Reflections on BCME9 with Carol Springett

Thank you for a fabulous campus and conference organisation, both from BCME and Warwick. For me it was ‘coming home’, having lived on the Westwood Campus for four years in the late 1970s, when it was Canley College of Education, a teacher training college. Local and national politics meant it merged with Warwick part way through my time there. Having met my husband Simon at Warwick meant I hung around the campus, mostly the Chaplaincy, but was also seen in the Rootes Bar on occasions and I was a regular helper at Nightline, the student Samaritans – good to see it is still going strong.

This conference was an opportunity to focus on a number of strands: ways to enable my reluctant GCSE re-sit students to engage with revision for the upcoming exams and inspiration for my MA dissertation. I also wanted to take some resources back to my colleagues at City College Plymouth – the FE college where I teach and who also generously supported my attendance. Thank you too for the IMA Bursary.

There were many opportunities to meet people and find out about their teaching roles – over meals, by the exhibitor stands, in plenary sessions and at the workshops. MathsJam was a great social occasion to delve into some puzzles and enjoy attempting new things. Rob shared his chocolate and inspired me to work harder on my mental multiplication skills!  

Plenary sessions that particularly inspired me:

David Spiegelhalter’s presentation “Teaching Probability and Statistics in the Age of Data Science and Fake News” took an easy to understand approach to this topic.  Included in his examples were “Why do older men have large ears?” and “What has caused the halving of the teenage pregnancy rate since 2007?”  We need to teach students to spot false claims and children at Key Stages 1 and 2 can learn about probability.

Vicky Neale spoke about understanding prime numbers and took us on a journey to discover something more about the Twin Primes Conjecture: “There are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by 2”.  In May 2013 Zhang proved that they differ by at most 
70 000 000.  By April 2014 mathematicians had proved they differ by 246!  
This is mathematics I don’t normally encounter – my world is that of GCSE resits, looking at what a prime number is and can the students learn the list of primes less than 50?  It was wonderful to be able to consider other aspects of this topic, and I have been reading about it and watching videos on YouTube!

Ruth Merttens spoke about a blocked curriculum and practical ways to achieve mastery – she focused on primary education but there were some interesting insights for me teaching post 16 GCSE students: the example of subtraction was particularly useful. There are many ways to do subtraction, and students need to understand what is going on with each one and why it is useful, and when they should choose a particular method over another. She talked of our poor memory – very few children learn nursery rhymes off by heart (I might just mention that my granddaughter, aged 2.5, knows about six or seven including all the verses for some - Ruth would be pleased!) and most of us rely on technology rather than memorising. Something we should work on for ourselves and for our learners, whatever age.  

Berinderjeet Kaur spoke about the Mastery Approach in Singapore and used a pentagonal diagram to explain how each section contributes equally to the core of teaching and learning of mathematics. I was particularly interested in the “Concrete – Pictorial – Abstract Approach”, adapted from Bruner, as it encourages connections.  This can be helpful even for my adults as some of them have missed out on this in their schooling and often an opportunity to use manipulatives or images can help their learning.  I was also struck by the way schools and teachers in Singapore are supported with resources and CPD – these are seen as important and essential, so funds are provided for it.  

The Conference Dinner speaker, Dr Hannah Fry, entertained us with the mathematics behind choosing our life partner, the equations for arguments, the mathematics behind an online dating website and what the twitter pattern of non-English speaking tweeters looks like across London. She was very engaging and showed us how mathematics can be used for real life situations.  

I attended some workshops to support my GCSE re-sit teaching. Fiona Allan modelled good practice, giving us some challenging activities to do, and made me realise I need to think more carefully about how I approach my classes and what I expect from them. Ed Southall helped us to think through approaches to problems and to understand them better – there are often a range of methods, and not just mine.

The workshops focussing on FE and maths anxiety will help my research and dissertation.  There are people and websites to follow up and I have some interesting ideas to add to my writing. Thanks especially to Diane Dalby and Henri Yeoman.

Some of us gathered on Friday afternoon to remember the life and work of Malcolm Swan, who died about a year ago. We were reminded of his unique contribution to mathematical education and a number of people shared what it was like to have him as a friend and colleague.

In the 1980s I joined the Mathematical Association. I attended an inspiring weekend conference about the Cockcroft Report in 1982. There seemed to be little in the way of CPD. Now we have websites and Twitter which provide easy access to resources, and organisations who see the value in us learning as much as our students. Journals and meetings all contribute to us growing in our understanding of how people learn and what is effective. The BCME 9 conference was an opportunity to share much of this wealth of knowledge and understanding. I would recommend attending a conference both to contribute and to learn. 

See you next time!

Carol Springett