Archive | November, 2010

Life in the Red Zone

27 Nov

I was really interested in a discussion on #ukedchat last Thursday (#ukedchat is a Twitter group that meets every Thursday evening from 8-9pm to discuss issues in the UK education system). The issue in question was that of work-life balance. Some very interested points were raised, many with tongues firmly in cheeks (although it's often difficult to tell in Twitter). Some included "Question – do you think any less of your colleagues if they don't do the extra hours? <yes" and "Thank god I don't have kids I couldn't fit them and teaching in!"

Now I happen to think that "Work-Life balance" is a really unhelpful term. It indicates that work is not a part of life. "Work-leisure balance" is a more helpful term because it indicates that work is part of life. And so is leisure.

However I also think that the term 'balance' is a really unhelpful term. It indicates that things oppose each other, they are in tension with each other. I prefer the term 'blended life'. It indicates that work and leisure and other stuff can all blend together to make up your life. Sometime they overlap, sometimes they are distant from each other.

The picture used in Growing Leaders is that of rev counters. When you're revving a car, you can under-rev it so the engine is not working as efficiently as it ought to; you can over-rev it so that the engine can get too hot and damages it; or you can rev it just right so that it is working as efficiently as possible. The over-revving is the point of most danger. It is life in the red zone.

Growing Leaders identifies 5 ways in which this can happen:
  • Physically (red zone makes you depleted)
  • Emotionally (red zone makes you drained)
  • Relationally (red zone makes you distant)
  • Intellectually (red zone makes you stale)
  • Spiritually (red zone makes you disillusioned)
Of course it is possible to cope with life in the red zone for a certain periods of time. But if you're in the red zone in all areas for a very long time, it is going to be damaging. So blend your life. See it as a blend of different things – sometimes one of those things will come to the forefront, sometimes it won't.

I've found having a personal life statement a really helpful way to manage your red zones. Through it I've been able to define my life physically, emotionally, relationally, intellectually and spiritually. I've also been able to right down some key phrases that define how I am. One of them is 'Gives Hope to Children' – it reminds me that my calling as a teacher is about giving hope to those children in my school who have little hope. It helps me focus on what I should be doing and what I like to do. It is self-affirming and life-building. It enables me to have a bigger 'Yes' with which I can say 'No' to the worthy activities that otherwise might take over my life and take me away from my core purpose.

Finally, as Christians, a blended life fits within the context of living a 'surrendered life'. Our first call is to growing closer to Jesus as his disciples. It is to surrender to Him. 'Surrender' can sound ominous and bleak, but Jesus is love – surrendering to Him makes blending life a real possibility. And it's good because He is good.


Valuing misconceptions on the way to explaining fractions

26 Nov

explaining fractions_0001.wmv
Watch on Posterous

I filmed this about 6 months ago, following an excellent session about fractions on the Mathematics Specialist Teacher Programme. The challenge that we were given, and then I in turn gave to the children, was given a 4-pint bottle of milk that gets 3/5 of a pint drunk each day, how many days does the milk bottle last for? Those of us with a formal background in maths would say:

÷ 3/5
= 4 ÷ 3 x 5
= 4 x 5 ÷ 3
= 20 ÷ 3
= 6 r 2.
So the milk lasts for 6 and a bit days. If we wanted to be really fancy we would say the milk lasts for 6 and 2/3 days. And isn't it more practical to say the milk lasts for 6 days and there's 2/5 of a pint left over? Does our understanding of the algorithms let us say that?

Also can children, who are without the drilled-in knowledge that when you divide a divisor you actually multiply, do this question?

That's what the video explores – and there's some interesting misconceptions on the way.

Learning Creativity in Maths at MaST HEI Day 5

21 Nov
MaST is the Masters level study programme I am on (standing for Mathematics Specialist Teacher). HEI merely stands for Higher Education Day.

Creativity in Maths

The Day begin with a lecture on creativity in maths. It's an interesting idea – creativity – because many teachers have the mental construct that creativity is all about thinking artisticly and creating things of aesthetic value. Derek Haylock went on to talk about about divergence and flexibility – a far different way concept of creativity in maths. One leads to trying to shoe-horn maths into a themed curriculum and doing lots of shape work that becomes artwork, the other leads to open-ended questions, good dialogue and child-centred learning. Here are my tweets:

  • About to hear Dr. Derek Haylock at #MaSThei5.
  • #MaSThei5 creativity is not normally associated with mathematics (confusion between artistic and creativity)
  • #MaSThei5 find 2 numbers with a sum of 9 and a difference of 4? When we have the knowledge, what blocks us accessing it to solve a problem?
  • #masthei5 what are the processes that characterise creative thinking? How do we recognise creative product What kind of people are creative?
  • #masthei5 what conditions foster creative thinking? (all in maths context)
  • #masthei5 Derek Haylock demonstrate that we're all fixed, rigid thinkers by nature. We have to choose to think flexibly.
  • #masthei5. Equal pieces problem – will demonstrate on blog how we're all rigid by nature.
  • #masthei5 flexible thinking is the first step on a creative process in maths. Avoid rigidity an fixation.
  • #masthei5 2 kinds of fixation common in maths that limit creativity: algorithmic and content universe
  • #masthei5 ask children to draw a rectangle. What do most of them do?
  • #masthei5 creativity in maths includes thinking divergently: fluency (many), flexibility (kinds), originality, appropriateness.
  • #Masthei5 appropriateness is easy to define in maths (as opposed to art, writing, etc) so teachers fixate on this one part of divergence
  • #masthei5 how to develop divergent thinking in maths: problems with many solutions; problem-posing; redefinition.
  • #masthei5 redefinition – come up with lots of responses by redefining the elements, eg: what's the same as 16 and 36?
  • #masthei5 redefine by using lots of different ideas to create subsets of a given set of numbers
  • #masthei5 conflict between creativity an accuracy – do we value creativity as much as accuracy in maths?
  • #masthei5 graph of attainment vs. creativity (as Derek Haylock defines it) show 0 children in the high creativity, low attainment sector
  • #masthei5 factors associated with maths creativity include low anxiety, high self-concept, risk-taker, high attainer, being a boy. 
  • #masthei5 creative maths children are also 'broad categorisors'. They are good at identifying the same about numbers+ideas and make links.

Writing Assignments

Course Tutor, Mary McAteer gave us some top tips and hints to help us successfully write our first piece of level 7 writing.

  • #masthei5 Mary McAteer reminds us to demonstrate an understanding of ethical issues in essay and PLL
  • #masthei5 warns us against over use of Excel as a presentational tool for simple data

Place Value

Ian Sugarman definitely had the graveyard shift on the day. The last session after a big lunch on a 6 day week – on a Saturday when most would be out shopping, or slobbing in front of the TV – can't have been an easy lecture. And when the subject is the dry area of place value, it's always going to be a tricky one. The biggest thing I got out of this lecture is the warning against the indiscriminate use of number lines and the value of teacher column methods for securing place value when ordering decimals.

  • Context for place value #masthei5 getting things 10 times out can be at best expensive; at worst lethal…
  • #masthei5 misconceptions of place value after the decimal point are rife between ages of 7-11. Half-learned rules and over-generalisations
  • #masthei5 when pupils are given opportunities to explain their thinking, they often spot their own flaws.
  • #masthei5 to get place value it's helpful to sort and justify before ordering
  • #masthei5 talks about left-justifying decimals when I think it's helpful to justify by the decimal point
  • #masthei5 to get x10 relationship it's helpful to use pictures or Dienes apparatus to visualise place value
  • #masthei5 recommends – university of Utah website for good models and images.
  • Great activities advertised at #masthei5 at (but not free)
  • At #masthei5 Ian Sugarman talks about standard algorithms can be a sledgehammer to crack a nut in questions like 81-78.
  • #masthei5 numberlines vs standard algorithms vs necessity of getting place value = conflicting interests
  • #masthei5 British children have been referred to as 'pathological splitters', as they partition numbers in both addition and subtraction.
  • #masthei5 Ian Sugarman advocates empty number lines, but not as another rote-learned method. Draw from 0 and emphasize progression.
  • #masthei5 maths in Holland always starts with a real setting, whereas in UK we start with pure maths.
  • #masthei5 can use 'same difference' method as alternative to empty number line for examples such as 83-37 (86-40 is much easier)  

Chapter 1: school Trip

17 Nov

“Are you coming with us?”

The teacher smiled back across the table and nodded in affirmation.
The wrinkles at the corner of his eyes, meant that smiling made him
look at his best. His hair was dark brown, slightly thin on top with
the odd grey hair at the sides. Stubble and dry skin marked the lower
part of his face, his nose was over large, but neither drew the
attention. What did were his eyes. They were pools of myriad brown,
grey, green and blue. They were different each time, seemingly the
colours would move into different patterns. And set as they were
behind the prominent smile lines, they drew and held the gaze of any

The girl smiled and turned to her friend to begin chattering about
something else. The teacher turned away and let the chatter wash over
him. The children were excited. It was a rare trip to the coast – a
yearly excursion that this particular age group did. Some of them had
never been there before, had never seen the sea, or sand. They would
be seeing something unique this year. Something nobody had seen
before. The teacher’s smile turned slightly grim.

The journey was uneventful enough. Only one case of travel sickness
was a reasonable return on one hundred and fifty miles. The first
night passed with the normal over-excitement from the children whereas
the teachers looked forward to the children being tired out after a
full day of activities on the second night. But the first full day of
activities was very different from previous years.

The morning on the beach was followed by a cliff walk. Each teacher
shepherded their children cautiously up the cliff path that ran only a
couple of metres from the edge. The children were equally nervous –
most were unused to the countryside, let alone a steep drop into
churning foam. Which is why they were shocked when, at the highest
point of the walk, the teacher with the eyes stepped off the path and
right up to the edge of the cliff.

“Mr. Saunders!” shouted the girl from the morning before. This shout
drew the attention of the children and teachers in other groups spread
along the cliff path, who all see Mr. Saunders calmly step off the
edge of the cliff. He was still smiling.

There was a brief, silent flash as he fell. Remarkable maybe, but not
compared to what had just happened. In the shock of the aftermath,
those children and teachers that had seen the flash dismissed is as a
trick of the light, the sun glinting off the sea maybe. It had been a
bright day.

They never found a body

Chapter ? A meeting of friends

15 Nov

Chapter ? A meeting of friends

They stood in the dark.

“Can you believe it?” one said.

There was a deliberate rustle. A piece of paper being waved in evidence.

“It’s all here.” said another voice.

“Just like he said it would be,” a third voice added.

“I don’t like it,” a fourth voice joined the conversation. The first female voice. “And I didn’t like him.”

“You made the promise.” It was the first voice again, followed by silence.

After a moment, when the steady beat of the rain on the jet windows began to dominate, a fifth voice joined in, female and quick:

“The promise? I liked him for a while, but I hadn’t seen him for years. When he died, I…” There was a catch in her voice. “What is the promise?”

“It doesn’t matter now he’s dead,” the other female voice responded with a hint of a snarl.

“Can’t you see?” came a sixth voice, rich and deep. “He’s not dead. He used it. And we haven’t even made it yet.”

A light of any kind would have revealed the sudden wonder and amazement etched on their faces. Understanding soon replaced that, followed by concern and then anticipation.

“We’ve got work to do.”

And within a minute the room was silent once more, as six figures strode off into the night.

Sent from my thingamajig

Nano Chapter ?: The Day of the Dead.

9 Nov

Imran hit the floor with the thud that forced the air from his lungs. He tried to breathe but nothing happened. Waves of desperation flooded over him. He sucked air again. Nothing. Doubled up, he felt the pain of the impact on his chest, but a worse feeling was growing inside his chest as he struggled for air. His mind drifted to the journey that had brought him here. His missing father. The other children with missing parents. The letter from 1850. Nothing made sense.

And then he realised that he was breathing again. The air back in his lungs, the blood taking oxygen to his brain once more, he began to notice his surroundings. 

It was dark. There were indeterminate noises somewhere in the distance.

As his eyes became used to the dim orange light from the street lights, he became aware that he had landed between the wall of a house and a few low bushes. It was a side passage that lead to a nondescript wooden gate of some back yard or garden. A few days ago he would have looked at the house he knelt by and thought how modern and new it looked. Of course the experience of the last few days had blown away any previous notions he had held of 'new'. Growing up in a Victorian house, surrounded by street after street of Victorian terrace, he was used to the grey stone and faded magnificence of that era, not the shabby red brick of sixties modernism.

The noises grew louder. Peering over the bushes he could see that beyond a wide grass verge, a road sloped darkly down to a T-junction at the 
bottom of a hill. Perhaps one hundred metres way, at the junction, he could see shapes of people. He was sure that was where the noises were coming from.

Perhaps seven people, were gathered, seemingly laughing and shouting in the middle of the road. They were a range of heights, mainly adult-sized, although there was a smaller person there too – maybe about Imran's size. There was something about the tone of the shouting that made Imran rather nervous. It was a bit too loud, a bit too forced, a bit too raucous. And then Imran realised that there was something lying on the floor at their feet. Something, or someone – it was dark shape about man-sized and lying quite still. It was also the object of their attention. He could see them kicking it, bending down to touch it and laughing at it. Then all of a sudden, the smallest one pointed and shouted something. The others looked and howled – a terribly ominous cry – and then they ran off in the direction shown to them, leaving the dark shape lying on the floor.

As the hooting and howling faded into the distance, Imran realised that he was alone. The answer to a small mystery lay a short run away at the bottom of the hill. So not having anything better to do, Imran jogged as quietly as he could down to the dark shape lying on the floor.

Notes from Growing Leaders Session 2

6 Nov

Session 2, Growing Leaders was entitled 'Establishing Identity'

The first section was a 'Swedish Bible Study' on John 15: 1-17. 

Candle (New things learnt from the passage):
  • You will bear fruit
  • Ask whatever
  • Friends with God
  • He gives choice
  • Branches go into the fire
  • Obey
Up arrow (any things about the nature of God):
  • Rely on God's strength
  • God does pruning
  • He's a friend before being a Master
  • He wants joy for us
  • He chooses us
  • There's an intimate, organic connection with Him
  • He's generous
Down arrow (any things learnt about people):

  • If separated can't have fully fruitful life.
  • Love each other
  • We're already clean
  • Don't have to seek worthiness
  • People can know God's business.
Question Mark (any questions the passage has raised):
  • if we don't obey commands do we remain in his love? (In context of God gave 2 commands – Love God and Love others)
  • "God will give you whatever you ask for"… ?
  • How do we wait on God?
  • How do we wrestle with God?

There was then a section on the cycles: Cycle of Grief and the Cycle of Grace.

Some of the feedback included:
  • People pleasing vs Spending Time with God
  • Jesus example – the balance to find solitude.
  • How do we achieve people? As achievements? As targets that can be hit (or missed)?
  • Recognise demands on us
  • Reminder of God's grace.
  • Don't judge achievements by how much you do.

The morning  finished with looking at Spiritual Discipline. Some of the difficulties or barriers to exercising spiritual disciplines include:

  • busy-ness
  • unpredictability of life
  • No accountability
  • No tangible results
  • hardwork
  • Laziness
  • Matching achievability against despondancy
  • Wanting to feel in control
  • Finding silence
  • Problem of distractions.
It will be interesting to see what participants have to say about exercising spiritual disciplines when we meet for the next session.