Tips for Giving Students More Time to Respond by John McCarthy

12 01 2018

Here are some suggestions to support students to improve their learning. Be sure to check out the “Talk Moves” link.


How Magic Maker Cubes Can Increase Collaboration by Kriscia Cabral 

1 09 2017

This activity could also be used to summarise the properties of a cube including the area of a face and the volume of the cube. This could be repeated for a rectangular prism etc.

Alternatively each face could have a different problem to be solved in pairs etc. Each student might take a turn to choose the problem to solve. Perhaps revision of the properties of the cube could be discussed as the cube is cut out and assembled. 

Smart Strategies for Student Success by Dr. Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers

30 06 2017

Here are some great strategies to help students learn more effectively. Thank you Marcus and Donna. 

Why Teachers Should Help Students Learn Effective Study Strategies by Katrina Schwartz

28 06 2017

Here’s some more evidence to support strategies to develop deep learning and retention. Thank you Katrina. 

Extension 1 Mathematics Teaching Tips

17 02 2017

Last week I was asked for tips for teaching Extension 1 Mathematics.

It has been my intention to blog on this for ages, so here they are, in no particular order – just as I think of them. There’s nothing in particular that I do, just lots of little things to encourage deep and comprehensive learning.

  • Use a variety of sources for content and activities and methods – textbooks, revision guides, conference presentations etc.
  • Use games to reinforce instruction and content – tiles (these may be cardboard or paper. Foam fitness mats can be cut into rectangles say 3cm by 2 cm and written on with a felt pen. One side has the question like “nth term AP” written in one colour, say red. Another tile has the answer written in say black. The flip side has another question written in red. There have to be enough tiles for at least one per student. The first student will have START or the topic name in red . They say I have START. They turn their tile over and say who has “nth term AP”? and so it goes from student to student until someone has “The End”) and postits etc
  • Regularly use a single question quiz at the beginning of a lesson, without warning. I may record results or may not.
  • Finish a topic by the end of term or be prepared to completely reteach it the following term – which there is not time for. Mathematical Induction would be an exception as there are numerous categories of question which really are quite separate from one another. Mathematical Induction takes a lot of practice so having it experienced in 2 terms reinforces and consolidates the understanding of the students.
  • Leave the predominant focus of HSC questions until Year 12. Focus on strong concept understanding in Year 11.
  • Use regular review sheets in Year 12. These could be past HSC questions. There are sources for these. Edudata is the one I like because it has the questions categorised by topic. I have been using it for years and have not had reason to look for alternatives which I think exist. I have the answers to past HSC questions back to 1989 which can save enormous time when writing solutions. After I have sighted how much and how well the student has attempted the review sheet, I upload the solutions to the intranet and get the students to mark their own responses-it is possible to have this automatically released at the end of the learning session when the task is due and checked. Students learn far more this way because they get instantaneous feedback which is pertinent to their stage of learning. I can also focus on marking other components of their learning. I collect short scripts to mark very regularly and spontaneously, so that I can gain a good understanding of where their current learning is at.
  • During each topic give study tips and summaries etc. The MANSW site has some good resources too, which I ensure students have seen.
  • I aim to finish the bulk of the teaching by the Trials – this allows commercially available Trials to be used if that is desirable and permissable at your school. There are a couple of topics that are never finished – Harder Mathematics Questions and the HSC Geometrical Properties.. These are what I focus on after the Trials as well as  Trials from other schools. The more sight unseen resources the students experience in the last days of Year 12 the better. I often give 1 or 2 sight unseen questions during class, at this stage, to help with timing and confidence building.
  • As the course is never finished, I don’t tell my students that we have finished. The Harder Mathematics Questions topic is endless. I believe that students relax and lose focus if told that the teaching has ended.
  • When I mark in-class quizzes, I do not give marks. I detect where they have started to digress, circle this and often write a one or two word comment giving direction towards accurate completion. This is based on the ideas of Jo Boaler. I aim to hand back in class-quizzes the lesson that they are done.
  • Drill working and setting out.
  • Check home learning every lesson if possible. On my roll – Excel grid sheet with copious columns taped to the front of my textbook- I simply mark if it is done or not. This is very quick to check and record.
  • Be alert to resources that go beyond the syllabus. I only believe in teaching to the syllabus. This can be hard to maintain with some very eager and capable students.
  • Look at the Band 4 etc responses on the web and share these with the students to help develop an understanding of what is expected when answering a question.
  • Look at the markers feedback for the last HSC in the final lesson of Year 12, to give tips for being best prepared for their HSC. There is often a poorly attempted response from the last year or so, which is addressed. There are some aspects of questions which are regularly less well attempted.
  • Attend the Markers Feedback Day at Macquarie University, which is held each February and organised by MANSW.
  • Keep challenging students to answer questions efficiently. My motto is speed, accuracy and excellence without feeling pressured to rush. Its the proficiency development of the spinning of the pen on the tip of the index or middle finger that I do not encourage. I tend to have a similar but different slogan or focus each year, as I discern what is pertinent to the cohort I am teaching.
  • Keep watching Jo Boaler to stay abreast of her new strategies.
  • Access a copy of every study guide that you can find and use them randomly so that the students have no idea where you will next access information to create an activity for the lesson.
  • I advise students to be regularly using one or two study guides by the Year 12 Half-Yearly and perhaps another by the Trials – depending on how much they have used what they have.
  • Resubmits are magic. Have an expected achievement level for a class task. This could be built into examinations too.  It may be that they students need to come to you at lunch to be supervised as they resubmit or you may allow it to be done at home. The student then needs to mark their work. Obviously, the solutions need to be not released prior to the resubmit. This helps to encourage students to learn the work adequately, initially. Similar to this, is expecting students to always correct mistakes on any examination, prior to the release of the solutions. This is also imperative in building a development of expertise.
  • I teach by asking questions rather than telling the students how to do something. This helps them to process the method and if faced with a similar question during assessment conditions, they have done the processing at least once. Otherwise, it is too easy to tune out and not develop understanding. Students find this hard but learn better when they join the process.
  • Keep abreast of trends – blogs, MANSW, Jo Boaler etc.
  • Try flipped learning with every group. When it takes off you’ll be amazed at the understanding and level of the questions asked. I’ll blog on my technique soon.
  • Boys like competition, girls like order and special attention. All students like encouragement.
  • After each examination I have students complete an Error Analysis where they look at the types of mistakes – silly errors, lack of knowledge, misunderstood question etc. That’s been a blogpost several years ago as I spoke about it at a conference. I also categorise marks to look for topics needing most attention for improvement.
  • Record student goals prior to an examination (get them to predict their result) and give them feedback after the examination.
  • I give awards after Half-Yearly and Yearly Examinations, especially in senior classes. I even try to get someone from Senior Executive to issue them with a certificate. Funky postits, special pens, engraved pens are cheap and special etc.
  • I buy a heap of exercise books at the beginning of the year when 40 or 80 page ones are very cheap. I issue one to each of my senior students as their revision book which is not to come to school to be used as they choose. I suggest that they summarise each topic on a double page. If they get time to come back and then summarise it onto a single page, they will deepen their learning and understanding even further.

Weekly Podcasts Enhance Student Learning

14 01 2017

This article provokes me to consider the value of implementing the creation of a weekly podcast/video created on a mobile, as part of Home Learning (Homework). If a 30-40 second video was to be created to summarise each lesson, samples could be emailed to the teacher, if required. A self- marking rubric and a parent version could be part of the exercise. 

I have used this method in the past, to help less confident students prepare for an oral assessment. They were allowed to email me up to 2 or 3 versions. Not every student made use of the offer, but many used their quota. 

Helping Students Retain and Build on Prior Knowledge by Nicole Smith

15 10 2016

This article shares some thoughts on helping students amalgamate current and past learning. Enjoy.