How are teachers keeping students working during the Covid-19 crisis?

Thursday 7th May 2020

Shortly after we went into lockdown, I was lucky enough to speak with some local teachers about how their schools were reacting to the new challenges. The responses and speed in which schools were adapting to what was required was nothing short of mindblowing, and demonstrates the resilience, tenacity and flexibility of our profession. I have included a summary of the conversations we had below. I have no doubt, given the speed of change in the current climate, that many of these plans have been updated even further but I thought it would still be really valuable to share their thoughts. I am very grateful to Abbie Wilcock (Larkmead School), Alison Robinson (Beaconsfield High School), Annabelle Pearson (Wheatley Park School), Jack Wilcock (The Matthew Arnold School), and Sarah Gilbert (The Cooper School). They described some of the issues which have come up, as well as sharing good practice.

All schools except Larkmead School have retained their normal timetable. The Matthew Arnold School and The Cooper School are using Google ClassroomOpens a new window in conjunction with a mixture of MathsPadOpens a new window, MathsWatchOpens a new window, DesmosOpens a new window and Mr Barton MathsOpens a new window, among other websites. Jack from The Matthew Arnold School said that both MathsPad and Desmos have some really nice activities, with Desmos in particular providing a lot of contextual-based learning. He has just signed up to the Diagnostic QuestionsOpens a new window, a website created by Craig Barton.

Sarah from The Cooper School said that Google SlidesOpens a new window is working really well, as each student gets an individual copy that they submit once they have put their answers on. It does take some time to check, so she will be looking at other ways to get feedback to and from students. Year 7 and Year 8 students have been enjoying codebreaker type tasks, and teachers are going to ask them to create their own as well. Some teachers are filming mini-videos to share with students on Google Classroom. They are setting new material, not just reviewing, but slower than in normal lessons.

Students from Wheatley Park School are familiar with HegartyMathsOpens a new window, which initially crashed but is now working well. Students each have their own Chromebook, and the majority have access to the internet. Annabelle from Wheatley Park School has been using CorbettmathsOpens a new window which provides videos for students to self-teach new content, but they are not setting any work which requires deep understanding. They use mastery in Year 7 and 8 and created some videos before they broke up. Year 12 students are using IntegralOpens a new window, and Annabelle is also keen on TLMathsOpens a new window.

At Beaconsfield High School, students are using Microsoft TeamsOpens a new window. The school trained its teachers when it became evident that schools were going to be closed. Teachers deliver lessons via a video link using iPads that were bought recently, using one for the meeting and another to write on the ‘whiteboard’. Alison from Beaconsfield High School set her Year 10 students a test but the time it took to sift through 32 photos, even though students had self-marked, was huge. The maths team, which meets online weekly, will re-evaluate at Easter, since Alison is worried about the toll on her staff of teaching every lesson. They have had positive feedback from parents.

The timetable at Larkmead School has been collapsed, and maths is now delivered for three hours on Tuesdays. The day is broken up with a subject such as art. Teachers were setting work on MathsWatch, but there were problems with it initially collapsing under the pressure. The hardest part is teaching exam classes. Year 11 students are completing papers before sending them via PDF so that Abbie from Larkmead School can mark them. They are also doing MathsWatch exam papers. One drawback is that an answer such as \(y=x+2\) is marked as correct, but \(y=1x+2\) is not. YouTube is good for teaching videos and, in addition, Abbie has been creating her own videos for her A level Further Mathematics class and uploading examples on Microsoft Teams.

Online learning relies on students having a computer. Jack from The Matthew Arnold School estimates that 60% of students at his school have their own computer, as opposed to having to share with family. Another challenge is keeping Year 11 and and Year 13 students engaged. Beaconsfield High School have been using games, countdown and Kahoot!Opens a new window to try and help with this. Jack from The Matthew Arnold School and Abbie from Larkmead School have together created their own YouTube channel, Maths Home LearningOpens a new window, that you may find useful, which they are populating with numeracy teaching videos and games.

A huge thank you to Abbie, Alison, Annabelle, Jack and Sarah for offering to be interviewed at a very busy time.

By Lesley Swarbrick

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