The Best Lesson I Have Taught So Far
During my first school placement at a Girls School in Birmingham, I taught year 7, 8 and 10. The teaching used in each class was largely reflective of the students and the ways in which they usually learned, as prescribed by their usual maths teachers. I taught both traditional-style lessons and more open-ended tasks, but the most successful maths lesson I have taught since beginning my PGDipEd was a year 8 lesson on roots, factors and multiples, using a tarsia. A tarsia, I discovered on my school placement, involves a collection of shapes, often triangles, that are tessellated to form a larger shape or image. The sides of the smaller shapes display questions and answers that can be matched together to form the whole shape. An example of a tarsia can be seen below.
The year 8 class I had been teaching, for a while at this point, whilst a lovely group, were often rather chatty and enjoyed any opportunity they had to converse with their peers. I found it difficult initially to decide whether or not the majority of the chatter was related to mathematics, in understanding where errors were occurring or explaining how students reached their answers, for example. I decided to introduce the tarsia, almost as a way of testing how the students would react to having been forced to discuss mathematics with each other.
To my delight, my students loved this lesson. Not only were they able to practise multiple skills that they had been taught, but they were able to ask questions, learn from each other, and work at their own pace. For me as the teacher, I was able to speak to every student in the class and ask them individually how they were finding their maths lessons. Additionally, I was able to assess individual understanding, as at the end of the lesson, students were asked to complete a set of problems independently, which were then self-marked and reviewed by myself.
Giving the students a platform to discuss their understanding of maths topics and being able to speak to the students and hear their views and concerns, was mutually satisfying, with many students expressing how much they enjoyed this method of learning. My advice to anyone considering teaching a lesson that is less structured, with little teacher support from the front, is to give it a go! If nothing else, it gives you the opportunity to get to know all the students in your class, and how they want to learn. Teaching in this way also allows you to cultivate trust in the classroom, ensuring students are aware of the safe classroom environment.
By Naomi Smee
Secondary Mathematics PGDipEd, University of Birmingham