Why I Wrote A Free Book For Maths Teachers

The more I recommend certain resources or websites for people to check out, the more I learn about the challenges faced by those who go to the internet for teaching materials. The biggest and most prevalent issue I’ve noticed is being able to find your way through the abundance of resources available. This makes it challenging to sort the good from the bad (subjective, I know), when and how a resource might be used, and what the intention of the resource is (i.e. is this a revision task or introduction?). Additionally, with so many websites, there is an increased feeling that finding the better ones is like finding a needle in a haystack.

The “Odd Sock Drawer” Dilemma

After a few years of navigating the vast sea of resources, I felt like the collection I had accumulated felt more like a drawer of odd socks rather than an assortment of deliberately selected tasks for promoting meaningful mathematical learning experiences. I’m sure that I’m not the only teacher who, when asked by another teacher “do you have any activities for this?”, goes to their download folder and uses the ‘date modified’ column as the only point of reference. In my most recent year of teaching, I found that tracking down a task was becoming too cumbersome, so I devised a new sorting strategy. From moving schools and changing curriculum, I knew that sorting by Year levels would be unhelpful as I frequently use a task with Year 8s one day and my Year 11s another day. I also felt that it had to be descriptive of how I would use it, without being too limiting. I really like the ‘3-act math’ approach and also the ‘starter, main, dessert’ format, but neither were quite doing my thinking any justice. I then tried distilling down what I was aiming for out of a task, which made me land on the format below:

Hook

These tasks tend to bring a new idea in. Generally, they require students to notice, wonder, and make sense of what they’re presented with. Here, I am aiming to do two key things: create a headache and develop the need to learn. This is the trailer for the mathematics students are going to sink their teeth into later on. Importantly, I want the amount of prerequisite knowledge in this section to be quite minimal. This allows me to support students with the retrieval of knowledge I’m hoping students to build upon in the following tasks.

Line

Activities that fall into this category are ones that I feel that I can “teach through”. Ideally, I have already hooked students in, and they’re primed to learn about the underlying mathematics that has sparked their curiosity. Once students had retrieved the prerequisite knowledge or picked up some key language, I would try to use these tasks to build upon that understanding or go deeper with something I’ve brought in with a hook. Understandably, activities that can fit into this category are very dependent on what a teacher does with a task – I have taught a lot about index laws through a Which One Doesn’t Belong prompt.

Sinker

These tasks are quite different from Hook and Line – these tasks are opportunities for students to consolidate their learning through some productive practice and some connections to other mathematical concepts. Here, I’m also looking to strengthen the understanding students have developed through multiple representations. Sometimes, these tasks will support my next hook, and perhaps be the knowledge I want students to access to build upon for the upcoming learning.

The Genesis of the E-Book

When I began sorting everything I had, scrolling through my browser history and downloads folder, I wondered whether other teachers might be interested in my approach. Also, I have always been interested in looking at how other people work and maybe what I put together could be an example for anyone curious. So, over the past month or so, I’ve been putting something together to try and give back to the generosity of hundreds of maths teachers who share their wonderful resources.

The intended audience for this e-book is those who:

  • Don’t have time to peruse the vast range of websites for resources
  • Are looking for an example of how to organise activities

The reason I framed it up as an e-book is to have something easy to flick through, share, and also isn’t another bloody website.

As you flick through it, you will notice the minimalist approach I have taken on the design and structure of the book. I’ve tried to curate it in a very simplistic way, so that the reader doesn’t have to sift through a large amount of text to get to the guts of it.

For those wanting a little bit more, however, I have also provided some extra bits:

  • How I plan for a conceptual approach in teaching mathematics
  • Some really awesome resource websites
  • A few fantastic explanations on maths you probably teach everyday
  • People who contribute a lot to the online maths community and what they’re known for

Downloading and Sharing the Book

Finally, this resource is free and designed to be shared. Doing so is really quite simple. Simply visit mrrowe.com/book and click ‘Download Book for Free’. This can be done on a phone or computer. It will download as an EPUB file, which can be opened by any computer or phone (Books for iPhones). Following links require an internet connection but the e-book itself can be read offline.

A really important part of this process for me was to contact each person for their permission to share their work, but also to thank them for doing so in the first place. So, on the last page you’ll find a list of names responsible for many of the tasks included in the example sequences. If you find any particularly useful, you might consider letting them know through an email or message on Twitter.

Disclaimer: What it is and what it is not

It’s important to keep in mind the purpose I was hoping the e-book would serve and who it was designed for. The selection of the tasks is purely based on the ones I’ve come across and felt that would fit with the example sequence I’ve included it in. The tasks themselves are intended to give the reader an idea about what a Hook, Line, or Sinker activity might look like. The example sequences are just how I might organise them to help students build a conceptual understanding through the Hook-Line-Sinker format. It is not a selection of tasks that I think are better than others, or a deliberate attempt to promote specific teachers’ websites or a style of teaching. It’s just one example to help teachers understand how the Hook-Line-Sinker format can help organise tasks into a logical sequence.

It is only a resource book, which I hope acts like a conduit to some really good resources that improve learning for students and streamlines the planning process for teachers. Constructing it in a simplistic way meant that there were quite a number of resources or tasks that were omitted to keep it short, sharp and shiny.

Feedback

I’d really love any feedback on the book including:

  • suggestions for tasks or resources not featured
  • dead links or missing files
  • mistakes and errors in formatting
  • issues accessing the book or reading it
  • requests for other topics or levels of mathematics
  • anything you think of!

You can let me know through an email (contact@mrrowe.com) or a Twitter message @MrJohnRowe.

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