Building Bridges...between people
Throughout the year there are maths conferences, Teach Meets, subject association annual forums, and many more such maths gatherings – often at a weekend. Why do teachers go? Is it just for the cake competitions and the cotton goody bags (does anyone need another branded cotton bag stuffed into that cupboard in the kitchen alongside the tealights and the scissors you buy every time you visit THAT Scandi-furniture behemoth?). Do you go to conferences? Tell us why, either at the bottom of the page, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or @NCETMsecondary on Twitter.
Here, three regular attendees describe what for them are the attractions of conferences, and the associated benefit of joining a subject association. If you want to find out more, at the end there is a list of upcoming events.
Stephen Cavadino is a maths teacher from Leeds who blogs at cavmaths.wordpress.com. When he isn’t teaching, writing about or doing maths he spends the majority of his time with his family, watching rugby (both codes) and playing the guitar.
The last few years have seen a veritable explosion in the amount of CPD that a keen teacher can access above and beyond that which is offered by their school. Driven by the Internet, many teachers come together regularly to discuss pedagogy, policy, leadership and research. As maths teachers we are particularly spoilt by the fact that, as well as the vast amount of general teacher events happening around the country, there is a huge amount of maths teacher-specific events cropping up. I have attended a great many of these events, both maths-specific and more general, and have found them all really informative, challenging and inspiring. I was asked why I thought this, and what I thought the benefits were for maths teachers of attending these conferences. Here's what I thought:
These events are fantastic for meeting fellow maths teachers and discussing resources, pedagogical approaches to certain topics, curriculum design, setting and all the other things you normally discuss with colleagues within your school and other networks. Working in a similar way to social media these give you access to many more maths teachers than you would normally come into contact with and I would say that this is a very big benefit of these maths specific conferences.
For me though, the biggest benefit of these subject specific conferences is the subject itself. I love maths, I teach maths because I love it and I want to inspire that love of the subject in others as my maths teachers did in me, and I love learning new things. At recent maths specific events I've seen talks by the likes of Marcus du Sautoy and Johnny Ball who both taught me something new and renewed my vigour to get in to the classroom and share the awe and wonder that is involved in mathematics.
The general events
The more general events have a different feel. These do have similar networking opportunities, but with teachers of all subjects rather than just maths. This in itself has advantages and disadvantages over the maths specific events. Obviously there is no benefit in discussing the pedagogy you use while teaching Pythagoras' Theorem, for example, but aspects of classroom management are the same and there are plenty of pedagogical ideas that can be swapped and adapted across subjects. One idea I adapted recently from a discussion with an English teacher at a general teaching event revolves around the word wall from the BBC quiz show, Only Connect.
These conferences always have intriguing workshops based around research, policy and pedagogy and these can be inspiring. I try to choose my options wisely. Some speakers I will go to see knowing I will agree with everything they say because they will inspire me and reaffirm my passion to teach. Some speakers I will go and see because I have a genuine interest in the topic they are discussing, be it a piece of research or policy. And I will go to see some speakers, even though I know - or at least suspect - that I will disagree with them. This third group I choose because I feel we need to keep challenging our thinking and challenging the outlook we have. Either I re-evaluate the way I thought I was right in the first place and move on, or I re-evaluate and alter my practice because of a persuasive argument. Either way, it has made me think, and I hope I have become a better teacher because of it.
Jo Morgan is the maths teacher who writes resourceaholic.com, a website providing ideas and resources for teaching secondary school maths.
Maths teachers are fortunate to have access to a wide range of opportunities to develop their professional skills and knowledge. The development of blogging and social media as tools for CPD in education means that teachers are now better informed than ever before.
Although we can learn much from these online platforms, most teachers would agree that face-to-face CPD remains the most effective way of learning. In these times of austerity, attendance at external training courses and residential conferences has been cut by many schools. However, many national conferences for maths teachers are affordable (sometimes free) and convenient, taking place on Saturdays to avoid disruption to teaching. More than ever, maths teachers have control over their own learning and development.
It's said that a conference is worth attending if you take just one idea back to school which you successfully implement in your teaching. In reality, these conferences provide delegates with far more than just one new idea.
Delegates go back to school with new resources, new ways of explaining concepts and a clearer understanding of recent policies and practices in maths education. They hear about innovative approaches being taken by other schools and feel inspired to try new things. They leave full of ideas and excited to tell their colleagues about what they learnt. There's always a buzz in the air at the end of a maths conference.
There's something for everyone, from primary school teachers to A-level teachers. Workshops cover a plethora of topics, ranging from leadership strategies to lesson planning, from assessment to marking, from paper folding to bar modelling, from the history of mathematics to online resources.
It's common to feel nervous at the prospect of networking at conferences, but these events are always friendly and well structured. There's plenty to see and do including competitions and exhibitions. There's also opportunities to meet new people and socialise with fellow maths teachers. Delegates come away feeling part of a supportive community.
If you've not attended a maths conference before, then try it: not only will you enjoy it, it will also be hugely beneficial to your teaching.
Have you considered volunteering to run a workshop at a maths conference? Presenting for the first time may be a daunting prospect but if you have something relevant and interesting to talk about then you'll be warmly received. If you have a particular area of expertise, an innovative idea or a fresh approach, people will want to hear from you. This is an opportunity to make a difference in maths education beyond your own school. It's an incredibly rewarding experience. It's also an opportunity to challenge yourself and develop your own skills. If you have something to share, don't keep it a secret! Exchanging ideas is beneficial to everyone.
Melanie Muldowney is one third of the trio that brings you justmaths.co.uk. She is currently Associate Subject Leader and on the Extended Leadership Team at Alcester Academy in Warwickshire, having previously worked at Trinity High School in Redditch during its journey from National Challenge to 'Most Improved School in England'.
As Maths teachers we have a whole range of conferences and subject associations to choose from; however, it is sometimes difficult to see where they “fit” in the day to day grind of teaching when you are working flat out and the only thing that seems important are the outcomes for your students. Well, let me tell you … it is at these times that looking outside your own school for personal development becomes even more important.
Some of the events have a real “coal-face” ethos (these are the one where the most popular sessions are run by other practicing teachers) and others have historically tended to have a more research-led focus such as those from the Mathematical Association (MA), the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM), and the Association of Mathematics Education Teachers (AMET). There is no such thing as not being “maths-y” enough – of course there will be people there that are more “into” the subject than others, but the rejuvenating effect of seeing so many enthusiastic people is difficult to describe in words. Everyone, without exception will be attending these events for their own specific reasons and you’ll find everyone keen to help, encourage and support.
Here are my top five reasons to take the time to attend a maths conference:
- Being around positive people is infectious and some of this will rub off on you or provide an antidote to those teaching blues that happen.
- You get to meet and network with others who are interested in Maths and/or teaching Maths – this is a great morale booster and meeting other like-minded people is inspiring.
- Apart from the “stuff” you’ll discover in any workshops, talking to other teachers you’ll find them more than willing to share ideas and strategies that work for them and so you’ll probably pick up more new ideas than you’d first expected.
- Often you will get to meet experts and leaders in our field face-to-face and conference speakers are usually available to chat and answer questions – most will even be more than happy for you to take a selfie with them!
- It is all too easy to leave events like this, enthusiastic and motivated, only to get back into the classroom on Monday morning and find that all your good intentions fizzle out, which is why one of the biggest benefits of some of the events is the fact that time is dedicated to networking - there is a large number of the Tweeting Teacher community in attendance which means you also get to develop your own ongoing support network too (don’t get me started on how amazing Twitter is!).
Regardless of what end of the “maths enthusiast” spectrum you would consider yourself to be, there will probably be times when you’ll need reminding just how awesome teaching maths can be. Conferences allow you to pull over, slow down, stop… and reflect.
Saturday 5 September
The 10th MA Conference for Teachers of Secondary Mathematics
The Mathematical Association
Tuesday 8 - Wednesday 9 September
CETL-MSOR Conference 2015
Saturday 26 September
National Mathematics Teacher Conference
La Salle Education
Thursday 22 October
English & Maths 2015: Effective Teaching Strategies to Meet New Accountabilities
Saturday 5 March 2016
National Mathematics Teacher Conference
La Salle Education
Saturday 12 March 2016
Scottish Mathematical Council 2016 Conference
Scottish Mathematical Council
Tuesday 29 March - Friday 1 April 2016
ATM Easter Conference - Mathematics as a Human Endeavour
Association of Teachers of Mathematics
Friday 1 April - Sunday 3 April 2016
2016 MA Annual Conference
The Mathematical Association
Tuesday 14 June 2016
The 3rd Annual STEMtech Conference & Showcase
Page header by Alan Levine (adapted), some rights reserved