Strike one for the maths teachers …

… or how I (silently) cheered when the tables were turned.

Many is the time in my classroom (and, I suspect, in classrooms up and down the land) that I’ve had to interject, and re-focus my students when their thoughts – and more importantly – their chat has turned to football.

And so, the other day I smiled inwardly, and gave a silent cheer when, whilst stood behind a group of students watching the school’s first team footballers play an important cup tie, I heard them talking about maths. The tables had turned, and I was delighted.

The conversation began with them discussing formations: were the opposition playing 4-4-2, or 3-5-1-1? One wag (not WAG!) commented that they were playing 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1.

Ah, you mean 110?

replied his mate, and so the conversation moved on from playing styles and onto indices and laws of powers.

Reader, I must confess that, on this occasion, I did not “re-focus” them (although I did interject to settle an argument as to whether anything to power 0 really does always equal 1. I didn’t want any trouble on the terraces.)

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Whimsical and self-deprecating

Forgive me for being a little self-indulgent today.

I am very chuffed and rather proud to have been featured in Mr Barton’s Podcast, as one of three recommended websites or blogs by his interviewee Rob Eastaway. Many you will know of Rob Eastaway, but for those of you who don’t, he is an author and broadcaster who is active in the popularisation of mathematics, somewhat of a celebrity in mathematical circles (aren’t all circles mathematical?!)

He describes my – this – blog as “whimsical, self-deprecating and slightly serendipitous”, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better analysis.

And to hear my website mentioned alongside – the UK;s independent fact checking charity  – and the BBC Podcast “The Boring Talks” puts me at exalted heights of which I could only dream.

My mention can be found on Mr Barton’s Podcast – well worth listening to the whole show, but if you want to hear my cameo mention please skip ahead to 2hr 13 mins.

I write my blog because I enjoy doing so, that others enjoy reading it is a great honour.

If you’ve never read any of Rob Eastaway’s books, I suggest you do – you can find a collection of them here , and his next book is published on Thursday:

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June 2019 9 – 1 GCSE Grade Boundaries

For info and reference, below are the grade boundaries for the June 2019 Maths GCSE (and IGCSE) exams.

With particular thanks to who make it so easy to find grade boundaries for any year and board.

Higher Tier:

Foundation Tier:

Pearson EdExcel IGCSE Maths:

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June 2019 A level Grade Boundaries

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay

Offered without comment, below are the grade boundaries for the new spec. Maths A level, June 2019: Grade – Percentage (Raw Score)

Note, all boards the maximum raw score is 300


A* – 77% (231)

A  – 62% (185)

B  – 50% (151)

C  – 39% (118)

D  – 28% (85)

E –  17% (52)


A* – 72% (217)

A  – 55% (165)

B  – 45% (134)

C  – 34% (103)

D  – 24% (73)

E  – 14% (43)


A* – 72% (216)

A  – 54% (161)

B  – 43% (130)

C  – 33% (100)

D  – 23% (70)

E  – 13% (40)

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I think it was only a few years into my teaching career that it dawned on me. A realisation of which I am not proud, a moment of self-awareness that still leaves me cringing.

I must have been one of those pupils that drive teachers to despair.

Not all my teachers, mind. No, my maths, science, and history teachers were more than happy with me, my English teacher comfortably ambivalent towards me. No, it is to the various French teachers I had through the years that I owe unbridled apologies.

In most of my subjects I was a model student, working hard and securing good grades. Except in French. I was lazy, I was unmotivated and I was probably a nuisance in lessons. I would have skewed the French department’s data (had “data” existed back then. In happier times, it didn’t) – despite getting “A’s” in my other  O’ Levels (no A* back then), I managed to fail French, (although I did secure a Grade 1 CSE in the subject. That dates me!)

But now I am making amends.

I have just returned from a wonderful week in Mallorca and, before I went, I determined to learn the most basic rudiments of Spanish. I downloaded the Duolingo app and began a few minutes study each day. I quickly picked up a few phrases and, whilst on holiday, tried to tune into to the local conversations and pleasantly surprised myself by being able to pick out the odd spoken word in a hundred.

Since I’ve returned, I’ve continued with my studies, in part (in main) to try and learn more Spanish, but its also been instructive to think about how and why we learn.

It is a well designed app and it makes some impressive claims (such 300 million users) that I have no reason to doubt.

It seems that, at its heart, it heavily uses the concept of spaced repetition (as discussed on my post about the Ebbinghaus curve) – having met a word or phrase in a lesson, you meet it again in the same lesson and will then probably encounter it again in your next series of lessons. If you make a mistake on a question, the question will be repeated before the end of the lesson to give you the chance to correct your error (looks a bit like Assesment for Learning to me!)

Each lesson takes circa 5 minutes to complete so your learning is done in small, discrete, bite sized chunks that you control. There are rewards – such as gems to collect, leader boards etc., which may appeal to some, but to this old cynic are peripheral to the learning.

In addition to helping me learn the language, it has got me thinking about two crucial questions – why we learn, and how, and thinking about those will also help me  develop as a maths teacher.

I now have the motivation (to learn a language) that I didn’t have as a schoolboy, and I’m enjoying some success – I think this may have been lacking before: the 14 year old me thrived on the success I achieved in maths, science etc, but having never quite “got” French I wasn’t successful in it, so didn’t bother with it – a viscous, downwards spiral.

And it has re-enforced my strength of belief in spaced learning – I can successfully learn a phrase one day, but need to see or hear it the next day, week, month etc to fix it into my mind. I spend two weeks teaching my Year 10s trigonometry in January, they “get it” at the time and can do some difficult problems, but if they don’t meet it again until the summer of Y11 in a GCSE exam they’ll be in trouble.

So the real take away from my Spanish adventure is not the vocabulary and phrases I’ve learned, but the knowledge that, to be effective, learning needs to be “spaced.”



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