Sunday, 12 March 2017

The FE Review: Mathsconf9

An exciting and brilliant day of activities and exploring methods within Mathematics. I was lucky enough to be able to go along to Mathsconf9 based in Bristol today and as an FE Maths lecturer, it was interesting to see what changes will be made to the GCSE as well as the opportunity to connect with other maths professionals and small businesses that were present at the event.

Start of the day, I arrive nervously at the venue, City Academy Bristol, which was an excellent venue for the event, plenty of space to get around and lots to do in the early stages of the event. I visited a few stalls initially and had discussions around maths practices. One of the best people I saw was Corbett Maths displaying his revision cards at the show. We had a long discussion about maths changes to the GCSE Maths specification. It was a pleasure to share such views and to see the resources that were displayed, for me it was a great welcome and gave me the confidence to talk to some of the other stands at the event, you can buy their excellent revision cards here

EZYMaths Matt Hawes was also at the event talking about their platform for Maths revision and preparation. I have a good conversation with him about the platform, a very slick and complete maths package for students in Maths ready for the new specification with tailored videos to each question that was asked within the package. I would highly recommend you check it out here.

Then I went to AQA Maths, the current exam board for GCSE Maths that my institution uses, I spoke to Helen Arman, relationship manager for AQA in detail about the state of FE resits in Mathematics and the challenges ahead for FE students. AQA did not fail to deliver their vision to help every student and raise potential, giving me a plethora of resources to take to my workplace on Monday, I am really excited to share these with my colleagues and see their faces when I present them with the multitude of helpful ideas and posters that they gave me.

I went to several workshops during the day, each with their own takeaway message. I tweeted a lot about the events as they unfolded (follow feguidebook to see more) and felt that I had gained useful insight to the delivery of GCSE Maths for the FE students I will be teaching next year. Here is an overview of the workshops I attended, featuring the notes I made as well as my overall thoughts on how we can apply what I gained to FE Maths:

Intro & Speed Dating by Mark McCourt (@Emathsuk) and Andrew Taylor (@AQAMaths) 

Mark welcomed everyone in the theatre, I sat on one of the many places on tables near the front and was able to have a clear view of the whole talk. Mark started showing off a rather sleek format for Maths education called Complete Maths from La Salle Education. I really liked the look of this, and the benefits of the membership are massive, especially the tickets to the conferences that run across the year (Cardiff anybody?). Mark made a comment about "I cans instead of Lesson Objectives" which really rang true for my students, getting them to consolidate and secure concepts before moving forward with complex mathematics problems. Andrew from AQA Maths also presented his support for the event and encouraged us to attend his talks, which luckily enough I was aiming to go to already!

Speed dating was an interesting affair, meeting like-minded professionals like Kyle Mcdonald (@jk_mcd) who wrote an excellent blog entry on the event already as well as other FE colleagues from different colleges (@macbeanmaths) discussing different resources and functional skills applications for our learners. It was good to know that FE was in good standing at the event with a fair amount of teachers from this sector who are preparing and getting set up for the new specification in the next academic year.

I even got a share for my four four's resource from @MacBeanMaths

Nearly There - Christian Seager & Mel Muldowney (@Just_Maths)

An interesting first workshop by this dynamic team. Christian and Mel clearly care about their students and they have a clear culture of getting students through their GCSE Maths exams.
Some of the biggest takeaways I got were some behaviour strategies, such as getting students who aren't doing anything to write a post it note with their reasons and emailing it to their parents, as well as an in-detail look at how much cross-over there is from Foundation to Higher (around 30% of content)

They also gave some practical advice and tips on a variety of exam questions in which students struggled, there is a lot of Speed, Distance, Time questions within GCSE as well as Frequency Trees and Venn Diagrams that FE students will be tested on within the new spec. They also drew on making activities simpler to access, as Mel put it, the "I'm not going to finish this, so there is no point in starting" concept.

A fantastic presentation from @Just_Maths a TES Award winning Maths team (they met Dara O'Briain too which made me slightly jealous), be sure to follow them on Twitter.

Where your Y11's will go wrong in this Summer's Maths GCSE and what you can do about it now (@MrBartonMaths)

Top 10 poorest answered topics from +mrbartonmaths1 
Craig's delivery of his presentation was exceptional. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop as it was active, engaging and showed off a lot of the FREE resources that Craig has been working on alongside AQA Maths. His use of Diagnostic Questions from their collaboration gave me food for thought in FE and how we can do things differently that our students may not have seen before. You can find a link to that resource here, I will be signing up!

One of the biggest takeaway's from this was that students do not learn from just going over past papers again and again if the concepts are not secure in the first place. Craig linked research to each of his slides and I will be looking over these in the near future. Craig talked about practicing key concepts in engaging ways and allowed opportunities to make connections to other concepts that students should secure through purposeful practice tasks.

The biggest gain in his whole presentation was the top 10 struggling areas that students struggle with based on use of his diagnostic questions. These are shown here and if gives us a frame to see what skills we need to practice with our students in FE to push D's to C's. Check out Craig's Podcast too (linked here). A really interesting workshop just before Lunch!

New GCSE Maths Exams: How our questions work and what examiners look for (@AQAMaths)

This was probably the workshop I was most intrigued about from the title. Andrew Taylor explored issues within the GCSE Maths questions and identified how they spread their marks across their papers to meet the criteria for the new specification.

This workshop gave an insight into the new papers, which for us in FE is very useful and practical for how we can work with those students who are moving from the old specification to the new spec in the next academic year. They shared examples of longer problems which I have featured here as well as how these are assessed as well as providing us with an exemplar of student responses to one of their GCSE Maths questions.
Another higher question example!

An example of a question is as follows:

"A knife is twice the cost of a spoon. 8 Spoons and 12 Knives cost £46.08. Work out the cost of 1 Knife"

Depending on the layout of the paper, you may not receive a mark for putting that 2s = 1k as they can only allocate so many AO1 (identification) marks in their papers which are usually reserved for 1 mark questions near the start of their papers, it gave me great insight into how we need to develop skills and secure concepts within maths so that our students can adapt to whatever question is thrown at them. As some of the colleagues in the conference mentioned, sometimes students could not even see the algebra within the question itself so we have to step up to ensure that students develop their approach to problem solving.

An insightful and interesting talk from AQAMaths, from one of the best exam boards for our students!

What can teachers learn from PISA? (@MickBlaylock)

"Every Year I teach, I get a little bit better"
I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, but it was an intimate and interesting workshop featuring Mick, a well experienced Maths teacher discussing research within PISA, ten questions for Maths teachers. It was interesting to see the diversity in the room from people who are teaching maths in different sectors.

Some of the more concrete takeaways from this were based around challenging students without raising maths anxiety as well as developing the need for elaboration strategies in dealing with complex Maths problems, this approach is especially helpful for developing concepts within functional skills learners.

Mick ran through the most of the 10 things, however due to time constraints we didn't get a chance to hear more. You can read the whole thing online in all it's glory here which I will be doing alongside other research that I will be undertaking as part of my QTLS qualification.

The massive takeaway for me, it one of the comments that Mick made;

"Every Year I teach, I get a little bit better"

Which rings so true to new Maths teachers and anyone who teaches within FE today to not lose hope in their own abilities to teach the new specification from the next academic year.

Overall Opinions of MathsConf9

Overall, MathsConf9 was an excellent value package, with many excellent speakers and a positive message throughout the community. I found myself talking to many different people all with passion, inspired by their own practice and thinking about ways in which we can improve the state of Mathematics education within the UK.

In the final remarks, a nice touch was to send a postcard to ourselves in a few months with a commitment to what we are going to do from today to improve. Unfortunately I couldn't find mine in my bag at the time, but my commitment will be to develop my delivery to secure concepts in maths rather than teach to an exam to try to get students through.

Overall. A highly recommended CPD event especially to the FE Community, be sure to visit La Salle Educations MathsConf Page to see if there is an event near you.

Thank you so much for reading, and I look forward to sharing what I learn over the next few months in teaching maths inspired by the amazing people and community I became a part of Saturday! Be sure to check out my twitter to see what was shared throughout the exciting day! (Twitter Link here)

- Matt