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#Mathsconf7: Implementing Academic Challenge in KS3 using Nuanced Problem Types

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of delivering a session with Craig Jeavons at #Mathsconf7 titled ‘Implementing Academic challenge in KS3 using Nuanced Problem Types’.

Craig and I joined forces because we teach in different parts of the country, in two different schools, but also because we work in contexts expressing the same philosophy and mindset about mathematics education. We both believe that teaching knowledge in year 7 and year 8 can be made more academically challenging by creating nuanced problem types, strengthening pupils’ understanding of a concept through designing a problem set using intelligent procedural variation. We both believe that memorisation of facts and creative thinking are not mutually exclusive.

Craig and I chose a topic each, in which to create different problem types: I chose indices whereas Craig chose fractions. We chose these two topics because we wanted to select topics that some may consider mundane and standard to teach, proving to our audience that challenges can nevertheless still be presented in the teaching of both topics.

In this blog post, I shall outline the six different ideas used in implementing a challenge in teaching the topic of indices.

  1. Basic factual recall

Indices, as a topic, relies on committing the knowledge of the first 15 square numbers and square roots, and the first 10 cube numbers, to memory. How can pupils commit this to memory? Ask them to try and recite it in the smallest amount of time possible? Give them a series of practice questions where they have to evaluate 9(figure 1).


Figure 1 – Factual Recall exercise evaluating the first 15 square numbers and first 10 cube numbers.


Figure 2 – Facutal Recall exercise evaluating the first 15 square roots and first 10 cube roots


Figure 3 – Factual Recall exercise evaluating a mixture of square roots and including cube roots from 11 cubed onwards.

Give them a similar practice set of questions using square roots and cube roots (figure 2), and why not include questions where pupils have to evaluate calculations with square roots and cube roots (figure 3). Give them more than two terms in the calculation, include all four operations (figure 4).  I like the second question, in particular, because pupils must distinguish the difference between √64 and ∛64  despite both looking visually similar (figure 5). This is deliberately designed to make them stop and think.


Figure 4 – Calculations with square and cube numbers      


Figure 5 – Calculations with square and cube roots

I wanted my pupils to learn how to evaluate 113 because of the link between the powers of 11 and Pascal’s triangle (Figure 6). Each line of Pascal’s triangle relates to one of the powers of 11, so the first line of Pascal’s triangle is equivalent to 110, and so forth. My kids loved this so much! I would ask the following:


Figure 6 – Linking the the powers of 11 to Pascal’s triangle

Me: “What is my favourite cube number?”

Pupil: “113, Miss”

Me: Who can evaluate 113?”

Pupil: “1331, Miss,”

Me: “What is the name of the special triangle I mentioned last week, the triangle is not a shape but the numbers form a triangular structure?”

Pupil: “Pascal’s triangle, Miss”

Me: “What is the first line of Pascal’s triangle…What is the third line of Pascal’s triangle?”

Pupil: “1…121, Miss.”

Me: “How can I express 121 using Index form?’”

Pupil: “112, Miss.”

Me: “Now, what is the 6th line of Pascal’s triangle?”

Pupil: “15,101,051, Miss”

…so on and so forth. This type of questioning is reliant on pupils having memorised 110, 111, 112, 113 etc.

2.Pre-empting misconceptions

It is all well and good giving pupils the correct knowledge by using correct examples, but it is incredibly valuable giving pupils the non-examples too. Why? Pupils do incorrectly associate squaring with doubling; cubing with tripling; and square rooting with dividing, because 22 = 4 and √4 = 2. So, show them some non-examples too (figure 7 and 8):

Picture7Figure 7 – Non examples of square and cube numbers      



Figure 8 – Non examples of square roots

Have conversations around why visually similar problem types are not equivalent when evaluated (figure 9). Similarly, have conversations why visually similar problem types are equivalent when evaluated (figure 10). It does not matter the number of the root of 1, it will always equal 1.


Figure 9 and 10 – Different problems which are visually similar

  1. Evaluating to the power of 0

This is an awesome piece of knowledge that the kids can learn and pick up. The best way for them to learn this is for them to identify that, regardless what the base value is, when evaluated to the power of 0 it shall equal 1. Include a base value where it is a one digit number, two digit and three digit example; make the base a decimal, variable and fraction. Craig later on mentioned that, when he was visiting schools in Shanghai, a teacher at one of the schools said “If you have taught it, then use it.” If pupils have learnt about decimals, fractions and variables, then show them that when you evaluate anything to the power of 0 the answer is 1. (figure 11)


Figure 11 – Evaluating to the power of 0 using any base value

This then allows you to make your initial practice set of questions incredibly challenging, by including complex examples such as evaluating to the power of 0, evaluating 1 to any index number, evaluating any base number to the power of 1 etc (figure 12) . You can then scatter these newly learnt problems with previously attempted problems; and you have varied the problem set where you expect pupils to still be thinking about each and every question (figure 13).


Figure 12 – Exceptional cases of Indices – because of their answers

I did add questions where the power was greater than 3, additionally, to add some more challenge to the practice set (figure 13).


Figure 13 – Practice set with intelligent varied problem types

  1. Multiple representations of square rooting and cube rooting

This relates to my first point in respect of basic factual recall. I will now always teach pupils the fact that cube rooting a cube number is the same as evaluating a cube number to the power of 1/3. Show them a different example, the fifth root of 32 is equivalent to evaluating 32 to the power of 1/5. They are seeing the pattern between the number of the root and the denominator of the fractional power. (figure 14)


Figure 14 – Demonstrating the pattern between the number of the root and the denominator of the fractional power where the number being rooted is equivalent. Multiple representation of the same knowledge fact.

Why did I not start with the square root of a square number? The pattern is not obvious visually because the square root does not have the 2 visible like the third root of 27 or the fifth root of 32. Start with examples which state the pattern in an obvious and explicit manner, showing the exceptional examples at the end.

5.Complexity in structure rather than content

Now, if I return to the initial practice set of questions, which includes calculations with square roots and cube roots (figure 15), I can use essentially the same questions but only now using a different set of visual representations of the same problem (figure 16). I have just made the teaching of the concept more difficult by making the structure of the problem more complex. The content here is the same as the previous exercise when I showed calculations with square roots and cube roots. The content is also the same because it relies on the same factual knowledge I expected pupils to memorise in the initial stages of teaching the topic.


Figure 15 – Initial problems using square roots and cube roots in calculations


Figure 16 – Same problem types from figure 16 but using a different visual representation where square rooting of 49 is displayed as evaluating 49 to a power of 1/2.

Remember, in the previous image where I showed that any number to the root of 1 will result in an answer of 1. I can now present students with the last problem type where 1 has a power of 1/100 (last problem in figure 16). Each questions relies on the same factual knowledge but whereas this is displayed differently – visually –  and this is challenge I am referring to because it is still difficult for students to identify the structure of the problem and make the link that 3431/3 is equal to 7 and that 11/100 is equal to 1. I love it!

6.Partial knowledge recall

We have asked pupils to attempt a full problem, such as ‘evaluate 53’, and to then determine its answer. Now, give them an incomplete problem with the answer given. Can they fill in the blanks? This is extremely difficult because they can no longer rely on their factual knowledge to determine the answer; they must instead manipulate such factual knowledge to complete the problem using the answer. Can they identify the missing index number? Can they identify the missing base number? (figure 17)

Picture13Figure 17 – Problem types requesting partial knowledge factual recall

Picture14Figure 18 – Problem types where more than one part of the problem or answer is missing.


Figure 19 – Problem types requesting partial knowledge factual recall using square and cube roots. 

Can they identify the missing base number and index number in the same problem?  What about the fourth problem type? Even better, what about the last problem type? (last two problems in figure 18)

Pupils will be thinking, what power can I evaluate 31 with which gets me an answer smaller than the actual base number? 0! How do pupils know this? They know the fact that if you evaluate any base value to the power of 0 we always get 1. Let’s include examples with missing digits in the square root? Here the question marks represent the same digit. What about the last example – the only possibility is that both the question marks are 1. (figure 19)

Give them a practice set of questions where they have to attempt filling in the blanks in not only the problem but in the answer too. (figure 20)


Figure 20 – Partial knowledge recall exercise. 

And so, that was a whistle stop tour on how teaching the topic of indices can be made more challenging, and in particular in respect of year 7 and year 8 classes, as presented at #mathsconf7. These six different ideas allow children to consolidate their knowledge of different facts about square numbers, cube numbers, square roots and cube numbers, through the six different ideas discussed above.

I have attached a PDF of the powerpoint presented at La Salle via a link below.]

If there are any questions then please do not hesitate to get in contact with either Craig or myself via Twitter (@naveenfrizvi and @craigos87) or via email ( Enjoy!

Thank you to everybody who took the time out of their weekend to attend mine and Craig’s workshop; we really appreciate your time and enthusiasm. Thank you to La Salle who hosted another great conference – you guys are awesome!




Right is Right: Why it is very challenging?

Whilst teaching, I asked a question to my  class after delivering a worked example listing all the factors of a number. Specifically, I was demonstrating that the number of factors of a square number will be odd because we have a repeated root, and therefore that we don’t write it twice. For example, 16 has the following factors 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16, whilst 36 has the following factors 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 12, 18 and 36. Also mentioning a non-example such as 15 having an even number of factors, because it is not a square number with a repeated root, and so 15 has the following number of factors 1, 3, 5 and 15 etc.

After the worked examples were delivered and pupils had completed a selection of questions in the practice set, I posed the question to check if pupils had remembered the fact taught: “Why do 16, 36, 81 and 144 have an odd number of factors?”

Pupils were given 20 seconds thinking time, and I could see hands all going up in anticipation to answer the question. I selected a pupil and this was her response:

“When you square root a square number you get the root number twice, so the root number is repeated, and that is why a square number will always have an odd number of factors when you write a list of factors.”

I responded “Incorrect,” and all the pupils in the class looked at me stunned, not because I said Incorrect, but because they thought that what *Sally had said was correct. Now, I know what Sally meant but that is not what was said. I then corrected her: “Let’s clarify that when we find the square root of a square number we get one value which is the root number. Therefore, √16 = 4. What *Sally is trying to say is that when you list the factors of a square number, like 16, you get a repeated root because within that list of calculations we have 4 x 4, and because it is repeated we only state one 4 as one factor out of many.”

As written in Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion:

Right is Right starts with a reflection that it’s our job to set a high standard for answers in our classrooms and that we should strive to only call ‘right’ or ‘correct’ that which is really and truly worth those terms.

Many readers may be thinking well actually that is pretty obvious. However, it has its challenges. If I said to Sally “Well, you are nearly there, or halfway” then I would be doing her a disservice. Why? Because what she said was incorrect. It was not mathematically accurate, and I know that if I let that misinterpretation hang around in the air then all pupils in the room will develop a misconception around it. As a teacher, children believe that everything we teach them is correct, and if I allow slightly incorrect answers to seem ok, even though I knew what Sally meant, then my standards of Sally and her peers would not be high enough. As Lemov states in his field notes, “teachers are not neutral observers of our own classrooms,”— it is simply the thought that I know what the pupil means when they say something inaccurately that resonates the most with me.

For example, whilst marking an assessment a pupil wrote the unit for a compound area question in cm2 instead of m2 where metres was the unit used in the question for each length: I marked her answer incorrect. There are many debates on this and I do understand that this is not a calculation error but maybe an error in reading the question, or in stating the correct units, but nonetheless she did not write the correct units for the question. It is not right. By holding pupils to account, you are striving to equate the term ‘right’ with ‘correct’.

As Lemov has stated in his field notes, there are many caveats posed in implementing the strategy of ‘Right is Right’ in the classroom. He mentions the problem of time. That to fix *Sally’s mistake I needed to spend more time than planned in my lesson to correct her, but this is an investment that will be appreciated later on when a question such as this arises in a high stake exam.

Secondly, pupils who are shy or timid may become discouraged in putting their hand ups ever again because they made a mistake. However, I think that comes down to the culture you have in your classroom. Lemov talks about having back pocket phrases for moments like this, and here is the one I use frequently: “Thank you Sally for letting us all learn from your contribution, because of you, you have learnt so much more and so has everybody else.” Then at Michaela, we would give an appreciation with two claps to follow for Sally.

Right is Right is a challenging strategy to implement in the classroom. However, I wholeheartedly believe that it enables pupils to raise the standards of what they can achieve, and, for teachers, it ensures that expectations of what pupils can achieve also remain high.

*The child who I am referring to has been referred to as Sally, and not by her real name.

Assessment: Marking…not of books but of weekly formative quizzes.

I remember marking books; I didn’t find it very useful. However, I found marking exit tickets incredibly informative because I was able to act on the assessment of pupils’ learning the very next day. Compare this to marking books every two weeks on work that I would be giving feedback to pupils who completed this work two weeks ago…and I am giving them feedback too late. Does anybody else see the elephant in the room?

I do think that marking books is a time consuming task which requires a great deal of input from teachers for a nominal amount of benefit for pupils. For this reason, we have a no marking policy at Michaela. What we do is mark our weekly quizzes. For each subject, let’s say pupils are given their maths homework on Friday, they will have a quiz on content that has been taught in the past week, and that has been given as homework on the following Monday. This is a whole school policy. It works in science, as I have observed as a teacher. Similarly, it works with all our other subjects. It is incredibly effective. It gives me an idea of how much pupils have learnt, and how much knowledge they have retained. More importantly, I can act on the feedback within my teaching in a timely fashion, and not two weeks later.  

On several occasions, I have been asked how pupils are assessed at Michaela. This post will go into how we assess pupils using low stake weekly quizzes; we then have bi-annual assessments which measure how much pupils have learned and retained over a large period of time.

Every week, pupils are given a low-stake quiz testing how much of what has been taught in the week before it has been mastered and committed to memory. At Michaela, we believe that if it hasn’t been committed to memory then it hasn’t been learned. I cannot reiterate how much I believe in this, and indeed even more so after starting at Michaela from September 2015.

On Friday, pupils will be given their maths self quizzing homework. Joe Kirby goes into detail here about self quizzing in a previous post of his. Pupils will then have a quiz on Monday testing them on how much of their self-quizzing on maths definitions has been committed to memory, and whether the procedural calculations learned the week prior have been mastered.

Before I go into how the quiz is made it is really important to decide as a faculty what the purpose behind the assessment is. Is there any benefit in the quiz that I have made? What is the intention behind this low stake quiz? Our low-stake quizzes are testing whether pupils have committed the knowledge from their self quizzing to memory, and whether the procedural calculations have been mastered. Knowing such a purpose, this guides the structure and content of the quiz.

Each quiz has 8 – 12 questions testing pupils on procedures that have been taught in the previous week. We do not test pupils on content that has not been taught. I repeat, we do not test pupils on content that has not been taught. Why? This is because we are testing whether pupils have mastered the content that has been taught, and that means that the sample of knowledge that is being tested is small, rather than large.

Quiz 1:

Here is a year 7 quiz testing pupils on their week’s worth of teaching on short division. Each question selected is testing pupils on a specific skill:

Quiz 1 copy

1) Short division where there is no remainder – but with one digit where it is smaller than the divisor. For example, when dividing 8420 by 4, 2 is too small therefore the digit will be 0, and then carry the 2 as the remainder to the next digit to become 20.

2) Short division where there are no remainders, and each digit in the dividend is greater than the divisor.

3) and

4) The first digit in the dividend is smaller than the divisor. Also, stating the remainder as a fraction, where the remainder is the numerator and the divisor is the denominator. Also writing the answer where the remainder is a fraction and a decimal.

5) Short division where there are remainders that need to be carried to the next digit. The answer is perfectly divisible by the divisor.

6) Short division where there are remainders that need to be carried to the next digit. The answer has a remainder which needs to be displayed as a fraction as well as a decimal.

7) Short division of a decimal (less than 1) where there is no remainder

8) Short division of a decimal (integer and decimal) where there is no remainder

9) Short division of a decimal where pupils must write their answer in decimal format. They have to put additional zeros to continue the decimal to allow the remainder to be carried.

10) Short division of a decimal where pupils have to put several zeros to continue the decimal to complete the division.

11) Question where pupils have to identify the closest square number to the dividend and identify that the divisor and the integer as a result will be the same.

Quiz 2:

Here is a year 7 quiz testing pupils on their week’s worth of teaching on GEMS (Groups, Exponents, Multiplication (and division) and Subtraction (and addition). We teach GEMS as opposed to BIDMAS or BODMAS. Each question selected is testing pupils on a specific skill:

quiz 2 copy

1) evaluate exponents before addition (GEMS)

2) multiplication comes before addition where addition is visually first in the question (GEMS)

3) two groups of multiplication and division where they come before addition. Must identify both and then add. (GEMS)

4) multiplication comes before addition where division is visually first in the question (GEMS)

5) Another group similar to Q3 – additional but not necessary

6) Multiplication comes before addition but can they identify that the division will result in a fraction which can be added to 21. (GEMS)

7) Practise left to right when we only have addition and subtraction operations because they are equal in GEMS.

8) More complex GEMS question because of a mixture of operations (GEMS)

9) Can pupils identify whether they can apply GEMS correctly where we have exponents, and then go left to right because of multiplication and division being equal in GEMS.

Quiz 3:

Here is a year 8 quiz testing pupils on their week’s worth of teaching on the topics: formulae, rearranging equations to change the subject of an equation.

quiz 3 detailed

Q1 + 2) Mastery on deciphering whether the length given is the radius/diameter, and identifying whether we must substitute into the formulae for area or circumference, and whether they can recall the correct formulae for either concept.

3) Calculate the area of a trapezium given the slant height and perpendicular height. Shape is also orientated. Can they distinguish which is which, and which length must be substituted into the formulae? Furthermore, can they recall the formulae memorised?

4) Mastery of understanding how to substitute into the formula for the volume of a cone, and recall the formula too. Deliberately radius is given to ensure that pupils are being tested on whether they can correctly substitute into the formula.

5) Substituting into the equation M = DxV but must identify that the volume is not given. Can they calculate the volume of a cube first, and then find the mass?

6) Substituting into the equation D = SxT but must identify that time is given in minutes and must be converted into hours. Also, that the speed is given in kilometres instead of miles.

7) Calculate the volume of half a sphere given the radius. Can pupils identify that they must half the result after using the formula or use the formula 4/6pi(r) ^3 or 2/3pi(r)3?

8) Rearrange the subject of the equation where we must expand the brackets. Implied in the question by stating “simplify your answer fully” hoping to see the result b2 + 32b + 256.

9) Rearrange the subject where the unknown is the denominator.

10) Rearrange the subject for basic one step rearrangements besides the last one where the unknown is negative. Can pupils spot that the we must multiply or divide both sides by -1 to get m as the subject of the equation.

The quizzes are testing whether pupils have mastered the procedural questions. To make questions challenging we have given the diameter instead of the radius when calculating the area. We have orientated the trapezium, and given both the perpendicular and slant height. We have made it more challenging because we are testing mastery. The rigour in the assessment allows for the rigour in the teaching, and pupils do indeed perform. We spend a significant amount of time at Michaela talking about how the only score to celebrate is 100%. I write postcards for the pupils that get 100% in their quizzes and make a huge deal out of it. Pupils love the feeling of success, and appreciate the admiration from their teachers who recognise the success in scoring 100%.

Low stake quizzes are incredibly powerful because they inform your teaching and planning. If lots of pupils have made a mistake on the same question, this informs me that either they have all missed the point, that I have to reevaluate how I teach the concept in the first place, or both of these points. I hope you find this useful.

#mathsconf6 Assessment-driven teaching

This post will be outlining the academic rigour I have seen in the teaching and in the assessments created by the Uncommon Schools Network. I shall explain how we can develop such rigour in our classrooms as individual teachers.

Each grade (year group) has an interim assessment exam which is determined centrally by a subject lead teacher; although collaboratively made, a subject lead teacher will finalise the exam produced. Once it is finalised, all teachers within the network will have access to view the assessment but will not have the access to make any amendments/alterations.

I was very impressed by the interim assessments made, because they are created in a way in which pupils’ mathematical knowledge is tested in a manner where they are forced to manipulate the knowledge they have: it tests and masters the fine balance between procedural fluency and conceptual understanding in each question. It also made me reconsider how I plan my teaching, how I now combine concepts in different problem types and how I try to make rigourous low-stake quizzes including questions like the ones you are about to see.

I am going to look at one question which I thought was brilliant, then explain how I would plan a selection of lessons, in a sequence, inducing pupils to become mathematically proficient and confident in order to attempt such a question.


Here I am assuming by convention from how I was trained and from what I have seen in my experience, previously I would begin by teaching the concept of square numbers and square roots, by getting children to identify the square numbers by multiplying the root number by itself, and then drawing the link: that once you square root a square number you will obtain the initial root number which, multiplied by itself, then results in that square number.

Then, I would have possibly explored completing calculations with square numbers and square roots. After that, in years to come, I would teach square numbers and square rooting in relation to fractional indices and with surds. When teaching surds, I would bring in the idea of rational and irrational numbers. Here is what I now suggest!

This is how I would map out teaching the topic of square numbers, square roots and holding a root number, to an index number greater than 2, and introducing rooting greater than a square root. Kids must have gotten to a stage where such calculations are memorised:


Why not bring in the idea of interleaving fractions, decimals etc?


Then, I would build upon the previous questions systematically, in a way in which students can create a fraction which can be simplified.


Also, I would introduce from an early stage the proposition that when we square root a square number we get positive and negative of the root number, which can be a really valuable discussion to have with children. Introduce calculations afterwards with square numbers and square rooting. This type of thinking is driven by another question I saw in a North Start Academy assessment:

assessment 4


The question is touching on key knowledge that when x is equal to a square root then we assume a positive value as an answer, however when x is held to an exponent the values of x will result in a positive and negative value.

Eventually I would introduce a base number to an exponent greater than 2 and interleave it into calculations:


I could get pupils to then go into the following questions:


Or, have pupils determine the value of unknowns through trial and error:


Now, I am going to draw a link between square numbers, square roots and rational numbers without linking it to fractional indices and surds. The purpose behind this is to (for now) restrict what I would teach at Year 8 or 9 but, at the same time, providing that conceptual scope. Simultaneously, it also provides the opportunity for multiple choice questions that have the academic rigour for our pupils.

I would define a rational number and then go into the necessary vocabulary such as ‘a rational number is a number which can be written as a fraction of two integers. A rational number cannot be written as a non-repeating or non-terminating decimal’, for example, in comparison to 0.45454545 which is a rational number. I would then provide a selection of example and non-examples.

I could test children’s understanding through mini whiteboards or hands up: 1 if it is a rational number and 2 if it is an irrational number; selecting the order of questions such as 2, 6, 100, 15, 1/2 , 5/6, 10/100, then bringing in the square numbers and asking pupils to show why it is a rational number or irrational number such as √16, √36 or √144

Pupils could type in the value of √12 or √3  in a calculator to see that you will get a non-repeating or non-terminating decimal that cannot be written as a fraction of two integers therefore categorising such non examples as irrational numbers.

Also then mentioning that square rooting a square number will result in a rational number, and cube rooting a cube number will result in a rational number etc.

You would then be able to explore the idea of rational numbers in which you are square rooting square numbers using your calculator:


Following this, discussion will be made of the notion that the following are rational numbers in regard to the definition of a rational number being a number that can be written as a fraction made of two integers:


Then, the idea of either the numerator or denominator being a whole number should be brought into my teaching:
2fig11After that, I would introduce problem types where you can simplify the fraction:


Discuss that the problem below results in an irrational number because the numerator is irrational and overall the solution cannot be written as a fraction of two integers:




Will the following number sentences produce rational numbers?


Children need to be comfortable in identifying that  is not a rational number because it cannot be displayed as a fraction of two integers. The definitions need to be consistent so that children are confident in differentiating between a rational and irrational number using square numbers and square roots, and then moving onto powers greater than 2. If we expose children to the following above we are providing the academic rigour which future exam boards are attempting to build upon.

All of this is just an idea which I am trying to explore in order to provide students with the academic rigour, in terms of their classwork and in the assessments, that they will be taking.

assessment 2

Everything that I have written, the problem types I have created and the interconnections between square numbers, square rooting, and rational numbers, is a result of looking at such questions above. These questions guided me to plan a selection of lessons which provide the balance between enabling students to become procedurally fluent in calculations and in developing conceptual understanding of this topic.

Through creating difficult assessments you can guide your teaching to induce that academic rigour. I have never taught maths like this, but I do plan to in the future. This was all inspired through looking at this question at North Star Academy in New Jersey. The academic rigour present in the interim assessment guides to create academic rigour in what is being taught and learnt within the classroom.


#mathsconf6: Sequence of Instruction

School visited: Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School

Class observed: AP Grade 11 Statistics (UK equivalent Year 13)

Theme of post: Pedagogy and Curriculum

This is the second blog of a series to complement a workshop I delivered at #Mathsconf6  on Mathematics Pedagogy at USA Charter Schools, following my visiting a selection of Uncommon and North Star academy schools in New York and New Jersey. During the workshop, I discussed how the common denominator in each maths lesson I observed was the level of academic rigour. I am still trying to find a way to define this term, because it is overused and poorly defined.

Nevertheless, I believe I can state that the teaching and learning delivered by such extraordinary teachers in the classrooms I observed displayed features of academic rigour. These features of academic rigour are evident in the structure of a teacher’s pedagogy and instruction:

Academic rigour featurse

In my workshop, I discussed the four main elements that all teachers up and down the country can implement into their teaching practice with minimal effort and maximum impact. I will discuss each of these four elements in turn, by way of one per blog post; today I will discuss the sequence of instruction.

I was observing a lesson, Grade 11 Statistics, and the teacher had organised the lesson so that he was trying to have pupils factorise cubic expressions where one of the expressions in the factorised form could be further factorised into two expressions because one group  was a difference of two squares. (Figure 1) The sequence of instruction to explain to pupils how they can factorise such cubic expressions is what made his lesson so powerful.

Fig1SIFigure 1 – Sequence of Instruction in terms of expressions used in teaching

Here, I entered the classroom, and the teacher had displayed the following algebraic expressions that he wanted pupils to factorise. (Figure 2) Before the pupils had even started to factorise he spent some time identifying the common features which determined this expression to be a difference of two squares. It is known as the difference of two squares because we have even powers, square numbers as coefficients and one positive term and one negative term.

Fig2SIFigure 2 – Difference of two squares expressions + common features of this type of expression

What I found really fascinating was the examples that he had initially chosen in order to begin teaching pupils how to factorise such expressions. Previously, whilst teaching, I would begin teaching the topic by using the following examples and non-examples to state what the common features of an expression known as a difference of two squares actually looked like, and therefore what it would not look like. Therefore, I utilised simply examples and non-examples. (Figure 3)


Figure 3 – Examples and Non examples used in the initial stages of teaching how to identify an expression known as a difference of two squares

The way the teacher started was better, because the expressions he had used made the common features more obvious to pupils. So the initial examples of a difference of two squares that I would have started to teach from are actually more nuanced and special; the coefficient of x2 being 1 is hidden, and instead of having two terms where the variables both have even powers we have a constant which is a square number.

Second, he then introduced the consistent algorithm he wanted pupils to use to go from the expanded form to the factorised form of the expression. He was very systematic (Figure 4 – consistent algorithm):

Step 1: square root both terms;

Step 2: divide both exponents by 2 and

Step 3: Write your answer as such.

He did this with a selection of examples, as you can see below:


Figure 4 – Consistent algorithm to factorise an expression known as a difference of two squares

Following this, he then introduced the notion that the pupils would now learn how to factorise a cubic expression. At this point in the lesson, I wasn’t fully sure with where he was going (until we reached the end of the lesson). He stated that when we factorise a cubic expression as such we need to factorise the first two terms and the last two terms. He structured it for his pupils because he pre-empted a common mistake that pupils would have made unless he structured it for them. We are factorising the first two terms by dividing both terms by 1, whereas with the last two terms we are going to factorise by -1, because -1 is the greatest common factor of -8p and -24. (Figure 5)  Therefore, the first step of the algorithm is not line 2: it is line 3. This was so powerful because by pre-empting this misconception, and by being very explicit with this instruction and guidance, it made the lesson run more smoothly because pupils were more independent to get on with the practice set of questions – because they weren’t making this mistake.


Figure 5 – Structuring the first step of the algorithm

He then carried on to lay out the consistent algorithm between the expanded form and the factorised form.

Step 1: factorise the first two terms, and the last two terms. (be careful when factorising the last two terms)

Step 2: Now factorise the greatest common factor for both terms (ensure that you are factorising the GCF of the coefficients as well as the variables) However, he posed the question one more time: “What is the greatest common factor  of 16p^3 and 48p^2?” Students then noticed that we are no longer factorising by identifying the greatest common factor of the coefficients but also of the variables of each term. (Figure 6)


Figure 6 – Step 2 – Step 4 demonstrated

Step 3: factorise the greatest common binomial of the expression:

Again, the algorithm was consistent. Furthermore, he said factorise “the greatest common binomial”. This level of technical language being used in the classroom is fantastic, and is something I certainly intend to implement in my teaching practice.

Step 4: “Are we done with this problem?” he asked this question with the intent of having students identify that the first expression in parenthesis is not fully factorised – which pupils identified.

Here he paused and said to his pupils “Now you are thinking that we are finished because we have two groups that can then be expanded and simplified to form the expanded form which we start with, but we are not finished. What is the greatest common factor of the first group?” However, he posed the question one more time “What is the greatest common factor of 16p^2 and 8 ?”.Pupils then identified this to be 8. He then proceeded to do a selection of examples to complement the first example, and to also reiterate the consistent algorithm. Figure 7 

Fig7aSI Fig7bSI

Figure 7 – Further examples of factorising cubic expressions presented in class using a consistent algorithm

Now, this was the pinnacle of the lesson. This was the point where the teacher introduced the next expression to factorise but in doing so he was combining the procedural knowledge of factorising a cubic expression where one of the groups could be factorised because it was a difference of two squares. The sequence of instruction was incredible. Let’s have a look.

Again, he used the consistent algorithm he showed in the previous examples:

Step 1: factorise the first two terms, and the last two terms. Pre-empt that we may be factorising the last two terms by 1 or -1.

Step 2: factorise the greatest common factor of both expressions:

Step 3: factorise the greatest common binomial of the expression.

He asked “can you factorise the greatest common factor of the second binomial? Hands up – what is the greatest common factor of the second binomial?” Pupils confidently answered – “1”. The teacher responded “Excellent, you can display it like this (teacher writes it on the board) and can you do the same on your mini-whiteboards please.” Again, he pre-empted another misconception that the pupils could have potentially made. (Figure 8)


Figure 8 – Structuring a key step in the algorithm where pupils are more likely to make avoidable mistakes though explicit instruction.

Figure 9 – Introducing an expression where one group is an expression known as a difference of two squares

Step 4: factorise the greatest common binomial, which he got above (Figure 9):

He asked pupils to pause. He then asked pupils to look at the problem on the board (the one above). “Can you raise your hand when you can identify what type of binomial expression we have for the first binomial .” Ten hands were raised within the 5 seconds. In total there were 22 hands raised 10 seconds later. Now, after 30 seconds in total following the initial posing of the question, the teacher had an overall 28 out of 32 of pupils’ hands raised. The teacher selects a pupil to state the answer: “Sir, the first binomial is an expression which is a difference of two squares.”

The sequence of instruction here is incredibly effective. What I saw in real time, and what I have outlined for you, is not necessarily profound or extraordinary – on the contrary, it is very simple. It can be performed by all teachers.

It was evident from this lesson that the teacher had put a significant amount of thought into the sequence of his instruction to his pupils. It was well-crafted and sequenced so that all pupils could see the re-iterated key points. What are the characteristics of a problem which is a difference of two squares? What are the characteristics of factorising a non-linear expression? What is the greatest common factor of this expression – ensuring the greatest common factor including coefficients and variables?

I am still working on trying to collate a few different examples in my teaching practice of minimally different examples, and how I have interleaved concepts via sequence of instruction. I shall get back to you on this. Watch this space. Any questions then please do not hesitate to contact me or DM on twitter.



#mathconf6: Minimally different examples

School Visited: Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School

Class Observed: Algebra 1 Grade 9 Statistics (UK equivalent Year 10)

Theme of post: Pedagogy and Curriculum

This is the first blog post in a series complementing a workshop I delivered at Mathsconf6 entitled “Mathematics Pedagogy at USA Charter Schools”. Here I spoke of my experiences whilst visiting a selection of Uncommon and North Star academy schools in New York and New Jersey.

I discussed how the common denominator in each maths lesson I observed was the level of academic rigour in the teaching delivered to pupils. I am still trying to find a way to define this term, because it is overused and poorly defined. However, I do believe I may be able identify the evident features of academic rigour in the structure and delivery of each teacher’s pedagogy and instruction:

Academic rigour featurse

In my workshop, I discussed four examples of academic rigour that different teachers up and down the country can implement with minimal effort and maximum impact. Each blog post will discuss one example at a time. Today, this blog will address using minimally different examples during instruction.


Minimally different examples are examples to explain different concepts where the difference in the algorithm between one concept and the other can be distinguished as one additional step. This was one example I witnessed in one of the classrooms I was in.


Minimally different examples 1

The teacher presented the first expression to factorise, where the coefficient of a in the quadratic expression is 1. This was a recap exercise where she stated the values for the coefficients, and then she determined the two values of which the product gives us the value of c, and the sum gives us the value of b. She wrote the expression in its factorised form.

She then introduced the next expression to factorise. She stated that it looks visually very different to the first one, but that there is only one difference between the algorithm to factorise the first and second expression. She defined the minimal difference between the two as one additional step – which was at the start of the algorithm. She asked her pupils, “What is the greatest common factor (GCF) of all the terms in the expression?” Pupils spotted the GCF to be 3p, which she then factorised. She said “look, we now have an expression in the parenthesis which looks similar to the first expression we factorised.” The minimal difference between factorising the first and second expression was classified as one additional step. Traditionally, in my training, I would have seen the algorithms to factorise both the expressions as isolated and fragmented. Instead, they are connected; pupils were empowered to factorise more complex expressions from prior knowledge of the algorithm to factorise the first expression. Minimally different examples are a good strategy and example of academic rigour in the classroom because they help pupils to understand knowledge and concepts which are initially complex and ambiguous. Here, the difference between the two examples is classified and determined as one additional step in the algorithm. The possibilities are endless.

I plan to show different examples of how I have used the idea of minimally different examples in my teaching, sometime this week.

Act the anger, feel the warmth


I always believed that I had high academic and behaviour expectations of my pupils whilst working at my placement school in South Manchester. I was known to be strict at times because of my high expectations. I would give sanctions out to pupils who would not be giving me their 100% attention. I would insist my pupils SLANT whilst I was teaching to avoid fiddling. I would teach from the board and go through worked examples. My pupils knew how I wanted them to behave in my classroom. My pupils knew how I would behave if they were compliant or defiant. However, when I arrived at Michaela, my expectations were seen as low, and they were, and here I explain why.

At Michaela, we have 14 teachers and 6 teaching fellows where 9 members of staff are founding staff. I was observing a founding member of staff guiding and monitoring pupils to ensure that they were transitioning around school corridors in silence. I saw founding members ensuring that all pupils during assembly and class were slanting, if they weren’t then a teacher would give non verbal cues where a teacher would slant themselves and pupils would follow. I saw members of staff giving pupils demerits for not tracking them whilst they were speaking. At the same time, I saw founding members hysterically laughing with pupils during break time and lunch time when staff made witty comments about Mr Smith having luscious long locks of hair sarcastically (…Mr Smith has some hair). Pupils would be playing basketball or ping pong with teachers during lunch time. I would have pupils talking to me in the morning to greet me “Good morning Miss Rizvi, how was your evening?”

Now I look at pupils around the school and think now I know why Michaela pupils were so kind and polite. Let’s remember pupils did not come to secondary school as polite, kind or obedient as they currently are now. Pupils were trained and moulded to embody Michaela values. During our initial behaviour bootcamp, teachers taught pupils how to sit up straight in class. We taught pupils how to address a teacher. We would over exaggerate our behaviour when pupils made mistakes. For example,

“Excuse me Mr Rubbie, how dare you walk past me and not respond ‘Good Morning’ when I have wished you a pleasant morning. I am always polite to you so I expect you to always be polite to me,”


and “Zakye I am incredibly disappointed in your disingenuous apology and in you rolling your eyes when I was speaking to you! I am utterly horrified over how disrespectful you are to your teacher who works so hard for you.”


We would overexaggerate when pupils demonstrated exemplary behaviour:

“I am so proud of you Yasmine for scoring 100% in your science quiz this week, I would like to give an appreciation to Yasmine for her excellent self quizzing which resulted in her scoring 100%. We all want to be as successful as Yasmine. 1, 2 *two claps*,”

Olivia Dyer, Head of Science and Founding member of staff, said to whilst giving me feedback that “we act the anger, and feel the warmth.” Being angry and negative is emotionally draining for a teacher so we act when we over exaggerate and over justify why talking in the corridors is unacceptable.  Furthermore, we are wholeheartedly loving when a child is successful and we celebrate it to make that child feel valued, and to have surrounding pupils identify the kind of behaviour they need to demonstrate to be identified as an exemplary Michaela pupil.

This gives pupils clarity on how to behave and how not to behave. We do not give leeway to different extents of behaviour. If a pupil is doing something that they are not supposed to do then we would pick them up on it, no matter how subtle. At my previous school, I would give demerits because pupils would not be tracking me whilst I was teaching. If a pupil was rude even in the most subtle way such as smirking or curling their hands I would go ballistic. Surrounding teachers thought I was crazy for it.

At Michaela, teachers have sky-high expectations of pupils and our behaviour management is consistent because we all use the same language for rewarding and sanctioning pupils.

At my previous school, there was minimal consistency in rewarding and sanctioning pupils. We did not all have the same dialogue for sanctioning or rewarding students. If I ever pulled a child aside in the corridor for being too loud or demonstrating inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour then I would hear the response “Well [insert a member of SLT’s name here] did not say anything down the corridor when I was behaving this way.” It was exhausting. I would be the teacher who was crazy or too strict because of the high expectations I did have of the children. I would be unapologetic for giving a child a detention for not having a pen with them. I had one pupil who always forgot to bring in their exam prep folder, so for two weeks I proceeded to call the pupil’s house every morning at 7:15am to ensure that their daughter would bring their folder to school so they could be more prepared for my lesson.

At Michaela, all teacher’s have unapologetic and uncompromising high expectations of each and every pupil. Even more so our expectations are even higher for the pupils with the most tragic circumstances. We cannot change a child’s tragic circumstances at home but we can control their learning circumstances at school. If anything, it is more important to have high expectations for pupils who have those tragic circumstances so they have all the potential to escape their situation using education as the engine for such mobility. I know that the sanction I give to a student for a particular issue in science would also be sanctioned three floors downstairs in MFL by another member of staff. We are incredibly consistent. And students know that too…isn’t that the dream in any school? Students do not push their limits with us.

For example, we expect all pupils to bring a pen to school, and if they do not have one then we provide them with the opportunity to rectify the issue in a way which does not impact others around them. We have a stationary shop open between 7:30 – 7:50 am just before schools starts. The onus is on the children to meet our high expectations and we are explicit with what our expectations are. We are all consistent with the dialogue we have around school when we interact with children which contributes to a consistent and strong school ethos. As teachers we have bought into what is considered as Michaela standards. We have children bought into Michaela standards too.

There are many reasons behind the success of Michaela Community School and one of them is the uncompromising high expectations that all teachers have of each and every pupil our school serves. Children respect our standards because they understand that we want the best for them. Furthermore, to be the best pupil then pupils need to meet those high standards. My standards were considered high at my placement school where teachers were inconsistent with the dialogue they used and the reasons for sanctioning pupils or rewarding pupils. At Michaela, I realised my standards were not high enough. I had to raise my expectations, and I still am, but now I could not imagine reducing them. I would be failing myself as a teacher and the pupils that I teach. High expectations are underprioritised at majority of schools where at Michaela Community School it is part of the golden triangle of success.

We know that what we are doing having our sky-high expectations is right when a pupil who I have given detention to, which I have accidently forgotten to log, goes to detention and informs Mr Miernik that he has detention and that he is here to serve it even though Mr Miernik has informed him that he hasn’t got one. Or when I get an appreciation during Family lunch “I would like to thank Ms Rizvi for coming into school today and teaching us even though she isn’t feeling 100%” or when I get a postcard from a pupil expressing their gratitude.

Our Michaela high expectations in sanctioning and rewarding pupils comes from a place where we want our pupils to be the best possible student and human being. If you want to see us Michaela teachers and pupils in action then do come and visit us during a school day. Our doors are open to all. Come and have lunch with us.


Efficiency in Simplifying Surds

Today, I had a random flashback to a formal observation I had at my placement school. I remember having a discussion with the observer, a maths teacher, where we were debating over one particular point. I was teaching my second lesson on simplifying surds: from √a  to the form k√b  where k is an integer. Given that this was the first time my 9X2 set were learning surds, I went for a very explicit selection of worked examples, structuring one type of method to simplify a surd to k√b form. In my lesson I was structuring the teaching as below, where I wanted pupils to identify the highest common square number, which is also a factor of the ‘a’ in surd √a.

In the lesson preceding this lesson, and in the weeks throughout the year, I would have pupils complete a recall activity frequently in which they had to identify the square number of the first 15 integers, and also square root the first 15 square numbers. The point was to ensure that pupils could recall these facts from memory, and develop automaticity in doing so, to the extent that there wasn’t an act of mental processing.


Figure 1 – Worked Examples for simplifying surds effciently

I would ask pupils to select a factor which can divide 72 or 160 and which is also the biggest square number that can divide 72 or 60. They would then identify the square number and then write the root number of the square number below and continue on with the multiplication to simplify the surd to  k√b form. This was done because it is the most efficient and accurate method to simplify surds. If children are taught one accurate method to simplify surds at the start then they will get the correct solution and feel successful. If children are taught one method to get the solution and then you explore the different routes to get the same solution afterwards then you are building on their existing understanding of how to simplify surds.

The observer was suggesting that it would have been more beneficial for pupils to not have been taught one technique but to have explored instead a myriad of techniques. However, I think that what he was suggesting is only beneficial after they have first understood how to simplify surds in one accurate and efficient method. His suggested method could potentially cause several misconceptions insofar as you will have 30 pupils listing 6 possible attempts consisting of 12 different factors of 72. The lack of guidance and structure can lead to misinterpretations which leads to misconceptions.

In the early stages of learning such an abstract concept it is best to provide one accurate, structured and efficient worked example for students to replicate with different problems and in order for them to consolidate their understanding of how to simplify surds. This is, effectively, pattern spotting. Only then you can start to explore the different routes to the same solution without risking many misconceptions developing, as opposed to the converse.



Figure 2 + 3 – Comparing simplifying the square root of 72 using one algorithm, where we always select the highest common factor to be the highest square number that can divide 72, to the other multiplication sums when simplifying the square root of 72.

As a maths teacher, and even when I was as pupil myself, I knew the most efficient way to simplify a surd such as √60 was to have a multiplication sum with a factor, which was also the highest square number, because this would result in an integer multiplied by a surd. I knew this because my teacher explicitly told me. Later on we explored different routes to get to the same solution. Since I knew the answer for simplifying  √60 then when I got the same answer through different routes I felt successful and reassured. Why? Simply because I knew one concrete and accurate method to get the simplified solution for the problem. Teaching pupils one accurate method to solve a problem allows pupils to feel successful, and it further empowers them when exploring how to solve the same problem through different routes.

At Michaela, we spend a significant amount of time discussing our worked examples; whether Dani, Bodil or I have made the section of the textbook which is being taught that half-term, we discuss what is the best strategy to solve problems where pupils are adding and subtracting algebraic fractions and where the denominators are integers. What is the best worked example to solve problems where pupils are to substitute a positive integer into an algebraic term or expression? We outline it very clearly in our textbook, and we organise three or more worked examples where we interleave fractions, GEMS, decimals etc., but the cognitive process which pupils go through is similar in all three worked examples. This is because we want pupils to look at a problem and be able to identify each step between the problem and solution. How do we do this? We explicitly state it: step 1, identify the lowest common denominator; step 2, form the equivalent fraction by multiplying the numerators by the common factor; step 3, add the fractions with like denominators etc.


Figure 4 – Example of worked example made by Dani Quinn.

Our pupils are taught explicitly and we demonstrate clearly using our visualisers one concrete, accurate and efficient algorithm for the problem in order to get the solution. The different routes to the same solution of the same problem are explored later on once we know that all kids in the room are proficient at solving a selection of well-sequenced and crafted problem types with the one method we taught them initially. Our pupils are mathematically proficient; they love to learn and they feel this way because they feel successful knowing one accurate method between the problem and solution as to how to add and subtract fractions with integers as the denominator, or variables as the denominator, or expressions as the denominator. They then feel empowered when they can get the same answer through different methods.

And so, I respect that our opinions differed but I am sticking with the way I delivered the initial teaching of simplifying surds. It was the second lesson of this topic and despite not 100% of pupils were getting the right answer on their mini-whiteboards – where they were at the fourth lesson.

Why I believe Mary Bousted’s article’s concluding point is wrong; and, if you think she is right, then it is concerning?

Why I believe Mary Bousted’s article’s concluding point is wrong; and, if you think she is right, then that is concerning?

Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of ATL, published an article on TES this week which, in my part, caused utter fury. I read it and immediately expressed my disagreement on twitter. I then emailed her article with all my comments to my Headmistress. I saw the article and thought that what she said reflected her poor understanding of how the New Blob has helped the poorest children in the country to get a better education in which they are able to use their education to escape their poverty-stricken circumstances.

I am writing as to why Mary’s article is written in a similar manner to how a politician would write a speech to gain the votes of the ill-informed, change-reluctant (status quo) masses. Her article reflects a lack of appreciation and understanding over what has been accomplished over the last 10 years in education. It also lacks discussion of how the work of the New Blob of educational commentators has effectively empowered many teachers across the country by openly speaking out about the impact teachers across the country can have for the poorest children in the country, going against the status quo.

Mary starts off by writing about “what a career as a teacher has become”. Teachers have an excessive workload which is leading to a high turnover of teachers within the profession. The marking load, excessive level of bureaucracy and ridiculous administrative tasks, seemingly only serving the purpose of pleasing Ofsted, are some of the countless reasons why teachers are overworked and leaving the profession. I agreed with the first few paragraphs because Mary was just stating the reality of teacher workload. This is nothing new, the awareness of teacher workload has increased through the work of the New Blob, which I shall go into later.

She wrote in a manner politically strategic as to getting readers to agree with her from the get go; as politicians begin their speeches, where they try to win over the audience, with agreeable premises in order to make the audience more likely to agree with their ridiculous conclusion.

She then takes a direct 90 degree turn toward the crux of her argument: that the New Blob of educational commentators are ignoring the reality of teacher workload and are expecting teachers to compensate more for the poorest children to have the better life chances.

She describes educational commentators who are in the ‘exclusive’ New Blob as “experts” with limited training or teaching experience, naïve, dogmatic, idealistic, accusatory and, most importantly, preachers from the “heights of their [own] ignorance about the complexities of classroom practice”. She then audaciously goes on to conclude on the following threatening note:


First, the article ignores that the New Blob of educational commentators consist of a group of people who have had the greatest impact on education in the last ten years. Teach First believes that we can tackle educational disadvantage in this country. Through their vision, it has encouraged young, intelligent and resilient graduates to join the teaching profession. I believe that it has raised the standards in what qualifications a young graduate needs to enter the profession in the first place. It has also made teaching become an even more important profession by speaking about the Teach First vision that teachers do have the capacity to change the life of the children they teach. I believe that I can change the life of some of the poorest children in this country by providing them with the best education I can possibly give. Now, I work proudly at a school where all teachers, teaching fellows and its Headmistress believe that this is possible.

I am going to start by pointing out a few of the amazing new free schools which have been set up as a result of the idealistic vision to provide the best academic education and opportunities for the poorest children in the country.

King Solomon Academy (KSA), a free school started in September 2007, based on the KIPP program in the US, is now the best non-selective secondary school in England according to the Department of Education GCSE League tables. It was started by Max Haimendorf and a selection of teachers who trained via the Teach First programme. It is a school which serves an area where 75% of their pupils are eligible for the pupil premium, and the school is situated in the ward with the highest deprivation affecting children in London. This school values academic excellence and has built a curriculum which resulted in their first cohort of pupils leaving school with 93% of pupils achieving 5 GCSE A* – C grades including English and Maths, and where 75% achieved the English Baccalaureate.

If it were not for the high aspirations and expectations of young people, KSA wouldn’t have had the impact it has had on some of the poorest children in the borough which it serves.

Education empowers people. It provides young people with the knowledge and skills to enter the working world as capable, independent and competent members of society. This is something that Mary would not disagree with. However, we would disagree with her thoughts that teachers cannot compensate for the lost life chances of the poorest children. We absolutely can and what King Solomon academy has done sets a precedent for existing upcoming free schools to achieve. If anything, it has catalysed other teachers and SLT members in schools around the country to stop and think: teachers can have an impact, mobilising the poorest children to have the best life chances, if we change the current priorities of teachers and SLT members insofar as they are merely Ofsted-pleasing.

Here, in my placement school, there were layers of bureaucracy, triple marking, duplicative data entries and many other ridiculous tasks which made me an ineffective teacher. My CPD, subject knowledge development and ability to behaviour-manage a room of children with low aspirations and expectations of themselves were not priority number 1, and frankly they were never going to be because I did not have the time or the energy to make this a priority. How could it have been, when I was told to prioritise elements of my workload by SLT members of my placement school driven by the desire to get an Outstanding by Ofsted? It didn’t matter that children were running riot, or that our expectations of children were so low that they could be taken out of the classroom to have a breather because they had ‘anger issues’ when actually they had no self-control because pupils’ bad behaviour was appeased.

I now work at Michaela Community School. Teachers have the following priorities:


  • Have high expectations of pupils and as a result have excellent and consistent behaviour management;
  • Excellent subject knowledge as a result create high quality resources and develop explicit and concise language when delivering worked examples; and
  • Strong warm-strict relationships with pupils.


How is this possible? It is because we have a visionary Headmistress with an incredible SLT who explicitly state what the teacher priorities are at Michaela Community School. We do not mark or even triple mark. We do not do multiply data entries. Every single decision made by Katharine, Barry and Joe considers the impact it will have on teacher workload. Why? Because teachers are important: they need to be taken care of rather than driven into the ground with ridiculous Ofsted-pleasing administrative and bureaucratic tasks.

Michaela Community School is a revolution and a product of the education beliefs of the New Blob. Teachers write blogs sharing good teaching practice, evidencing the impact of different efforts taken to improve the teaching and learning of children of all socio-economic backgrounds.

It is the vision and belief that education can improve the life chances of the poorest children in the country that is changing the priorities of schools today. Is your curriculum tailored to provide children with the best education possible? Is your behaviour management consistent and, as a result, does it mould your pupils to be good, well behaved, respectable, self-controlled and responsible young people with good character? Is this task that you are asking teachers to do helping the pupil that is ultimately being taught?

The New Blob of educational commentators has empowered teachers around the country to change a status quo in existence for decades. It is now ever more important for the New Blob to be shouting from the rooftops about the ludicrous expectations of teachers to be triple marking and writing three-page lesson plans. What the difference between Mary Bousted and people within the New Blob is that the latter group of people are actually changing the status quo. It is all well and good talking about how absurd the current situation is for teachers. However, if it were not for the New Blob ‘spouting nonsense’ from the DfE then Michaela Community School wouldn’t even exist, National Mathematics Conference wouldn’t exist, King Solomon Academy wouldn’t exist etc.

It is the New Blob of educational commentators that have changed the lives of the poorest children in this country, and they shall continue to do so. It is the New Blob of teachers who have introduced and set up some of the incredible free schools which are now leading the way. The New Blob is a change to the existing status quo. I am not going to stop ‘spouting nonsense’ when what I am saying is having an impact. We can change the lives of the poorest; we just need to get on with the job – which is, as it always was, to teach.

So, I believe that Mary’s article incorrectly points fingers at a large group of people who have, for the last ten years, had a significant positive impact on education. Credit should be given where credit is due, rather than passively-aggressively threatening a group of people that you are watching them. Times are changing. Teacher workload doesn’t have to be the norm. Children from the poorest communities need to be held to an even higher standard of expectations in terms of their academic study and attitude to learning. Education is the window of opportunity to change a child’s life chances. I believe that the New Blob are increasing the chances of the poorest succeeding, and that the leaders of education in this country need to be learning from people such as Max Haimendorf, Katharine Birbalsingh and many more.

Exploring Nuanced Problem Types


My first half term at Michaela Community School has come to an end. I have really enjoyed it but it has also been very difficult. It has been difficult in terms of the mindset change I have had to make, as a teacher, and also in my teaching two subjects, including one which I had never taught before, Science (alongside teaching Maths).

I joined Michaela because I wanted to learn about curriculum design, as well as developing my pedagogy in terms of subject knowledge and sequencing of problem types. I am going to share the problem types that I have come up with (through discussing it all with the team – Bodil and Dani) whilst spending Saturday planning for next half term. I am going to start with solving one step equations and two step equations.

First, an important point: I was initially struggling to understand whether the following problem types are three step or two step equations. However, following Kris helping me to realise that they are two step equations – because we rearrange over the equal signs twice to achieve the numerical value of the unknown – I’d manage to resolve this. And so, let’s get cracking.

Solving one step equations (addition and subtraction):




I have found that, in order to induce our children to be more successful academically, in exams, and also in developing greater interconnections between different topics such as solving one step equations and fractions, we need to show them a variety of problem types. I would, formerly, teach three or four very similar problem types such as below. Now, after Craig Jeavons’ and Bruno Reddy’s talk on Shanghai pedagogy I have branched out to teach a variety of different problem types, but all with the same thread of thought. The procedure of solving one step and two step equations is made clearly visible to the children, through the carefully selected and crafted worked examples used.

The children, following this, then try a few problems on their mini whiteboards, in order for me to check their understanding. Here, I ask more questions to ensure that after each and every question more and more children are getting the correct solution. I am, effectively, trying to close the gap. Through this, I am sure that the children will find the practise of such questions listed below more meaningful, because they are applying their knowledge of the problem and procedure to questions that have a different level of surface knowledge but the depth behind solving the equation is similar in all the problem types shown above.  This is what I have learnt in making these nuanced problem types on Saturday afternoon.

I hope this has been useful. I have attached a lesson plan of how I structure my teaching for a lesson. Enjoy!


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