Friday 4 October 2013

7 Habits to Get Your Year 7s into

(Substitute "year sevens" with "seventh graders" if you're American, "S1s" if you're Scottish, or "first years" if you're posh/old/a wizard).

Year 7s are so cute, aren't they? So eager to learn, so willing to please. Some are actually shorter than me, which is nice. By Christmas they'll have had their growth spurts and be taller than me. That's why I like this term. (FYI if you want a mental picture of me, I'm 150cm tall, 50kg, and look a bit like Garth from Wayne's World but slightly more feminine).

The thing with year 7s is that they are lovely little blank slates. They're a fresh batch of play-doh just waiting to be moulded. At my academy, we keep our classes throughout their school career. So it's important that you get your year 7s into good habits early on, to make your life easier later.

Here are the good habits I'd like to get my year 7s into:

1) Leaving the answer as a fraction

To some students, an answer of 3/5 doesn't look finished - because you haven't actually carried out the division. They would much rather put 0.6 because it looks like a proper answer. We need to stamp this out! Fractions are infinitely superior to decimals. The use of fractions should be encouraged from day one. Don't you just hate A level students who convert all their fractions to decimals? Think ahead, teachers!

2) Lining up the equals signs

Some teachers are very anal about this and I admit I'm not really one of them. But it does make algebra look a lot more beautiful when there is neat line of =s down the page.

3) Drawing margins

Why do maths exercise books not have margins pre-printed like all the other exercise books?! It drives me mad having to remind students to draw margins every day. It's amazing how some of them still forget - even my top set year 11s! We need to try some Pavlovian conditioning to get them to automatically reach for a ruler and pencil as soon as they open their books.

4) Drawing diagrams

To solve any geometrical problem, the first step should be to draw a diagram. This is something good mathematicians do automatically. I don't know which is the cause and which is the effect, but it's worth getting our students into this habit.

5) Resilience

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a mathematician is resilience. Try something. If it doesn't work, try something else. Don't tippex out your first attempt. Don't sit there with a blank page because you're scared of writing something that's wrong. If we can instil this attitude into our youngest students, they will grow up to be good mathematicians, whatever their attainment level.

6) Using a calculator properly

Calculators are great. I can honestly say I haven't done bus-stop division with pen and paper for a good 10 years. Because I own a calculator. My computer has a calculator. My phone has a calculator. Even my tape measure has a built-in calculator. Don't diss calculators. However, some students become instantly stupid as soon as they pick one up. They don't question whatever answer it spits out. Students need to be taught to estimate the answer first to check if it's roughly right. Also, calculators are really sophisticated these days, and for example you can type in the entire quadratic formula in one go without pressing equals in between or using complicated nested brackets. Teach students how to do this. Teach them about the magical s<=>d key. Explain how the fraction key works. Get them to make frequent use of the "ans" key. And most importantly, get them to buy their own and bring it in every lesson. But make sure it's a Casio! (Sorry Sharp, but you make my life so difficult. Please stop making calculators.)

7) Taking pride in their exercise book

That's "jotter" if you're Scottish. Or "notebook" if you're American. (Or "parchment" if you're a wizard).
When an exercise book gets filled up, students are supposed to keep it. What do most students do? Throw it away. How awful is this? The problem is that many students see their exercise book as the place where they do work, not the place where they write down things to help them understand. Also some books are just horribly messy! I find that if your work is neat, you take more pride in your book, and hence you put more effort into your work. I know presentation is not about learning and hence presentation-focused comments is considered ineffective marking, but I think good presentation does lead to better learning.

Those are my personal picks. Are there any you would like to add?

Emma x x x


  1. They don't teach maths at Hogwarts :(

  2. Great post :)

    Except for the margins. Students and wizards alike can live without margins...

    1. Sadly not at my school - it's policy, and I get into a lot of trouble if my kids don't draw them! :(

    2. Ah, fair point!
      I agree with the rest of the list though. Including number 7 - presentation IS important!

  3. An interesting list especially since it's different to mine. Absolute non-negotiable:
    1) Working (when expected) is done PER QUESTION and set out WITH EACH QUESTION on the page. Primary schools seem to teach their kiddies that working is a dirty embarrassment and a small "working" box should be created on the page, where all working is crammed in in a miscellaneous sort of way.
    2) Equals signs may only be put between things that are equal. I had a mario style rant about this with my year 12's recently because we're doing differentiation and y=x^2=2x was written everywhere. y=4=0 doesn't make sense now does it!?! So why does common sense go out the window when algebra is involved!?!

    I totally agree with the others especially the fraction ones. I had that in my year 7 lesson on Friday actually. On a Tarsia, -2 divided by -4. I made the tarsia and automatically put 1/2 (formatted properly, of course). Someone questioned why the other questions matched to questions and was this question matching to another question with the same answer of 0.5? Interesting off topic discussion ensued.

    1. My students do that differentiation thing too! So annoying!
      And working out - my year 7s like to do it at the back of their book or sometimes they even ask for scrap paper! They need to learn that I don't want to know the ANSWER, I want to see the SOLUTION.

  4. Does anyone know why Maths books come without margins?
    In fact, I'll do a bit of research and post back.

  5. Would love to know what school you are at as margins are causing me a great deal of bother! Love your site!