Showing posts from 2009

A First Mandolin

I've been asked via a DM on Twitter for advice about purchasing a first mandolin for a beginner.  A proper response will need more than 140 characters, so here I am!

Firstly, I should congratulate you on having the good sense to consider learning to play the mandolin!  It is a fabulously versatile instrument, and is relatively easy to learn.

There's a popular saying among mandolin players: "life's too short to play a cheap mandolin."  As a beginner, you won't want to spend too much, of course, but it's definitely worth spending enough to get a real instrument rather than a toy.  My first mandolin was a Tanglewood which cost about £160.  It made a pleasing sound and had decent intonation.  Before  that, I did initially buy an Ozark mandolin for about £70, but it was pretty much unplayable and sounded like a toy - I returned it to the shop.

I can't overstate how important it is to buy a mandolin that will produce a decent tone - it is really motivating!  W…

Lesson Observation

I observed the class of an experienced colleague today, at the invitation of my colleague.  He is very pleased with the way the class is getting on, and wanted me to come in and give the class a boost.

It was fascinating, as always, to observe a lesson, and I was indeed very impressed by how engaged and enthusiastic the youngsters were.

After the lesson, I recalled how, as a probationer, I was frustrated by the fact that some teachers seemed to have excellent behaviour in their classes effortlessly, whilst I had to work hard managing behaviour.

18 years later, I know that the effortlessness I thought I saw was just an illusion.  Experienced teachers are constantly managing the behaviour of their classes - principally by planning interesting, appropriately challenging lessons and by maintaining positive warm relationships with their students, but also by nudging youngsters towards positive behaviour and away from misbehaviour during lessons by the subtle use of body language, tone of voic…

Another Magic Moment

Sometimes we just don't know the effect we have on youngsters.

On Monday I was sitting in the maths base at break time chatting to my colleagues when a sheepish face appeared at the door.  It was boy A (who appeared in a previous magic moment), a pupil of mine last session. When he arrived at high school two years ago there were serious questions about whether he would cope in mainstream secondary education, and he has struggled at times.

"Erm, I'm wanting to speak to Mr Jones" he mumbled, so I went out into the corridor to see him.  He asked me if I remembered showing Google Sketchup to him and his classmates last year (I did).  He told me that he had been playing with it, and wondered if I would like to see the models he had created. I said yes, of course, and he said he would bring them in.

At lunchtime today he turned up with a heavy bag over his shoulder.  He unloaded his old laptop and proceeded to show me his work.  He has made a brilliant model of an Xbox consol…


I'm currently reading Mindset, by Carol S Dweck (soon to be appearing at the Scottish Learning Festival!). In a nutshell, her thesis is this:
Everyone has one of two basic mindsets.  If you have the fixed mindset, you believe that your talents and abilities are set in stone - either you have them or you don't.  You must prove yourself over and over, trying to look smart and talented at all costs.  This is the path of stagnation.  If you have a growth mindset, however, you know that talents can be developed at that great abilities are built over time.  This is the path of opportunity and success.
This makes a lot of sense to me.  I have inevitably been wondering about the mindsets of those around me, and about my own mindset.  It would be indiscreet to try to judge others here, so I'll do a bit of navel gazing!

I most definitely grew up with the fixed mindset.  I caught it from my Mum (notice that those with the fixed mindset tend to look outside themselves for things to blame…


I spent last Wednesday interviewing for a new ftp member of the maths department.  We had a great set of interviewees and I would have been delighted to have almost all of them in our team.

10 years ago I decided to move on from Newbattle High School, and began applying for other teaching jobs in what was a very competitive environment.  When I eventually secured a position at North Berwick High School it was the 13th job that I had applied for. I had a dozen unsuccessful interviews!  So I know a little bit about how it feels to get the phone call that isn't good news - and how unsatisfying it is when you are told that it was a tough decision.  So it is with some hesitation that I say that it was, indeed, a tough decision.

I'd like to thank all those who applied.  The strength of the candidates, many of whom were NQTs, gives me great hope for the future of our profession.

Let's Work Together

As maths departments across the country consider how to deliver a Curriculum for Excellence, we are all looking at potentially useful resources on the Web.

Let's not do that job hundreds of times over in isolation. Let's do it together in a way that enables us to build on each other's discoveries, and refine our judgements about which resources really help to deliver excellence.

Staff at Angus Council have done a power of work to list resources for each outcome in the maths and numeracy documents. But at present this list is only available within Glow, and is in a static format.

At North Berwick High School, we began transferring all our lists of hyperlinks to some time ago, at and today I discovered a much more extensive collection at, which tags every link with the code for a specific outcome.

From now on we will be using the same tags for maths links when I add them to d…

Core Value(s)

Come August I will be leading the maths department at North Berwick High School.  In preparation for this,  I am reflecting upon what my core values really are.  I have just begun this process,  but already one value stands out very clearly:

Every young person coming into our department should be valued, respected and nurtured by us unconditionally.

The value I am seeking to describe here is crystal clear to me.  Whether or not the phrase in bold captures it clearly for others is another matter!

I am not trying to be innovative here.  I am sure that this value is held dear by almost every teacher, and has been written about at length by many others more eloquent than I (read Don Ledingham on "unconditional positive regard" for example).  I am simply trying to express as clearly as I can what it is that sits at the heart of my passion for teaching.

For me this is about how we behave towards the young people in our department, not just how we think or feel.  In fact it is sometime…

A New Role

As many of you may already know, I was successful last week in my application to become the next Principal Teacher of Mathematics at North Berwick High School.  I am absolutely delighted, and can't wait to get started.

The vacancy arose as a result of the approaching retirement of my current PT, Simon Smith.  It has been a great privilege to work under Simon's leadership, and he has provided me with a wonderful working environment over the last 9 years.  I will be very proud of myself if I manage to offer the same levels of trust and support to my team over the coming years.

I have lots of plans, but I think I should share them with the department before I post them here.  Suffice it to say that some involve social web tools some do not :-)

I must say a huge thank you to all the people who offered me advice, encouragement and support over the last few months.  I could not have done it without you all.

My Web is Better!

All Webs are not equal.  My Web is very different from the Internet of the majority of teachers (yours probably is too).

My Web delivers pretty much all the new stuff from all the sites that interest me to a single page set up to make it very easy for me to see at a glance what is new. I have complete control over what appears on this page and can add new sources with a couple of clicks of my mouse.

My Web connects me to a huge network of educators from whom I learn lots, with whom I discuss important stuff as well as silly stuff, and to whom I pass on cool new stuff I have picked up.

My Web provides me with free office tools that I can access on any connected device, as well as a calendar that I share with my family - my Web is the place where I store most of my documents and photos.

My Web lets me create my own rich web applications and host them free online for me and other people to use.

My Web is pretty awesome! Personalised, customisable, flexible and very comfortable to be in.

If I h…

Magic Moments 2

Amongst the students who spend time in the support base at school, Coconut Run has become very popular recently.  This story won't make much sense unless you have had a go at Coconut Run!  One of the aforementioned students comes to work in the maths staff base sometimes with a support assistant, and I have seen him playing Coconut Run  sometimes after he has completed his set work.

This week I saw him doing something different on Coconut Run.  I asked him what he was doing, and he replied that he was making a catapult!  Another boy in the base had had the idea, and it had caught on amongst the others.

The creativity of young people amazes me.  You can see some more fantastic creations on Youtube.

Magic Moments 1

We set by ability in S2, and my S2 class is a small set of the least able students.

This week we were doing the old "join the dots" investigation from Standard Grade which looks at how you can generate circular patterns from simple formulas using modular arithmetic. They completed the bits I had intended them to do in a period of one hour.

The next lesson, boy A asked "can we do some of those join the dot patterns really big today - like on a poster?" My lesson plan did not involve anything to do with the investigation, but I didn't rule it out. I asked them to think individually in silence for 2 minutes about exactly how we would do what the boy had suggested, then gathered the thoughts of the class.

They identified that the two key  problems would be: drawing a really big circle on a poster and; marking 18 equidistant points on the circumference.

We had a fruitful discussion about ways of drawing a big circle, until boy B  said (obviously excited about his ide…

Time Flies

It has been a long time since my last blog post. There are many things I could have written about:

developing an application on Google Appengine service
running a school ski trip
mandolin trivia
researching my father's experiences in WW2
supporting (and learning from) student teachers and probationers
pondering applying for a PT job
trying to decide on a new mobile phone (G1?)
refactoring FreeMIS to work with Rails 2.2

Maybe I'll get round to writing some of these when I get back from the school ski trip, which departs on Saturday morning.