Hello colleagues, tutors & educators.
My name is Steve Jones, and I’m a Maths teacher based in Gloucestershire. I currently teach in an 11-16 school, meaning that much focus is on GCSE qualifications as the end goal. GCSEs of course are taken at an age where students haven’t chosen to study Maths – it’s mandatory, and the curriculum is designed to cover a wide range of numeracy topics that prepare students for problem solving in any number of career options and life in general.
As you know, the Maths GCSE curriculum is increasingly focused on problem solving and the application of Maths rather than just the theory of Maths – and I’m delighted that this is the case because before I entered teaching, I was an engineer, and I ran my own company for 10 years too. Like many in industry, I believe that our nation’s young people must have a practical understanding of everyday Maths more than a theoretical knowledge. However, that’s the challenge for you and I as teachers – how can we link the topics that we teach increasingly with the real world?
I expect like me, you get asked many times ‘when will I ever use this topic in life’?, which is hard to answer when studying quadratic nth term sequences maybe, but not hard when we teach much of the GCSE curriculum if we’re honest. Most GCSE topics really are useful in life! As adults we know it, but students often don’t believe us!
So, to supplement my teaching resources, and to anchor my students’ learning in a real life context, I started to film these videos with a view to:
- Make Maths relevant
- Tap into the ‘selfie’ culture that is very natural to today’s students
- Engage those students for whom Maths is a struggle
- Expose students to life situations that will inspire them
- Present problems in a similar format to GCSE so students can practise applying exam technique in a fun and relevant way
They have been tremendously successful, and so I share them with you!
How to use these videos:
Any way you like! I often use them as starters, which naturally engages and focuses the class, or I use them as plenaries as I consolidate learning. More recently I’ve been sharing links to selected videos as part of targeted exam revision for KS4 students, and I’ve even been giving students video links for them to solve as part of homework. The videos work well in all of these scenarios, but by integrating them naturally as part of a rich learning experience, hopefully our students will increasingly link their learning with real life, and become fluent in problem solving approaches.
Play the video for it’s entirety. Just like reading a GCSE question, students needs to grasp the context of a problem – so whilst you may want to rewind to a key piece of information later, I’ve found it best to let it run initially – hey, they’re only about a minute!
Go back to the important bit. After watching it, rewind until the point just before the end where all numerical data is displayed. Again in an attempt to encourage a healthy problem solving approach (and to instil good exam technique), show them all the text. Let them sort out what is relevant to the solution, and what is superfluous. Sometimes my classes will solve by using personal whiteboards, whilst at other times I get them to write the text and solve in their books. Either way, identifying key information for different parts of the question is a crucial skill.
Discuss the contents. During a class where I was using an early video involving a zoo, students started to ask ‘is that what a zoo looks like’? It suddenly became clear to me that these videos not only expose students to Maths in everyday places, but that they can introduce them to situations and experiences that students simply haven’t had yet, and inspire them to build a life of big possibilities (hence the creation of quite a few ‘holiday’ problem solving videos at the airport etc). So encourage personal questions about the video. Do you do DIY as well as Mr Jones Sir? Do you get a professional painter to paint your lounge Miss? Have you been to an airport Madam? Why does it matter where you exchange money for a holiday Sir? I’m finding that as I share more personal aspects of my life, the more engaged the students become and the more focus they give to the Maths topic we’re learning.
Extend. Almost every video acts as a springboard either to a follow-on topic, or to increased depth of the subject material. Therefore, plan a few extra questions that increase the depth of learning. If like me you follow a ‘mastery’ approach to Mathematics, then add a ‘WHAT IF…’ question or two of your own that will really stretch them. Maybe supply an answer to a similar question, and get them to reverse the process to find a key measurement or amount. Maybe create a similar life application of the topic, but one that adds a layer of complexity that will make them think.
So whilst I don’t pretend to have all the answers to increasing problem solving in the Maths classroom, these videos are making a huge difference to my classes, and students have made their own videos too (not that I can share those obviously). Let me know how they work for you…