British Congress for Mathematics Education Conference with Dawn Denyer

I have been teaching mathematics in schools since 1996, and in 2008 I completed a Masters in Mathematics Education with my dissertation focusing on children’s understanding of ratio and proportion. Currently, I am an Assistant Headteacher and a Subject leader for Mathematics for a secondary school in West Sussex, I hold the NCETM professional development lead accreditation and work closely with the Sussex MathsHub providing CPD for both specialist and non-specialist teachers. Schools in West Sussex are facing a funding shortage so I applied for an IMA grant to enable me to attend BCME 9 as a self-funding delegate.

 The conference allowed delegates to choose from a wide range of topics over the 10 timetabled sessions, as well as attending various keynote and plenary sessions throughout the conference. The conference was opened with a welcome from Paul Glaister, Chair of the Joint Mathematical Council UK, followed by an extremely interesting and entertaining plenary by Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter focusing on the need for adults and students to be data literate; the importance of questioning data and evaluating statistical claims.  Sir David covered a variety of areas of his work including questioning newspaper editors about their use of statistical diagrams and their lack of ability to use them correctly.  Sir David was pivotal in the introduction of frequency diagrams into the new Mathematics GCSE as he believes that we will have a greater understanding of a probability if we reframe the problem to consider what does that mean for 100 people. 

I attended a variety of sessions over the duration of the conference. I chose sessions that would support my own personal professional development as well as attending sessions that would provide me with resources to use with staff and students in my own school.  I also supported Carol Knights, NCETM Secondary Director, delivering her session on ‘Hard to Teach topics at GCSE’, this focused on feedback from the exam boards after last summer’s exam series alongside feedback from the NCTEM workgroups on ‘Hard to teach topics at GCSE’.

I attended Anne Watson’s session on ‘Variation beyond the definitions’.  This was a discussion based session, looking at a variety of textbook examples and trying to work out the reasoning behind the structure of the questions.  There was much discussion about the need to make the mathematics explicit and not just hope that students have noticed the deliberate pattern in their answers. This session raised lots of additional questions and this is an area I will look into in more detail.

 Colin Foster’s session on Mathematical etudes ( was well attended and provided more discussion on the need for deliberate practice in mathematics akin to a musician practising a particular skill. The links between this and the need for students to be proficient in problem-solving embraces the work by the NRICH team at the University of Cambridge.

I am proficient in using Geometer’s Sketchpad and DESMOS but with the exception of using GeoGebra to generate box & whisker diagrams with the large data set with my Year 12 A-level class, I have not had time to perfect the use GeoGebra in class. With this in mind, I signed up for MEI’s Tom Button’s excellent sessions on GeoGebra. I attended the beginner’s session to make sure that I was confident in transferring my skills from GSP before then attending the advanced user session. I was impressed by the versatility of GeoGebra and the convenience of being able to have multiple types of screens open in the same window. The 3D plotting feature was something I had not used in GeoGebra before and I have already bought some 3D glasses to be able to use this feature in my A-level classes! I use the DESMOS dynamic software quite often in my classroom but I am now going to aim to use GeoGebra more in my teaching.

With the changes at A-level, I have been looking of ways to include more problem-solving at KS5 and the session that Stephen Lyon (STEM Learning) led on ‘Resources to support active learning at A-Level’ was an excellent introduction to resources available from to engage learners at KS5.

BCME allows delegates to engage with research presentations and I attended the session where Christian Bokhove (University of Southampton) presented the outcomes of his research into Mental Rotation Skills of year 7 students undertaken by using the ‘Building Houses’ app from The Freudenthal Institut e.  I had used the Java app when it was free to use and so I was curious to see the how the research had been set up.

One of the highlights of coming to the conference is the chance to meet and discuss mathematics and education with other professionals.  The days were full but we still found time to discuss the sessions we had attended over breakfast, coffee or dinner, enabling access to an even greater variety of topics. 

As a secondary teacher, it is always good to have the opportunity to network with mathematical communicators and colleagues working in different settings, whether a primary school or university research.  It is a wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends made at previous conferences or to meet people you have interacted with on Twitter in real life.   There was a range of experience amongst the delegates, from students on their Initial Teacher Training journey to published and well-known maths communicators to retired educators still interested and involved in Mathematics education.

Certainly amongst the highlights of this conference included hearing the opening plenary from Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter; The search to close the gap in prime number location with Dr Vicky Neale; how the mastery approach works in Singapore secondary schools from Professor Berinderjeet Kaur and the mathematics of human behaviour from Dr Hannah Fry at the conference dinner.

I am looking forward to discussing BCME9 further with colleagues in my school and locality, listening to Craig Barton’s BCME9 podcasts and further engaging with the academic materials.

Dawn Denyer MA (Maths Education) NPQSL