How I passed the QTS maths test – part 3

The second part is the more traditional pen and paper sort of maths. I found this section less intimidating than the first part, because although there was an overall time limit, it wasn’t a limit per question. I still had to work hard to get through it though.

I owe my success in this part to two men: Derek Haylock and my dad! I bought a copy of Derek Haylock’s Mathematics Explained for Primary Teachers and worked my way through it. It’s on the reading list for a lot of primary PGCE courses, but I’d also recommend it to secondary teachers worried about the skills test. You can often pick up second-hand copies on Amazon fairly cheaply.

I worked through the book cover to cover and almost everything fell into place. All those equations and theories and rules and numbers and letters that had seemed completely meaningless while I was at school, suddenly made sense. The writer has a really easy to read, easy to understand style, and he makes maths seem a lot less scary.

As I worked through the book, I made a note of anything I still wasn’t sure of. It was actually surprisingly little as the book was so good, but there were one or two things – box and whisker diagrams for a start! Then I gave my dad a copy of the book and my list, and he tutored me for one hour a week for about three weeks, by which time I was feeling confident.

Now not everyone is lucky enough to have my dad, but if you have family or friends who are good at maths you could ask them for the same help. The advantage of working through the book the way I did, means that you are able to ask for very specific, targeted help rather than having to say. “I just don’t get it. Teach me the whole of maths.” Obviously this means a financial advantage to you if you are considering a tutor because you won’t need to pay for as many sessions.

I know a lot of people hate the skills tests and question their necessity when you already have to prove you have a grade C or above at GCSE to get a place on a teacher training course. However I’m really grateful that I had to take it. It’s made me relearn my maths and I feel so much more confident than I ever used to. I also feel that it’s made me a better teacher. Having struggled for years, I can understand why people find it so hard, but having finally made sense of it I know there is a way.

If you feel you need one-to-one help to pass your skills tests, and you live in north Birmingham, get in touch to see how I can help you.

Related posts: Passing the QTS maths skills test – Part 1       Passing the QTS maths skills test – Part 2

How I passed the QTS maths test – part 2

The first part of the QTS skills test is the mental maths section. To pass this, it helps to have a good grasp of times tables. I was lucky that I already knew these really well because my school had insisted we knew up to 12 x 12 by the end of year 4.

If you who don’t know your times tables, my first piece of advice would be – learn them. Get to know them inside out and back to front. If you’re a visual learner, pin flashcards on your bathroom mirror, inside your fridge, above your desk and anywhere else you are likely to spot them as you go about your day. If you’re an auditory learner, record yourself saying them and listen to them instead of the radio when you’re out in the car, watch times tables songs on YouTube and sing along. If you’re a kinaesthetic learner, try turn tables cards.

Learn some times tables tricks. If there are any in particular that you struggle with, give yourself an incentive to remember them. If 7 x 8, 7 x 9 and 9 x 6 are the ones really holding you back, change the PIN on your bank card to 7856, the PIN on your phone to 7963 and your house alarm to 9654!

When you are confident that you know them, make sure you know them backwards. It helps to know that 2 x 9 and 3 x 6 both equal 18, but it helps even more if you can look at 18 and know that it’s divisible by 2, 3, 6 and 9.Finally, practice spotting relations between numbers. If you know 4 x 8 = 32, then you also know 320 is divisible by 4 and 8 as well as by 10, 40 and 80.

Then enlist a friend who is good at maths to give you some problems to solve. I got my husband to set me 3 problems a day, along the lines of: If I can buy two tins of soup for 70p, how many can I buy for £4.20? Here I had to spot the relationship between 42÷7 = 6 and 420 ÷ 70 = 6 . Once you know what sort of thing you’re looking for, it doesn’t take that long to spot it.

Ok after tables make sure you are confident with number bonds eg 6 + 4 =10 and 3+7 = 10 so 16 + 4 = 20 and 13 + 7 = 20. If you’re anything like I was, even though you know 3 + 7 = 10 you still feel obliged to count on your fingers – you know, just in case it’s changed since last time! The key is practice, practice, practice until you can override that desire. Then make sure you are equally confident at splitting single digit numbers into smaller ones. Eg 7 = 6 + 1 and 5 + 2 and 4 + 3. This means you can now quickly turn 18 + 7 into 18 + 2 (= 20) + 5 = 25, without needing to slow yourself down by counting on fingers.

Last of all it was time to get to grips with fractions and percentages. The first thing to remember is that fractions and percentages are the same. I wasn’t convinced either, but remember that per cent means out of 100 so 70% = 70/100 and doesn’t that look just like a fraction. The second thing to remember is that fractions are easy when you know your times tables and have practiced looking for relationships between numbers. 1/7 of 42 = …oh look it’s that relationship between 7 and 42 again and by now we all know that’s six.

For the mental maths part of the test I practiced for 10 minutes every day for 6 weeks and that was plenty. If I hadn’t already known my times tables I may have needed double that time, but still not as long as you might think for a mathsphobic. And if I can do it you can too.

If you feel you need a little tuition to get you through the skills tests, and you live in north Birmingham, get in touch to see how I can help you.

Related posts: Passing the QTS maths test – Part 1Passing the QTS maths test – Part 3

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

A few years ago I was engaged to tutor a Year 6 girl who was desperate to get a Level 5 in her SATs, because she really wanted to be in the top stream when she started secondary school.

Her school had said she was very behind where she should be for her age, and when I assessed her in the first session I put her at about a 2A.

Katie*  wanted a Level 5 so badly that she said she was prepared to work hard and do as much work in her own time as she could fit in. I told her I would help her improve as much as possible, but gently explained that to get from a 2A to a 5 in 2½ terms was really unrealistic.

Each week I worked with her on things that she had found difficult in school, and each week I gave her homework to practise what we had worked on. Sometimes when I leave homework for children they don’t do it. That’s OK – I know they have homework from school and that has to take priority. But Katie did her school homework AND the homework I gave her, and quite often found extra work for herself.

She worked hard for the whole year. The week of the SATs arrived. She was as prepared as I could get her in the time we’d had and we just had to wait for the results and see.

After the SATs, Katie didn’t stop working hard – she carried on with tutoring and with homework. The results of the SATs arrived: Katie had achieved a 4A.

From a 2A to a 4A in 2½ terms is a great achievement, but it wasn’t the 5 she had set her heart on. You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes, if you work hard enough, you can. Katie started secondary school in September and guess what? She got into the top set.

* not her real name

To book a private maths or English tutor in north Birmingham (Great Barr, Hamstead, Kingstanding, Pheasey, Streetly, Sutton), contact me via my website.

What Will I Do Next?

The last few weeks have been language-filled. Over the summer holidays I taught, alongside a colleague, on a subject knowledge enhancement course at Newman University. The aim was to take people from long-forgotten GCSE French up to AS/A’ level standard in just two weeks. It was fun. It was also exhausting! Most of all though, it was rewarding to watch the final presentations to see how far they had come in a fortnight.

After that there was just one weekend to switch off before starting my next job, which was a 7 week contract at the Blue Coat School teaching French to years 2 and 6 and Spanish to years 4 and 5. That certainly kept me on my toes as lessons of the same language weren’t always blocked together, and lessons were quite short so I had to switch backwards and forwards between French and Spanish very quickly. The school staff and children were all lovely and I shall miss working there.

Then over the half term holidays was the Language Show, followed by writing up notes on all the things I’d learned to I can put them into practise, and some proofreading for my husband, who is a translator.

So – what’s next? Well, first of all a “rest” – I shall “relax” by looking into 11+ tuition, catching up on my BSL homework and hopefully doing some further studies about dyslexia). After that….

I’ve had a few enquiries for French and Spanish GCSE tuition so I shall see if I can convert some of those enquiries to bookings.  I shall also be continuing with private tuition for maths and English SATs. I have a waiting list at the moment, so I shall take a few more of those on.

If possible I’d also like to get some work experience in a Deaf school to put my BSL to use, so I shall try to find somewhere to let me volunteer.

Other than that…I’m open to offers!

If you need a teacher or tutor for maths, English, languages or dyslexia teaching then contact me via my website.

Teaching the Times Tables

I’ve been tutoring maths for a number of years now. I’ve tutored boys and girls. I’ve tutored individuals and small groups. I’ve tutored children of all ages from very different social backgrounds. But they have all had one thing in common: none of them knew their times tables, and this was really hindering their progress in maths.

Of course I told them that they needed to know their tables off by heart, but their parents and teachers had already told them this. If it was that easy they would have learnt them already. So this year I have made it my mission to get all the children I tutor to learn all of their times tables.

To start with I created a desire to learn them. I made a colourful chart to show progress, and offered rewards of stickers for each of the tables that they learnt. But not just any old stickers – exciting, shiny ones that made their eyes light up when they saw them. The boys especially liked these football ones from Superstickers.

Now I had children who were desperate to learn their times tables. What next?

We took the tables one at a time and started by chanting them. When we had chanted them forwards a few times, we did them backwards, then odd numbers only and even numbers only to get used to the idea of knowing them out of order. After that it was a case of practise, practise, practise. The trick was finding enough different ways to practise the same thing so that the children didn’t get bored with it.

I made some sets of cards with the questions and answers so that we could play pelmanism, and these proved very popular. I encouraged the children to read aloud the question as they turned each card over, and to work out what answer they needed to match before turning over the next card. We also used the same cards to play snap, and a race against the clock game to match all up all of the question cards with their answers – trying to be faster each time.

Although the children loved all of these games, I was very aware that I couldn’t rely on the same sets of cards forever without the children thinking “Oh no – not those again!” and losing motivation. I looked around for some new ideas and found some lovely products on Sue Kerrigan’s let me learn website.

The turn table cards were recommended to me by the trainer on a dyslexia course I attended. They are designed for multi-sensory learning and are really good fun to play with. On one side of the card they have a question eg 2×3 and a picture of an array to show children what 2×3 looks like and to give them a visual clue. On the other side is the answer. The children say the question and answer aloud (hearing their own voice) and then turn over the card to see if they are correct. There is a video of how to use them here . I usually use them with one child at a time, focusing on one set of tables at a time, using them as shown in the video, and then doing races against the clock to beat their own personal time. However I have also used them with a group of children each working on a different set of tables. One group of girls I worked with recently, who were all working on the same set of tables, made up another game to play with these cards which they found great fun: all of the cards were put answer-side-up in the middle of the table. I called out a question and they had to grab the card they thought showed the correct answer. They turned the card over to see if they were right, and if they were, they repeated the question and answer and kept the card.  If they were wrong they replaced the card. The winner was the girl with the most cards when they had all been grabbed. All of the children I have used these cards with have really enjoyed it, and I’m sure there are many more games that can be invented using them.

I found the maths wrap while I was browsing the site, and just thought I would give it a go. It’s used for learning tables “in order”, but is great for kinaesthetic learners. Across the top is a strip with numbers 1 to 12. At the bottom is space to put a strip of one of the tables, each of which contains all the answers but jumbled. You have to chant the tables aloud, hunting for the correct answer along the bottom strip and then wrapping the string around the correct number each time. When you have finished you can turn it over to look at the pattern marked on the back. If the children have got all the answers correct, the pattern made by the string will match the pattern printed on the back of the card. When I bought it, I thought it might be one just for the girls, but actually the boys have enjoyed using it just as much. One of my Year 5 boys said “Every child should have one of these. They’re really cool!” I even had texts from two mums, because their sons had been talking so much about how much fun it was that they wanted to know where I got them from so that they could get them as stocking fillers.

As we progressed through the tables we looked at how few they had left. By using counters to demonstrate that for example 2×3 was the same as 3×2, we were able to colour code each new set of tables to show which ones they already knew and which ones were still to be learnt. They learned the easy ones (2x, 5x and 10x) first, which made the chart look less bare, and earned them some shiny stickers pretty quickly. Then they did 4x (easy because it was double 2s). 3x came next (tricky but the colour coding showed that they already knew 2, 4, 5 and 10 x3, so there where only half of them still to learn). Then 6x was easy because it was double 3s. By the time we came to the tricky ones like 7x, the progress chart was looking quite full, and the colour coding showed that they already knew 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10x 7, so all that was left was 7×7, 8×7 and 9×7. Suddenly the sevens didn’t seem so scary and the motivation continued.

Of course it took a long time, although considering the fact that I only see these children once a week it took less time than I expected. In September two of my boys didn’t know any of their times tables, not even 2x or 10x. They now know all of them. Not only do they know them off by heart, but they are able to apply them in all areas of maths, for example working with equivalent fractions. They immediately recognise numbers that are in their times tables which means their skills in division have improved. Their mental arithmetic skills have improved because they can multiply 6 by 7 straight away, instead of having to count up 7 lots of 6 on their fingers, so they have more time to think about what the questions are asking them to do with the information. They have both moved up a maths group at school and their confidence is higher. One of them said to me recently that he used to hate maths, but that he really loves it now. And that’s why I really love my job!

For maths and English tutoring in the north Birmingham, Sandwell and Walsall areas, visit www.sjbteaching.com. For links to other interesting education related articles, come and Like my Facebook page.

Related post: Teaching Number Bonds    A Multisensory Approach to Reading