo's presentation

A key point that I took away from the PD was that learners who are stuck at a lower stage of maths in their knowledge, will have a hard time (or be unable to) use a strategy from a higher stage. I suddenly thought about my boys who seem to be stuck at stage 5, and realised this is part of where I have been going wrong. They are still battling with grouping and place value, and this is preventing them from moving onto new strategies for solving trickier problems.

I feel more confident in targeting their specific needs now going forward in their lessons.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Lets Eat Crickets: Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir

Throughout the year I will be updating my Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site with links to my planning, resources, reflections, videos of my teaching, and links to the learners work on their blogs. There are 7 Manaiakalani teachers from various schools and levels for you to check out. It's 21st century window into our classrooms. 
Check out the whole ClassOnAir site here.

Here's  a preview of my latest lesson.

Eating Crickets

Direct Instruction
The learning intention for this lesson was to write a recount using interesting vocabulary. The exciting writing experience was used to help the learners think of interesting words to use in their recount. A larger amount of scaffolding was used to support learners in this. The video shows a two hour session for this lesson and shows it being led by another teacher, with me supporting the class at the group level.

See Whole Lesson here

Friday, 3 March 2017

News Paper Towers: Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir

Throughout the year I will be updating my Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir site with links to my planning, resources, reflections, videos of my teaching, and links to the learners work on their blogs. There are 7 Manaiakalani teachers from various schools and levels for you to check out. It's 21st century window into our classrooms. 
Check out the whole ClassOnAir site here.

Here's  a preview of my latest lesson.

News Paper Towers

Direct Instruction 
The learning intention for this lesson was to learn what was required for a piece of recount writing. The video shows the same lesson taking shape over three days. The direct instruction section takes place on the second day. You can see that I am summarising the work that we completed the day before, and modelling how I would like the next paragraphs to be written. Much of what I am talking about, i.e. the complex and simple sentences, are things we have worked on previously. Instead I am simply reminding the learners what they mean, and re-explaining why we use them.

Full Lesson Here

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Why a maths Inquiry?

By the end of my first year in teaching I would have said that Maths was my best subject. However, as I have inquired into my practice throughout the years, I have worked very hard at upping my game in both reading and writing:

  • An Honours dissertation with the University of Auckland in Reading 
  • And a Spark-MIT inquiry into Writing

Because of this, I believe both reading and writing are overtaking my maths teaching, and so we have come FULL CIRCLE! Therefore this year I am going to be inquiring into my maths programme!

One area I think I can target for improvement is the rewind ability of my teaching, and therefore the usefulness of my maths follow-up.  However, I don't want follow-up to be the main focus as I have looked into this before. To begin with I want to use an app called Educreations  and record my maths teaching so that my learners can access my teaching after their group lesson has ended.
I also want to try and create cross domain understanding by making connections with past/current learning i.e. Add/sub to decimals, and mult/div to frac/prop/ratio.

Our whole school is focussing on Maths as an inquiry this year, which means we will be doing extra PD in maths as a whole staff. I'm really excited to be able to learn from and inquire alongside my colleagues throughout the year.

Final Reflection: Spark-MIT

Last year I had the privilege of working on a professional inquiry with the support of Spark and Manaiakalani, as part of the Spark-MIT programme. My focus was on lifting the motivation and overall engagement of our boys in writing. I learned a lot over the year, and am already putting much of what I learned into practice this year.

I am starting a new inquiry this year in Maths, however this does not mean my inquiry into writing is by any means over. This year we will be doing more recount writing (rather than a narrative focus as per last year), which will surely have its own challenges.

The new cohort of Spark - Manaiakalani Innovative Teachers had their first session at Spark-HQ this week, and I have to admit I was very jealous as I saw the troop leaving in the car park on Monday morning. Best of luck to them, and another BIG thank you to both Spark and Manaiakalani for the opportunity last year.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Summer Learning Journey

This year I have followed the majority of my class up into Year-6 from Year-5, and as a classroom teacher who witnessed the Summer drop off every year, all I can say to the Summer Learning Journey (SLJ) team is,


Over the Summer holidays a total of 52 learners from Pt England School interacted with the SLJ, organised and run by Rachel Williamson and her team.  Over the 6 weeks holiday Rachel created blogging tasks for our learners to work on from home.
 Link to the Summer Learning Journey site here

The blogging activities offered engaging and meaningful tasks that required critical thinking and research skills. Every blog post was commented on by at least 1 adult, but Rachel's team more than often engaged in meaningful back and forth dialogic conversations with the learners, via their blogs.

The craziest part of the whole Summer Learning Journey was that I as the classroom teacher, didn't have to do a thing! The kids interacted with the content, and with SLJ team completely independently. In fact while all this was going on, my laptop sat gathering dust at home while I travelled the beautiful country of Thailand. Every time that I did log into my emails from my phone, I was bombarded with hundreds of Blog-post and comment notifications from my learners, which was unreal (I also felt very guilty!).

This year, 7 of the learners in my literacy class engaged with the SLJ content, and two of them actually placed 2nd, and 3rd in the points challenge (out of the whole school). This year now that my class is majority Year-6 I am hoping that more of my learners will be able to take their chromebooks home and engage with the SLJ in the holidays.

Although it is only the second week back, I have already noticed a difference in the readiness and focus for learning between my learners who blogged in the holidays, and those that didn't. I eagerly await their PAT and running record results after testing week.

Monday, 30 January 2017

2017 Inquiry: Supporting Below learners in Maths

“Recognising the needs of learners who are working below the national standard in maths, and supporting them to make 1.5 years accelerated progress

The Manaiakalani Community of Learning is working together on this task using the expertise existing in of our community of learning.

In 2017 for my inquiry I have selected the following CoL achievement challenge 
#4. Increase the achievement of Years 1-10 learners, with a focus on Years 7-10,  in reading, writing and maths, as measured against National Standards and agreed targets.
The teaching as inquiry framework I will be using in 2017 has been specifically co-constructed for Manaiakalani schools using our familiar Learn Create Share structure.
The elements in this framework share close similarities with other models New Zealand teachers use.

I will be labelling my posts as I update my inquiry throughout the year to make the content easy to access.

Label Key:
Learn - Gather Evidence
Create - Make a plan
Share - Publish
Learn - Scan
Create - Try new things
Share - Co-teach
Learn - Identify Trends
Create - Innovate
Share - Model
Learn - Hypothesise
Create - Implement
Share - Guide
Learn - Research
Create - Reflect
Share - Feedback
Learn - Reflect

Share - Reflect

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Maths Whizz

Last year I had the privilege of attending and presenting at ULearn 2016 in Rotorua. I got to speak on a variety of subjects including my Spark-Mit inquiry, and the Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir project. I also was invited to sit on the panel for Maths Whizz, and share my experiences using the product.

Maths Whizz is a fantastic digital maths software that provides individualised online programmes for your learners. It assesses the needs of the learner through tests and assessment, and provides exercises at their level. Why I love Maths Whizz, is because it gives me real time feedback and data on how my learners have interacted with the programme. I can see very clearly how much improvement my learners are making, and what areas of the maths curriculum they are struggling with.

Overall I think when used correctly, Maths Whizz is a fantastic resource that can greatly support your maths programme in your class.