Talking to different people

One of the characteristics associated with creative people is that they have wide social networks. What I mean is that they spend time with people from many different areas of life rather than one clique of people who are very similar to themselves. These types of relationships are more likely to spark an unexpected idea that leads to a new project.

Last week I had my own experience of this. I spent a day standing in the street talking to anyone who went past and was willing to stop. In theory I was selling them tours of Cambridge but once they were talking to me I was most interested in figuring out what they really wanted on their holiday and pointing them in the right direction.

In essence I was doing research on “what do Cambridge tourists want and is there a gap in the market?”. I think there is a small gap and I came away with an idea for a project. More on the projectwide social networks  later. This was not something I went into the day expecting, it’s an example of what can happen when you put yourself in a new environment and really listen to people who are different to you.


Learning to remember names

I start a job in a new school next year and that means I will need to learn lots of new names. Learning names is not something I’m naturally talented at, but I’m sure it’s a skill I can learn with practice. So that’s what I’m going to do. Practice. I’m setting myself a personal challenge to learn the names of everyone I meet, the first time I meet them.

How will I learn new names when I’ve never been good at this? Well first of all I don’t expect that I will learn every name straight away, but by conciously practising I hope to improve significantly. It’s helpful to have a goal to motivate myself. There’s nothing wrong with aiming high!

I have done some research into techniques for learning names, here is my plan:

  1. Ask everyone I meet what they want to be called. Check that I have the pronunciation right. I can’t learn something I never knew!
  2. Use their name. “Nice to meet you Alice, are you in town for long?”
  3. Not be afraid to make a mistake. I’ll use someone’s name even if I’m not totally sure I’m pronouncing it right. I can always check with them, or they can correct me. In the past I often avoided using someone’s name for fear of getting it wrong, but that meant I didn’t practice and so I would forget.
  4. Think of something to jog my memory, e.g. they have the same name as someone else I know or the first letter of their name is also the first letter of an animal or colour.

Are you good at remembering names? Please share your tips in the comments.

Procrastination habits.

Do you procrastinate? I do. When I sit down with my tablet I find myself browsing social media and news sites rather than working. If I sit at my desk I find it easier to focus. I’ve been telling myself that it’s because a tablet isn’t a good place to work but the truth is there are plenty of useful things I can do from the tablet. I’ve got into an unhelpful habit and it’s time to change it.

I’m going to add the website for this blog to my home screen on the tablet. This will give me a cue to remember to spend time writing blogs rather than browsing the news. If it works you should see me posting here more often!

Have you got into a procrastination habit? Can you think of a small change to your cues which will help you stop procrastinating? Let me know in the comments!

Interleaving for effective maths practise

There is plenty of research* showing that interleaving maths practise helps students learn. This means that a mixed set of questions on different topics is more effective than a big block of questions which require the same technique over and over again.

It’s one thing to know that this is what the research says and another thing to put this into practise in the classroom. Textbooks are still written with sets of near identical exercises and it’s much easier for a busy teacher to point students at a page in a text book than to prepare a set of mixed questions of the right difficulty.

Where can busy teachers find sets of well written questions requiring a mix of techniques? Exam papers! As well as the exam boards many schools have end of year tests and publish past papers on their websites. So go forth, shamelessly borrow, and let your students reap the rewards of interleaved practise.

Practising algebra, avoiding magic triangles

Practise is really important for learning. I’m currently taking the MOOC “Learning How to Learn” which I highly recommend by the way. One of the points it makes is that practise is important especially when learning abstract concepts like algebra. The research is telling us that students will need a lot of practise to get good at algebra. Pretty uncontroversial right? I bet most maths teachers would agree that their students should practise algebra.

However there is a teaching technique I’ve seen recently in schools which is depriving children of opportunities to practise basic algebra.  I’m talking about the “magic triangle” approach where students write a formula like F=ma into a triangle. By covering up the variable they need to find they can read off the form of the equation that they will need to find their variable. All without rearranging the equation. As far as I can see the logic behind it is “my students find algebra hard, let’s help them by showing them how to get some answers without using algebra”.

The problem of course is that if students never practise algebra on these simple problems they will always find it hard and will have no chance with the more complicated problems that can’t be solved by the triangle method. And by giving students a different method teachers are unwittingly passing on the message “algebra is hard, you can’t do it, don’t bother trying”. I’m sure that’s  not what the teacher intends but I’m pretty sure that is what the student is picking up. This is the very opposite of the growth mindset that gives our kids the best chance of success.