Remote maths teaching – 10 things to think about
1. Can you pair up with another teacher and deliver a lesson to several classes at once?
Preparing online lessons takes more time than it does for face-to-face classes, so have you thought about working with another teacher to plan or deliver lessons to more pupils?
We did a recent poll on Twitter around this and found that 89% of teachers were teaching their own classes, and the remaining portion were either pairing with another teacher or teaching entire year groups at once. If you’ve not considered it already, maybe buddying up with teachers is something to explore?
2. Do your students have to join you online, every lesson?
In another twitter poll of over 370 responses, we found that 63% of teachers reported their students were online with them, every lesson, with the remaining teachers saying that there was a mix of students being online and working independently. Interestingly around 10% of schools have implemented a remote teaching timetable. This suggests that teachers aren’t setting as much independent learning as would be happening in the classroom which I think is probably a pastoral angle to show more support in this current climate. Students like that their teacher is 'there' if they need them.
3. Do you use a second device while teaching?
If you’re using a platform, such as MS Teams, then joining the lesson on a second device, such as your phone, can make keeping an eye on the class chat much more manageable. Equally if you’re paired with another teacher, one of you can teach and the other can respond to the chat.
4. Should we be replicating the classroom experience or focusing on their amount of learning?
Remote teaching can be daunting and perhaps we shouldn’t be trying to replicate the classroom experience. Instead can we think of whether we should be trying to replicate their amount of learning? That’s a subtle but important difference. It’s similar to the same way we ask trainee teachers to think about “how do I get them to learn this?” rather than “how do I teach this?”
It’s perhaps too easy, when remote teaching, to fall into the trap of over-teaching and spending too much of the lesson talking. I hate silence and I’ve always had a bad habit of wittering when I should just be quiet. Think whether you can 'teach less' and get them to 'learn more'? An online and remote forum could actually really support this way of teaching.
5. Are you making the best use of pre-prepared resources?
In terms of “how do I get them to learn this?” please remember to rely on as many pre-prepared resources as suits you. Don’t spend time reinventing the wheel: there’s plenty out there, of a high-quality, for every topic imaginable.
Many people have found the powerpoints from DrFrostMaths.com a lifesaver. They are easy to adapt to your own purposes.
If powerpoints aren’t your thing then I would recommend a graphics tablet (£30-£50), which allows you to write on your screen like you would on a board in a lesson. Mine saved me hours of extra lesson prep in the first lockdown. They work well and allow you to add your own extra annotations and comments to any prepared resources.
However, do you even need to do that? Why not use video examples that other people have prepared for the initial part of your lesson? If it’s of a good quality then why shouldn’t you use it to replace a section of a lesson where you’d have to spend hours setting up a powerpoint to present key examples?
Making good use of pre-prepared resources, such as short videos, can free up your planning time to the hard task of getting feedback to students. We have GCSE videos on our YouTube channel and AS level example videos here that you can use too.
6. How do you know if your students are engaged or not?
Understanding whether your students are actually engaging with maths online, rather than being 'zombie students', can be really hard. Sometimes getting them to respond with answers in a chat can be a nightmare. As soon as one person answers, it’s too easy for everybody else to just sit back and relax. One suggestion, I was given, was to give the students some thinking time and to type their answers ready to go in the chat window, but not to press return until you’ve said 3-2-1-go! The teacher said that they got far more responses that way.
7. Is it possible to save time when contacting parents or chasing pupils’ work?
Do not underestimate the amount of extra admin time that you need for chasing pupils for work or contacting parents. In the last lockdown this became so time consuming that we decided that one person in the department would be responsible for a weekly email burst to students (and sometimes parents) to highlight missing homework. Show my homework was good for tracking submitted work, but we found that we had to email students, or parents, in order to chase them for missing work.
One way to save time is to use a spreadsheet, with a comment for each pupil, to create an email merge to send individual comments to students or parents. All the emails are set up as bccs, so there are no problems in terms of GDPR. We spend so much of our time chasing work that it’s too easy to overlook that parents really appreciate a quick note reassuring them that all is well, and their child is up to date and a mail merge is a great way to do that quickly. This was a massive time saver compared to writing individual emails. You do have to have the desktop versions of Word and Outlook installed on your PC, rather than the web-based versions though.
8. Are you tempted to avoid the tricky stuff?
Remember to aim high! There’s absolutely no reason to avoid topics that students find difficult in class because we are operating remotely: we just need to be more creative about how we monitor which direction they have gone. It’s often useful in maths to let the students go down the wrong path, for a while, so that they can learn important points on the limits of topics. A great mantra here is ‘Fail, Learn, Improve’. Just because we’re not face-to-face doesn’t mean we can’t work around that, in terms of seeing what they’re doing. Take a look at our recent training on OneNote Class Notebook and how it can be used for your students to upload their work, even in the middle of a lesson.
9. How do we spot safeguarding concerns remotely?
Identifying potential safeguarding concerns is always the hardest thing in teaching but arguably the most important. When students are operating remotely this is ten times harder to do and there are potentially higher risks to students’ safety than when they are in school.
We are trained as teachers to 'think the unthinkable' and students working remotely will create far more 'false positive' alarm bells going off due to extra missing work or skipped lessons. When do we get concerned that a missing homework, or online lesson absence, becomes an indication of a safeguarding concern? It could be just broadband issues or several siblings sharing the same device. It’s the patterns across lessons that could be important, and we need an efficient way to manage that, so we don’t miss any real concerns.
Do chat with your head of year or safeguarding lead about pupils, so they can coordinate whether this is happening across several subjects or not. While it may bring additional admin at this busy time, a shared spreadsheet where people can record this kind of data centrally could really help the safeguarding team to join up any potential dots. Highlight to your school if you are concerned about any procedures for managing safeguarding. What you had in place when pupils were in school may not be robust enough for remote learning.
10. Ask for help – we are here!
Finally, you are not alone. The whole education workforce is in this together, responding to the (what can feel like endless) changes and challenges that come our way.
At Pearson, we are 100% committed to supporting teachers and learners as we navigate these extraordinary times, and we want all learners to experience the power of education, and maths, anytime, anywhere.
To see what other support is available to you and to access further advice, please visit our secondary maths remote teaching and learning support page.
We want everyone to believe they can 'do' maths. That's why we're actively advocating the power of maths and working to ensure everyone can engage with the subject and what it can do. Find out more about the Power of Maths.