My first act as Head of Maths was to ensure that the new Year 7’s first lesson was a consistent introduction to secondary Maths, and we have done this every year since. It’s a kind of “induction” that sets the tone for the next five years. I book the hall and they file in: the Empty Vessels, the Anxious, the Rapid Graspers, the I Hate Fractions all sit there, silently, waiting.
Here are the main elements:
I play them this video, from Danny McGaskill’s “The Ridge”. We’ll come back to this later.
I talk about self-belief, how anyone can learn well, regardless of their current Maths attainment. This year I’m thinking of including @emathsuk‘s promise, to guarantee to teach them all of school-level Maths, provided they put in the effort. The students need to know that we, as teachers, believe in this entirely. I also want my teachers to believe that we all believe this.
We discuss Danny’s video. How is it even possible for someone to perform that well? What did he need to do before that final journey? How many times did he fail? It’s then easy to make the link to their Maths journey through school; we prioritise learning over performance, and so should they.
I play this clip from the making of the video. We discuss trying, failing, and learning from it, adjusting our next approach accordingly. We discuss practice and prior knowledge, and all the support devices he uses.
I talk about the crash mats. The bit that still gives me a lump in my throat (even today!) is the line “Eventually I had the confidence to take the mats away”. This is our invitation to the students, where we say to them, “We’re here for you. We will teach you well. We will support you. The mats? You will need them at times, but it’s up to you to know when to take the mats away”.
Setting the tone
We do some Maths. This activity is scaleable to a hall full of people and helps them to understand that we all see things differently. There are many ways to perceive a Maths problem and all opinions are valid. Students all have a Maths toolbox and their favourite tools, and we need to respect everyone’s method selection and all the opinions in the room. We can all learn from each others’ interpretations.
All classes will then spend the first week engaging in open-ended tasks which all support the idea that our classrooms are inclusive, safe places to ask questions and that Maths is an infintely rich, deep and challenging subject that no-one will ever master, unless you view mastery as the ever-increasing understanding of the complexity of a subject.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has this perfect retort to the question “When will I ever use Maths in real life” and it’s important that students know that all their teachers believe this to be the case. This year I’m also going to include my mysterious analogy of the apple, but more on that later!
Go on, book the hall. They’re worth it.