Super Good Day

I’ve had such a good day.

We’ve all seen the Hollywood movie approach to education. You know the plot: an idealised teacher takes a bunch of not terribly enthusiastic kids, wins them over and (just in time for the end of the movie) transforms them into a class of engaged and motivated students.

Did I achieve this type of transformation today? You must be joking.

But I watched three guys who did.

I teach maths to three classes of engineering students: two Y10 groups and Y11. At the start of the year, when they realised that they had to complete a unit with the somewhat uninspiring title ‘Maths for Engineers’, the majority were distinctly underwhelmed, the rest were seriously fed up. They hadn’t opted for engineering to do extra maths you know. ‘Bah!’ they said. ‘Humbug!’ they cried. (OK, I may have made that last part up, but bear with me.)

We have made progress since then, we’ve done lots of practical projects: we’ve designed and made Smarties tubes and sandwich boxes, raced virtual motorbikes and designed wheelchair-friendly access ramps. I could tell you that my attempt to make the maths practical, engaging and relevant has filled my students with enthusiasm, but to be honest things have been a bit patchy.

Then I got an offer that I couldn’t refuse: the RAF were running maths workshops for schools. Would we like to be considered? Yes please! Pick us! Pleeease! Pick us!

They did 🙂

The students were really fired up about the idea of working with the RAF, so I expected the workshop to go well. It did so much better than that. It went way beyond my expectations.

The students looked uneasy as they arrived and were placed into teams, often with people that they would normally complain about working with. They started to warm up during the introduction, but by the time they started work on the tasks something amazing was happening.

I watched my normally challenging Y10 classes undergo a dramatic transformation: suddenly they were engaged and on task, solving practical problems, working in teams, communicating effectively. Wow. Watch and learn TLC, watch and learn.

Not only were the students working fantastically well, they were having fun. In fact the students from the first group were still fired up about their workshop session hours later.

I love days like this.

Now it’s over to me. Can I engage the students this effectively during next week’s ‘Maths for Engineers’ lessons? Brutally honest answer: I don’t know. But I’m going for it.

3 comments to Super Good Day

  • What did the RAF ‘teachers’ do that made the students behave differently?

  • three-legged-cat

    They did some things that I can’t really emulate: such as wearing RAF kit, showing a video full of planes and being from the ‘real’ world.

    The bottom line is that most of what I offer the students are simulations of ‘real world’ tasks and they recognise them as such. The RAF offered simulations as well, but the students reacted differently.

    So lesson one for me is to arrange more visits and use more outside speakers – maybe on video as well as in person.

    The whole thing was very well rehearsed – down to the gestures and body language. Two actors (in RAF t-shirts) were the main facilitators – and they were really good. They were supported by one genuine RAF officer who provided the authentic view of RAF life.

    They also did lots of things that I already do, but in a slightly differnt way. All the tasks were 12 mins long (enough time to get into it, not long enough to end up off task), all the tasks had an easy starting point and moved up to a higher level of challenge, every task had written instructions but also involved some sort of manipulatives for kinaesthetic learners. Nothing was ‘teacher led’.

    No rocket science there, but the precise way that these elements were combined provided worked brilliantly.

    I tried a similar approach this week with my most challenging class, a Y9 maths group. We were learning about some of the functions on a scientific calculator – not normally a thrilling topic. It worked amazingly well. I wouldn’t do this every lesson though, I’m sure the novelty would wear off.

  • Whatever one might think of the forces, one has to admire their understanding of learning methods and learning styles. It’s a good 15 years since I was last involved with the army schools, and through them the army teacing/learning philosophy, but, in many ways, what they were doing then is still way ahead of what most teachers in most schools do now.

    And you’re right – the novelty value isn’t to be underestimated.