Tag Archives: Curriculum

evidence-led innovation⤴

from @ wwwd – John's World Wide Wall Display

Ollie Brae’s tweet, leads to Game Over for Maths A-level — Conrad Wolfram

The combination of ChatGPT with its Wolfram plug-in just scored 96% in a UK Maths A-level paper, the exam taken at the end of school, as a crucial metric for university entrance. (That compares to 43% for ChatGPT alone).

Wrong conclusion: ban it. Right conclusion: change what humans are learning so they step up a level, and don’t compete with what AIs do well.

Wolfram goes on to explain that an overhaul of the math curriculum is long overdue, and quotes himself from 3 years ago:

Today’s ecosystem of education doesn’t easily support such subject change. From assessments tied to today’s subjects, to too short a time horizon, to evidence-led innovation rather than innovation-led evidence, there’s everything to prevent core subject change and seemingly nothing to promote it. Except, eventually, after much disarray, cold, hard failure.

My hi-light. Seeing “evidence-led innovation” as part of the problem was interesting.

No Travel No Problem! -Bringing Languages Alive During a Pandemic-Seneca MFL Conference 10 October 2020⤴

from @ My Languages

 I had a great time at the Seneca Virtual MFL Conference today.

Here is a copy of my slides:


More resources from the conference can be found here.


Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and Modern Languages Options: What is it and What is the point?⤴

from @ My Languages

The EPQ is not a new qualification but discussing it with Nick Brown, Head of Languages at Lincoln Castle Academy, I started to understand its real potential to promote languages…

I first came across the EPQ at my previous school. Like in many schools, it was used as a way to enrich the curriculum in the VI Form. As such, it is a way to get learners to get a Level 3 qualification as well as develop their research skills and engage with content that is within and beyond the curriculum.

Full details about the qualification can be found here and the Future Ready website but the main feature of the qualification is that, following their own in-depth study, students are asked to produce a project with ONE of the following outcomes:

  •         A dissertation
  •         An investigation or a field study
  •        A performance
  •        An artefact

The work submitted for assessment must be produced in English but-and this is VERY important for language teachers-the research and supporting notes can be in ANY language, which would naturally occur by listening, speaking, reading and note-taking in the language.

If the project is used to complement A Level teaching and learning, the topics can be inspired by some of the A Level work, provided it does not replicate their Independent Research Project (IRP).

The project can also allow students to explore their cultural heritage or the cultural heritage of other people in the community as well as offer them an opportunity to pursue an interest outside of the curriculum. This could be of particular interest for EAL students, as a way to celebrate their cultural heritage, enhance their literacy in English as well as gain a recognised Level 3 qualification. 

Examples of projects for MFL could include:

Has French cinema been a major influence on the world stage? (dissertation-extension from A Level film study)

Is Colombian Spanish a better dialect than other forms? (dissertation)

What trends can be seen in the use of slang words by modern day German teenagers? (investigation/field study)

Interpretation/Performance of a play

Short film in the style of a specific director (artefact)

Self-published book of new translations of poems (artefact)

If you would like to register your interest in the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) or find out more information about MFL-focused titles, click here.  

And there is more…. 

The EPQ is also available for KS4 pupils as a Higher Project Qualification (HPQ, Level 2 qualification) and a Foundation Project Qualification (FPQ, Level 1 qualification). Like the EPQ these qualifications aim to develop learner’s transferable skills and preparing them to the world of work by making them more organised and independent.  More details here

Ofqual Consultation: Suggested Changes for the Assessment of A Levels and GCSEs in Modern Foreign Languages in 2021⤴

from @ My Languages

Ofqual is currently conducting a very important consultation including proposals tomodify the assessment requirements for some GCSEs, AS and A levels in response to disruption to education caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In the face of “lost” teaching time during lockdown, the proposals aim to free up teaching time and, in some instances, reduce what needs to be taught and take account of any public health restrictions relating to coronavirus (COVID19) that might be in place during the next academic year.

A “recovery” curriculum?

There have been lots of discussions about how current Year 10 and Year 12 pupils have been affected by the pandemic in the preparation for next year’s exams as they have had limited access to face-to-face teaching since the end of March. In particular, the debate has been around the need of a possible “recovery” curriculum or at the very least a “responsive” curriculum to deal with the knowledge gaps that may have developed and that could hinder students’ further progress. This has highlighted the differences between school settings and the pressure on some schools to narrow the curriculum for some pupils to ensure standards in Maths and English were not put at risk.

Consultation about assessment NOT Curriculum review

What this consultation is not, is some kind of a statement about the importance of subjects and their respective content and skills. However, you would be forgiven for believing this was the case, reading some of the online debates it has created.

Suggestions for Languages A Level and GCSE 2021 exams

Whereas no modifications have been put forward for A Level, the proposals for Modern Languages GCSEs are quite controversial : the Speaking examination would be replaced by a teacher “endorsement” for Speaking but it would not actually count in the exam, with the overall grade only taking Listening, Reading and Writing into account.

Although there is no denying that cancelling speaking exams would result in gained teaching time, this proposal also causes a number of issues:

Students do usually well in speaking even though it can be stressful for some ;

There would be a noticeable imbalance in the overall grade between the productive and receptive skills ;

Although speaking would still be taught, it may lose its priority in the face of further time constraints and the pressure of imposed subject targets ;

The class focus moving away from speaking would particularly affect pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have opportunities for further practice ;

The decision would most likely impact on A Level recruitment for 2021-22 as the perceived success in speaking the language is key for motivation and enjoyment. However, given that the basis for the decision to carry on with languages for many students is still “success” measured by exam outcomes, ensuring a fair exam and best outcomes might be just as important for A Level recruitment ;

There is also a worry that dropping the speaking exam could have a negative impact on attitudes towards speaking and languages in general in the future.

So, what is the way forward?

Look at the coverage of topics? The teaching of the Social Issues topic is usually kept at the end of the course and maybe could be scrapped to make up for lost curriculum time during the pandemic.

Go the “Welsh way”? Keep the assessment standards in all 4 skills and at the same level but make amendments such as streamlining the coverage of some of the topics or skills assessed. For instance, no translation in the reading paper or no Role-Play and Photocard in the speaking exam. I would still be against using dictionaries in any of the exams as I feel this could be very distracting for students.

We will all agree that students must not have their qualification devalued and it is important that the standards remain the same even if some aspects of the assessment are simplified. For this reason, I believe that the overall standard of GCSEs in modern languages cannot be maintained without any speaking being counted at all in the overall mark.  

Want to share your own views? Have your say and respond to the consultation before 16July at 11.45pm

Now is the time to join ALL, the Association for Language Learning, our subject association, to make sure our voice is heard.  

ALL is also organising a consultation webinar on Friday 10 July for all language teachers. To register, please click here.

Liked: Inter-disciplinary curriculum: why is it so difficult to develop? (part one)⤴

from @ wwwd – John's World Wide Wall Display

Liked Inter-disciplinary curriculum: why is it so difficult to develop? (part one) (Professor Mark Priestley)
These attempts to introduce IDL, and the national guidance that prompted them, have tended to be characterised by a lack of conceptual clarity about inter-disciplinary approaches, leading in many cases to activities that were not really inter-disciplinary, at best being cross-curricular. Public discourse around IDL uses many different terms interchangeably – for example, cross-curricular, integrated, thematic – which are conceptually distinctive but regularly conflated.

Looking forward to the next post:

which will follow in a few days, will explore what needs to be addressed if IDL is to become a practical reality in Scottish schools.

What can teachers do to maximise pupil learning?⤴


I have probably missed some really important ideas, or badly explained some of the ones I have chosen to mention. Sorry if your favourite thing isn’t included here – I’ve probably missed something very important. Happy to receive useful feedback on what I have written here – you can get in touch on Twitter (@mrallanmaths) or leave a comment below.

It’s inservice day next week, and I was asked if I could do a session on Cognitive Load Theory – 30 minutes. I’ve presented about CLT a lot in the past and 30 minutes isn’t very long, so I thought I’d talk about a collection of ideas that I think are important for teachers to think about that can maximise pupil learning.

Huge thanks to the teachers who got in touch on Twitter with ideas for this workshop (see replies to this tweet). The trick will be to make the workshop fit into 30 minutes!

The title isn’t overly catchy, but it’s what I set out to achieve with the workshop. Here’s what I have included.

Learning Intentions and Success Criteria

These are important, but not the focus of this workshop. I’ll be talking about some results from cognitive science and research that suggest there are other important things we can focus our attention on that have the potential to maximise pupil learning.

I’ll also be talking about some of the things we probably should do less of or stop doing altogether.

This workshop will have been successful if teachers leave and have a conversation with each other about any element of the workshop.

We often run focus groups and ask pupils how their learning experience can be improved. Here are some of the common suggestions pupils give…

  • Fun lessons – we ought not to prioritise fun over learning. Learning doesn’t need to be fun. It’s fine if it is fun, but it is more important that there is something meaningful to be learned.
  • Posters/PowerPoints/Presentations/Animations – this often means pupils get better at bubble writing, PowerPoint or using animation software. Memory is the residue of thought, and if you are thinking about how to put together a stop animation as a way to demonstrate your learning about some scientific principle, let’s not kid ourselves that you’re learning about science – the learning outcome ought to be “how to use stop animation software” as this is probably what will be learned during this time.
  • Make the learning relevant to pupil interests – their focus becomes about their interests. Including a contextualised question about baseball instead of football can minimise off task discussions about football (pupils in Scotland tend to be far more into football than baseball).
  • Project based learning (and Interdisciplinary Learning)– this is fine if they have learned all of the content and are working on project skills. Not fair for novices to try to learn through projects but this is definitely good for experts (expertise reversal effect).
  • Discovery based learning (or problem based learning) – what about equity? – those who learned about it at home (or elsewhere) can already do it. Pupils like the idea of figuring things out for themselves. This should be used with care, since misconceptions can grow easily and can be shared by pupils working in groups with minimal guidance.
  • Games based learning – there’s perhaps some merit to this, but when the attention is on the games, how much working memory is able to focus on creating deep and durable long term memories? I have seen some good looking lessons where pupils have designed a board game to play that requires them to answer knowledge based questions to progress in the game. I think the playing of the game is good, but I don’t think it makes much sense to spend any length of class time letting pupils design these games, (including drawing the pictures/logos/game boards that are required for the game).
  • Choice of task/method/format etc – pupils will always choose the path of least resistance – they will opt for the easy task. Why give them the choice? Just so they can have choice? Do we really trust pupils to make the best choice for their learning? We know the tasks and we know the pupils. We (experts) can look at a set of questions and decide if they are easy or if they are hard, but pupils (novices) cannot.
1. Task A Task B

Which task would pupils pick given the choice? I reckon Task A looks easier to novices, because the numbers are easier looking (smaller numbers). Task B is in fact easier even though the numbers are bigger. You have to think about different things for each of these tasks. Task A involves negative numbers and fractions, but Task B involves whole numbers only. If novices are looking for a challenge, which one would they pick?

More on Minimally Guided Learning:http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf

These are some suggestions of things that are better:

  • Working just beyond their capabilities – you get better because you are challenged. The best performers in any field set themselves goals that are just beyond what they are comfortable with.
  • Feeling successful early in a lesson – success leads to motivation. This doesn’t mean we make the work too easy. We need to get the level of challenge right when it comes to learning the new stuff, otherwise it isn’t worth learning. A good starting point is where pupils have already felt some success. Intrinsic motivation can even come from seeing the success somebody else has had with a task.
  • Attending to their work – pupils need to give their attention to the task they are working on – we can bring this about through carefully planned and consistent routines and by minimising cognitive load – more on this later.
  • Explicit instruction of new ideas – Pupils cannot figure out novel content on their own – we need to guide them fully in the initial stages of learning.
  • Purposeful practice of new material – this does not mean pages and pages of questions – even just 4 or 5 questions have been shown to be effective – see graph below.
  • Teacher directed 80% of the time – that’s why schools were built – explicit teaching of new ideas to a large group of novices. This explicit instruction doesn’t need to be chalk and talk the whole time. Expert teachers use a mixture of exposition, explanation, analogies, questioning, guided practice and so on to fully develop a new concept in the minds of their pupils, using their wealth of pedagogical subject knowledge to maximise the chances that pupils will be thinking about the things they need to be thinking about.
  • Inquiry learning 20% of the time – We need to build in time for pupils to conjecture, behave mathematically, behave like scientists, reason using known facts, analyse etc. This can only happen with a foundation of knowledge. You can’t think critically if you have nothing to think about. We want our pupils to be able to tackle unfamiliar problems using what they have learned – this might be the ultimate goal of education. We need to provide opportunities for this.

Overlearning versus Distributed Practice

2. Hi Masters and Lo Masters

The Effects of Overlearning and Distributed Practise on the Retention of Mathematics Knowledge. DOUG ROHRER and KELLI TAYLOR

In an experiment by Rohrer and Taylor, Hi Massers were given 9 practice questions to complete and then tested on this in Week 1.
Lo Massers were given 3 practice questions to complete and then tested on this in Week 1.
After 4 weeks they were given another test on the same material.
Lo Massers are only very slightly worse off in the assessment in week 4, to the point where I think this is negligible.
The main takeaway from this (for me) is that overlearning isn’t impactful.
The authors go on to show that distributed practice (5 questions one week, 5 questions the next week) is more effective than 10 questions in one week.
Distributed practice is better than overlearning.

Further reading on this: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5720/cbea1d4dc2d3da3b2ee176ee9d3ef377f294.pdf

80%/20% split of direct instruction and inquiry-based learning

This is very often referred to as the “sweet spot”. Further reading on this can be found here: https://tomneedhamteach.wordpress.com/2019/01/29/the-application-of-theory-8-propositions-that-underpin-our-approach/

3. Impact of Direct v Inquiry

Problem Solving and Arbitrary/Necessary Knowledge

What makes something a problem?

Teachers can structure the learning so that pupils can use their awareness and what is arbitrary to figure out that which is necessary.

I recently listened to Stuart Welsh (@maths180) talk about this at the La Salle Education PT Maths Conference in January and I really like the way this language makes it clear to teachers how we can get pupils to think, and what we should get them to think about. I think there are applications for this in all subjects.

Knowledge that is arbitrary can’t be worked out by a student unless they are simply told it, for example the name of a particular quadrilateral or the sum of the angles in a full turn. Knowledge that is necessary can be worked out by the student as long as they are thinking, and have access to the arbitrary knowledge. An example of necessary knowledge (again from maths!) could be that once pupils know how to draw the graph of a derived function, deducing the derivatives of the sine and cosine functions can come from their awareness of what is happening with the gradient of the functions.

All of this concerns ensuring that pupils have the necessary knowledge to tackle problems that are unfamiliar. Generic thinking skills are useless in the absence of knowledge – more on this later.

You can read more on arbitrary and necessary knowledge at: https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/bitstream/2134/18847/3/hewitt1.pdf

Exit passes are crap*

*Wrong answers are more useful than right answers.
Exit passes used badly only measure performance. You cannot tell if a pupil has learned something in a lesson. Exit passes can be used well – just don’t expect them to tell you that your class have learned what you just taught them. They were just shown how to do it 5 minutes ago – of course they can still do it now.

Exit passes can be used as distributed practice, where perhaps the exit pass question can be about something that was taught 4 weeks ago.

There is a difference between learning and performance

Learning happens over time – performance is when I see a pupil get a question right today, after just having taught him that thing today.

Pupils get into a false sense of security if they get a page of questions right during a lesson. They think “I’ve learned this” and don’t feel then need to re-visit it. We need to train them about this and encourage distributed practice.

Learning is a change in long term memory

If nothing has been changed in Long Term Memory, nothing has been learned. We cannot measure learning easily. We can only measure performance. The sad reality is that by the time pupils get their exam results in August they will have forgotten lots of the stuff they got right in the exam. Long term memory hasn’t been changed if pupils cram for exams – this explains why many Higher Maths pupils get a strong pass at N5 but consistently make mistakes in higher questions when relying on content from N5.

4. Ebbinghaus

Above is the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. It is a useful thing to refer to when you are trying to convince pupils (or teachers) that forgetting is part of learning, and that they need to retrieve facts again and again to build durable long term memories. I refer to it often with my classes.

Retrieval Practice

Getting pupils to recall facts and knowledge (and even complete skills) from memory is a way to strengthen long term memories.

You can think of the retriever dog (stolen this from Stuart Welsh as well!). You ask yourself a question and the retriever goes away through your mind looking for the answer. He passes by relevant, related information, becoming more familiar with the path every time. The more times he retrieves the easier it becomes. Eventually he knows exactly where the information is.*

*(The brain doesn’t actually work like this, but it’s a nice wee analogy to use with pupils).

Retrieval practice can come in many forms. A few are:

  • interleaving of previous skills within new skills – either by having to use previous knowledge to answer a question on the new topic or just by including a question on a previous topic among questions on a new topic.
  • distributed practice – rather than having all of the practice of a new skill within the lesson where it was introduced, split the questions up across a week or more. See the Rohrer and Taylor article (linked above) for more on this.
  • low stakes quizzes – Neil Tilston (@MrTilston) spoke about these at the Scottish Maths Conference (and Angus Maths and #MathsConf12 Dunfermline). Low stakes quizzes are extremely effective, when planned carefully, and can offer opportunities for pupils to take advantage of the retrieval effect. Here’s Neil’s presentations slides on low stakes assessments in maths (you can do this in any subject): https://sway.office.com/obhJhSOzOLEBZKBI?ref=Link
  • regular homework, that is planned meticulously so that topics re-appear after a few weeks. Keep the skills from dropping away.
  • … and many other ways are possible – teachers are always coming up with new methods for everything.

Worth noting that retrieval beats re-exposure, so it is better to have pupils think of something from memory rather than re-read it from a textbook. This is one of the reasons I don’t put formulas or exact value triangles and the like on my classroom walls.

More information on Retrieval Practice here:http://www.learningscientists.org/retrieval-practice/

Success leads to Motivation

This works. If you can build the lesson in such a way that pupils get stuff right early on, they have a better chance of pushing on and working hard on new stuff. This makes sense if you think about how you would feel if you started off a 50 minute lesson by getting the first few questions wrong straight away. This is a balancing act, though. Don’t make it too easy just so that they get it right. You need to know the pupils in the class and what they are capable of.

It’s definitely not the case that pupils need to be motivated first so that they can be successful – you show me a kid who is intrinsically motivated to solve simultaneous equations. I get my N5 class fully on board with this by letting them see that they can do it easily. For more on this (maths specific) see: https://tothereal.wordpress.com/2017/08/12/my-best-planning-part-1/ from Kris Boulton (@Kris_Boulton).

Visual, Auditory and Kinesthetic Learners

10 VAK

We might have a preference for one of these, but try learning the key features of a corrie by having somebody read about it to you (Geography example – you’re welcome). A diagram (visual) will help with this. Or try telling the difference between the sounds a trumpet and French horn make (if you’ve never heard them before) by looking at pictures of them (visual). Unfortunately, I still hear people talking about V/A/K, and have recently seen a study guide telling pupils to complete an online questionnaire to tell them if they are a V/A/K learner, then give advice such as “you are a visual learner so you should turn your notes into diagrams and look at the diagrams” or “as an auditory learner you will find it easier to learn by reading your notes aloud, since hearing your notes will help you learn better”. Unfortunately, there are no studies that have shown any of this to be effective. The idea is clung onto by teachers and pupils because they themselves might have a preference. There is no evidence that shows there are benefits for pupils (of any learning preference) by tailoring lessons to particular styles.

We CAN boost learning if we provide a diagram (visual) and talk about the diagram (auditory) and this works for all learners, regardless of their learning preference. If you want to learn more about this, here’s Greg Ashman talking briefly about dual coding: https://gregashman.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/we-need-to-talk-about-dual-coding/ 

More information on why VAK is wrong here: http://www.danielwillingham.com/learning-styles-faq.html

The Pyramid of Myth

5. Pyramid of Myth

This is nonsense. The numbers are too nice for this to be real, and in fact it’s not based on any scientific method. One guy liked the idea of these numbers and shared it. Then it got turned into a pyramid. Teachers love a pyramid, so it took on quickly. This was shared with me during my PGDE year, but luckily I only remembered 5% of what they said about it

The idea that you learn better when you explain a concept to somebody else seems to make sense, but how did you come to learn what you are teaching someone else? If you learned it by reading about it (10%) you can only pass on 90% of what you learned, so that’s 9%, right?

More on this here: https://theeffortfuleducator.com/2017/11/29/the-pyramid-of-myth/

Thinking Skills rely on Knowledge

You cannot think if you have nothing to think about. If you do not have the required knowledge, any amount of thinking skills will be useless.

Work out the answer to this:

6. Integral

An impossible question to think about if you don’t have the knowledge required. Maybe you’re not thinking hard enough. Obviously I’d expect maths teachers to solve this easily, but they have a bit of an advantage over non-maths teachers.

You have little chance doing this if you don’t know what it means, no matter how hard you think, or what thinking skills you have.

The answer is 3, in case you were wondering or want to check if you are right.

Try this one (from a History past paper):

7. History Q

This is a National 5 History past paper question. As somebody who knows very little about the Maid of Norway, I cannot answer this question. I cannot think critically about it either.  Although some sources are given in the exam paper, there is a requirement for “using recalled knowledge”. I’m thinking really hard, but still I have nothing.

The rest of the workshop will focus on Cognitive Load Theory (if there is time, which there probably won’t be). 

The Worked Example Effect

Presenting novices with fully worked examples (modelled by the teacher: I do, We do, You do). This helps focus novices on the key features of what a correct answer looks like and how to structure their response. These can be enhanced further by considering fading the steps in a sequence of questions so that all steps are given in the first question, all but the last step in the second, all but the last two steps in the third (and so on) until pupils eventually have to complete a full question on their own.

Reading out slides – we really mustn’t do this. I give an example of this in the presentation, but basically, pupils cannot read a slide and listen to you talking about the slide and think about the content all at the same time. It’s too much. Put a picture on the slide and talk to the class – that’s fine. We can process auditory and visual information at the same time, but we cannot read (which uses the auditory part of your working memory) and listen to someone speak (also auditory) at the same time. It’s too much. I will try to model this throughout the workshop.

The Split Attention Effect

This occurs when pupils need to look at two different sources of information to make sense of the whole thing. This can be avoided by integrating the two sources. Example below:

8. Split Attention

Now re-reading this post before publishing, I realise that I am giving an example of the split attention effect by splitting your attention across two diagrams. The complexity of this (fairly low) and what you are required to do with the diagrams (nothing, really) makes this okay, I hope.

Classroom Design

We can minimise distractions by considering the classroom environment carefully. See examples on the slides or in the blog post linked below.

Here’s a blog post I wrote about Cognitive Load Theory which goes into much more detail: https://mrallanmaths.wordpress.com/2018/05/07/cognitive-load-theory/

What I really hope will happen as a result of reading this post and/or attending the workshop is that teachers reflect on how the things that make their practice routine could be changed to be more impactful.

9. Routines and New Things

@maths180 provided this image that speaks volumes





Using OneNote as a Planner – A few years on…⤴


I have been using OneNote as my planner since October 2015. This has made me more organised and has made it easier for me to plan lessons. In this post, I will give some examples of my planning process through using OneNote and walk you through the steps to follow so that you can get started using OneNote for your planning too.

1. Header

First of all, you need to set up a OneNote Notebook.

Log into Glow and go to OneDrive. Click “New” and select “OneNote Notebook”. Give it a sensible name such as “2018-19 Mr Allan Planner” or even just “2018-19 Mr Allan”. Eventually you will end up with several planner OneNotes over time.

2. On Glow

Once the Notebook is created you need to add some sections to the OneNote Notebook.

Your Notebook will load with one section called “New Section” and will be ready for you to get creative. Here are some of the Sections that my 2018-19 Planner OneNote contains, and some examples of how I use each one:

  • Planner (obviously) – more on this section later.
  • Starters – this section allows me to save my Powerpoints for starter questions for each class.
  • Homework – this section is used for saving homework tasks and a record of homework completion
  • Class Names – I have 6 Sections (one for each class) which contains information about the pupils in each class – ASN info, attainment info, Reports, Course plan to be followed for each class, seating plans, etc. You can probably think of lots of uses for these sections
  • CLPL + Stuff – this section contains my CPD record for the year, including links to blogs/articles/websites that I would like to get round to reading(!) and can also include reflections. I also save any resources or notes taken during CPD courses. This bank of information on my CPD for the year (and over years if I look back through my other planners) makes it very easy to complete my PRD and to complete my Learning Log. I also use this section to keep note of passwords (in a coded way, obviously) and usernames for all of the different online platforms that we need to use.
  • Equity In Numeracy – This section is used for saving my resources and evidence of progress in relation to my role as Principal Teacher Equity in Numeracy. It’s really helpful keeping everything in one place.
  • EMIF 2018 – This section contains all the resources for Enterprising Mathematics in Fife 2018.
  • Reading Group – I run a Professional Reading and Reflection Group in my school. This section allows me to keep track of the different chapters that I think should be included in future weeks, reflections on the reading and notes about our discussion. I also keep a note of the names of staff who reply to my monthly email saying they want to attend.

You might come up with other uses for OneNote – that’s what it’s all about.

Now that you have the sections you think you will need (and you can always add more as the year goes on) you need to build up the planner pages.

I copied an ordinary teacher’s planner to build the template of my planner pages. The basic page looks like this:

3. Basic Planner

The squares next to the period numbers are tick boxes. Once I have planned that lesson I click on the box and that means I don’t need to worry about that lesson until I come to teach it.

I have a different template for the other days of the week, and include the class names. I keep the heading as “Mon ” or “Tues ” etc. Then, once I have a whole week with the class names in the right places, I copy the template for the whole week (5 pages) and paste it below the templates.

4. Week

Then, I manually (it doesn’t take long!) type in the dates. So “Mon ” becomes “Mon 4th June” and so on. Spending a bit of time repeating these steps until the whole year has been built up doesn’t take too long. So far, I have not found a way to make this automatically happen. If anybody can, please share. Note that it is important to put the class names in first, before copying the pages (as this saves you having to type the class names in every day).

Having the whole year in the planner section at the beginning of the year means that if somebody suggests a meeting at the end of the day on the 29th of January, I can quickly check my planner and add it to the page. I guess I should be using the Outlook calendar better – something I will address in the future.

The Lesson Planned column is used for a quick description of the lesson. I have seen myself just type a few words (e.g. “Area of Triangle”) but have also used this cell to include examples of questions I want to ask, screenshots of resources I might use, web links to resources online, ideas for starter questions, reminders to follow up with pupils about behaviour or homework and so on. I also use this column to remind myself of the things I need to do during my non-contact periods, such as keeping myself organised for meetings or reminding myself that I really should make a start to my reports.

The Resource column is possibly the most useful one. OneNote is able to store any type of file in a drag and drop way. You can save a Powerpoint (or ANY file type) like this:

5. Powerpoint

Using OneNote on a PC, if I open the Powerpoint from OneNote and make some changes to the file, then click save, it automatically saves the new version to the OneNote. This means I can plan at home and switch on my PC at work and my lesson is waiting there for me. This works for any type of file – if you have it saved to OneNote and open it then edit it then click on save it will update automatically. And it will be available on all of your devices. Really clever. (Note that this automatic saving feature doesn’t work in OneNote on a Mac. My way around this is to have a folder on my Desktop called “Move to OneNote” where I save the Powerpoint from OneNote, edit it, save it back to the Desktop then copy it back to OneNote. I really should use my Microsoft Surface more!

If you go to bit.ly/MathsOneNoteTeachers you will find, among other things, a template for a week that can easily be edited.

Happy to try to answer questions, or to support people getting started using OneNote. Feel free to get in touch, or to share how you are using OneNote to help you keep yourself organised. Get in touch on Twitter or in the comments.



A week and a bit on from #mathsconf16, here are some thoughts that have been buzzing around in my head. I’ve tried to keep my thoughts separated into the different sessions, but there is a bit of overlap – particularly between Session 1 and Session 2.

Keynote – Craig Barton – Reflect/Expect/Check

The main thing I took away from this was to be sure to include the awkward question types from as early as possible. The first time pupils see an equation with one of the sides equal to zero shouldn’t be at National 5. They should be solving x+3=0 and 0=5-x from as early on as possible. That way these types of questions don’t seem like tricky questions. Because, really, they aren’t.

Making pupils slow down their thinking and reflect on what the answer might be to the next question in a carefully chosen sequence of questions and then check what the answer is can create a cognitive shock. Sets of well written questions can be found at Craig’s website variationtheory.com and one of the examples Craig used was Solving Linear Equations: https://variationtheory.com/2018/03/26/equations-one-step-adding-and-subtracting/ I’ve been using the resources from variationtheory.com to plan some of my lessons for next term, and they are of excellent quality. Looking forward to seeing how it goes with my classes.

Session 1 – Gary Lamb – Maths, Maths and More Maths

Gary’s provocative statement was along the lines of “Every child should be able to get a pass at N5 maths by the end of S6”. I fully agree, but the reality in my school is that this does not happen. Perhaps because we haven’t got S1-S3 right yet. We have lots of work to do on our journey towards a mastery curriculum, and this is one of the areas I am focussing on this year. Progress with this has been slow, possibly because there is so much to do and because we are trying to adapt what we already do to fit a mastery approach. I think we need to do more learning about the principles of curriculum design for a mastery model and start a new BGE course from scratch rather than trying to make what we already have fit. What I think is missing is the rigorous formative assessment cycle that Chris McGrane talked about in Session 2. See below.

Another thing Gary said was that “low ability pupils should be able to answer 5 questions quickly as long as they are the right 5 questions”. This struck a chord with me, and has made me think about whether I have the ability level right for my S2 and S3 classes. Perhaps behaviour comes into it too. Also, the idea that 5 questions answered correctly is plenty – additional questions are redundant. I really like this idea, and it has made me realise that this is one way I can get time in my lessons for retrieval practice and behaving mathematically. I also liked the way Gary talked about starter questions. Maybe we don’t need them. Maybe we should use homework for testing pre-requisites and collect this in on a Monday, review it on the Monday night and teach Tuesday’s lessons knowing what we know from this valuable piece of diagnostic assessment. I really like this idea, but can see the increased demand on teacher workload. Perhaps just a short 4 questions diagnostic assessment would suffice – similar to Neil Tilston’s Low Stakes Assessments (see https://sway.office.com/obhJhSOzOLEBZKBI)

Session 2 – Chris McGrane – Smashing The Bell Curve

The 6 most dangerous words in education – “They seemed to get it OK”. How do you know when you have taught something? How do you know that learning has taken place? We need to be as rigorous as possible. Mastery is a rigorous formative assessment cycle. I really liked Chris’ passion for getting rid of the fluff from the BGE in S1-S3. They don’t need to be doing line symmetry and rotational symmetry. “Fair enough, it’s nice to do and the beauty of mathematics and all that but the reality is that they are failing N5 maths in S5. We just don’t have time for this stuff.” This is a brave statement to make, but it makes a lot of sense to me. We need to be filling our boots with equations, substitution, expressions, integers, fractions, co-ordinates and basic area (this list was taken from Chris’ 2017 slides) as these topics are relied heavily on in N5 maths in order to give them the best chance of making new learning at N5 stick. These third level topics are the foundation of future learning. We often try to build on shaky foundations – you can build a house on sand, but it’s not going to last very long.

A task is not a rich task unless it is used richly. Brilliant, and, for those who think about the types of tasks we get pupils to do, this is probably quite an obvious point.

Both Gary and Chris talked about “teaching between the desks”, and I liked how Chris mentioned that this can be a way to give correctives bespoke to each pupil. The feedback we give pupils during a lesson has the potential to be extremely powerful because we are able to induce cognitive conflict by providing the right feedback at the right time.

A final thought from this session was when Chris said that we can reduce the need for perseverance by improving the quality of instruction. This ties together nicely with what Gary said about low ability pupils being able to answer 5 questions quickly. If they have the right questions to do after appropriately chosen examples and instruction then the need for perseverance will reduce. There is obviously a very thin line between making it too easy and making it too difficult, and I guess we learn to make better decisions about the work we set by using formative and summative assessment information. Again, “mastery is a rigorous formative assessment cycle.”

Session 3 – Kris Boulton – How To Solve Linear Equations 100% Guaranteed

I wasn’t sold on this, and was a little disappointed. Maybe I need to re-visit it when Kris blogs about it. Maybe I built it up too much because of the Simultaneous Equations lessons that Kris blogged about previously and talked about on the Mr Barton Maths Podcast. I have used Kris’ method for teaching Simultaneous Equations and found it to be extremely effective. I can see what Kris was trying to do with this session, and liked the idea of overtisation and then covertisation.

I’m not sure if I agree with the need for this level of detail when introducing solving equations, especially when pupils want to just tell you the solution when the equations are simple. A huge focus of the session seemed to be about language, and I’m all for that. I think pupils can pick up the language when the balancing method is taught explicitly the way I normally would. Perhaps the atomisation of the topic doesn’t need to happen when pupils start algebra in S1. Maybe they should be taught about identities, equations, conditional equations and so on whilst learning to work with numbers and algebra from an earlier stage, and perhaps this was what Kris intended. I did like the idea of showing how to “break” an equation and how to “repair” an equation.

I’m also not sure how easy it will be to get all of maths education using the identity symbol rather than the equality symbol when working with an identity. It would be nice, though.

Session 4 – Michael Allan – Cognitive Load Theory

I’ve seen this guy before. It was excellent.

Final Thoughts

There is enough time in secondary school for pupils to begin S1 with a very low ability in mathematics and then end S6 passing N5. I believe this to be true. I think one of the ways to achieve this is to improve the quality of teaching in all lessons. Sounds simple enough.

My current job title is Principal Teacher – Equity in Numeracy and there’s part of my current approach to delivering equity in numeracy that I don’t think is very effective. Something we did last year and something we would like to do again this year is to focus on targeted groups of pupils and put interventions in place such as targeted study sessions. What I think will make a more important difference is improving the quality of teaching in all lessons.

The La Salle Education Maths Conferences are excellent. Definitely up there with the best subject specific CPD I’ve been to in my teaching career to date. I’d like to get to one of the conferences down south, since they seem a lot bigger and busier. The buzz in the room at the beginning of #mathsconf is very exciting – perhaps it is up to Scottish Maths Teachers to make the next Scottish mathsconf even bigger. I’m looking forward to it.



Clear and consistent routines are a significant part of the whole story when it comes to classroom management and behaviour management. Obviously positive relationships and correct support structures are also important, but this post is about routines.

Pupils in my S1-3 classes have lessons that start as follows. Our lessons are all 50 minutes long.

Before they arrive (or just as they are arriving): I put their Numeracy Ninja books and yellow starter question jotters on their desks. They sit in rows of 5, so often this just involves placing two bundles at the end of each row. This takes me around 1 minute. Below I have taken the time to place them on the correct desks. I do this if I don’t have a class the period before.

First 2 minutes: Pupils arriving and getting “organised”. This is very specific. You are not organised until you have a pen/pencil and your maths jotter out of your bag and on your desk. You also need your outside jacket/jumper/hoodie off and your tie on. If you don’t have a jotter you need to ask for a piece of paper and if you don’t have something to write with you need to borrow a pencil straight away. I record a list of names of pupils on an A3 whiteboard on my desk just to remind me to get the pencil back. Sometimes this all takes longer than 2 minutes and sometimes less time depending on how far pupils have to travel. If you come in and waste time, and I catch you doing so, you are given a warning.

Next 5 minutes: Pupils are working on Numeracy Ninjas (see: https://www.numeracyninjas.org) in silence. The teachers in our department believe that this daily practice of basic numeracy skills is raising the standards of numeracy skills across all classes, so this is the second year we have run it with all BGE classes with the exception of the top sets in S3. I use the time they are completing these questions to go round and double check that everyone has their red maths jotter out, is in correct uniform and is coping with the questions, offering quick help if needed and focussing attention if pupils’ eyes wander and they begin to think about striking up a conversation. If you are stuck, move on to another question. Exactly when there are two minutes remaining on the PowerPoint timer I freeze the screen and start a 2 minute countdown on my Ikea kitchen timer. This allows me to quickly complete the electronic register and check if any urgent emails have been sent (this is probably not necessary, but only costs me seconds). I then spend the remaining time circulating the class. I now have the choice of surreptitiously switching off my Ikea timer (which I carry with me) if I need to extend the time because I might be talking with a pupil about a question or having a quiet word about their negative behaviour at the very beginning of the lesson. This works really well.

Next 2-3 minutes: I read out the answers to the Numeracy Ninjas questions. This used to take much longer, but we are beginning to get faster. The third set of 10 questions (Key Skills) usually take the longest, because I discuss the answers/solutions to most of the questions quickly. Any more involved questions might be gone over in full at the board if I have noticed that several pupils are stuck. If one of the Key Skills is relevant for today’s lesson, I will definitely go over it quickly. I don’t allow this to take very long at all and, like I say, this has taken time to get fast. Not all of the pupils will have attempted the Key Skills questions, so they used to think this meant it was okay for them to close their Numeracy Ninjas booklets and doodle on the cover while they wait. This has taken weeks to get right, but now, because I insist on it, all pupils wait and listen to the explanation/questioning of how these questions are answered and are expected to copy the methods for questions we discuss that they struggled with so that they can attempt the same question type when it next appears (probably next day).

Once we have finished going through the answers: Pupils record their score and belt colour then turn their booklet over and fill in the table that tracks their progress over the term. The Numeracy Ninja booklets are then passed to the end of the row for me to collect and we are then onto our yellow starter question jotters. I already have the starter questions (usually 3 or 4 short questions) prepared on the smart board on a separate PowerPoint, ready to go. These consist of questions that will serve two purposes: revise previously taught topics and prepare pupils for our upcoming lesson. For example, yesterday my S3 class (Third/Fourth Level) had to write out the first 8 multiples of 125. In the lesson, we were learning how to change a decimal number to a fraction. Changing 0.625 to a fraction was a doddle because they already had the multiples of 125 to hand, allowing them to focus on the new learning rather than on “what does 625 divide by that 1000 also divides by?”.

Next 5 minutes: Starter Questions. Pupils answer the starter questions quietly. The advantage to having starter question jotters is that the starters all stay together in one place so that if yesterday’s question 1 was “Change 0.34 to a fraction” and today’s is “Change 0.52 to a fraction” they should have written down how to do yesterday’s question when we went over it. This will help them today. I have only been using the yellow starter jotters since the start of this term, but am already finding pupils using them effectively in this way. While they are working on these questions I am circulating, looking at the work they are doing and checking for misconceptions to point out when we go over the questions. I’m learning who is stuck, how confident the class are as a whole and how much more input they need on the basics before we can start today’s lesson. While I am circulating I will also collect the Numeracy Ninja books. Why not get a pupil to collect them in? Well, I don’t want a pupil out of their seat and if they are collecting the books for me this means they won’t be answering the starter questions. They just don’t have time to collect the books, and I know I’m going to be circulating anyway. Some teachers will probably believe that it is the pupils’ job to distribute and collect resources. I disagree.

Next 3 minutes: I quickly go over the starter questions. I don’t need to get pupils to share their answers because I have already circulated and know what they can and can’t do. I go over the questions and pupils mark their own, making sure to write down a full solution if they have not answered the question yet. Once we have finished going over these, the yellow jotters are passed to the end of the row and put in a neat pile for me to collect when I next walk past.

All of this has taken 18-20 minutes out of our 50 minute lesson (on a good day). I then need to make a decision about how the rest of the lesson will pan out. I will begin the period with a plan such as “Today we are going to learn how to multiply fractions where one of the fractions is a mixed number”. Depending on how well they have coped with the starter question that asked them to change three and two fifths to a mixed number, I might get them to do a few more of these first. In a “normal” lesson, I will introduce the new learning by writing the title on the board. This is copied into their red maths jotter (these came out of their bags right at the beginning of the lesson). I’m a huge proponent of explicit instruction, so I will typically complete some example problems for pupils to think about (My Turn). I will question pupils on the bits they should already know about. They don’t copy these down because they are about to complete some quick problems in their jotter that are similar in format to my examples (Your Turn). While they are working on those (for usually around 3-4 minutes) I will circulate and keep pupils on task and also help those who are stuck. We go over these problems with much more questioning from me than in the starter questions. Pupils generally do fairly well because they have had help and because the questions are very similar to the examples. This success builds confidence and is usually followed by some independent work. When I know that some pupils need more challenging questions to complete, I will write some on the board. If other pupils are stuck I will bring those pupils together at the board and discuss a few more examples with them. This seems to be working very well. The main chunk of the lesson is usually different depending on the tasks I have set for the class.

End of the lesson: I have the time of the bell down to the second so I know when we need to stop and when we need to pack up. We don’t start packing up until there are between 1 and 2 minutes left. That’s way plenty of time. Those who have borrowed pencils need to return them to me. Everyone packs their jotter away and stands at their desks. I might take a moment to speak with the pupils who seemed less confident to begin with and see how they felt about their work. As a class, we might use 1-5 (show 1-5 fingers) to share how confident we are feeling about our lesson. 1 means “I don’t have a clue what we just did” and 5 means “If Mr Allan was off tomorrow I could probably teach the class”. They are beginning to realise that this is valuable feedback for me that helps me to decide how we progress as a class. I have made it a safe place for pupils to say they are stuck or are not confident. I find that almost all of my pupils take this seriously, and don’t just blag their way to a 5. They also know that I already have a pretty good idea how they are getting on. I might also use this time to put the next class’ Numeracy Ninja booklets and yellow starter jotters out, ready to start the whole routine again.

Routines have helped me to get behaviour back on track for two of my junior classes. It now feels like they are learning way more and I feel like I am teaching way more. We are managing to cover far more work and a wider range of problem types. Basic numeracy skills seem to be getting better. I mentioned the importance of relationships at the beginning of this post. Perhaps that should be the focus of another post…

Thanks for reading. “Please return your pencil if you borrowed one and wait at your desk until I ask you to leave.”