Well, this is it. The grand finale. The third installment. Everyone loves the last of a trilogy…
Moving swiftly on…
I’m going to try my hardest to keep this about worksheets / paper based stuff, even though creativity could inevitably make me digress onto outdoor activities, jumping up and downy things and so forth.
Figure out why you want to do it
You might not want to! I’m not trying to force you to be creative. In theory you could go your whole teaching career without creating anything… but then why are you here?
Being creative seems to have two strands: engagement, and depth. Engagement doesn’t necessarily ensure “better learning”, but if students AREN’T engaged, then certainly they are not learning. If you’re finding it difficult getting certain students to participate in lessons, you may (rightly or wrongly) find success in using more ‘engaging’ activities such as your typical ‘gamification’ of topics through sort cards, tarsias, treasure hunts, iamlearning.co.uk etc. Don’t be fooled into thinking this works because you’re tapping into different learning styles. It’s more about making it more appealing to students to take part in. At a more basic level it may just be to make it more fun for you to teach! Enthusiasm is the name of the game after all.
The second strand to creativity is depth – finding ways to make students think more around a topic, instead of drifting into passive algorithm practice time and time again. We’ll get to that.
Engagement through Creativity
1 – Thread a Narrative
Creating a story around a topic is a nice way to give a bit more purpose to it. Below are a couple of examples:
Just make sure you know your group. If they have poor literacy skills, maybe threading a narrative will be a disaster. Or at least, you need to do the narrative bit, leaving them with less to read to access the maths.
Below is an example with no text in it, but there is a whole (teacher led) narrative behind why Red Hulk is competing with Green Hulk to smash the biggest object. Which you can find here.
This also leads nicely into my second point:
2. Ask questions in a different way
You don’t need to list questions 1-10. They don’t even have to be sequential. The more restrictions you put on yourself, the less creative you’ll be.
Students aren’t learning anything different from say, this:
but if you’re struggling to get them interested, or just want them (and you) to enjoy it a bit more, then the former might be a better way to go.
Andy has been creating clever and creative resources for a while now (a lot of which are on TES here). He inspired me some time ago to change my approach to making resources. I wanted to have more fun with them, and his examples are a really good showcase for using humour (Baking Bad!), pop culture (Dinky King), and narrative (Diffuse the Bomb BIADMAS) to make some really good resources (380 at the last count)
I spoke to him about his approach:
What inspired you to make your own resources?
To be honest I had years of stuff like 10Ticks, which has it’s place and I’m not saying it’s bad but if I’m not enthused by it then the kids will struggle. And much as I like textbooks I had a similar issue, but nothing really hit the money for me personally so I decided to write my own. I post them online so that others can use them but fully understand if other people don’t like them – if we were all the same then life would be very dull. The use of popular culture is my challenge to myself and also might pique the interest of some or all of the class. With the trend towards functional tasks I actually feel relatively cutting edge at present!
How would you describe the style of your work?
I wouldn’t particularly describe it as work even though I use it at work; I actually enjoy producing the stuff (I have led a sheltered life clearly). I would describe it as functional I think.
Where/How do you get your ideas?
Many of the ideas come from students who have taken to making requests on topics; Barbie & Ken and One Direction are examples of this. Otherwise I see something on TV, hear something on the radio or see a clip on social media and I have an idea. Not all at work I hasten to add!
What software do you use?
Software includes pretty basic stuff like Smart Notebook (excellent for editing pictures and overlaying them too), PowerPoint for animations and Word. All pretty run-of-the-mill stuff to be honest. There’s loads of free stuff online though so look around and I can thoroughly recommend Kahoot for interactive quizzes that display on the board but students answer on phones/tablets. A good person to follow for this on Twitter is @ICTMagic – brilliant stuff.
Can you recommend any other people who you think make great resources?
I’m sure that there are loads but I tend to just Google a topic and take a chance on what appears to be honest. TES is always pretty reliable but it all depends what you’re after. I would always recommend Twitter to any modern teacher and search your subject – there are loads of colleagues on there with terrific ideas.
I really like Andy’s work and what really inspired me (and no doubt countless others) is that they seem ‘doable’. The basic ideas behind them are easy to take on board for creating your own resources. Although as Andy himself pointed out above, everybody cloning everybody else isn’t necessarily something to strive for. You may well find some students prefer a text book. Find what works.
Which leads me nicely into the second strand of creativity:
As i mentioned previously, often creativity is about taking a topic and making it more appealing, but there is another side to it. Some of the best resources you can find are the ones that make you (the teacher as well as the student) think. They take the fundamentals of a topic and present them in abstract ways to force you to deduce information, or combine and apply other areas of maths to help you get to an answer.
A couple of great examples of this are Find the Factors – a website that turns multiplication tables into a more thought provoking activity requiring more depth of understanding than simple rote recall, and cryptarithms (you can make your own here).
Both are examples of how using a creative approach to a topic can really enhance the difficulty and the depth of understanding required to solve problems. It’s no coincidence that these are ‘puzzle’ based approaches either. Puzzles are a great way to develop the ability to identify inference and deduce new information.
I can hardly have a post about creativity without mentioning the great Don Steward either. His blog is choc-full of creative thought provoking approaches to standard GCSE topics. His work on Pythagoras is something I frequently loot for my lessons. I discovered factorgrams from his blog too, for which I am eternally grateful!
Also, this factor tree!
4. Get them to write their own
(I fear this point numbering thing has got a little lost)
My final tip on creativity is also my most frequently used. Getting students to write their own puzzles, or questions. I often ask students to write questions for other classes. I’ll ask them to make it a bit obscure, or difficult, but the caveat is that I need an answer to check from, so they have to create a solution too. Often this requires students to work backwards from an answer, or deconstruct an existing problem. Both of which are fantastic ways to check the depth of their understanding. The competitive element when you give each question to a different student in another class is also great to watch play out – and it often makes students much more determined to complete a difficult question… and write their own to send back. There are many spins on this idea, including getting students to teach their parents or siblings as part of a homework task.
So there we have it. The end of a trilogy. Hopefully you are a little more prepared to put a bit more thought and personality into any worksheets you create. Or maybe I’ve just scared you off doing them and convinced you to steal from everyone else. Who knows?
Oh, and I found a decent third part to a trilogy…