Conception of the good

Insights into our current education system

Month: March 2015

Learning using Rhythm Mnemonics

Last summer I worked with my maths faculty to create our own tailored Mathematics Mastery scheme of work, for year 7 specifically. We looked at different scheme of work overviews, from different schools, and compiled our own. This year it has been really interesting delivering the teaching and learning of this project.

In this blog post I will share the interesting take I took in teaching my bottom Y7 set students the double connection between identifying the number of sides of each 2D regular shape, and identifying the name of a regular 2D shape by stating the number of sides of the shape in question. 


I used a rhythm mnemonic which was inspired by a visit to Michaela Community School; as a technique used to embed factual knowledge in students’ long term memory.

So here it goes:

Triangle, Triangle, Triangle (Hold three fingers each time)

Square, (Hold four fingers)

Rectangle, (Draw a rectangle in the air using two hands)

Pentagon, (Hold five fingers on one hand like a star)

Hexagon, (Hold six fingers)

Octagon, (wave both arms like an octopus)

Nonagon, (Hold nine fingers)

Decagon, (Hold ten fingers)

And all the way around like a circle (Draw a circle using two hands) – The intention is to avoid the misconception that a circle has 0 sides when it has 1 curved side.

Initially, students enjoyed the experience of learning the mnemonic, and I asked my TA and Deputy Head – who teaches the same group (science) –to actively stop the girls in the corridor, in order for them to practise it. The continual repetition of students practising the mnemonic, to a rhythm and in using their hands, allowed these students to identify the number of sides for each regular 2D shape.

These results were identified when I was undertaking a few mini-whiteboard quizzes (AfL) in our lessons. I could see students repeating the mnemonic in their heads, and indeed using their fingers. However, through continual repetition, over two weeks, students slowly started transitioning away from using the mnemonic to automatically identifying that a pentagon has five sides. They were able to identify that a square has 4 equal sides, and that a rectangle does not, because of the act of drawing the shape out in the mnemonic.

After two weeks students were automatically answering the following questions in 3 – 5 seconds; whereas before they needed 15 – 25 seconds of thinking time. Once students were able to identify the number of sides for the 2D regular shape in question I started asking them to state the name of the regular 2D shape given the number of sides that shape has. This is incredibly important. Students need to draw the link that an octagon (visual image as well as the text) has 8 sides, and that if a shape has 8 sides it is identified as an octagon. That dual train of thought must be connected to ensure that students had successfully achieved the learning objective: to be able to identify the number of sides for a selection of 2D regular shapes. This was something I invented off the cuff, when I realised that students were not successfully retaining the number of sides each 2D shapes from the way I initially planned my lesson. It worked well. The effectiveness was in the consistency of practising the rhythm mnemonic to ensure that the mnemonic and the facts from that mnemonic are embedded as factual knowledge in students’ long term memory. We have chanted this mnemonic over a hundred times. We are not bored of it. We love it because students can see the success for themselves. It is a learning tool to aid the initial build-up of basic factual knowledge. I have attached a video of my students demonstrating the mnemonic on my twitter account (@naveenfrizvi). I hope it is useful to you.


La Salle Education National Mathematics conference #3

At 7:07 AM on Saturday 14th of March I jumped on a train from Manchester Piccadilly to Birmingham New Street with @Mr_Neil_Turner, @Linds_Bennett and @RichardDeakin for our third La Salle Education conference. After another manic week at school, it was definitely worth the trip. Each and every time Mark McCourt delivers a conference of the highest of quality, with useful workshops and at the same time he successfully gathers some of the most wonderful teachers up and down the country. This is my account of the day.

Workshop #1

David Thomas – 3 teaching techniques you need to know

I have seen David deliver a workshop at each La Salle conference and without fail he presents a different workshop each time and every time. I always walk away with a better understanding on assessment, a clearer insight behind the philosophy of Mathematics Mastery, and this time David discussed the use of effective bar modelling, the use of algebra tiles and the double number line. I have seen different workshops on bar modelling, but David’s interpretation was very interesting. I have seen bar modelling examples where the variables are all represented as different bars but in this case David promoted the use of a single bar. I am still to get my head around using a single bar for a selection of different variables but I am leaning more towards having each bar in a column representing one variable. I hope to pick his mind soon. Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 17.55.53Furthermore, his introduction of the double number line to introduce the topic of proportion was fantastic. What a simple yet very brilliant manipulative to use. You are simply building upon the times tables! He discussed how you can scaffold the use of the double number and then transition to more challenging mathematics by introducing the concept of recurring decimals. This something I am keen on trying in the classroom very soon. Thank you David! photo

Workshop #2

Rob Wilne – The Hows and Whys of “how?” and “why?”

I had the coincidental pleasure of sitting next to Rob Wilne on a train journey to London a week before the conference. After a long chat on the train I was definitely set on seeing his workshop. Rob (@NCETMsecondary) who is the Director for Secondary at NCETM discussed his findings whilst visiting a selection of schools in Shanghai (Mark reiterates – Shanghai is not a country!) Rob discussed that reasoning is composed of three essential components – factual knowledge, procedural fluency and conceptual understanding. He then went onto explaining and analysing a selection of examples on how to develop conceptual understanding of number through the use of concrete-pictorial-abstract (CPA) manipulatives such as bar modelling to generate number sentences. The value of using CPA manipulatives is to develop student’s conceptual understanding of number, and then he moved onto showing examples of students reaching a stage of procedural fluency where they start reasoning about number because of a deeper understanding of number. The very important difference between the two ideas struck me. Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.11.37 Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.11.50 Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.12.01 Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.12.54

The deeper understanding of number serves the purpose of enabling students to reason using the CPA manipulatives shown. Whereas the skill of reasoning about number is strongly linked with procedural fluency. Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.19.20 Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.19.44

He then explained that some manipulatives (in this case Farmers’ Fields) is “good for the development of conceptual understanding, less so for procedural fluency: pupils must be supported to develop the standard algorithm from this.” Time is required on developing conceptual understanding using a concrete and then pictorial manipulative before moving onto the abstract. Rob emphasised that pupils require “years of experience and familiarity with a mathematical concept before they can reason with confidence and creativity in the domain around that content.” From a solid foundation of factual knowledge, and then a strong development of conceptual understanding of number are then students able to effectively reason about number and develop that procedural fluency that challenging problem solving tasks demand of our pupils.  Pupils must understand the structure of the manipulative used and identify the standard algorithm from it. For example, “I share some sultanas between Alice and Bob in the ratio 3:5. Alice gets fewer sultanas than Bob. How many grams of sultanas does Bob get?” Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.33.14In this example, Rob emphasised the importance of bar modelling to draw students’ attention to the additive structure of the problem where the difference in amount is highlighted by Alice’s bar being smaller than Bob’s by two equal sized boxes. Then it is crucial to spend time on enabling students to acquire deep conceptual understanding of the multiplicative structure of the problem in regards to the ratio element of it. From a deep understanding on using such concrete and pictorial manipulatives students are developing that conceptual understanding, but procedural fluency requires pupils’ to manipulate problems of increasing complexity with confidence. As a teacher who is intrigued and fascinated by curriculum design and pedagogy it just fuelled me with 1001 ideas. Thank you Rob!

Workshop #3

Sue Lowndes – Bar Modelling

In my opinion, this was my favourite workshop of the day. Sue Lowndes of Oxford University Press outlined how to effectively teach and plan using bar models to ensure effective student learning. Firstly, Sue explained the importance of the key steps students need to take when learning using bar models as the main pictorial manipulative. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.42.53

The key point which I haven’t heard before, and which stuck with me was in highlighting where the solution of the problem lied within the bar model using a curly bracket and a question mark. How obvious but something I completely did not think of! Yet it is essential because it narrows students’ focus on identifying where the solution of the problem lies.

Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.44.47

She then outlined the different types of bar models and explained the key features behind each one: (1) Discrete bar models Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.47.19(2) Comparison bar models for addition and subtraction. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.53.24(3) Multiplicative comparison models Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.47.28(4) Ratio models Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.47.38Sue then allowed all of us excited teachers to put pen to paper and attempt a variety of our own which proved to be rather challenging in the sense of following the instructions provided at the start. It requires a great deal of thought in terms of structuring how to determine the solution using the bar model, and then using the correct bar model for the problem given. She then showed us some classwork from a selection of students on using bar models to solve simultaneous equations. I am teaching that topic very soon and cannot wait to plan the unit using bar models. Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 20.47.49Now it is your turn to try a question that Sue asked us keen teachers to try? I shall reveal the answer next week. Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 18.39.22Overall, the conference was definitely the best that I had attended. This was not only due to the excellent workshops delivered by a selection of wonderful individuals, but also through the sheer organised manner of the event by Mark McCourt’s team. We were all in the great hall for the start of pi day. Not to mention the excellent cake and the great company. Yes, I did eat my body weight in cake that day. Next one is in Manchester, if you remember hearing a loud “YES!” during Mark’s announcement that was me. I hope to see you all at the next one.

Peak of my day was spending it with these wonderful people who inspire me to become the best teacher I can be:

Neil TurnerRichard DeakinLindsey BennettKristopher BoultonBodil IsaksenBruno Reddy

and it was finally lovely to meet Caroline Hamilton, and see again, Dani Quinn and Paul Rowlandson.