Well, c’est la vie – and it’s bonne!

I thought I would write. Write quickly – not a long post, but a “hello Summer, goodbye Second Semester” reflection. Time has passed and placement is now over. Over and done with, unfortunately. But, well, that’s it. This year has flown into history (too quickly) and even though my Lfl ’19 placement did not challenge me significantly, I learnt from it…and worked with such a lovely group of people that I miss! I learnt from this life placement something simple: do always challenge yourself (not just in certain aspects of your life!).

Ironically, the events that life threw me two months before placement helped me to develop as a teacher. Because, sometimes things don’t turn out the way you expect – and that’s not always bad. A couple of months prior to placement, I injured my leg (oops) then ended up misjudging the distance of a car on a main road island crossing… and was hit… then went to jury duty the following day (because one of my hobbies taught me to #nevergiveup) and as of March this year, potentially have two witness court cases. I’m extremely lucky (rather a miracle) to still be here…!

It’s not the course of events I expected over these past months: and I’m glad for it (in a way). There are always positives in negative situations – and you have to find them (thanks sport for teaching me that).

After the car accident, I very, very, very narrowly escaped head injury however my leg was still playing tricks. I didn’t realise, until about four weeks later that my leg was fractured from a separate accident a few weeks prior to the motor because… compared to my sister’s operations, it seemed minor. Take a day at a time – and by some miracle, the leg healed up well (and I escaped the cast/boot because it was too late!) I missed sport then, and was so grateful to be given the ‘okay’ in February. I have realised that, in the future, I wish to work with primary kids in a sport environment (or even abroad): I’m not athletic but physical activity teaches you to keep moving forward. Press on when the tough drills through your reserves. Life requires you to #carefullyreflect BUT: look forward, hope to the future and be grateful for today. Being optimistic, maybe my fourth year research could be related to health and wellbeing in primary schools?

Anyhow… on a separate yet kind of related note.. this 2019 placement taught me to really be patient – and be grateful (but for the small things.) The little aspects count. Count massively.

People are writing this week about mental health and #thepowerofpositivity. Thinking with a smile is not something school teaches you. Life teaches you that (including my previous two placements). What I want to throw out into the teaching community is this next question: how can we implement ‘let’s think on the bright side’ when kids are institutionalised? For me, it’s about taking the tiny parts of school life and making them light up your face – you have to do that with everything. You see, even in A and E, there is something to smile and hope about. You can ask for a glove to be made into a smiley face (yes 😉). Without training your mind to look on the upside and push through difficulties, life will pass. Quickly. Time doesn’t stop ao: grab every opportunity, see to your loved ones and well, do life as you like to. There is no right way, wrong way… but as long as you learn from mistakes, you are sure to be a better practitioner.

As my Grandpa told me this year: “You cannot stop the hand from writing life!”

Let’s think about (ma)thinking, okay?

Mathematics? Oh so fearful of it…are you? Or… look… there’s a sum! And… the answer? Let me spend time sourcing it. Right now. Some people leave education with this desire to crawl under the table when 5,6,7 and all the other numbers approach them. Others, well others, carry maths in their head – and would prefer to speak in digits if possible. The myth (according to the results of a 2013 research study) of ‘I’m right brained so call me a problem solver’ vs. ‘I’m the more rational leftie’ means that children should no longer be brought up to consider themselves as naturally mathematical or a born linguistic. Indeed: we have talents, we have strengths, we have preferences. But – of course, there’s a ‘but’ – mathinking is vital if we are to efficiently carry out everyday tasks. From recipe reading to saving our red squirrels ‘in the animal superhero cape,’ the digits that surround us must be of comfort. And, most certainly not, be treated as those spheres in bubble wrap. Our toddlers, our children, our adolescents ought to grow up ready to fail. Then succeed. Then… realise… that mathinking is about the effort and determination and less about the green-tick solution. That’s confidence-fuelled mathinking… in my head.

Recently (in fact only a matter of less than 72 hours ago) MA2 – that’s moi included – received their final STEM input. Nope… not how to arrange flowers for Valentine’s Day  or for the Chelsea Flower Show. However, we did receive a Happy Valentine’s on the top of our sign-in sheet from a lecturer with the last name of Valentine! And, that was topped off by creating our own game involving mathematical concepts. (Smiley face!) Lots of discussions were held on how to take maths out of the textbook and away from standardised assessments. A connectionist-belief approach involving open conversations was found to be the most effective way: and well, a recent starter-activity on consecutive numbers confirmed that. Sometimes, our inputs involve being the children – or attempting what the primary students have to do but with a university student’s mind on. Once (a very long time ago… not really, but I like to pretend I’m a storyteller sometimes) we had to figure out a word-problem involving consecutive numbers. At first, we all panicked. By the end, however, it was ‘Happy Ever After’ and everyone was wearing fairy-tale gowns. How lovely. Let me tell the story without imaging that a bunch of five-year olds were sitting beside my seat – here it goes:

Many of us stared. We realised there was no prince-charming. We put our hand up.#

The teacher (very friendly) told us to keep persevering through the rubber hail and rain.

We succeeded in writing down an answer.

 

And that’s the ending for you.

The latter may be more like reality, if we are setting the picture straight and not at an 89 degrees angle! At first, many of us in the lecture room were not at all sure about how to attempt the problem-solving question. Deliberately, purposefully and cleverly was the question slide jammed packed with information – and the only picture remained to be a table of consecutive numbers in blue and white. For me, lots of writing was the ‘tying the shoes tight enough’ hurdle. But, for others… the fear of making a mistake prevented them from taking the leap of faith. What reminisced with me was the impact sides, pictures, diagrams (and all the visual jazz) can have on a student’s learning. During my first year placement, my teacher advised me to keep it simple! Yes.. nothing like the Mona Lisa or a Magic Eye picture… from Miss Smith. And almost a year later, the same point was made again. Kids prefer simplicity when learning (although I personally believe that the occasional rainbow cannot go a miss). That pot of gold still does exist… Somewhere Over the Rainbow! Jokes aside, it’s easy enough to alter the layout of questions for our students however… calming a raging maths anxiety monster in them may take more than a few kind words (or a ROY G. BIV smiley – acronym lovers… you’ll know what I mean!)

The past few lessons, lecturers (or whatever name they should be termed) have taught me something more than ‘cut away’ all that text. As a future educator, I really do hope that my pupils will be like mathematical bees. Buzz, buzz, buzz… isn’t that algorithm so full of pollen? Understandably, some children will have a dislike for certain areas of maths (like me and symmetry and learning R and L) but overall, the wonder of maths must be ignited in them. A fire (with infinite logs) for problem solving does not always come from the pupil. Nope. Instead, as Ofsted writes, it is about the maths spirit adopted in the classroom:

“[Teachers] made conscious efforts to FOSTER A SPIRIT OF ENQUIRY [deliberate capitalization from your blog-post author], developing pupils’ reasoning skills through approaches that saw problem-solving and investigation as integral to learning mathematics. They checked that everyone was challenged to think hard and they adapted how they were teaching to achieve this. As a result, their classrooms were vibrant places of learning.” (Ofsted, 2008, p.12).

Spirit of enquiry. That is it. How do we develop that? Well, there would be many theories including Askew et al 1997’s research which deems that teachers tend to lean towards a particular set of believes (either connectionist, discovery or transmission). Most effective practice flourishes from the first mentioned belief-set, in which the most effective teaching happens when students can appreciate that all areas in maths are, in some way, related to each other. For instance: fraction word-problems are sometimes better solved by involving decimal conversion. It’s that simple thing like… why buy fresh bread when you already have some in the freezer? Enabling students to use the skills they already have is also of priority in the teaching of maths. Connectionist-orientated teachers set aside time (maybe in a circular fashion if Early Years students melt their hearts) to talk. Just openly talk.

#Why do we solve it this way? Is there another mathematical route that we can take to reach our destination? What about a storyboard?

That leads me on another path to bringing up storyboards but before… I’ll let you know that I want to be a connectionist teacher. That’s a seed already sown – thanks Dundee University. (That phrase was most certainly not sarcastic bee the way).

Storyboards (in the past – okay!) reminded me of ‘how to stretch’ and satisfy the students whose brains make them wish to reach for the nearest paint pot and brush. They were a time-waster. Just show some grit and keep moving forward with the sum. Write the working out, Claire. (That what previously motivated me in maths). But, well, you live’n’learn and realise that 1 + 1 doesn’t always make a two. Sometimes, a window is the result!!! After hearing about the various strategies and understanding the purpose of drawing out the number sentences, storyboards are on my Pinterest. (Sorry, I’m one of THOSE teachers.) Uh-huh, daydreaming about my classroom (maths) displays can occasionally happen with moi. Back to the point now, it is important not to overlook resources that you didn’t enjoy as a child yourself. There’s no excuse for not using something in your classroom because it was futile to you as a learner. Open-mind please. Keep considering all the options, Miss Smith.

Maths, I’m admitting, has a soft-spot in my heart. Whenever I was stressed out about an essay, me would run to do maths. Yes, on occasions, scuttering down the stairs to the kitchen for my textbook… but well I loved when you just got the answer after trying hard. There was a tick or cross – and you knew the result. Maybe it was a sense of control in the subject? After all, sciences were my thing until long reports became involved. I have always been torn between the arts and maths, yet teachers need to be enthusiastic for them all. There is something good, something interesting, something positive in every subject: my own maths students who enter with a dislike for maths need to feel that way. Mathinking… thinking abstractly… can be done by everyone – not just males too. Hemree (1990) found that maths anxiety stems from previous failure in maths examinations and is more common among female students than male students. The gender gap in STEM subject is already evident and it is common knowledge that our generation is trying to remove the female electric fence that surrounds females in careers such as engineering. A survey (conducted for the United Kingdom WISE Campaign) highlighted that 89% of engineers were male in the workplace – and so carrying out a subtraction leaves us realising that only 11% were female. Only 11. As I see it, that is a gap that an elephant would struggle to sort out. It really is.

To finish off, it is clear that the style of teaching is all-important. As mentioned above, discussions are vital to student’s success in maths. However, we ought to consider our own underlying nervous system when we approach numbers? Do we shake? Our hands: do they turn red when seen by a thermal camera? Are we still (like I was) centred on achieving those ticks? Or… the process… do we strive when something makes us want to scribble or shred the paper into as many miniscule pieces as possible. According to Finlayson (2014) our own experiences can make us teach with a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ style or be flexible. Bee like a ballerina who is trying to bee a flower. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve failed many times in maths (and still use the trick to remember my left and rights)… but well it’s amusing to buzz around afterwards. That’s what I want my students to do so I ought to love a struggle myself. That’s what teaching is really: setting a true example. But, someone please, is there a faster way to stop mixing up left and rights? Maybe my students could teach me that. I’m up for a role reversal every so often!

References:

Finlayson, M. (2014) ‘Addressing math anxiety in the classroom’, Improving Schools, 17(1), pp. 99-115. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1365480214521457(Accessed: 18 February 2019).

Hemree, R. (1990) ‘The Nature, Effects, and Relief of Mathematics Anxiety’, Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 22(1), pp.33-46.

Nielson, J. (2013) ‘An Evaluation of the Left-Brain vs. Right-Brain Hypothesis with Resting State Functional Connectivity Magnetic Resonance Imaging’, PLoS ONE, 8(8). Available at: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0071275

Rudolph, I’ve got a letter for you (and Santa too, of course)!

Before you immerse yourself in these words for a few minutes, you will be all the wiser from knowing that this blog post is my Christmas Eve letter to Santa (and Rudolph). Don’t worry, I’m old enough to realise that Santa is a fictional character, but the magic can still exist- right?! Merry Christmas for 2018! Have a lovely time (and be sure to save some mince pies for our jolly old fellow, Mr. Claus.)


Dear Rudolph,

Even though your nose resembles blinding scarlet laser pens, my heart still bursts with love for you. Love is a thrown-away word nowadays but Rudolph, I am not prancing around here. Your co-worker, Cupid, would forecast that we’re never been destined for a relationship- and I presume the stars shine in that direction too. However, my dear friend, my attraction to you continues to live on, unlike romantic relationships which are as delicate as the intricacy of snowflakes. Your festive vibes encapsulate me from some of humanity’s ill spirits. It is your story, the true lived tale of bullying, that puts you on the highest pedestal for me – me, and the teaching community at large.

Vital information has just whizzed around the circuits of my brain… these words… must be of very little value to you. That’s unless I’m mistaken, and reindeers secretly have a Google Translate to decipher our human-talk by. Santa may be able to lend you a hand with that one afterwards but I’m afraid the rest of this letter will be addressed to your friendly, red-hat, long-bearded master. Don’t stomp your hooves until the snow flings in every direction with fury; blame my people’s government for their failure in bringing up a multi (animal) lingual nation. Now then, pass this letter over to Mr. Claus if you may. (Your Tesco’s Finest carrot is already at my fire-place- as ever, royalty deserves nothing less.)

Ho, ho, ho, Santa: sorry to eat into your precious time although this letter will cheer you up just as a bucket-load of mince pies do. It is with ounces of delight that I can assist you with your naughty and nice lists this year: Rudolph, your ‘best-man,’ deserves a permanent (not fixed or temporary) post in your good books. The upmarket, front-row position on your sleigh may comfort his ego, but remember it is imperative that we tingle your companion’s heart strings. Put an end to your omniscient persona, Santa, and give my fellow the right recognition. Undoubtedly, you treat every single one of your reindeers the same – it’s standard practice – yet your heart must ache ever so more upon musing of the troubles of his past. Must I (painfully) recall those ‘oh so fun’ games when your (now) sleigh captain was belittled like six-foot ‘monsters’ boss around three- feet elves? No, I guessed not. Rant over: it’s time to harmoniously sing his praises – call for the choir… that’s if the eminent Michael Bublé is on strike.

Hold on a second- apologies are well and truly due. Now my fast and furious (seventy-mile per hour) hurricane attitude has settled to a breezy blizzard, I can write with sense – and not blanket everything in lethal, icy remarks. My thoughts led to me to a slippery slope when I addressed you quite forcefully in the previous paragraph, however I now am admitting to my wrongdoings. It’s just thinking of such an empathetic person like you – who is most comparable to the Christmas Big Friendly Giant – raises the hairs on my goose bumps to the point you’d think they meticulously practised yoga every day of their life. That’s not an understatement, believe me. Whilst on the topic of forgiveness, it’s fitting to mention that I’m partaking in the joys of greeting children queuing to meet you. You may not have hired me in Lapland (Claire calls for a man-size box of tissues) but Aberdeen needs me. ‘Elfing’ is truly a privilege that you have endowed me with; I can only but seize the chance to share my adoration for Rudolph and… take an #elfie.

Hurry on the days when society deems it acceptable, presentable and respectable to attire joker hats with jingle bells and slipper-soft shoes!

I’ve deviated off on a tangent again, Santa. Let’s toast our glasses to the fact I’m not your GPS navigation… swiftly back on track, if we may. Please do me of the honour of allowing myself to properly explain my feelings towards your wingman. Rudolph, he’s a strong piece of meat: I’m not a vegetarian, but equally I’d never even consume a slither of reindeer-meat. That’s a high-court crime, especially for someone who is meant to be Rudolph’s guardian! With hefty muscles- peaked to perfection for his annual present-delivery endurance marathon- comes determination, and that is what we need to install in our children. Instant gratification is as common as plastic money notes. Should we ever wonder why our kids are ‘besties’ with sheets of illuminated-glass? In with the old Tamagotchi; out with the new Siri. (Oh, that’s a deliberate ‘mistake’ in my phrasing.)

Mental stamina is not developed enough amongst the majority of our young people these modern days. Sir, with your magical work, we could help share the story of Rudolph’s battles and give our students a lecture about the grit that they all so need to carry with them throughout their lives. Wish lists of happiness feeders are driving you out of pocket – and the elves…well, their array of talents are spectacularly wasted with the infinitely increasing output of gadgets ongoing. As a student teacher – and part-time Lapland aspiring elf- I’d hope it wouldn’t be deemed ‘immature’ and too out of place for me to remark that parents must continue bringing up their children with time-limits on their gadget usage. Despite Rudolph being in a turmoil of teasing from his red nose, he danced and pranced through the traditional party games – and won over every cell beating in your unmeasurable heart. Our cherished fluffy Christmas ‘horse’ flies around with the magic of (almost) everlasting happiness, all whilst demonstrating to our young ones that being unique is as special and worthy as the rare pennies living on the ground. He’s a man…with just a slightly alternative twig-like hairstyle. A man needs no gadgets; the classic board games are the ultimate deal (if you’re also not forgetting about the gel for anything like antler-hair of course!)

Dear me… my inner-elf has outshone itself again. These festive characters really like to bounce around to the sound of their jingle bells (and blether away until their cheeks inflate like mini red-balloons). Aren’t elves just secretly human versions of Rudolph? Seriously speaking, that’s my Christmas wish for you, Santa. Give me the chance to be an elf from Monday to Sunday. (Yes, I’m enrolling for the atypical seven-day job- uh huh, not the nine-to-five Monday to Friday.) If I’m blessed with my elf-tunic and plane tickets to Lapland, I’ll know my teaching will improve vastly. My students will learn the key to healthy happiness- and maybe the odd few will become your minions too (or as English-lovers joke, your subordinate-clauses). It’s a wicked myth that people fall to the trick of believing that you are born as an elf: W.Huittt and J.Hummell (1999) are behaviour theorists who would one-hundred percent support elf-school as they define learning as “the relatively permanent change in behaviour brought about as a result of experience or practice.” We can all be elves, can’t we?

I guess you’ll reveal the truth tomorrow, Santa.

That’s me for Christmas 2017,

Lots of love from Claire Xx (The 18-year old girl who should really be an elf, especially since she has left out your all-time favourite of a beer and a mince pie!)


This PowerPoint (which is available online) was of assistance to me in the writing of this blog post. The quote by W.Huitt and J.Hummel (1999) is found on the second slide.