Saturday, 25 February 2017

Forget bad press, teaching is awesome

I may be a bit biased to this, being a relatively new teacher approaching his two years in service. I have my ups and downs in the profession but I know that the good outweighs the bad. I am aware of the common grievances that teachers have about the profession, the slandering of the profession in the media as well as other aspects of the role that often frustrate and drive excellent members of your team out of the door. If you add on top of this pressure the idea that some institutions can drive certain staff out of the door because their face doesn't fit, then you have a recipe for disaster.

I have been lucky in this respect, I work for a great organisation which values and cares about the students we work with day to day, I work in an excellent team lead by a supportive manager where we regularly discuss student needs and how to improve on our already excellent practice. I don't mean to brag, but I feel that we have to address issues that staff are facing within the profession in order to advance and progress as teachers in an ever-changing educational environment.

How do we adapt in a changing teaching environment? (Image courtesy of
Where we have changes to funding in which schools will need to make an overall saving of £3bn by 2020 (according to the BBC), it is no wonder that staff and management are feeling the pinch of the government's grasp on the current education system. Where our profession is at it's strength is supporting young people and helping them to gain an outlook into real life and what to expect within the working world. I think as lecturers and teachers, we do an excellent job at preparing students for their next steps, whether that is employment or further educational opportunities through our own experiences, stories and learning opportunities that we have faced, we were in their place once as well.

We have to remember why we became teachers, we want to help people. We have a lot of work to do in this respect and this is often lost within the data entry, success rates and marking which skew our idea of what being an educator is really about, we need to be excellent supporters of our students and advocate for their success. I think the "bad rap" that teachers receive in the UK won't change for a long time, it will take cultural shifts in how we view the education system. I ask of you if you are a teacher who is struggling, recall why you trained in the first place, you got here through your own motivations and achievements and for that you should always be proud. It is too easy to lose ourselves within workplace politics, grievances and heavy workloads so avoid this at all costs.

We didn't teach to be stuck behind computers, remember why you chose to teach (image courtesy of

We have set the bar high for education, many teachers report working a 54 hour work week including work from home (see this excellent TES article for reference to this idea) but we have to change the dynamic of what we do, we are too good and often once you are at your peak performance there is only one way to go. I believe this is why teachers who don't work insane hours at the weekend are ridiculed and often feel shamed enough to leave the profession, we aren't listened to and this in itself is frustrating for many teachers alike.

Teaching itself is a joy, I love the feeling that students get something and the lightbulbs come on across the room, that's what we fight for in our classes. I know my students and talk to them about their dreams and ambitions, even those that say they don't know what they want to do have passions and get excited by something that they want to do. Knowing your students on a personal level enables you to build rapport in the early stages of their lessons, further showing them that you do care and you work hard for them. One of my students the other week said to me "Thank you for putting up with the rubbish (not the word used) to teach us" your students value you, whether they show you or not is an entirely different matter. You aren't going to teach your students about being happy if you are unhappy yourselves, so relax, you're only human after all.

Technology has a big part to play in changes to education (Image courtesy of

So here's what I want us to think about, if we are going to complain, give a solution. If we are going to speak negatively of teaching, then consider how we can improve it. There is too much negative press on teachers and the profession as a whole but really we have an obligation and a duty to help our young people achieve, this doesn't mean we should sacrifice our own happiness for that of our students however. Let's learn alongside them, some of the best teachers I know (mainly in my current staff room) are always trying new things and adapting to changes. Let's adapt to the environment and consider how we move forward rather than pine for the days of old.

Teaching is changing, and you have to feel that change and want to be a part of it. Everyone talks about leaving, but let's consider how dynamic and refreshing the art of teaching actually is. I regularly tweet about these things (Twitter handle) and consider how we help teachers to love teaching again. Remind me when I go on a rant to read this again, and remember the feeling I have now, of loving teaching, education and the people I work with and for.

let's all come together to make teaching great again! (we could start #maketeachinggreatagain)

Enjoy your weekend, and thank you for supporting the FE Maths Guidebook. I will be going to #mathsconf9 in March, here is the schedule of workshops I will be attending so I hope to connect with a lot of you there, tweet your schedules at me if you are also attending and we can arrange a meet-up!

- Matt

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Winning over Hearts and Minds: Simple Maths activities for Further Education Maths Students

You walk into your classroom in September and are greeted by a new wave of students in the new year. In regards to further education, you know that some students will work with you to pass their exams, to others you are a piece of meat ready to be challenged for their own personal enjoyment. The hardest part of the role is behaviour management within this minefield due to the potential nature of the student as well as the previous negative experiences that student may have faced within education.

So when they enter your class, it is vitally important to your own wellbeing to encourage a quick rapport development with the students you work with, this may be in the form of introducing yourself, playing games and generally exploring possible opportunities within the Maths curriculum. We know however that we are struggling with engagement, students have devices in their pockets ready to engage them at any moment, so potential learning from you may be hard to come by if they see no value in your delivery.

Do your students see the value in chalk and talk delivery? (Image courtesy of
So you've got to ask yourself what can I do to combat this? The most engaging activities in Maths involve learners moving around, getting to know each other and generally being social within their group. This approach builds a strong group dynamic within your classroom which can in turn help you build rapport with some of the bigger characters in your class. If you win them over, you've won them all. Let's go through a few example activities and discuss their effectiveness for this scenario. I recommend the first week of your delivery to be "winning over hearts and minds" which essentially is about getting the students to come round to your way of thinking and to work with you rather than against you.

1) Circle Activity - Introduce another person

In your class, you may find that you have groups of people that know each other but not everyone else in the group. I would wholeheartedly recommend that you create an activity for them not only to get to know you, but to get to know each other as the group progresses.
You're just going to need everyone to have a piece of paper and a pen. Get them to draw a circle and quarter it (embedding of fractions there) afterwards they need to put their name and their neighbours name below the circle.
Each quarter represents a different thing, namely (Job, Holiday, Film, House) the idea is that they have to ask their neighbour what their favourite of each of these things are, once they know, they have to draw these out on their circle in the appropriate quarter.
Once all these are done, they then have to introduce their neighbour to the rest of the class. A very fun icebreaker, be sure to team up with one of the students yourself to make this super effective!

2) Four Four's? Five Five's? Three Three's?

This can be used as a great starter activity to get students thinking about mental arithmetic as well as testing their knowledge of mathematic principles.
You will need post it notes, you should write numbers 1-20 on the board. The idea is that using only four four's and any operation, students have to get to all of the answers. They cannot use two fours or three fours, they have to use all four of the fours!
If you have prizes, you can challenge tables to see who can come up with the most, make it a challenge and amuse adults. A lot of people get stuck into four four's. I picked this little one up at a GCSE Maths training event on delivering the new specification.
This website will help you show the solutions of Four Four's all the way up to 50! Four Four's Solutions Extension anybody?
You can try this with three three's or five five's for interest!

3) Always True, Somewhat True, Never True

Three easy signs you can make on three pieces of paper and stick them around the room. One saying "Always True", another saying "Sometimes True", and the final sign "Never True". You are going to have statements relating to maths and you are going to ask if the students think that the fact is always, sometimes or never true.
What you are assessing is students ability to prove a concept within Maths, if a student can see and argue that they are correct, they are developing their mathematics skills without even thinking about it.
Statements I use include: "When you multiply a negative and a positive number together, it is a positive number" are great ones to use. You can also use this in interpreting data when discussing different aspects of data collection such as "100 people is enough to represent a population in a survey". You could then progress this on to advertising and include some British Values for your Equality and Diversity.

4) The Magic Trick

This one is great for really capturing imagination early on in any Maths lesson.
Follow the trick in this video to try to wow your students by guessing a certain number:

The basic premise, is you get a piece of paper beforehand, then write any 5 digit number on it. (Let's say you picked 23523), fold up this piece of paper, and hand it to someone or stick it somewhere around the room.
Tell your students that you are going to trick them to pick your number that is on the board. The way you do this is say you are starting with a number (in our example, it has to be 3525, I'll explain why later) and get the students to pick a four digit number themselves. Once you have done that, then you write a number below it, you have to make sure that the sum of your number and their number is 9999. Do this again and ask the students to add this up. You know what the answer is going to be as you have manipulated the values to give you whatever 3523 + 19998 is. In this case, it's the number we started with. This works because you are always manipulating the values to give you a sum of 9999 for each selection, you have to do this twice however.
Try this out for yourself, for extra effect, get a student to grab the paper and reveal to the group the number on the board. "How did you do that?!" get's them intrigued and they want to know more!

Tell them you'll let them know how you did it at the end of the lesson!

Let me know if you enjoyed using any of these activities, and be sure to follow me on twitter for more updates and guidance. What activities do you use to capture students interests in the early stages?

Enjoy the rest of your week teachers!

- Matt

Monday, 20 February 2017

Skills development over exam successes, what is more important?

What do we do when students don't pass? What do we tell them when all their hard work and effort seem to go unnoticed and a pass doesn't seem possible? I want to talk today about the emphasis that needs to be placed upon development of skills over the end result.

Certain skills mean that you are suited to a particular occupation, it may be to do some work in a particular field that you may need a certain qualification in order to get there. This doesn't mean that you can look for short-cuts and easy ways to achieve the pass in order to get there, the work required takes hard work, resilience and patience to master.

The students I teach are more than happy to spend hundreds of pounds and repeat their driving test again and again, there is no easy way to get through a driving test without knowing the skills and applying them in a practical exam. The same can be said for any Maths or English exam, to enable yourself to complete this to the best of your ability, you need to be able to understand concepts and work towards making progress within this field. There is a common practice where students look for shortcuts and easy to memorise examples to get them through an exam, rather than developing their skills in this area.

Are your students looking for instant gratification from their English and Maths exams? (Image courtesy of

What are we really telling our students when we are merely preparing them for an exam rather than giving them skills to develop their critical thinking? Really we are part of a system that is forced to get students to pass an exam without too much emphasis placed on being able to apply those skills directly to a vocational activity, or to real life situations. The amount of people I am aware of that already have their GCSE in English or Maths at C grade or above and struggle to read and write is terrifying, considering that these are basic skills that employers would expect employees to know given the presence of a GCSE in these subjects.

Why do we value the result so much, rather than the journey. We don't actually teach our students to feel anything but the instant gratification of an exam pass rather than taking the time to sit down and throughly get involved in developing their understanding of a field. Some students are busy in their lives looking for a quick fix rather than taking the time to develop their own skill-set to make them work-ready. We can't hide from this hidden curriculum that has been thrown into our schooling system, but I wish it was different.

Is there anything we can do about this? Especially in a system where we value results and emphasise the importance of passing exams rather than applying content. What does this tell us about the future of our workforce and how do we continue to work with students when all they are focused on is the end result. Let's apply a context to discuss this in more detail.

Let's say someone wants to lose weight, not only do they have to take up an exercise routine, but they have to change their lifestyle. There is a reason that people don't adapt to this as they are looking for instant gratification and instant results in their own goals, this is why get fit fast fixes sell really quick, along with all the paraphernalia associated. They are focused on the goal rather than the journey, they don't feel satisfied in feeling a little bit fitter or more agile, they just want the result. This is why a lot of people fail. Can you apply this thinking to your students Maths and English lessons?

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a simple step. Why should it take any less? (Image courtesy of

How do we encourage the journey rather than the final destination? Maybe we could look at what we are teaching students and how we can apply their learning to real life examples, let's focus on what we were here to do, teach great lessons and make an impact. Would it make you happier knowing that your students developed their Maths or English skills over simply getting exam grades? Would you prefer to be the person that believed in someone's competency in your craft rather than their ability to pass the exam?

Encourage your students to enjoy the journey, rather than seek instant pleasure from a letter (soon to be numbers, but we will talk about that in a future post!) they may value their lessons much more, but this will need to be a shift from all sides of the educational system.

Don't forget to check out my YouTube video on Mean, Mode Median and Range here filled with real life examples, suggest new content for me to include as well as feedback. Any feedback is massively appreciated.

Have a good week

- Matt

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Maths Exams and Motivations

I've not blogged in a long time, for several reasons which I am about to share with you right now. I am fighting off the remnants of a cold I have had for the past week and been focused on Functional Skills exams which have taken place this week. I've been focused on helping students get through their exams and it's given me time to reflect on how the students I work with have progressed within their Maths education.

Exam time is rough as a teacher, you see the students who have made real progress within their lessons complete the final task needed in order to gain their qualification. For all of the students in further education, this may not be the easiest thing to do, they struggle with how they complete a maths test, get nervous about their maths exam overall and they may lack confidence to believe in their own ability. I have struggled within the last week because I don't like seeing my students sit their exams, it's the thought that no matter how much time and effort you put into building them up, their final summative assessment may make them fall again.

There are going to be some successes within further education, but alas there will be some failures too. You will be spending the next year or term consoling students about their own abilities, the dialogue of "what's the point" will creep up again and your statistics in your exam will never truly reflect the determination, effort and time spent by all your learners in Maths to achieve their qualification. The students will feel that it is never going to be good enough, but you know that they tried and that's all that matters to you.

- I can't face watching my students sit their exams knowing I will never be happy with the statistics (Photo courtesy of

So the main title of the blog post is about being too late to gain maths skills. I don't believe this is the case, nor do I believe that anyone is inherently bad at maths. One of my colleagues in another department said to me that they "can't think in a maths way" so they will always struggle with it which I believe sets a bad precedent for our students who are trying desperately to get their Maths qualifications. I don't think that Maths is an easy subject, but with determination and willingness, anything is possible.

I look over my week of student examinations and I feel proud, not only to get students coming along to sit their exam, but proud in the sense that the majority of the students tried again, they really tried so hard! It was bittersweet seeing so many students try so hard then some students struggle as they are not ready yet, and that's the main lesson of today's post, just because they don't get it today doesn't mean they never will.

I do a lot of work around motivation and motivating my students towards their maths, and how we can embrace something that seems so impossible but it is achievable. A prime example I like to use is this guy, Arthur Boorman, to illustrate to my students that anything is possible if they put their mind to it. Given the conditions that Arthur was in, he never lost something important, hope.

Please watch this video below, and become inspired:

When things look bleak and things don't go the way you want, then to pick yourself back up again and give yourself another chance is massive. Show this to your students and see what they make of it, you'll be shocked at how many people are impressed by Arthur's own personal journey, and it is so relevant to developing the skills and mindset needed by our students to achieve their own goals, not only in Maths, but in education generally.

Arthur's story rings true to a lot of us. When you feel like giving up, just think of a challenge as a barrier that you can overcome, we can all do it and so can your students.

Have an enjoyable break (to those teachers on half term, like me!)

- Matt

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Worst Behaviour: Mobile Phones.

So today's post is all about dealing mobile phone use within the worst groups you may encounter as part of your Maths delivery. I am mainly talking about groups that won't get any work done, will not respond to you, constantly on their phone or causing low level disruption. Compared to the rest of the groups you have this is the group you dread the most. You really dread the thought of teaching this group and don't know what you can do to work to their best interests.

There are not bad students, there are bad behaviours. Some students will test this thinking but you have to remember that the person you are seeing displays bad behaviour, not that they are necessarily a bad person altogether. I am going to talk tonight about what to do when you have groups like this and how you can move forward in their learning of maths!

So the biggest thing is, prepare, prepare, prepare. There is nothing more important than being prepared with a range of activities and resources that students can use, it may be that you work in the interests of the students who really enjoy certain elements of your lessons. You will find something that captures your students interests, I know that's easier said than done when you are facing your challenge head on and think there is no way out.

Face your challenge head on!

So what about the mobile phones? There are a few different options here which I have tried and tested for you so that should hopefully take the guesswork out of what you could do. I've tried the mobile phone box, the asking nicely and having students leave the classroom with varying degrees of success on some level. However a mixture of all these approaches will work as long as you are consistent and fair in your approach to each and every student (even if someone is giving you a really hard time lately)

Make it clear that people are not meant to be on their phones in lesson. Some of my students will play videos on full volume during my lessons. If this happens, phone goes in the box, refusal and they leave your classroom. It's a very simple and fair rule that you can use for every class situation. It may seem a bit harsh, but let's face it. If Facebook was more appealing to the point they are watching videos, then what are they gaining from being in your classroom anyway. You have to have the discipline fit the offence, if someone is distracting your classroom that much, you need to remove the distraction altogether.

Once the phone is away, be sure to keep on top of concentration in the class. I have it where some students will sit at the back and stay on their phones, you have to ask yourself whether to challenge this behaviour or not and what you are intending to achieve by doing this. If someone has completed no work within half of your lesson, you need to ask them to leave for minimal effort, then it's up to the tutor to encourage them to behave within your classes and actually work. They are being funded to be there, don't let their non-work stop you enjoying your job. I would honestly encourage this thinking within the first few weeks of teaching, you have to make it clear that you will not accept no work whatsoever in your lessons.

Consider how you will reward your well behaved students, you may decide to write celebration notes on the board for them and tell their tutor of their progress within your subject (especially helpful to see them in person). Accept the good with the bad in the group and it will keep you sane when you are looking around your classroom and considering a new job prospect. I had this exact emotion yesterday, feeling what the point of it all was, just remember that nobody should make you feel bad for trying to help them. Your sanity in this environment comes first, you can't keep thinking about results of your groups all the time. You have to make an impact on the group as a whole.

Finally teachers, remember that you are not alone. In the staffroom, people will moan about different groups and behaviours that they see within the classes that they have. It may not seem as bad in the grand scheme but remember that in some respects you are still teaching teenagers who have qualifications to complete. When you speak one to one with your students, you may find that they are more likely to open up and concentrate in your classes if you can show them your human side. The answers to your own individual situations will come to you, just remember to keep your head up and carry on!

I'm going to try new approaches with this class on friday, I'll be sure to report back with my findings!

Enjoy the rest of your week teachers!

- Matt