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.

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9 thoughts on “MyMaths: Last Refuge of a Scoundrel

  1. Not quite sure why you are directing this solely at mymaths – for me a more common problem I’ve seen is “lazy” teachers using the tes and just using any worksheet with a good rating on the topic they are teaching; not considering the ability of their class, differentiation etc.

    For me the biggest problem of all is the lack of emphasis on planning by departmental and school leaders – we all know that while homework, marking etc is scrutinised, planning rarely is, therefore teachers take short cuts. At the very least mymaths is quick and easy to set, mark and monitor – this in theory then should lead to more planning time… Whether it does or not is a different matter.

      1. Title wasn’t meant to be ‘clickbait’ but on reflection I can see why you thought it might be. Completely agree it is a tool- I just think it is a fairly limited one but that many of its users don’t understand or choose to ignore its limitations. The primary limitation being that it encourages unthinking teaching at the expense of sound pedagogy.

  2. Oh, yes. Let’s all demonstrate our membership of the Stockholm Syndrome club by branding anyone who fails to meet our exhaulted self-sacrificing standards as ‘lazy’.

    After all, we have so few people criticising teachers that us members of our sainted club must run our own purges.

    I’ve used myMaths and would use it again like a shot should the circumstances our department was in at the time be repeated – new SLT demanding that two marked homeworks were set (and marked) each week.

    Saints like yourself can probably carefully select ‘resources’ and mark over 500 pieces of work a week but I’m comfortable to say that, for a LAZY mortal like me that wasn’t possible without mymaths.

    But, as you say, I’m lazy.

    1. You are right to be annoyed at such classification of some fellow mathematics teachers as ‘lazy’ according to what resources they use/do not use. This is because it causes polarity so we end up arguing from unhelpful positions and not engaging with important pedagogical perspectives. My perspective is to argue in favour of developing problem solving approaches where I choose to eschew resources such as MyMath and some worksheets which appear on Twitter. However the key issue, I believe, is about making critical judgements about any resource we choose to use EVEN those produced by Nrich, Standards Unit, MEI, @inquirymaths to see how the fit into individual departmental/primary schools’ SoW.

  3. I agree with both nwmaths and Will Riley. I despair of the use of any resource which is not properly critiqued and carefully considered how they fit into a departmental-constructed SoW; includind worksheets from Twitter, MyMaths and textbooks per se. As an HoD I would expect myself and want colleagues to be thinking about how any resource fits into the problem-solving based SoW which we were developing. Thus any random worksheet had to fit this criterion. The more problem solving ideas we came across the less we used worksheets and textbooks until, eventually, such types of resources were rarely used. Some months ago I came across a fab problem on Twitter out a rectangle with P= 308 and was internally filled with 5 congruent rectangles, two vertical and three horizontal. (My apologies for forgetting the author of this idea). Anyway, had I still been an HoD it would most certainly have been incorporated. As it happens I offered it to a Y9 class during some InSET and it ‘worked’ really well. Maybe I am something of a stuck record but unless any task causes learners to problem solve and use any of the wide-ranging mathematical thinking skills to move towards a solution, then I find it hard to justify its inclusion in a “Mathematics” lesson.

  4. I purchase My Maths and will continue to do so. The students like it so they can go over topics in their own time and also as a pre-learning tool. My staff use it selectively when they want. We all use lots of resources – Not fair to dismiss it. Leave Mymaths alone. You will probably start criticising Mathswatch soon. Don’t you dare!

  5. Finally got round to replying to this article. I agree that working out is important (and that is why I work for a company that asks for working out and reasoning in online maths – getting my disclosure out of the way right upfront). I have also expressed concern previously about the apparent lack of effect the use of technology has had on mathematics achievement as found by such as the OECD recently.

    But I would not characterise the majority of users of mymaths as lazy. Heavy workload is a major reason teachers leave the profession. We have to consider how using technology can reduce workload and mymaths was indeed one of the pioneers. I have no problem with helping teachers enjoy more of their weekend and evenings!

    BUT and it is a big but, we also have to consider the lack of working out and reasoning that students then – something almost all online software suffer from, not just mymaths. Ofsted has commented as follows:

    “concern emerged around the frequent use of online software which requires pupils to input answers only. Although teachers were able to keep track of classwork and homework completed and had information about stronger and weaker areas of pupils’ work, no attention was given to how well the work was set out, or whether correct methods and notation were used.”

    So the judgement teachers need to make is whether the time gained through having some homework marked automatically is then lost through extra catch up classes, revision classes, Sunday revision sessions, and through the teacher just not having the information they need to make judgements about the quality of the work being marked and for pupils not having any information about their work either.

    BTW, I am yet to be convinced that writing prose explanations of errors or methods is good enough and worry that is adds cognitive load.
    Just do the maths! It can be seen as a metaphorical language after all. Why translate it, often badly, into English?

    So are the teachers who use such products lazy? No. They work in busy schools, with demands from SLT, parents, Ofsted, and whoever… It could be very big change and cannot be done lightly.

    But if a change is possible, usually with support from SLT in making the change, then there are now new solutions out there that can do the job differently to the past.

    1. Some of this we can just agree to disagree on but I appreciate your very considered points. A few points though:

      1. The use of ‘lazy’ is quite strong. However, for me poorly selected and constructed tasks lies at the heart of poor teaching and learning. If we can’t focus on doing this right, what can we focus upon! Perhaps on reflection my use of the word lazy was too harsh (although I have had considerable positive feedback on Twitter about this piece- just not in the comments section here apparently). Perhaps ‘lazy or misguided’ could have been better.

      2. I do agree writing prose as a proxy for maths isn’t ideal but for me it’s better than nothing. I imagine with the increased proliferation of tablets in school it won’t be too long until websites like Diagnostic Questions will allow handwriting input to be submitted.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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