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.


Elsa the Mathemateer

Elsa is amazing. It was her idea to call the group ‘The Mathemateers’.

She is creative and wacky and fab. Her drawing is accurate, expressive and her creative spark knows no limits. She has a brilliant flair for drawing and is particular good at drawing unicorns, griffins and other fantastic creatures. She loves the Harry Potter stories and is particularly fond of wolves (the animal, not the football club) – in the past she has been known to play wolves, howling for long periods of time on the playground. She has a stunningly beautiful singing voice and got to play the lead role in our play before Christmas.

She claims she finds it hard to concentrate in maths. “My eyes get distracted by colours” she tells me. She lives with her mum a long way from school and has to catch two buses to get here every morning, even though her dad lives close enough for her to walk to school.

The Mathemateers

We had to have a name for the class and I wasn’t so fond of the name ‘Year 6 booster group’.

I’d thought I might go with ‘PhilpClass’ but then it’s a trifle arrogant naming the class after myself.

And I needed a name too. I was planning to use both Khan Academy and Google Classroom as delivery tools for some of the content – more on that at a later date – and both tools require a class name to be set up.

There’s also an argument about identity. If children have something to identify with it can help them engage more. It can channel, even increase their motivation. All of them seemed motivated. As I said last time they had fearlessly told me what they didn’t like about maths and agreed they all wanted to improve. Now if only we had a name…

I’m always wary about opening up such things to children – after all I’m supposed to be teaching them maths – I don’t want to be wasting their time choosing names. But mercifully one of the children came to the rescue. Within seconds of suggesting we needed a name, she said “The Mathemateers.” And it stuck.

I’m now going to introduce you to the Mathemateers. A short pen portrait that may offer a bit of an insight into the children. Obviously I have changed their names.

They are:

Click the links to find out about each child.


It’s been a while since I had a regular classroom commitment. I’ve always thought that senior leaders suffer from an authenticity failure when they are divorced from teaching. But that’s another story, to be told another time. And to cut that long story short, this term I am teaching a group of seven year 6 children. Maths. For just one hour a day.

I am ‘boosting’.

Here’s what it says in the dictionary about boosting.
boosting: the yearly panic that primary schools go through to ensure they meet their yearly quota of successful students.But this is more than a SATs game. Putting my cynicism aside, each of the seven children in my group have a unique perspective on maths. And it’s a perspective skewed by failure.

Now I know that these days it’s cool to fail. Fail: first attempt in learning, chant the students to me. But not when you’ve failed week after week. Not when you’ve been the last to ‘get it’ lesson after lesson. Not when you’re at the bottom of the achievement rocket year after year.

The children's maths weakness: concentration, telling the time, embarrassment
What the children told me gets them down about maths

My seven Year 6 students are old enough to be embarrassed by their inability to do maths that children four years younger than them can do. They can’t tell the time. They don’t know their times tables. They can’t reliably count on or back. And what’s worse, they can all tell me stories of embarrassment, when their failure to do what their peers find simple has been exposed to the rest of their class.

Embarrassment and repeated failure make a powerful poison that taints the waters of learning. And the antidote to that poison is more than mere boosting. If all I do over the next four months is ‘get these children through their SATs’, I will have failed them. They don’t need my tricks and tips to score the best they can on some 45 minute exam papers in May. They need me to teach them well. They need some core knowledge and some confidence.

So as it turns out, I am not going to be boosting after all.

I’m going to be a ‘remedial teacher.’

I know that sounds awfully old-fashioned, but there are some reasons why I prefer that term. I see their lack of knowledge akin to a sickness and the remedy is good teaching. Each of these children has unique reasons for why they are ‘below national average’ in maths. Whilst I can’t remedy all of the reasons, for some I can do the following:

  1. diagnose the ailment;
  2. identify a treat;
  3. present a cure;
  4. give time for that cure to take hold.

I suppose I could label the same 4 point sequence like this:

  1. identify misconceptions
  2. plan some good lessons
  3. teach well
  4. allow children time to practice so that their confidence grows.

The majority of my posting this term is going to be about the journey with these children.