Mathemateers and their Chromebooks

Something I’ve not mentioned too often in my posts about my remedial group: the Mathemateers, is that each of them have a Chromebook.

A Chromebook is a complete non-event as a device. All it does is provide seamless access to the online materials you need to use to educate your children.

So I’ve previously written about using Khan Academy and Google Classroom to give my children meaningful homework and challenging practice. Seamless. Khan Academy and Google Classroom just work.

And here’s the thing: my school owns the devices, yet I let the children take them home. How can that be? Where is the safety in that? The management console in Google Apps allows me to enforce safe search in both Google and Youtube. I’m pretty confident that the Chromebooks are the safest device the children have at home.

But it must be an effort managing that sort of thing? No. Not really. It’s less time than marking a set of books and moreover my technician in school spends no time managing Chromebooks. He spends some time distributing apps to iPads and considerable time managing our Windows network, but no time managing Chromebooks.

I’m going to be speaking in more detail about how ace I think Chromebooks are at the Google Education on Air conference at the start of May. Here’s the details of my session. Even better, the Mathemateers will be there in person, through the power of the Google Doc. Might see you then.

Showing Progress in Fractions

One of the great things about teaching fractions to my Mathemateers group is that they knew pretty much nothing about them. This meant that whatever they learned would show oodles of progress – always good for impressing line managers.

(Not that it matters in this circumstance. I am the booster (remedial) teacher for the Year 6 group, therefore reporting to the Year 6 teacher who in turn reports to the Key Stage 2 Phase Leader. However I line manage both these people, so it’s less of a line and more of a circle…)

The assessment system we use showed that all the children in the group struggled with fractions. For example, Sarah‘s profile in ‘number’ looked like this:

Sarah's lowest 'ticks' were in Fractions
Sarah’s lowest ‘ticks’ were in Fractions. My school used the Incerts assessment system.

Of course when I asked Sarah some questions, it transpired that her prior assessment in fractions was, shall we say, over-ambitious, in that the assessment system said “she is developing the ability to use simple fractions that are several parts of a whole”, when actually she couldn’t do this question from ‘Recognizing Fractions 1‘ in the Khan Academy (which I have written about previously).

Most of the children couldn't do this question when we started.
Most of the children couldn’t do this question when we started.

 

Of course there’s the whole issue about performance and learning here. Sometimes children really do know something, but for whatever reason they don’t show it. This is performance. Performance variation is one of the main reasons for the difficulty in carrying out accurate assessment in education.

But for me as a teacher, this is great. I can now teach some stuff to the children and show great progress. And that’s what I did. Pretty soon the children had motored on to ‘Recognizing Fractions 2’ and even managed to do questions like this by the end of the first week.

By end of week 1 children could do this
By end of week 1 children could do this

No I’m not saying this is world-record teaching, but it does show progress. And what’s great is there’s an image, you can talk about it with the child and then the child has to write down the answer in fraction notation. It’s the perfect move from the Pictorial to the abstract. The downside, if you only use the Khan Academy is that children don’t write down what they did in their books and so their progress isn’t there for external visitors. And that’s not good if you’re a very book-scrutiny focused kind of school.

What would be great would be if we had already moved on to the New National Curriculum. However, as you well know, Year 6 are still working to the old curriculum. You see Incerts have just released their tracking system for the new curriculum and it looks fantastic. Here’s a picture of the ticks I could make about Sarah’s fraction learning:

What the new assessment for fractions looks like in Incerts.
What the new assessment for fractions looks like in Incerts.

However I can’t use that for my current group because they’re in Year 6. Nope. I’m going to have to cope with the learning that’s actually happened in the children’s brains and their SATs results in a few weeks time. Speaking of that, the final tool I’ve used to show progress is the Testbase tool that is a store of all the previous SATs questions. Sounds boring, but it’s really, really handy at the stage of the school year when teaching in Year 6.

 

Here comes the Dominator

So of course, it was Melissa who came up with the classic line. It’s a line that I’m sure is heard in many Key Stage 2 classrooms whenever fractions are being taught.

To the question “and what do you call the number at the bottom of the fraction?”

The child responds: “Is it the D-d-d-dominator?”

Fractions are counter-intuitive to many people. They get smaller as they get bigger. When you multiply them they get smaller, sometimes. And when you divide them you make them go upside-down. They are just weird. And then you add new words like the dominator* and the nominator** and the children get even more confused…

I spent quite a bit of time teaching my Mathemateers about fractions in the last term and I’m hoping that my next few posts will detail some of my failures and successes as I attempted to teach them something they had previously known very little about.

I have written some time ago about the importance of accurate vocabulary when teaching mathematics, particularly with fractions.

* by this I mean ‘denominator’

** by this I mean ‘numerator’

If only there was a tool like Khan Academy

So I was speaking to an inspector a few months ago who was trying to look a bit more deeply into my schools maths data. She asked out loud, “couldn’t you make a system that finds out how well children are doing in each individual area of maths, rather than these overall numbers?

Broadly speaking, that is the problem with data in schools. There’s always the danger of there being so many interpretations and approximations between the numbers that come out of the system and what’s actually in a child’s brain that the data becomes meaningless. Here’s how assessment works:

  • we decide what children should be able to do by particularly ages or stages and write it down in sentences.
  • we assess how well children can do the things we wrote down.
  • we turn those assessments into numbers.

Sometimes those assessments are called tests, at other times they are called observations. Either way it’s more or less the same process. However, quite often as teachers we get distracted and over-focused on the last stage of the process – on the numbers and less on the ‘what the children can actually do’ part of it.

This is where Khan Academy is brilliant. I’ve been using it this term with my Mathemateers group, and even though it doesn’t entirely match with the UK National Curriculum, it does help spot the gaps that children can’t do and provide the children with ways to practice skills that they are still shaky on. I also like the way I can focus the children on a particular skills at a time so that I’m not having to teach each child individually. For example for a few weeks I was focusing on fractions, so I directed children to activities that helped them visualise and practice fractions. I used Google Classroom quite often this – I would post a link in the Google Classroom assignments that would take the children directly to the Khan Academy challenge I wanted them to do.

Why Khan Academy fits in to the inspector’s question is that it gives a brilliant assessment of how children are doing in each area. For example, when setting my fractions challenge I mentioned earlier, I could see that one child had already mastered it, another was struggling at it and the rest had never tried it – it meant I could focus the challenge precisely on what I wanted the children to learn, support the child who was struggling and set a harder challenge for the child who had already mastered it. Ace.