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We recently sent emails to many of our contacts in the East of England to ask for their opinions about current maths teaching. Teachers’ comments paint a picture of what is going on at the chalkface, or what should now be termed the interface, that provides visual input for students, as long as it is working in spite of fragile internet, dodgy calibration, power cuts, inadequate writing facilities, altered display settings, or missing remote controllers. I have summarised the twenty responses that we received for our two questions with a few key quotes.

What has been the hardest aspect of your work in schools in the first half of the autumn term?

  • Teaching while staying at the front of the classroom. It has been made particularly difficult in a subject for which students’ written solutions are key. Adaptations include loaning mini-whiteboards to students, using chromebooks with whiteboardfi, and getting as close to students as guidelines allow. “It’s so much harder to help students, to see who is struggling or not, to challenge behaviour or effort issues discreetly without making a big fuss about them. I’ve also found that it’s much more difficult to build relationships with students without those 1-1 conversations.” “Keeping our distance when someone needs support is hard! My approach has been mask back on and get on with it.
  • Teaching in a variety of rooms, and with limited whiteboard facilities. Engaging teaching is frequently based on thinking through a problem together with classes which requires notation, for which typing is inadequate. Adaptations include interactive whiteboards/televisions/tablets/screencast/portable whiteboards/portable flipcharts for students’ handwritten maths. “It is physically draining carrying everything all day and, when you arrive at the room, there could be problems with the IT. Rooms do not have the equipment needed for maths.” “Dealing with rooms where interactive boards may fail, or there are only really small write-on whiteboards not suitable for big maths problems.” “Lack of space in schools means teaching in sixth form in broom cupboards meant for meetings not lessons.

Can you think of an unexpected benefit for your teaching from the changed circumstances that have arisen since March?

  • More skills in using the technology available to support teaching. Teachers and students have moved forward in their skills with streamed lessons, online classroom organisation, and teachers producing videos. Dr Frost, Desmos, Google Classroom, and Microsoft Teams were mentioned, as well as access to training to support teachers. “All teachers are much more confident in creating videos. A big benefit has been our use of Google Classroom to, effectively, take control of the student’s organisation of their work. No more loose papers stuffed in folders somewhere but now it’s all uploaded into organised areas that we’ve arranged.
  • Less emphasis on taking in work and giving written comments. With limitations on handling students’ work, homework marking policies have changed in many schools and this has given more time for other aspects of teaching. “In our school we were expected to do a lot of book marking but that is no longer encouraged, so we are thinking more carefully about what work we set and what we have students hand in or upload.

Other issues that were raised – some positive and some negative – include:

  • extra supervision
  • simultaneous streamed and classroom lessons
  • staggered timetables
  • overseeing cover for isolating colleagues
  • continuing as previously on intervention and reports
  • having time over the summer term for professional development
  • and working one-to-one with students through messaging.
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