Putting Numbers Into Everything

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

I absolutely loved mathematics when I was a kid. I loved manipulating numbers and equations, and I loved the challenge of completing complex problems involving logic and algebra.

My teachers loved mathematics too (and I’m not just talking about my maths teachers).

I was lucky enough to attend St. Richard Gwyn High School, Flint, North Wales. As a prestigious and caring community, every teacher collectively aimed to help each other.

As a teacher myself many years later, all of this is clear to me now.

Take, for example, my form tutor: she was an English Teacher but when I was a keen and boyish Year 7 student she would happily read through my mathematics homework which I proudly presented to her in morning registration on a weekly basis.

“Great equations Richard, and well done for clearly showing what x is equal to. Not many students lay out their calculations so well like you have. Keep it up!”.

That made a difference. It was a confidence booster for sure.

it integrated

Numeracy in my life

I guess I’m somewhat of an anomaly compared with the majority of people. I’ve been a maths teacher in the past, and I’m currently a Science teacher. Two decades ago, when my mates would ask “When am I ever going to use this maths stuff in real life?” I can honestly give them a real answer – I use it every day in my job.

But it doesn’t stop there.

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After getting really interested in the world of self-help books about a decade ago, I learnt that mathematics can actually be a gateway for financial freedom for anyone. All of that algebra, arithmetic and calculus I learnt in school I am now applying to a range of real-life scenarios:

  • Savings and investments
  • Paying credit cards, my mortgage and other bills
  • Calculating R.O.I. and conversion for my book sales and figuring out the best investment and marketing models
  • Budgeting
  • Time-management
  • A range of business applications, such as demographic analysis of book sales and platform building
  • Exchange rates and money transfer

Bottom line: numeracy really matters!

The UK is facing a numeracy crisis

GCSE mathematics scores have been disappointing for a number of years, and 2018 was no exception.

GCSE’s in the UK used to be graded from a bottom grade of a ‘U’ to a top grade of an ‘A*’. This year, however, the system has changed so that the top grade a student can get is a ‘9’ and the bottom grade is a U. A grade 9 is slightly higher than the previous A*. The following table tries to clarify the comparison:

grades
New GCSE grades as compared with the old. Image courtesy of https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-44125336)

Despite this ‘new and improved’ system, however, the percentage of students gaining at least one level 4 (equivalent to a grade C) has fallen slightly, and only 3.5% of students gained the top grade ‘9’ in mathematics. 

When looking at world stats we can compare the UK GCSE grades with global IGCSE results (the international equivalent of the GCSE). The findings are revealing:

  • In June 2017, 20.8% of all students globally taking the CIE International Mathematics examinations achieved a grade A*. An even higher proportion (21.5%) achieved an A* in Additional Mathematics
  • The June 2018 statistics for Edexcel are already out and they are revealing: 3.5% of all students globally achieved a level 9 in mathematics. 10.8% achieved a level 8. 

The 3.5%

It’s rather telling that 3.5% of students sitting the UK GCSE, and 3.5% of students globally taking the IGCSE (Edexcel) achieved a grade 9 in mathematics.

This could lead us to two very broad conclusions:

  • Either the new 9-1 maths exams are really difficult, or
  • Mathematical competency globally is pretty weak

PISA data tells us something else:

PISA
PISA Country Rankings for 2015 (Courtesy of https://www.businessinsider.in/The-latest-ranking-of-top-countries-in-math-reading-and-science-is-out-and-the-US-didnt-crack-the-top-10/articleshow/55843743.cms)

The top 5 countries for mathematics are all in Asia, with developing countries like China and Vietnam scoring way higher than the United Kingdom.

This is a cause for concern.

Why numeracy matters

According to a research summary produced by the Institute of Education, University of London, numeracy skills affect adults in a wide-variety of ways:

  • Men with poor numeracy and literacy were more-likely to be unemployed, less-likely to get promoted if employed and were deemed more at-risk of suffering from depression
  • Women with poor numeracy and literacy were less likely to own their own home, more likely to have low self-esteem and even more likely to report poor physical health in the last 12 months
  • Low numeracy seems to have a greater effect on women than it does on men
  • Poor numeracy is more strongly related to lack of paid employment than poor literacy

How can teachers increase numeracy?

There are a number of strategies that we can implement.

Numeracy technique #1: Graphs and Tables

Using a variety of fabrics in a textiles class? Comparing high-value paintings with the genre of art on display? Comparing urbanization with habitat destruction?

Get your students to quantify everything! This is so easy to do, but few schools encourage it properly.

With just a simple piece of graph paper, students can analyse a variety of situations numerically. Make sure they calculate gradients too, and perhaps a standard deviation or two won’t go amiss!

poll everywhere

When children realise the truth that maths is everywhere, they then see the purpose of maths. Seeing the purpose, they tend to enjoy maths more and work harder at it. 

Numeracy technique #2: Use tutor time for arithmetical skills

The time that students spend with their form tutor/homeroom teacher can be golden time for developing numeracy.

Online programs like Ten QQ and MyMaths allow students to interface with technology and quickly learn numerical manipulation.

With Ten QQ you simply show questions on the whiteboard with a time limit to complete each one. This can be easily and quickly peer-assessed at the end. It literally takes only ten minutes but can be very valuable for building up mathematical confidence, and for identifying weaknesses.

If your school lacks the technological means to do this then simply print out some quick worksheets for your students to complete. Here are some good sites to find free resources:

Numeracy technique #3: Teach mathematical language when you teach your subject

Use a wide variety of terms and explain them, when they come up in your subject. Think of ways that they could be taught in your curriculum area. Examples include:

  • ‘Gradient’ and ‘Slope’
  • A ‘Scatter Graph’ in Mathematics is the same as a ‘Line Graph’ in Science
  • Highlight the similarities and differences in mathematical vocabulary between departments and subjects

Numeracy Technique #4: Use Mathematical Tools in a Subject-Specific Context

Consider the following:

  • Venn Diagrams and Carroll Diagrams can be used in almost any subject
  • Timelines can be used to highlight chronology and even to track progress in a subject
  • Probabilities, time calculations and percentages come up everywhere. Make an effort to spend time on these calculations and show pupils how to do them properly.
  • Find out what the maths department is teaching, and when they are teaching it! Try to link the school’s maths curriculum to your own, so that you are reinforcing the right concepts at the right time. 

Numeracy Technique #5: Recognise that many students may have bad experiences of learning mathematics

Try your best to enjoy teaching numeracy, and this sense of enjoyment will rub of on your students.

Consider the following:

  • Adapt learning games such as ‘Splat’, ‘Corners’ and ‘Bingo’ to help kids solve maths problems (see this article here for more info)
  • Be patient and take time to explain concepts. Give learners time to formulate their answers
  • Encourage your students to see the world through ‘maths eyes’, and encourage them to quantify aspects of your subject. A frequency analysis of adjectives in a short story, or even a geometrical exploration of the map of Wales – the opportunities for seeing the world from a mathematical perspective are endless. The website http://www.haveyougotmathseyes.com/ is a great place to start when looking for ideas.

Further Reading (click on the book image to take you to the Amazon sales page)

Concept Based Mathematics

Jennifer Wathall is probably the world’s premier guru when it comes to teaching your kids how to have ‘Maths Eyes’. This book should be a staple for all teachers, everywhere, in my humble opinion. 

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With practical strategies that any teacher can use, ‘Teaching Numeracy’ is a very ‘hands-on’ book that any teacher will find helpful. 

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Differentiating Texts

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Many school subjects require students to read and analyse paragraphs of text. Whether it’s a description of freeze-thaw action in geography, or a synopsis of the rise of crypto currencies in ICT or economics: blurbs, descriptions and essays confront our students with unique challenges. 

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Sometimes our students don’t yet have the reading level to cope with the text. Sometimes they just simply get switched-off or disinterested, and this may or may not be related to their English language proficiency.

Have you ever stopped reading a book, or a short article, because it just didn’t interest you enough? I know I have, many times.

I can read but if I’m not interested, I’ll switch off.

Take the following body of text from my book, for example. How would you differentiate this so that all of the students in your class could understand and use it?:

Rapport

I had a great professional development session with a group of colleagues this week. We came up with some great ways to differentiate texts, which I’ve included below. Study the images carefully: I’ve linked them to the text above.

Technique #1: The Funnel

Basically this is a filtering system where the students take all of the key words in a text and filter them down into, first, a few sentences; and then, just one sentence:

Dif1

Technique #2: True or False Questions

Nice and simple and can be done in a number of ways:

  • Write the true or false questions yourself, and get the kids to answer them
  • Get the kids to write true or false questions and give them to each other (recommended for high-ability students, as this one is a little more difficult to mark/assess and takes more time and effort to complete).

Dif2

Technique #3: Flow chart

Kids create a flow chart that either describes the process involved, or the reasoning behind the text. Questions can be used as connectives:

Dif3

Technique #4: Fill in the blanks

This is a simple one and can be used to reinforce technical vocabulary, elements of speech (such as interjections and conjunctions) or anything else that’s important.

Technique #5: Cartoon Strip

The kids will need to be quite creative with this one, as they may need to illustrate the concepts using an actual example. Great fun, and can get quite entertaining!

Other techniques

There are lots of creative ways in which students can be assigned to decipher and breakdown texts. Consider these suggestions:

  • Stop-motion animations (takes a lot of time but acts as a great mini-project)
  • Drama and role-play
  • Music
  • Website creation
  • Infographic creation (much better than ‘make a poster’)
  • Make an instructional video

Today’s images

I’ve drawn all of today’s images myself using some beautiful Sharpies®. Highly recommended:

Sharpies

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Back to School Basics for Teachers

An article by Richard James Rogers (Author of The Quick Guide to Classroom Management)

Illustrated by Pop Sutthiya Lertyongphati 

It’s been a busy Summer vacation for me.

As a Chemistry teacher at an international school, I get a similar ‘Summer Holiday’ to my colleagues back in the U.K. – about 7 weeks from the end of June to mid-late August. However, I’ve not been resting that much as I’ve been involved in two excellent summer camps which have kept me productive and active.

I now have another two days left before school starts, so I’m enjoying a short break in the seaside resort of Pattaya, Thailand (a short drive away from Bangkok).

Siriya
Me at Suriya Land, Pattaya, today. 

Getting into the swing of things

7 weeks is a long time to be away from school and if we are to be at our optimum when we meet our new students on day one, then we need to get physiologically, biochemically and mentally ready.

I’m now going to go through my top 5 tips for starting the new academic year like a superhero! Over the past 12 years of my professional teaching career these tips have been absolute life-savers!

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I know they will work for you too, as they have done for the hundreds of teachers and trainees that I have counseled and mentored over the years.

Here’s a quick video summary of these 5 tips:

Tip #1: Rest yourself

This can be difficult, especially if you’re a parent with small children. However, it is absolutely essential.

snacking

When we rest ourselves before school begins, however, we must do it in a systematic, organised way. What does this mean? – Well, let’s take a look at this list together and see if we could implement these actions at least 1 week before going back to school:

  • Hydrate ourselves well: We should drink low-sugar, high-water fluids to get our bodies biochemically ready for the new academic year
  • Get enough sleep: I personally need 8 hours per night – any less and I find it hard to function!
  • Implement a regular sleeping pattern: I don’t want my first Monday back to be a total shock to my body (that’s happened to me before and it was ugly!). From now until the day I start back at school, it’s bed at 10pm and up at 6am every day. A pattern like this allows our circadian rhythms to become balanced just in time for the first day – so that we’ll feel fresh and ready!
  • Do recreational stuff: You know what you love to do. Do it! For me: I love to read in the countryside with a windy breeze in the background. I enjoy going to the gym and taking my time when I’m there. I enjoy karate. I love writing my blog at a sleepy little coffee shop somewhere in the back-of-beyond. Whatever it is that you love to do, give yourself the gift of doing it before you go back to school. This will help you to relax and will adjust your nervous system to a state of ‘positive awareness’.
  • Eat properly: I don’t need to lecture anyone about this – we all know what we should be doing. I know, for example, that by having three-square meals per day, at around about the same time each day (followed with wide-spectrum multi-vitamins and mineral supplements), then by the process of bio-accumulation my body will be biochemically at its optimum before I launch into my teaching modality on day one.

Tip #2: Know your curriculum!

We need to know two important things well before we start teaching our students:

  • What we are going to teach
  • When, exactly, we are going to teach it

This process is called ‘curriculum mapping’ and it’s so important, especially if you’re starting at a new school or if you’re a newly-qualified teacher whose starting a new job.

making plans

I know, for example, that I’ll be teaching a Year 12 and 13 IBDP Chemistry class this coming academic year. I know that Year 13 need to have covered Topic 17 (HL Equilibria) by the end of August, and Topics 8 and 18 (Acids and Bases) by the end of September. Year 12 need to have covered Topics 2 and 12 (Atomic Structure) and Topic 1 (Quantitative Chemistry) by the end of September.

I need to know exactly what’s happening, in terms of my teaching and school events that could interrupt my normal schedule, for each and every month of the upcoming academic year.

Curriculum mapping benefits us in so many ways:

  • It keeps us confident because we are ‘on-track’ and going in the right direction
  • It relaxes us (because we know what’s coming next)
  • It gives us time to plan ahead

So get mapping – you know it makes sense!

Tip #3: Get photocopying!

Here’s something I can guarantee – on day one of teaching, and the day before, many of your colleagues will be using the school’s photocopiers and printers to get their resources ready.

Explaining

If me and you want to start the academic year in a hassle-free, relaxed way, then we need to be a step-ahead of everyone else.

Go into school a few days before you’re due to start and get your first week’s worth of worksheets, booklets and whatever else you need printed and ready.

Trust me –  you’ll be glad you did it!

Tip #4: Read ahead

We all forget subject content, even the most highly-qualified and knowledgeable of us.

If possible, get your hands on the same textbooks your kids will be using. Use these textbooks to:

  • Read ahead and make sure you understand the stuff you’ll teaching the students
  • Think about which questions from the textbook you’d like to set for your kids. Do these questions have model answers? If not, then you’ll be creating unnecessary work for yourself when you come to mark them. Will you set these questions as homework or classwork?
  • Does the textbook contain any good graphics that you could scan/photograph and put into a Prezi, Google slides or PowerPoint?

Tip #5: Don’t be nervous

Whatever your situation is: starting at a new school or staying at your current school, you’re likely to have new colleagues, systems, resources and even policies that you’ll be working with.

jenga

Don’t be in a rush to get to know everyone all at once. Take your time, relax and get to know people one at a time.

See the new academic year as an opportunity to inspire, care-for and motivate your new students. With this mindset, you’re sure to start back at school like a superhero!

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