Something for consideration:

Every time you ask a teacher to complete another piece of paperwork without taking something away, a bit of goodwill dies because I already find it hard to find my mouse under all the paper you give me.

Every time you add a data collection point in the year without taking something away, a bit of goodwill dies, because I already have to do 3 entries per student per collection point and that many clicks is horrible.

Every time you add something that’s ‘just 5mins per student’, a bit of goodwill dies, because I have almostĀ 100 students and just 5mins adds up fast.

Every time you change a policy without consulting the people it will impact, a bit of goodwill dies, because I want my opinion to be respected, just like you do.

Every time you introduce or move a deadline without warning, a bit of goodwill dies, because I plan my time according to what needs to be done.

Every time you tell me ‘what Ofsted wants’ a bit of goodwill dies, especially when I know you’re mistaken.

Every time a concern about a student comes back as ‘what are YOU going to do about it’ a bit of goodwill dies, because If I could do something, I would already have done so.

So don’t be surprised when I don’t jump to volunteer any more.


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By Hand

I love Desmos, I love graphing packages. I even like TI-8x graphic calculators (Even the old, old TI-82s with dodgy screen contrast).

But sometimes it needs to be graphed by hand. Sharp pencils. Accurate marks. Slow, deliberate, calculation of points.


Because there’s something about realising that when you plot sin(x) and cos(x) they have the same value at x=45 that comes from actually drawing it. Or that something horrible and frightening and wonderful is happening as you approach tan(90). Or that cosec(x) and sec(x) look totally weird but make sense when you try to make a table of values and compare to sin(x) and cos(x).

Because in the end, if you haven’t drawn it accurately and had your hand try to make the shape, what hope do you have of sketching or visualising?

Because in the end, ‘I drew it on my graphic calculator’ won’t earn you marks.

Maybe it’s blasphemy. But tomorrow we will sharpen our pencils, fire up our scientific calculators and draw some goddamn trig functions. And, since I’m in a bit of a mood and I haven’t finished my tea, I’ll fight anyone who tells me I’m wrong.

Enjoy the smell of pencil shavings.

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The Dream Crusher

Enrolment week always seems so hard in a Sixth Form College. It should be a time of excitement, fresh faced enthusiastic new students and positivity for the year ahead.

Then, as the week goes on the appointments get trickier and trickier. The conversations have less and less “Of course you can study that” and more and more “well, unfortunately you didn’t do as well as you had hoped so that isn’t right for you, instead why not consider this…”

It’s the hardest thing to have to tell a student that they won’t be a vet/doctor/engineer/architect/whatever else they always wanted, that they can’t even take the subjects they wanted because they missed the grade, because the school over predicted, they were ill on the day of the exam, they lost a teacher half way through the year or any of the other hundreds of reasons.

Maybe this year there have just been more students with unrealistic aspirations, but this year, more than before, I have felt like there’s a side to the Sixth Form Tutor that no one talks about, the part of you that has to turn a child’s unrealistic dream into something achievable, challenging and interesting so that they can be successful.

Sometimes we have to be the Dream Crushers. And it’s the right thing to do.

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Why One Hundred Percent is Important

or ‘The tale of why my classroom is full of students doing retests’

Students join us from a variety of secondary schools into a range of different Maths programs (we are a 16-18 provider). They come with different experiences, strengths and methods that vary hugely based on where they have come from, what ability set they were in and whether they had a specialist teacher for any, part or all of their later secondary education.

All of this compounds into problems for the start of the course. Both AS Maths and AS Use of Maths are incredibly algebra heavy courses, and as such a level of competence and speed is necessary for success. Over the years we have found getting students up to speed on algebra to be a sink of class time early in the course, and frankly unfair on those students who were competent and wanted to learn something new at their new college. So over the last two years we changed how we were to run the start of the year from:

“We will spend the first week getting students up to speed and covering in gaps”


“We will spend a fraction of time in the first two weeks checking students are up to speed and highlighting areas they need to improve. We will provide opportunity outside of class for remediation”

We put together a choice of algebra skills we expected students to come to us with from GCSE that they should demonstrate accuracy and efficiency with. I wrote 4 assessments for each skill and we asked all students to sit one per lesson for about 10mins at the beginning or end. If the student didn’t get 100% we asked them to return outside of class for help and a resit.

Doesn’t sound like anything new to people who do SBG I guess, but it was a big change for us.

The first year we had 10 skills, shown below (with slight variation later between the two courses to take into account the lower entry requirement of AS Use of Maths). All were tested at 8 questions (except AS UoM skill 10). They looked something like this:

I’ll be honest, those first few weeks were a fairly harrowing experience for students and teachers. Marking load was high, especially for those teachers with 4 first year classes, and students were frustrated with timing (too many questions on the later tests) difficulty (particularly the surds example above) and the organization became messier as the third week (only four lessons a week meant it spilled over into week 3) drew on.

So for this year we changed things. We reduced from 10 to eight; reduced the number per assessment to 6 and kept the 10min target. We also, critically, kept the bar set at 100%. As I said to my classes ‘If I ask you to write your name 6 times and you get it wrong once, we’d both be worried. These skills are just as important’.

So this is what they look like now:

We’re now winding down week 3, so all classes have tried them all once, and we have had a much better uptake on student resits. Sure, I still have students who got none of them yet, and yes I’m worried about them. But now, crucially, I have something concrete to start a discussion about support with managers, parents and most importantly, the student themselves.

The fact is; I’m not sure how to truly measure the impact here. I’m certainly not sure it would work anywhere or everywhere else. All I know is that those students who get it all, or at least most of it, done and sorted turned out last year to be the more successful, and that theres a pretty strong correlation between those who didn’t bother, and those who failed. I’m looking forward to a proper analysis once we have two years of data.

That’s all I have on that. If you want to see more of the assessments let me know.


update: actually while this was in my drafts folder, we finished up. I set a deadline and on the last day I was positively snowed under with resits. Some students still didn’t make the attempt, or didn’t get them right the last time around – what to do next for those is the next big job!

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Trig Wheel

As requested on the twitters here is the trig wheel I shared with the folks in the PreCalc morning sessions at #TMC14. I’m going to repeat what I said there; I found this on someone’s blog. I don’t know now who. But I stole it from somewhere. So if it’s yours, tell me and I’ll credit you – and THANKS!

The file (each student needs one circle in each of two colours):

Mark degrees anti clockwise on one circle (make sure you start at the correct line) and radians anticlockwise on the other (note that the numbers should go under the line, it’ll make sense later!):

2014-08-11 19.10.16

Cut along the zero line from the edge to the centre:

2014-08-11 19.10.41

Place the two wheels so the cuts line up and the labeling faces inwards and slide one circle into the other – this should reveal an angle – rotate until you find what you want and flip over to convert:

Enjoy :)

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Hinge Questions at #TMC14 [Hinge Questions]

The presentation:

The handout:

The stuff we made:

The sources I used:
Dylan Wiliam paper on Analyzing Diagnostic Items:

Some blog posts about the topic

I also used the book Embedded Formative Assessment:

Posted in Blogs, Classroom, Conferences, General Maths Thoughts, Hinge Questions | 2 Comments


Supervising practice exams might be dull but if you time it right you can mark the previous one while the next one is happening.


#MTBoS30 Day 8

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James asks ‘When do you work?’

I work when I have the motivation I guess – or more like I work when I need to and when I want to and when I have time. I don’t have a set time of day I work – if I need to stay late or get in early I will. I’d rather go home to my desk and my music than work in school, totally different to my old place when I would stay late with a colleague most evenings.

The thing that affects how and when I work most is the environment – I’m happier in my classroom than in the Maths workroom and happier in my office space at home than my room for grading and planning.

So yes I get up early – if I need to, and sometimes I stay late. I’m a maverick. :-)

#MTBoS30 Day 7

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There’s questions here


#MTBoS30 Day 6


Sample questions:

How many hours/days/weeks/months is that?
What percentage of my year was spent listening to music? – is this a lot? Contextualise this? Compare with sleep?
My top album doesn’t have a track in the top 10 – what does that say?
My top track is x% of my total streams – what does that say?
What would a more diverse music listener look like?
What would a less diverse music listener look like?
What is the mean track length?
what is the maximum number of tracks in the top ten?
Could this lead into a Feltron Project?

Posted in #MTBoS30, Lessons | 2 Comments

Small Rewards

This week I will book my flight to TMC14.

I think this counts as a large reward in my scheme of getting myself small ones to keep me going through the term.

#MTBoS30 Day 5

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