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!

Posted in Assessment, Classroom, General Maths Thoughts, Pedagogy | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

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 🙂

Posted in Classroom, General Maths Thoughts, Lessons | 4 Comments

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

Posted in Not Maths | 1 Comment


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

from: https://www.spotify.com/uk/2013/

#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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Open Evening and Magic

This week we had open evening (The question as to whether it was a good idea to have teachers in school until 8pm the night before grades were due into the database is another matter). We spent 3 hours talking to students and parents about why they should come to our college – the types of courses, the content, what else we offer etc.

I have never had so many students get excited about the content they learn as I had when I was able to show them this:


being animated and explain that they could learn WHAT was going on and HOW to make their own super cool animation.

And then I got to show them Daily Desmos.

So that actually made the evening kinda fun.

#MTBoS30 Day 4

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To Do Lists

Are the bane of my life; but without them I would never get anything done. I constantly find myself either:

a) Adding to the To Do list more frequently than I cross things off
b) Adding something I had done the week before because it had come around again

Despite this, there are few pleasures like crossing the last thing off.

I run my To Do list through Evernote, mostly because Kate told me to. It’s pretty useful to have the same stuff on my phone, tablet and desktop PC and not have to carry around a stack paper with me. And they recently added integrated handwriting which is pretty slick. SO maybe check it out?

#MTBos30 Day 3

Posted in #MTBoS30, Not Maths | 2 Comments

One Important Thing

About Norm Referencing:

This is spawned from this publication asking for feedback from OFQUAL about the new GCSEs; from this blog post by Daisy Christodoulou.

If you grade on a normal curve according to percentiles you accept that a percentage of students will always fail.

This has repercussions. We should talk about them. I’m working on putting my thoughts into words.

#MTBoS30 Day 2

This is spawned from this publication asking for feedback from OFQUAL about the new GCSEs; from this blog post by Daisy Christodoulou.

Posted in #MTBoS30, Assessment, General Maths Thoughts, Pedagogy | Leave a comment