Teachers are amazing!

On Friday 20th March 2020 we had the announcement that schools were to close (in the UK, with the exception of Key Worker pupils). Learning would be suspended, exams cancelled and children would begin the longest summer break they have ever known.

Or not?

Because teachers are amazing! Learning has not stopped (it may have slowed down admittedly), exams are still cancelled (and yet my 16-year-old still continues to complete her Y11 studies under the guidance of her teachers) and while the sun has been shining (in most parts of the UK) it does definitely not feel like the summer holidays.

While we find ourselves thrown into these extraordinary times, with little warning, teachers across the country (and globe) rise to the challenge of continuing to support and tutor their students in creative and imaginative ways.

For some, this means continuing to go to school to support pupils of key workers. For others, working from home is becoming the norm, but with this also comes a whole host of new skills to acquire. How many of us had really understood the phrases ‘remote learning’, ‘e-platforms’, or ‘virtual classrooms – I mean really? I am now being invited to Google Hangouts, Zoom is my new best friend and emails are increasing daily!

So, the world of e-learning appears to have arrived, whether we were ready for it or not!

Online educational provision is now the order of the day. This seems to include a variety of options: writing virtual lesson plans, suggesting video clips to watch, setting questions (often with mark schemes or answers attached), compiling lists of useful websites and e-platforms and even conducting face-to-face online lessons!

In addition, schools are doing amazing jobs of keeping their communities together by regular emails, newsletters and website updates. In less than a week home schooling has become the new form of education, and it doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon!

So, what do you choose? Where do you ‘go’ for your resources?

We will all have our preferences, and I really admire the way the education community has come together in the biggest collaboration I have ever known. It really does feel like one big team working together.

So, I thought I would share a few of my favourite ‘go-to’ places, plus one new website I have discovered along the way.

Firstly to NRICHthe home of problem solving. As many of you will already know, NRICH has a huge bank of resources for learners aged 3-19. All their activities, games and interactives are ideal for teachers, parents and learners to work on whilst at home.

In addition, the team have been working hard to create an initial collection of their best resources to engage in rich mathematical learning (www.nrich.maths.org/covid19). I know I am biased (having been lucky enough to work there recently) but it is still my top place to visit when I need inspiration, an activity that will make me think or just a really good mathematics problem.

Next up is the youcubed team who have similarly just announced a special page for teachers, students and parents (www.youcubed.org/resource/youcubed-at-home). I am a big fan of their Week of Inspirational Maths and many schools I work with love starting off a term using these daily tasks and videos. Their tag line – to ‘inspire all students with open, creative mindset mathematics’ is needed now, more than ever! Like NRICH, the youcubed site also includes resources for all ages of learners.

For those learners who are able to get outside (safely) Creative STAR (https://creativestarlearning.co.uk) has loads of activities to do outside. Juliet Robertson, author of Messy Maths and Dirty Teaching has created a great wish list that we could all follow in the next few weeks (and months?). Her tag line – I’m a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here – reminds us of the importance and potential of learning outside.

For younger children The Erikson Institute (earlymath.erikson.edu) has loads of brilliant ideas and activities for early mathematics and mathematicians. One of their big messages is to ‘play games’ - a fantastic message!

My newest discovery is Blutick (www.blutick.com). This is a relatively new website which offers resources for 11-16 year olds, although I can already see potential for Y5 and Y6 pupils too. I particularly like the pedagogical style it takes; scaffolding, not telling learners through the use of c.600 differentiated videos, worked examples and then, the clever bit – intelligent line-by-line feedback which guides and support students to really understand their thinking and working. The ability to offer skilled reflection is necessary for any learning experience to build towards the next, deepening understanding and improving performance. All effective feedback should result in reflection about what would be most productive to do next to improve learning and this reflection leads to action and further reflection – Blutick seem to have nailed this! It is device agnostic and works offline, syncing when students return to a connection. Students even get to choose their online teacher! Their tag line – Maths with confidence – really is the golden thread running through their e-platform.

I am sure you will all have your favourite ‘go-to’ places, but in the current situation, I am really loving having a little more time to explore new resources, sites and e-platforms. Why not try these sites I have listed above if they are not part of your ‘go-to’ list? Let me know what you think.

Finally, a few thoughts about how we might choose the resources to use. While remote teaching creates huge opportunities for effective learning and collaboration outside the classroom, the following might help in deciding which resources and websites to select:

  • The focus should always be on pedagogy and learning, rather than technology. In other words, the website might look slick, super professional and whizzy, but does it actually support the learner to learn, or is it just a bank of questions (some may say test!) in disguise?
  • Does the website involve approaches and techniques that you would normally use, so that it is adhering to your subject knowledge and pedagogical approach?
  • Does it also offer an element that adds to your current teaching skills? No website is a replacement of the teacher, so we need websites/online resources to work harder for us.
  • Does it encourage learners to think? Thinking about and working mathematically is not about following a set of procedures, or completing question after question. It is about puzzling, thinking and reasoning. Online resources that build in the facility to evoke pupils thinking will have much more effect than those that are just offering questions to complete.
  • Would you continue to use it when ‘normal service’ has resumed? In other words, would you carry on using it as part of your planning and teaching – a good test for any resource and website!

Alison Borthwick