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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Another site with digital manipulatives!

I stand by the fact that it is better for pupils to be able to use and manipulate concrete materials themselves (as opposed to just seeing/using digital versions of these) however the digital versions are handy particularly when you’re trying to show something to a whole class or a large group and you want them to be able to see it more clearly.

A student teacher recently showed me the Mathsbot website – I’ve no idea how I hadn’t come across it before as it’s full of the things I love!  It has even more digital manipulatives than sites I’ve shared before and also has increased versatility for some of them as well.  For example, with the ‘Dienes Blocks’ it has an exchange button so if you have a ‘ten’ for example, by clicking ‘exchange’ pupils can visually see the ‘one ten’ being exchanged for ‘ten ones’ – this is supported by colour coding and you can also separate them out afterwards too.

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If you have any ‘go to’ websites and want to share them with others – drop me an email with a review of the site including how and why you use it with your pupils.

I’m always keen to evaluate the things I and others are using so would welcome a discussion on pros and cons of any of these things and whether they are just gimmicks, fun things that kids enjoy doing and/or whether they truly enhance pupil understanding and experiences.

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Primary Enterprising Maths Challenge 2019

The Enterprising Mathematics Challenge took place for the first time in Highland in 2017, and we are delighted to offer this exciting challenge for primary schools for the third year running.

The event will take place on Tuesday 23rd April 2019 at Dingwall Academy, in conjunction with the University of Aberdeen and University of the Highlands and Islands and will be open to Primary 6 and Primary 7 pupils.

Each school can enter a team of three pupils with an accompanying teacher/adult. A team should consist of at least one boy and one girl from either Primary 6 or Primary 7, although for smaller schools consideration will be given for pupils in Primary 5 to enter too.

Whilst there will be an element of competition between schools, the emphasis of the day will be on working together, mathematical thinking, skills and enjoyment.

The day will run from approximately 9:45 till 3:00, with different problem solving and mathematical challenges throughout the day – further details will be given nearer the time, but here are some example of the challenges from 2017:


Follow this link for photos of the 2017 event:

Highland Primary Enterprising Mathematics Challenge 2017

All participants and their schools will receive certificates of participation.
The Highland Enterprising Mathematics Challenge trophy will be awarded to the overall winners.
There will also be prizes in the overall competition for:
1st place small school (under 40)
1st place medium school (41-120)
1s place large school (121+)

Finally, for the poster competition there will be a prize for 1st place (all schools).

As demand was very high last year, places will be limited, and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.

If you would like to enter a team for this event please email by Friday 1st March 2019.

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Upcoming CPD

There are a few upcoming CPD courses that people may be interested in if you don’t already know about them.

HNP: An introduction to assessing, planning and teaching in numeracy (full details below)
20th February 2019 (in-service day)
Inverness – Inshes Primary School

Using concrete materials effectively to support conceptual understanding at Early and First Level (details below)
Date: 12th February 2019
Time: 4pm-6pm
Location: Inverness – Inverness Royal Academy

Using concrete materials effectively to support conceptual understanding at First and Second Level (details below)
Date: 21st February 2019
Time: 4pm-6pm
Location: Inverness – Inverness Royal Academy


HNP: An introduction to assessing, planning and teaching in numeracy
This course will be a useful introduction to anyone who has not had training using the diagnostic assessments or the Highland Numeracy Progression.  It would also be useful for individuals who are new to schools who have already received a lot of training and they have not had the opportunity themselves.
Main areas to be covered include:

  • Exploring the difference between knowledge and strategy
  • Using the diagnostic assessments and understanding the stages of thinking in numeracy
  • Understanding the ‘Teaching Model’ to support conceptual understanding.
  • Hands on ideas to support teaching at Early, First and Second Level.

Spaces are limited to a maximum of 2 teachers per school (but please contact me if you wish to put more staff on)

Using concrete materials effectively to support conceptual understanding

Both courses (Early/First and First/Second) were originally put out to probationers but would be relevant to any staff who want more CPD in these areas.  There are still spaces on both courses so they are being opened up to staff other than probationers.

Main content will include:

  • Ideas involving a range of concrete materials will be covered so there will be options for all regardless of the concrete materials your school has.
    Concrete materials include: cubes, counters, tens frames, straws, Dienes equipment, Cuisenaire rods, Numicon, Decimats, animal strips, fraction towers, Rekenreks, abacus etc.
  • Ideas for using digital versions of these hands on materials will also be shared.
  • Choice of material based on targeted strategy and number range will be explored.

The cut off date on the CPD calendar is today for the course on 12th February but there are still spaces so if you wish to sign up after the cut off date, that will be fine.

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Textbooks as a tool for learning

Many schools who have worked with any of the previous Numeracy Development Officers will know that the use of textbooks when they are used in the form of ‘today we’re on p.23 and tomorrow we’ll be doing p.24’ is discouraged as the pace and level of challenge often isn’t quite right for pupils and opportunities for rich discussion and deeper learning are sometimes limited or missed.  Some textbooks also offer quite a procedural approach to learning with rules and procedures that if rote learnt without conceptual learning often don’t appear to help pupils in the long term.

However, as with anything, if the right textbook is used as a ‘flexible tool’ to support teaching and learning at the right time then it can be useful and effective as with any resource or material.

Craig Lowther, who previously worked in Moray and now works at UHI, will be delivering a webinar for the GTCS about this very topic.  The details and link to the event are below:

gtcs webinar

Title: GTCS Webinar: Using Maths Textbooks in Primary
Date: 04.02.19
Time: 16:00 – 17:00
Venue: Online

To register and for more details click here:

For those of you who have read my previous posts about Dan Meyer’s 3 ACT TASKS, you may be interested to know that some of his 3 Act Tasks are inspired by textbook questions but turned from sometimes quite dull questions that purely require computation (often of a given algorithm) to contexts in real life that stimulate pupil curiosity, encourage them to question, estimate, justify and explain as well as the doing the computation part.

Here’s a Ted Talk from Dan Meyer explaining it in more detail (well worth a watch):

So, I suppose the message I’m trying to get across here is three fold:

  • Reflect on the appropriateness of the resources/tools you have and how you are using them.
  • Use the tools that you’ve got in a flexible and meaningful way to promote pupil understanding.
  • And finally, the old saying… ‘It’s not what you’ve got, it’s the way that you use it!’
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Ideas with Numicon and other manipulatives

Thanks to all those who attended the Numicon workshop today and also for Numicon for coming along to deliver it for us.  It was very well received and people seemed to be armed with ideas when they left.  (A few photos below with a brief description of some of the activities.)

Familiarising ourselves with the Numicon shapes by playing games to select specific pieces while learning and using a range of mathematical language.  Race to 30 got us adding, exchanging and subtraction.


Using the Cuisenaire rods to explore mathematical language and also think about what happens when you change the value of the piece… if the beige piece is now worth 5, what is the orange piece worth?


Using Cuisenaire rods to explore fractions including equivalent fractions, subtracting fractions with different denominators and what happens when you change the value of one of the pieces.


A few posts ago I shared some digital resources that represent many of these manipulatives, Cuisenaire rods weren’t included in that but there is a digital version available on Maths Playground if you’re looking for one.  I made the image below on it.

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For those that weren’t able to attend hopefully you’ve got a tiny snapshot into the possibilities of the sorts of things you could do if you have Numicon (or other manipulatives in your school).  I’ve also included a video below with an idea for how you might teach addition of fractions using Numicon.

If you don’t have Numicon, some of the resources can be printed from the Oxford Owl website (it’s free to create a login).  When you are on the site, navigate to ‘Numicon’ and then click on the tab that says ‘Teaching and Assessment Resources’.  Here you’ll find a few free printable resources, activity ideas and videos that you can play to see Numicon in action.  Lots of schools have Cuisenaire rods that lie unused as people aren’t sure what to do with them so there are quite a few clips here which will give you some great ideas.

The adding fractions activity above could also be done replacing the Numicon shape with an easily made 2 by 2 four frame instead (for example) and using counters instead of the Numicon pegs.  You could also get creative with Lego and do a similar activity.

If anyone has some good examples of how they are using manipulatives in their school to support conceptual understanding, whether that’s Numicon or any other form of manipulative (tens frames, Cuisenaire rods, dienes equipment, straws and many more)

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