Maths from Home

Terms start up again in many places on Monday, which means parents may be looking for ideas for home-schooling.

One great source of activities is the NRich website, which has a wealth of maths resources for ages 3-18.

They’ve published a special page giving information on how you can work with children at home during the lockdown using mathematical activities and games to enhance engagement and learning.

They’ve also hand-picked activities for different age groups (11-14, 14-16, 16-18) that are suitable for working on without the help of a teacher and are asking parents/guardians to tweet resulting work using the hashtag #nrichmathsathome

Be warned! A quick ‘dip’ into the activities may mean you lose a substantial amount of time, as happened to me with ‘Charlie’s Delightful Machine‘…

Have fun!

Improve Your Digital Skills

If you’re one of those teachers for whom technology is a constant source of bewilderment, or would like to discover what’s changed in technology since calculators became smart and started doing graphs, then you might want to pay a visit to ‘Enhance’ – the Education and Training Foundation‘s online training offer.

It supports the Digital Teaching Professional Framework – a competency framework for teaching and training practitioners in the FE and Training sector.

The main offer is a free suite of modules offering training on EdTech (educational technology) that covers the range of strands in the DTPF. Each module features a short video introducing the module’s concepts, including one or more case studies illustrating the main points. There are then 2-3 activities that provoke the teacher to think of how the concepts introduced affect teachers and learners and how they can be incorporated generally into teaching and learning practice. Finally, there is an opportunity to record reflections on how the teacher might change their practice using their own resources or teaching practice .

To enhance motivation, digital badges can be earned for completion of modules, which can be tracked by reference to a profile page.

The quality of the modules is variable; some modules introduce general concepts that fail to provoke much useful thought beyond what most teachers will consider to be core knowledge and skills. Others are extremely thought-provoking and motivating, opening up innovative ways of thinking about how technology can be harnessed to improve teaching and learning.

New categories of modules have recently been introduced, including ‘Creating Content Fundamentals’, ‘Engaging Learners’ and ‘Innovation and Change’ – all of which are vital strands of knowledge, especially in the current situation in which remote teaching and learning has become a core requirement.

The Education and Training Foundation has produced an excellent introductory video to the Enhance system, which you can view below.

I’ve really enjoyed working through the modules and found many of the modules extremely motivating, especially where they’ve provided additional ideas for introducing creativity into the teaching and learning process.

Enjoy discovering!

An Unprecedented Situation

First of all, I hope that wherever and whenever you’re reading this, you’re OK. A global health crisis in which people are dying is no time to moan about the first-world problems of working from home, even though the effect on mental health is very real and a problem for many people.

There’s no denying that ‘normal’ life has all of sudden become much more difficult – even for people who haven’t suffered the direct effects of the terrible disease.

These past few days, there has been little time to focus on this blog when learners and colleagues have struggled to deal with a sudden need to utilise technology as the primary means of learning. Up until now its role has been supplementary; now, it’s crucial.

The technology is not the main stumbling block, though. Many learners have been struggling, not only to find their way around unfamiliar technology, but to become independent learners who solve problems, interpret instructions and make decisions for themselves without teacher input. The situation has highlighted how far we still need to go to empower learners with a skill-set that enables them to drive their learning forward.

I’ll endeavour to explore possible answers to some of these problems in future posts and how we can apply what we learn during this crisis to future learning, whatever form it takes.

In the meantime, look after you and yours. See below for a resource that may help if you’re struggling to cope. Best wishes.


A Pivotal Moment

This is a genuine post, for which I’m receiving no payment.

One of the most productive few hours of my career was attending a course on behaviour management delivered by Pivotal Education.

The course was no more than a lecture delivered to the entire teaching staff of the college I was employed by at the time. The trainer was Darrell Williams and I have to say that on the day, I was incredibly sceptical. I’d undertaken CPD on behaviour management before, but it had always been very woolly and hadn’t really provided any concrete actions or tangible changes in approach that I could take back to the classroom.

Also, there was a rather arrogant assumption that I was managing behaviour effectively. I wasn’t.

Throughout the day, Darrell’s enthusiasm, backed up by thought-provoking examples, started to help me believe that the changes he was recommending – changes in my behaviour – would be effective. They were, and I’ve adopted them in my teaching practice with great results.

Pivotal espouse Five Pillars of good practice.

The Five Pillars are:

  • Consistent, calm adult behaviour
  • First attention to best conduct
  • Relentless routines
  • Scripted interventions
  • Restorative follow up

It all makes sense and has transformed my ability to manage behaviour in my classroom. It’s provided an effective framework to work within.

Pivotal offer excellent tips regularly via their mailing list. Their website is also worth checking out. Pay a visit at

That age-old question.

I was having a conversation with colleagues last week about whether we preferred teaching older or younger learners. What was remarkable was that there was clear demarcation between those who chose ‘young people’ and those who chose ‘adults’. Few were sitting on the fence.

A few years ago, as a teacher of apprentices, I much preferred teaching older learners, simply for one reason; behaviour. I didn’t really have a clue how to deal with some young people who – as I saw it at the time – didn’t want to learn. I saw it as a nonsense, as an annoyance and often got hooked into emotional responses out of frustration that some learners just wanted to disrupt!

I look back now and see that I was having exactly the same problems with older learners – but it was because of my different response (kinder, more understanding, more patient) that I was able to deal with it better and so enjoy the relationships with my learners more.

Why was my response different? Possibly because the adults who were exhibiting difficult behaviour were more self-aware of their behaviour and the reasons for it. An adult learner who has no self-confidence with maths will often readily blame things such as bad experiences at school for refusing to attempt a task, and be quite apologetic about it. A young person without that awareness might also refuse a task, but feel angry and confused because they haven’t made the link with previous experience. That anger then gets directed at the teacher and results in unwanted behaviour – unwanted by the teacher, the other students and the learners themselves.

Understanding some young people is hard. When someone doesn’t have the emotional maturity or experience to understand why they are feeling scared or frustrated or angry, they are in no position to help you, as a teacher, find a route through it. That makes it even more important to be willing to show unconditional acceptance of the person, and to separate them from their behaviour.

That can be a massive challenge. Showing relentless positivity and energy in the face of a room full of sceptical, negative, maths-hating teens is tiring. But it’s definitely worth it.

Most of the time, there are no quick wins. But there are those moments – those watershed moments – when that confidence you’ve been trying to instil starts to show – when a frowning face starts to crack more smiles, perhaps, or when an entire lesson’s work is no longer just the date at the top of the page, but some nicely laid-out answers too.

I’m not saying that teaching older students is easier. One of the reasons some colleagues felt they preferred teaching younger people is that they ‘don’t come with as much baggage’ or ‘they’re not so set in their ways’. My own opinion is that the baggage is just different baggage and the ways are just different ways. The strategies are essentially the same – it’s just that with young people it’s more coded; you just need to break through. With adults, it might be more obvious what’s needed, but then the break-throughs are harder to win because of years of negative reinforcement.

Whichever we prefer, it’s good that we’re allowed to specialise and build the types of relationships with our learners that we enjoy. It allows us to become more skilled in helping learners and to help in ways that suit our personality and our strengths.

What we must do, in surely one of the most difficult jobs around, is look after ourselves. Our well-being allows us to be strong enough to help those learners who struggle with a subject they’ve come to see as a monster. It’s our responsibility to help them slay that monster without getting bloodied ourselves.

So, whether you’re teaching teens or educating elders, look after yourself. Your students – whatever age they’re at – depend on it.

For more information on ‘unconditional acceptance’ – see

For more information on ‘behaviour management’ for young people, see

For more information on teaching older learners, see

Cold-Calling: An Inclusive Way to Make You – and Your Students – Work Harder!

I haven’t always been a fan of students being cold-called for answers in-class. I used to hate being called on as a school-boy to give answers when I wasn’t ready or confident. The introverted student that I was would often rather sit there, listening carefully, taking things in and asking questions when I needed to rather than when the teacher decided. It wasn’t exactly like ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ – “You boy! What’s 8×7?”, but it sometimes felt like it.

For a long time during my career, I was guilty of using this reasoning for not cold-calling students. They would, I imagined, engage with the learning if they wanted to, and if they didn’t there was little I could do about it short of ensuring my lessons were energetic and varied.

I also saw cold-calling as unfair on those students who, like me, wanted to engage with the lesson in a quiet, reflective way rather than being put under the spotlight with an unwanted question in front of their peers. I assumed that calling on a student for an answer would cause anxiety and serve no real purpose if the only answer was a shrug of the shoulders or a ‘dunno’.

I now see that I was wrong. Cold-calling is an essential part of checking for understanding and an effective tool for increasing engagement and accountability in the lesson. It also takes a great deal of effort and energy to do well, which is perhaps why some teachers shy away from it; it’s easier to ask the general ‘Is everyone OK with that?’ question rather than spend the time checking individually whether the understanding really is there. You could almost say it’s a dereliction of duty not to cold-call, because those students who don’t understand are unlikely to speak up – if they even realise they haven’t fully understood in the first place.

Cold-calling doesn’t have to feel humiliating for the student, or even induce anxiety. If it’s made a standard part of the lesson in a supportive environment where making mistakes are treated as an opportunity to learn rather than a failure, it can be an incredibly powerful tool. But that environment has to be fostered early on, through the teacher’s actions.

5 Tips for Effective Cold-Calling

  1. Ensure it’s fair. Cold-call all students equally, perhaps using a device like a selector wheel or lolly sticks with names on.
  2. Ask the question before naming the student you’re calling on. This gives everyone a chance to think of an answer and doesn’t put undue pressure on the person being asked to come up with an answer on the spot.
  3. Differentiate your questioning. You can boost learners’ confidence if they are working at a low level by asking an easier question and challenge confident students with more challenging questions.
  4. Follow-up on a question with further questions to draw out deeper understanding. ‘Why’ questions are often useful here.
  5. Open-ended questions give students an opportunity to shine and they don’t feel like being put ‘on the spot’ as a closed question with a single correct answer. “How would you go about multiplying 7 by 8?” is much nicer than just “What’s 7×8?”

Persevere with it if you do try such a transformation. It may feel laboured at first, but with time the students should come to expect such interactions and will increase their own participation subconsciously – especially if your cold-calling is boosting their confidence.

For a more detailed insight into cold-calling, have a read of Doug Lemov’s blog post, detailing how it’s an inclusive technique.