Archive for October, 2011


Saturday, October 1st, 2011

VESL has updated its website ( Please check it out! And look out for blog posts by me!

Many of you reading this blog know exactly how much fun can be had out in Sri Lanka or India on a VESL project, because you’ve read my stories about my experiences.

And I’m hoping that next year, when I finish my course I’ll be scooting away again to have more fun. I might try Thailand this time. Then again, I have so many really good friends in India and Sri Lanka who I’d love to see again. We’ll see what happens closer to the time.

But, if you are interested, or know of anyone else who might be interested in spending some time doing some voluntary work, experiencing another culture and having a load of fun in the process then please check out the VESL site.

Who knows! I might see you out there! 🙂

Research Project

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

As a part of my course I have to do a research project. I will be choosing a topic and a question, doing some reading, collecting some data, critiquing the reading, analysing the data and writing it all up. It’s only 4,000 words so it’s not that long. And I will probably be doing data collection during my first and second placements (which are 6 weeks each) so I won’t have much time to collect data. Plus, during those placements there will be lots of other things I’ll be doing too, so it won’t even be 6 solid weeks of full-time data collection.

Before we went to school for observation week, we were asked to start thinking of a topic that might interest us. And to put together an observation schedule that would help us to collect data in the classroom. We would spend some time during observation week trying out our schedule to see what did and didn’t work.

I started to think about my topic and I came up with a short list of 14 things:
* Use of real-life examples in maths teaching
* Text book use
* Use of proof in maths teaching
* Use of rhetorical questions and how they impact upon unanswered intended questions
* Effect of time of day on behaviour and concentration
* Effect of eating habits on behaviour
* Effect of energy levels on concentration
* Calming down strategies employed by teachers
* Use of students’ names in class
* How do the teacher’s movements around the classroom affect off-task behaviour
* Effectiveness of making learning intentions explicit
* Time management / pacing in a class
* Questioning
* Teacher Talk Time, Pupil Talk Time

Now this is quite ridiculous. So I narrowed it down to four. Some from the initial list were too impractical or difficult to measure so I ditched them.
* Use of real-life examples in maths teaching
* Text book use
* Use of proof in maths teaching
* Use of rhetorical questions and how they impact upon unanswered intended questions

I wrote up observation schedules for these four and observed lots of classes. At the end of the week, I’d seen no rhetorical questions at all, only one example of proof (which was wrong), no real-life examples in maths and some text book usage. So it seemed that text book usage was the thing to go for. Except it wasn’t really something I was finding interesting.

What interested me was the difference between morning classes and afternoon classes. And this has interested me since I was a teacher in Cambridge (GCSE maths from 4-6 on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons can be rather wearing). It was also something I found fascinating while I was in Sri Lanka, Grade 3s last period – not fun. Grade 11 just after lunch – difficult.

So I’ve decided to look at that for my research project. I’m not entirely sure exactly what my focus will be yet, but something about behaviour – how many informal warnings and time outs (when a student is asked to wait outside the room for a couple of minutes) there are in a class, and how the teacher feels the class went.

I’d also like to look at different things to do at different times of the day to see if the effect of time of day can be mitigated. But I’m not sure whether this research project is big enough for that. We’ll see.

I like this topic because it applies to me as a maths teacher and it applies to me as an English teacher.

Observation Week

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

The course I’m doing is 36 weeks. 18 of those weeks are at Moray House (the School of Education at Edinburgh) where I go to lectures and tutorials. The remaining 18 weeks are divided up into 3 block placements, the first two are 6 weeks each, the final placement is 5 weeks. The more astute amongst you will have noticed that that only adds up to 17 weeks. Which is true. There is also an observation week which happens before our first placement. It is at the same school as the first placement.

I’m off to a secondary school in Edinburgh called Liberton High School for my first placement. So I also went there for my observation week. I don’t yet know where I will be going for my second or third placements.

I spent a week at Liberton getting to know my way around, meeting the maths department (there are 6 teachers) and getting to know some of the classes I’ll be teaching when I come back for my first placement. There are 4 classes I’ll be working with. Two are first years (year 7 or year 8 depending on which country you’re in – but the first year of secondary school, so they’re about 11 or 12 years old). I’ll also be teaching a second year class. I have been allocated a fourth year class (14 or 15 years old) who are doing higher maths (AS Level, year 11, etc) over two years. I won’t be teaching them when I come back but I will be observing them. To be honest, I may end up doing a little bit of teaching of them, it’ll depend on my workload and how keen their class teacher is to let me have a go.

During my observation week I watched and took notes (about different aspects of teaching). I tried to get to know the names of some of the students. I got to know the names of the teachers (both first name – for the staff room, and surname – for the classroom). I almost got used to saying Ms McGuire when someone asked me my name, but it was tough.

And I also got a chance to teach a class. The school I was in have just finished retesting first and second years. They were being put into new sets the following week. So the week I was there was them playing games and doing various activities, with some students sitting tests as well. On Wednesday after the second year class, John (the class teacher) asked me if I’d like to run a game with them on Friday. I said I would. I asked how long he’d like me to spend doing it. He said I could take the whole lesson. Awesome!

So I taught a lesson on the Friday. I had a few goals in mind. Almost all of which were about me rather than about the students. 🙂 I wanted to work on my time management within the class (sometimes my pacing in a class is a bit rubbish – I get a bit carried away and forget to notice the time). I wanted to use the electronic white board (it’s a type I’ve not used before) for planning and delivering the lesson. I wanted to see if they could work in groups. I wanted to see if my instructions were clear enough.

And it worked! There were of course loads of things I could do better next time, but actually the class went really well. The students were great! And so much fun! We made and played with some tangrams ( And we played maths word bingo too.

So I’m really looking forward to going back to the school at the end of October to see everyone again and to get a lot more teaching hours under my belt. 🙂

The Teacher Training Chicken and Egg

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

So, what’s the best way to teach people how to teach? Do you give them lots of theory in advance of them ever walking into a classroom? Or do you throw a trainee into a classroom and let them find their own way? Most people would probably want a healthy bit of both.

I did it the second way. I’ve spent bits of the past 8 years teaching (maths in the UK and English in Sri Lanka and India). I’ve done ad hoc bits of tutoring. I’ve done short revision courses (1 week). I’ve taught full-year courses. And I’ve learnt a lot simply through doing it.

And now I’m learning about teaching. And the theory is useful to me. One reason is because I have practical experiences that I can pin it to. But another, perhaps more important reason is that there is a lot of low-level stuff that new teachers worry about (projecting your voice, saying the right things, paying attention to the class, dealing with difficult questions, how to physically move in the classroom, what persona to take to class, how to deal with the subject matter, etc). I don’t need to worry about these things to the same extent that new teachers do (or to the same extent that I did when I was a new teacher) and that allows me the mental freedom to be able to concentrate on some of the more complex notions of teaching (differentiation, questioning, pupil-talk time, active learning, etc).

I suspect many people will have different things on their low-level stuff list and on their complex notions list. And that’s fine. But what it does mean is that in order to be able to develop as a teacher, you need to be able to actively concentrate on one aspect of your teaching, and that means that you need to be sufficiently confident that all the other aspects can take care of themselves.

And that’s the position I currently feel like I am in. I can pick a professional development focus for a lesson and really concentrate on that one thing, because I know that all the rest of the stuff that’s going on will be fine even if I’m not consciously aware of it.

But having said all of that, there are some fairly fundamental aspects to teaching that can be taught to teacher trainees before they start that will give them a massive helping hand, and will fast-track their own professional development.

So theory or practice first? I don’t know. Both probably! 🙂

A Paperless PGDE

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

I would like to be able to do my PGDE electronically. And to a large extent I can.

I take my laptop with me to lectures and classes to type up my notes. I am getting pdfs of the readings whenever I can (ejournals are awesome) and am typing my reading notes up too.

I even have a cool spreadsheet (yes, I’m a geek, I know) that helps me keep track of all the reading I need to do for the different components and links to my notes as well. It helps me see what is due when and what I’ve read already, etc.

I’m doing lesson preparation electronically too. I have downloaded the Notebook software that works with Smart Boards.

But, sometimes we are being given handouts in class. So I need to take them home and scan them. Sometimes we have to print things off to hand them in (group lesson plans etc).

And perhaps most irritatingly, one of the most important pieces of assessment for this year is my Professional Development Portfolio (PDP). This is basically a lever arch file of everything: lesson plans, observation notes, reflections, handouts, reading notes, everything. And because of the way this will be assessed (my supervising teacher at the school will look through it periodically, my tutor from Edinburgh will look through it when she comes to school to observe me), it is something that does need to be done as a hard copy. Ah well.

So I’m trying to be paperless. And I’m doing a reasonable job so far. But it would be nice if I was able to be entirely paperless. I don’t see that there is any reason to kill trees in order to create a massive pile of paperwork that I’m just going to want to get rid of at the end of the year. The information I will keep, but having it electronically is more practical anyway, I can search it more easily and I don’t need to carry a big, heavy folder with me.

Some people are worried about what will happen if I lose my laptop. But all of my information is backed up online. Which, in my mind, makes it more secure than theirs. A house fire could wipe out all of their work. For me to lose everything would require losing my laptop and my online backup. Though I’m certainly hoping that none of us lose anything. 🙂

Anyway, back to the scanning and the typing. 🙂

Having Lots of Fun

Saturday, October 1st, 2011

There are several reasons why I’m enjoying my course. One is that I’m an education geek and I love the fact that I get to read about, talk about, write about and think about education every day.

Another reason is that it’s only week 6 and I’m already a better teacher than I was when I first came to Edinburgh. I have a better understanding of what I’m trying to do as a teacher and some of the ways in which I can do it. And I know I’ve got a lot more to learn.

I’m really enjoying being a student again. It’s nice to be reading and learning and discussing and working. I’ve missed it. 🙂 Plus, I get to play with maths on a regular basis. Maths is cool!

The people I’m studying with are really nice. I’ve made some great friends on this course. People I can chat to in pubs, have dinner with, and not go clubbing with. 🙂

And I’ve done some bits of teaching too. Both at Uni and in a school. 🙂

Kath is a very happy Bucket! 🙂