MyMaths: Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

Many Maths teachers rely on MyMaths (or indeed MyiMaths) heavily in their teaching. Either as a classroom teaching tool or, more commonly, as a means of setting homework.

I contend that over 90% of the time this is an unacceptable teaching strategy and usually (but not always) stems from laziness.

Perhaps some of you committed MyMaths-ers (and we all know at least one) are reading this now are bristling with indignation and your mouse is being drawn either to the ‘exit’ icon on the top of your browser. Well hang fire, read this and if you disagree post in the comments below.

MyMaths as a Classroom Tool

Many teachers plan entire lessons around MyMaths. I imagine most of us have worked with teachers teachers whose classrooms and you can be confident that a few times a month you will walk past their classrooms and see the familiar MyMaths white on black being projected onto their board.

So what’s the issue here? The resources look nice, feature slick and sometimes helpful animations and are neatly mapped to the curriculum. Why am I kicking up such a fuss?

Firstly using MyMaths as the primary means of delivering a lesson shifts the manner in which teachers think about learning when they are planning. By using a premade resource (which is not even editable unlike those from TES or other sources), MyMaths users are focusing on the activity within the lesson at the expense of what really matters- what students will learn over an extended period of time.

MyMaths increases the likelihood that teachers will use resources unthinkingly and uncritically because it is easy. No more time spent considering how to develop a high quality lesson and the surrounding pedagogical issues because MyMaths have laid on a plate ‘how to do it’. No thought has to go into ensuring that questions match what teachers are hoping to teach as the nice guys at MyMaths have prepared a presentation that takes you through everything and often includes questions for the class to consider. Resources don’t have to be matched to the needs of classes because all topics are ‘helpfully’ matched to a national curriculum level or GCSE grade.

At this point some teachers may say ‘well I always use MyMaths for teaching circle theorems as they have a really nice way of explaining them’ or something similar. Great! Developing a bank of resources is all part of being an effective teacher and if all you are doing is using a particularly nice animation from the website or know that there are a really nice set of questions on a given topic then by all means use them. Indeed, the interactive aspect of MyMaths is one of its (few) positives. However, most don’t stop there and instead proceed onto the mindless clicking through the activities that characterises MyMaths. Is it any wonder then that there has been a call by many in politics to introduce more unqualified teachers into the classroom if this is the sort of lesson delivery that many qualified professionals use as part of their practice?

If you are using MyMaths because you genuinely think it has a passable set of resources and perhaps you find it difficult to navigate TES, please take a look at this website and use it as a jumping off point to start making your lessons your own. There are a great selection of questions, animations and activities that you can incorporate into your lessons which will (hopefully) better allow you to keep ‘learning over time’ rather than ‘keeping them busy this lesson’ at the forefront of your planning.

Ask yourself this question- if you were being observed by a senior colleague, would you do a MyMaths-based lesson? I imagine the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This response should tell you all that you need to know.

MyMaths for Homework

“But it’s a great way of setting homework” I hear some colleagues cry when this issue is raised. “No it isn’t” the more effective teachers shoot back.

At the heart of the issue with homework is the timeless gripe of Maths teachers- ‘show your workings’. If we want to develop students as mathematicians who appreciate the importance of showing a solution rather than just ‘an answer’, mathematicians who are better prepared for the rigours of A Level study and beyond and mathematicians who are better able to pick up maximum marks in an exam, we have to develop students’ pen and paper mathematics. MyMaths does not allow this

Yes setting MyMaths homework is easy, will check the box that your Head of Department or Leadership team sets and might satisfy the parents of your students, but it isn’t nearly as effective as it could be. I have often thought that while classroom pedagogy seems to be almost continually developing, a corresponding pedagogy surrounding homework does not seem to have emerged. Policies that encourage teachers to focus on just setting homework rather than considering what effective homework actually is have emerged in our schools. School and department leaders make assessments about the quality of classroom teaching, they should also do so about the quality of homework and consider the contribution that it makes to learning over time. MyMaths contribution to learning over time is limited compared to many other options for setting homework.

I can already see the next wave of rebuttals coming my way arguing that the effectiveness of MyMaths lies in the fact that it can be instantly marked and students and teachers can see how well they have done straight away. Consider this:

  1. Effective instant marking is nice, makes the life of a teacher and student easier but isn’t always the best way of doing things;
  2. If you really want instant marking then there are better resources out there, in particular the incredible Diagnostic Questions from Craig Barton that consists of (mostly) high quality questions that focus on misconceptions and encourages students to explain their answers. Teachers can create their own quizzes and questions which obviously makes it far more useful than a premade quiz on MyMaths;
  3. There are ways of setting pen and paper homework that allow for almost instant self marking (give students a mark scheme, jumbled up answers, codebreaker-style activities etc.)

This YouTube video is well worth a watch, though it does contain some rather colourful language so you might want to check there are no students around!

So what now?

Whilst laziness is, in my opinion, the primary reason teachers use MyMaths, there are two other possibilities. The first is ignorance of the other resources that are available and the fact that TES can often seem a bit overwhelming and has resources that vary massively in quality. Try the above links, start following teachers on Twitter and share with colleagues in your department. Secondly, MyMaths can act as a crutch for teachers who are less confident in their planning, delivery or subject knowledge. Whilst this is something of a short-term fix, it certainly isn’t a long term solution. Colleagues and in particular departmental leaders should be supporting those who are less confident in their planning and delivery rather than perpetuating the sub-standard teaching that MyMaths almost always entails. Yes this may be difficult and time-consuming, but isn’t helping colleagues to develop themselves to the best of their ability something that lies at the heart of leadership?

MyMaths subscriptions cost £599+VAT per year for secondary schools. That is not a trivial amount of money. If your subscription is up for renewal anytime soon and you are in a position to influence this decision within your department, consider the above points and whether that £599 per year could be better spent elsewhere in order to enhance pupil learning in the long run. I imagine the answer is yes.

At some point in the not too distant future, I want to make the transition to Head of Department. Getting rid of MyMaths would be one of the first steps I would take to help develop a culture of excellent teaching. I’m not for a second saying such an approach is a quick win, I think these are few and far between in the area of teaching and learning. It would however be a way of ‘setting out my stall’ and showing what I would value in terms of teaching and learning.

"What does the word ‘percentage’ mean?"

Note: Originally posted on Betterqs

I love asking low-ability students or students whose first language is not English questions like this. Unpicking the etymology of words is something that can benefit all students but for low-ability or English as an additional language (EAL) groups this is of the utmost importance as they had anywhere near the same level of exposure to the subtleties, nuance and conventions of the English language. It is the job of educators to increase the level of exposure beyond what they would otherwise encounter.

For young students especially I really ham it up when I reveal that ‘percentage’ means ‘of 100’ and let them know that they are part of a small secretive club that will refuse to use the word ‘percentage’ willy-nilly but will stick to its strict definition.
I usually then go on to tell students that they would now be able to have an educated guess as to the meaning of any word with the word ‘cent’ in and I ask for a number of suggestions. Again for younger students a touch of the theatrics can be useful here (think Sherlock Holmes references).
When I asked this question last week it was with a Year 7 group, most of whom hadn’t encountered percentages yet but who were beginning to gain confidence with fractions of amounts and equivalent fractions. They quickly cottoned onto the idea that 25%=25/100=¼ and were then able to find percentages of amounts.
Focusing on the fact that percentages mean ‘out of 100’ and treating percentages as a special instance of the fractions work they had already encountered was something of a long way round. However, initially and in subsequent lessons students seemed to ‘get it’ and were far better able to explain some of the intuition behind percentages. Additionally, it made subsequent work on converting between fractions, decimals and percentages far easier.
Also posted @NWMaths