A Teacher’s Perspective: Q&A with Mark Murfet
Mark is the Assistant Subject Leader for Mathematics at University Academy Long Sutton. Mark has been teaching Mathematics for six years with an average class size of up to 30 students covering Year 7-11, KS3&4.
In the Q&A below Mark talks of the lessons learnt teaching mathematics remotely in the first lockdown. What worked, and what did not, and the lessons he has carried into this second lockdown.
What was the most effective way for you to teach remotely?
Initially, we started using Webex.com, our sessions would be 50 minutes delivering the content and it would be two-way communication with the students.
The drawback with this initially was the lack of uptake, from a class of 30 I would get between 8-15 that would turn up.
It was good delivery as we were still teaching, but it wasn’t effective if the students were not turning up, however this has improved throughout the course of the year.
What were the top three platforms that you used, and why?
In order of usage from top to bottom, it would be:
The school Lessonboard our VLE virtual learning environment. We would load the information onto that, the student would access it with their login.
Second, we would use Blutick.
And third, YouTube. Teachers uploaded their own videos, I set up my own YouTube channel and uploaded how to videos. I did this because students prefer to engage in material provided by their own teacher.
When you had different categories of learners, no matter what age group, what did you find was the most effective method to cater to both your top students and the ones who struggle, and why?
I found that Blutick with the way that it is levelled in the sense of level one, level two, level three so you can automatically have the differentiation built in was the best.
That enabled us to cater for lower ability students with the level one tasks, which was really helpful. Whereas with our higher ability students, they were pushed straight onto level two and three, I found that really useful.
Did you find any students completed self-learning on the Blutick platform outside of the tasks that you set them?
Yes, I would say about 20-25% of our students went beyond the tasks we had asked them to do.
Did you set homework, and if you did set homework how did you do that?
We did set homework, it wasn’t written homework, it was set on Blutick, myself and the HOD were trialling Blutick. We chose Blutick as it self-marks within the program.
The real benefit for me though for Blutick over others, is you have so much information. I can look at a student, how they have worked through a question, if they’ve got it wrong four or five times, you can start to mentally picture what their thought process was at each stage to find the answer they have given.
You don’t get that granularity on other platforms at all, to me, that was the big selling point.
You were using Blutick, some others in the department weren’t, how did they measure progress?
Measuring progress was difficult to do as AOL/AFL is challenging to do remotely and the percentage score the students achieved at the end of each task within other platforms was the main way of assessing impact of progress.
It is difficult to know if the students understood the underlying principles or not, they could have guessed or copied and got it right.
How important was it to you to see the student’s lines of work inside Blutick’s reports?
For me, I think that that’s the most crucial thing to see. You look at their lines of working, and you can see at what point if they were doing an algebraic equation they may have missed a minus sign, and you can help them out, ask them to check their minus or check their x value.
The AI teachers that are on Blutick giving the student interactive feedback, personally I think are invaluable. Students have immediate feedback, it gives them a chance to see what their error is, and they correct their error.
From a teacher’s point of view, as I’ve done with my classes today, I can pull up their homework, and can see here you put add and not subtract, you can see where they have asked for a hint so you can see where they need extra help.
Some of the students think I’m a mind reader because I can identify exactly where they need help, as I can replay their workings due to the detailed reporting.
It becomes so powerful that they then spend more time doing maths because they’re either engaged, or they want to do it.
What do you wish you had used, or wished was available to you during lockdown that you didn’t have?
I wish we had used Blutick sooner. We initially just set paper based lessons on Lessonboard that students struggled to engage in without delivery, there was no teacher delivery input to hook them into it.
It would have also made a big difference if we could have had all the teachers in the department using Blutick as the sole platform, for consistency especially with the AI feedback and granular reporting.
If another lockdown was to happen, what would you do differently?
As far as maths is concerned, Blutick.com would be the programme for us to use. Live streamed lessons have started immediately because the school promotes the proven effect on having that two-way conversation and teacher delivery during the tuition stage.
We would run Webex lessons backed up with independent learning on Blutick.
What I would have to do is set up the courses of work in Blutick to mirror our current scheme of work so that what we do with Webex is totally backed up with Blutick in a linear fashion.
Did you conduct any asynchronous lessons or was it all group lessons?
We would run the Webex lesson and I might get an email back from a student saying I still don’t get this, sometimes we would make a specific video aimed at the problem area and we would send that to them.
Outside of Blutick with its three million inbuilt questions, where did you source your resources for your Lessonboard VLE?
A proportion were CGP Textbooks, or resources that other teachers had constructed. Unfortunately, while some teachers have lots of resources, they are not easy to locate or share these resources for everyone else to use.
I have begun creating a course of work to match our scheme of work inside Blutick, we run three schemes, low, middle and high ability that teach different things at different times. That is one of my tasks, to finish the courses of work inside Blutick that mirror our schemes of work for all three levels.
The UCL has published an interesting report on mathematics teaching during lockdown, one of their findings was that ‘lockdown has provided very limited opportunities for any pupils to engage in mathematical talk, metacognitive activities or receive formative feedback’. Do you think that the AI feedback provided on Blutick lessened this impact on your students?
Yes, massively, I’m going to revert this back to our past platform that we used, there was no feedback on it, it was either right or it’s wrong, it didn’t guide them in any way shape or form, or even give them a little nudge to say, you might want to try that the other way around. Whereas Blutick is a massive improvement on that, guiding students with interactive, immediate feedback.
Another big thing has been the feedback from the students that they like the rewards, they like collecting the badges, which drives them on to want to do more questions, that’s a real positive.
Did you do any blending of traditional with online methods and how did that work?
Yes, we tried the “flipped” classroom model, we would set them some research, saying this is what we’re going to look to do, then we’d come to the 50-minute lesson and ask them, what have you found out? We would then spend time answering the questions that they had to deliver, that did start to work quite well.
Were there any disadvantaged students in your classes that utilized Blutick’s offline capabilities, working offline and then updating when they came back into Wi-Fi, and if so, what percentage would you say that was?
Yes, it’s quite a difficult question to answer, purely because they are unaware that it is happening. When we used our old maths platform we would have large numbers of students saying they got three quarters of the way through a task and the internet has gone down and that they had lost all their work, that was a problem for about 40-45% of our students.
With Blutick it’s seamless as far as they’re concerned, they don’t actually notice that they’re either working offline or online. But they are aware that they are not losing their work anymore.
A lot of our students access their homework via phones, they don’t have laptops or tablets. So if they’re travelling, or moving around the house now it does not drop out like before.
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