Teach 156: 1 – my focus for September

I’ve done many things over the last year, but blogging hasn’t been one of them. However, I’ve been inspired by the Teach180 bloggers in the US, so I’m going to try something similar during this school year . As a part-timer, I’ll be in school for 156 days out of the 195 in the school year, so this is my Teach156 blog. Just a short, simple post each day, but hopefully some moments worth reflecting on or sharing.

File:WA archery target with arrows.jpgSomehow 24 years has passed since I finished my PGCE and took up my first teaching post. It may be a while ago, but I remember being asked a great question during the interview for my first teaching post. That great question was ‘What is the hardest thing about teaching?’ My answer caused the interview panel to laugh, although it wasn’t intended as a joke. My answer was that like juggling, the hardest thing is keeping all the balls in the air.

Actually, I still think that’s the hardest thing about teaching, especially since the juggling act seems to have got ever more complicated. The job also gets ever bigger, but the days do not have any more hours in them, so this year I am trying to keep things simple and get real value from the time I put in.

My first big focus is on me. I need to manage my time so that I can teach effectively and my students get the best possible learning experience.

That means that during September, nothing matters more than getting into a sustainable routine. That routine isn’t just school related, but also includes getting enough sleep, getting plenty of exercise and spending time with family and friends.

I’ve got a schedule, let’s see how well I do at sticking to it.

Picture credit: WA archery target with arrows, photo taken 17 May 2003 and uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by photographer Casito. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

It’s a date: Happy Addition/Multiplication/Division/Subtraction Day!

I like dates that make nice patterns, so I was quite pleased to notice that yesterday’s date made an addition statement. I wrote 14/1/15 on the board, spotted the pattern and then changed what I had written to say 14+1=15 Happy Addition Day!

Quite a few students remarked on this and started to think of other dates that would work, which was nice.

This morning, I started to write 15/1/15, which does have a certain symmetry to it, before realising that I could write 15×1=15 Happy Multiplication Day! I am obviously feeling a bit over-tired, because it was lunchtime before I realised that I could also write 15÷1=15 Happy Division Day!

Tomorrow (16/1/15) is of course a Subtraction Day, which completes the set.

Four rules in three days – I think that’s quite neat.

Real Life Maths–exactly how much do those chips cost?

How would you write three pounds and fifty pence in figures?

When walking through central London at the weekend, I noticed something slightly unusual about the menu pinned up outside the Golden Fleece pub:

Menu at the Golden Fleece

I thought it was odd, but assumed it was a one-off. Then I spotted the same thing on the menu in another pub, the Founders Arms:

Menu at the Founders Arms

I confess I am a bit baffled by this. For years I have been insisting that my students give money answers to two decimal places. Admittedly there are a few cases where two decimal places may not be appropriate, for example the price of petrol in the UK is always given to 3 d.p. but the final price that you pay would still always be rounded to 2 d.p. Surely that should be the case here, these are prices, in context – so 2d.p would be expected.

I don’t know why these pubs are presenting their prices in this way. Is it a fad? A new trend? Hopefully it’s not an attempt to mislead.

I do know that I will be including these images in my lessons in future. £3.5 may be a non-standard way of writing three pounds and fifty pence, but it’s one that any student with a good understanding of place value should be able to interpret.

Back to school–time to set some goals

I go back to school today. Unusually, we are starting on a Friday, which is a staff training day. The students return on Monday.

We started our new timetable at the end of last term, but I still haven’t met all of my students, so my main foci this week will be learning names and starting to establish relationships and routines.

Goals for next week:

1. Learn names

Learning names seems to take me longer every year. On my first teaching practice, I knew every student’s name by the end of the week. In my first year of teaching, it took just over 2 weeks. By last year, it took too long to learn everyone’s name.

I would like to know most of my students’ names by the end of next week, so I am going to really target this, using a combination of seating plans, name plates and a cunning plan.

2. Establish routines

I don’t want to spend the entire year telling my students where the tracing paper is, so I will be reinforcing practical classroom routines every lesson.

I also need to get into a routine. My working hours spiralled out of control last year, so I have written myself a schedule for the week and then set reminders on my calendar. My aim is to reduce my working week to below 50 hours. I said that this time last year, will I be more successful this time?

3. Update the Welcome to the Maths Department display

At the end of last year, we challenged some students to draw members of the department. We provided them with photos and asked for a cartoon or drawing. Some of the results were brilliant, here are some of the pictures of me:


Some of the pictures will be going on our ‘Welcome to the Maths Department’ display. I need to get a few more drawings done for new members of staff, so hopefully the display will be complete by the end of the week.


I always plan my week, but my plans often get blown away by the hurricane of the working week. Let’s see how this one goes.

(An Unusual) Measure for Measure

Voigt_Cancellara_TDF_2010_Cambrai_(cropped)How much is too much? We have plenty of space in the back of the car, but when buying bags of sand and pebbles as we did today, the big concern isn’t space, it’s weight. I didn’t want to do more trips to the builders’ merchant than necessary, neither did I want to be the idiot who overloaded her car and gave the AA man a funny story to tell. My solution involved what might be described as non-standard units.

As we stood looking at our trolley of goods, debating whether we already had too much to carry or whether we could manage some more, I realised that I knew what the car could carry safely: the two of us, plus three passengers and a bit of luggage in the back. Now I’m not very good at weights of people in kilograms, but I do know the weights of some cyclists. Adding up the weights of the materials we had so far came to much less than 2 Paolo Bettinis, I was sure we could easily carry more than that. We allowed ourselves a limit of 3 Fabian Cancellaras, which meant we could buy everything we needed. It worked, we made it back up Crookes Mountain with no trouble and without the car feeling overloaded. I like this new unit, next time I’m faced with a similar problem, I’ll be measuring in Cancellaras again.



Image Credit: Fabian Cancellera, cropped by BaldBoris from larger photo ‘Voigt Cancellara TDF 2010 Cambrai ‘by Thomas Ducroquet. Used under Creative Commons Licence, via Wikimedia Commons