Number Talks – Resource Update

A number of schools this year have had training from me on the use of Number Talks – if you’re not yet using these then the are a great compliment to your teaching for a wide range of reasons.  There is plenty of information available on the internet (although as with anything it ranges in its quality).  These two books are also a good place to start (perhaps some summer reading) if you want to learn more:

  • Making Number Talks Matter (Humphreys and Parker)
  • Number Talks: Whole Number Computation (Parish)

I’ve posted some images from some of the Number Talks that have been taking place in a variety of schools I’ve been working with across Highland.



It’s been great seeing the progress particularly around:

  • flexibility in thinking
  • extending the use of strategies
  • discussions around efficiency
  • developing language and questioning skills… among other things.

For those that have had training, I have updated one of the addition and subtraction resources and this also includes 3 short videos (a total of 13 1/2 minutes) with an overview of how to use the resource so you’re not have to trawl through it trying to make sense of it.

The videos are on YouTube and can be found here:


If you’ve had the training and I haven’t shared the permissions to this resource with you, send me an email and I’ll add you to it.

I hope they are going well and if anyone has any more photos or success stories please feel free to share.  Similarly if you’re hitting any stumbling blocks with these let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.


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Making sense of maths… through stories

I wrote this post back in November last year: Books galore and it’s all mathematical

and just wanted to follow up on it with a couple of more specific stories that people might like to try in their own settings.

I’ve included links to suggested activities and ways to take the learning/thinking deeper from the NRICH website.

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Maisy Goes Camping:
Great for developing ideas of more and less (similar to the Mouse Count example in the original blog post).  Kids could have great fun developing spatial awareness skills and concepts of size, shape, orientation etc. with den building activities too!

The Doorbell Rang:
Great for developing ideas and language around equal shares and how this changes with greater/fewer people.

If you don’t have physical copies of the books there are links to the stories on YouTube within the NRICH notes (however a physical book is always nicer than a video clip… in my opinion)!

If you use any of the ideas with your class or have been using other stories please feel free to write in the comments section or send me photos or videos of what you’ve been doing so I can share them on the blog.

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SMC Northern Conference

I’m a bit late updating this one but it was the first time the SMC had run a conference in the North of Scotland so I figured better late than never in terms of writing about it.


The conference itself was organised by Deirdre Murray from Alness Academy and her whole maths department came along to provide support on the day including presentations from Fiona Philips and Elaine Page on ‘Using concrete materials in secondary school’.  As you’ll know I’m a huge advocate of concrete materials to support making sense of maths and it’s great to see this promoted all the way up into secondary school and not just S1… into Higher as well.

Other presenters from Highland included:

Seonaid Cooke (Marybank Primary School) who presented ideas to support the learning of times tables while pupils engage extensively in discussion on strategies.

Julie Brewer (Milton Primary School) and myself (Sarah Leakey) were presenting on supporting pupils to move from Counting on to part-whole strategies.  We were specifically looking at the one that usually causes issues when there is some sort of regrouping involved.  We explored the importance of underlying knowledge and the move through concrete materials and visuals to screening and finally abstract number properties.  This was supported with video footage of the teaching in action with a pupil.

Kirsty Yoxan (Portree High School) who was presenting on the use of G Suite within the maths classroom.  I’ve attended a virtual session with Kirsty before and learnt lots from it so I’m sure attendees to her session would have found it very informative.

In addition to this, there was a wide range of other presenters from other areas with sessions aimed at both Primary and Secondary (and in some cases both).  It was great to see the coming together of the two.

The whole day kicked off with an entertaining and informative start from Andrew Jeffery who explored the creativity of maths and got you making sense of some mind bogglingly large numbers!

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It was a great day and it was fantastic to see so many teachers from across Highland (and beyond) come to the event.  Hopefully it will be the first of many and continue to grow in the coming years.

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PEMC 2019 – What a way to start the term!

The first day back after the holidays and we started in style!

Teams of 3 pupils (predominately P6 and P7) from schools all over Highland congregated at Dingwall Academy to take part in this year’s Primary Enterprising Maths Challenge for a fun filled day of maths and problem solving.

The day was split into 5 parts and kicked off with The Poster Challenge.

The Poster Challenge

The theme this year was Problem Solving and Problem Posing.  Pupils had to do some prior background research and preparation for this.  They had to select three of their favourite problems from a given selection, present them in poster form outlining how they solved them and the maths involved including exploring whether there were connections between the problems; whether they had more than one answer and how different people approach the same problem.  They then had to get creative and come up with their own problem.

Here are a selection of photos from the challenge.

The Round Table Challenge

Pupils had to work together in their teams to solve a variety of problems.  Each problem was given a time limit of 4 minutes before rotating onto the next problem.  There was a huge variety of problems including operational, spatial and logical to name just a few.

For some of the tricker problems, the problems were left out for pupils to go back to in their free time later to see if they could solve what had previously been unsolvable!



Team Challenge

Again pupils worked collaboratively in their teams to try to solve as many problems as they could from a wide ranging selection.

Head to Head Challenge: Strategy Game

Pupils had been given this game, ‘Shady Shapes’ in advance to explore it and hone their strategies to try and see if there were ways that they could develop tactics in order to help them with the task.  Teams were paired up against another school in a strategy Head to Head.

Relay Challenge

The final challenge of the day which again included a wide range of problem solving activities was the relay challenge.  Pupils worked in their teams to solve a problem, when they thought they had solved it, they could run to a designated adult to get it checked.  If correct, they could take their next question.  If incorrect, they could continue working on the problem or attempt the next one.  This was a really fun one to end the day with and all the children got really stuck in.

The Results

The day is primarily aimed at enjoyment and exploration of a wide range of maths tasks many of which were open ended problems that really got you thinking.  All pupils received a certificate of participation.  There was however an additional competitive element between the schools.  The categories and winners of each have been outlined below:

The Poster Challenge

Balloch Primary School

Small Schools Category

Inver Primary School


Medium Schools Category

Beauly Primary School


Large Schools Category

Dornoch Primary School


Overall Winners

Beauly Primary School



Thanks to all the adults, staff and pupils who came along to attend, Dingwall Academy for hosting, Lesley Taylor (QIO) and Donald Patterson (QIO) for support with organisation and judging, Helen Martin (University of Aberdeen) and Craig Lowther (UHI) for supporting with primary organisation and running the day so smoothly.

We hope to see even more schools get involved next year!





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Our new YouTube Channel and its first video… a game with Numicon!

I’m really excited to have finally launched the Highland Numeracy and Maths YouTube Channel.  There is just one video on it at the moment but hopefully over time it will be populated with lots more including ideas for games (like the video below) and ideas for teaching concepts that are sometimes classed as ‘hard to teach’ or ‘hard to learn’.

Back to the game…

The video clip below introduces a game for addition and subtraction using Numicon.

You’ll need: Numicon shapes, Numicon 10s number line and a dice

Material adaptations:
If you don’t have Numicon you could also play this with Cuisenaire rods and a number line that increases in centimetres.

Complexity adaptations:
Depending on who is playing this could be adapted to be
– Easier – For example just play to/from 10.
– Harder – You could rename the 10s as 1s and play this as a decimal game.  The Numicon 10 shape becomes 1 instead of 10 and each part of it is worth 0.1 therefore the 7 shape is worth 0.7 etc.
– Even harder – You could also play this by subtracting below zero and work on negative numbers.

The video shows two pupils being taught how to play the game in both its addition form (Race to Thirty) and then we switch to the subtraction form (Race to Zero).  This could easily be taught to a larger group of pupils in a class and makes a great, purposeful independent activity.


If you have any video requests for example games that target a specific area or an area that you’ve been struggling to get an individual, group or class to understand, let me know and I’ll add it to the list to be made.

Any constructive feedback on the video (too long, too short, just right, too much commentary etc.) would be greatly received.

Happy holidays everybody!

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Scottish Mathematical Council – Northern Conference

The Scottish Mathematical Council Conference is a popular conference held each year.  This year, for the first time, there will be an event held specifically in the North of Scotland and for those in Inverness, it’s right here at Millburn Academy.

There are a wide range of presenters from all over Scotland with content aimed at both primary and secondary so there will definitely be several workshops that will interest you.  The day will run from 10am – 2.45pm.

Click on the image below to view the Conference Overview and Workshop Programme.


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Tickets cost £20 and are available from Eventbrite.

I hope to see lots of you there for a great day of CPD.

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CPD on the move – Mr Barton Maths Podcast

Most weeks I have to travel quite long distances working with different schools across Highland and thankfully I came across the Mr Barton Maths Podcast so I can use the hours in the car really productively and get some really valuable CPD as I go.

The podcasts are typically about 2 hours long and Craig (the presenter) has a wide range of guests from maths teachers, researchers and specialists with specific areas of interest or working with specific age ranges.  People he’s interviewed that you may have heard of include Dylan Williams and Dan Meyer to name just two.

The interviews are packed full of useful information to help inform your teaching and there are always lots of research articles that are discussed and linked to as well as useful websites to visit.  The last one I listened to was an interview with Alex Quigley called ‘Closing the Vocabulary Gap’.  This was really relevant to something I’m working on at the moment to do with language and maths and will also have useful crossovers between literacy and numeracy as well as other subjects.

I don’t agree with all the ideas presented but that’s the great thing about it – that a wide range of views and approaches are presented so it gives you an opportunity to hear alternatives and question your own thinking, values and beliefs.

I can highly recommend everyone getting involved and listening to these whenever they can.

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