A 'perfect' department meeting

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A 'perfect' department meeting

Five hours into my new job and I am already so excited.

Having left an inner-city comprehensive school to work at United Learning, my first day came with the relief of not having to sit through endless INSET day meetings…and then I walked into a Maths departmental meeting and wanted it to last forever.

The excitement around my new role as Southern Maths Advisor increased tenfold (even maybe 1010).

The reason? Observing the perfect Maths departmental meeting and immediately seeing the potential of each teacher and the team.

What made it 'perfect'?

It was the structure, content, tone, engagement, challenge…I could go on. I'll do my best to describe it to you, but I probably won't do it justice.

On arrival, I see that the HoD is facilitating a discussion with the team which will see them agree common teaching methods for multiplication, division and directed numbers. The dialogue between the team is respectful, challenging but also lighthearted.

After debating the Gelocia Method, the Grid Method and Long Multiplication, the team agree on the latter. During the process of arriving at this decision, half of us find out from one of the team that the Gelocia Method offers the cool 'trick' of placing the decimal correctly when students join up the decimals in the question. Immediately after this is explained, the other half of the team call out in horror: "That doesn't teach understanding!"; "The decimal point has to be taught!"; "Estimation before multiplication ensures you don't need tricks!"

Teacher with the trick: "Yeah I know. I'm just playing devil's advocate."

Now I'm smiling.

Then they move on to division: we have (a) short division, (b) long division, (c) chunking. Now, here I am thinking, "This will take 30 seconds, it's obviously (a)." I even nearly shouted out the answer.

But I am so glad I didn't as the discussion that ensued was also great. Option (a) did win. Relief. However, the team decided that it should be introduced using long division first so that pupils gained a strong understanding of the mathematical processes taking place when they calculate using short division.

Finally, negative numbers. The bane of my life when teaching. I hung my head in shame this summer when reading Craig Barton's How I wish I'd taught maths and recalled using 'ice cubes' and 'negative people' to explain how to add and subtract positive and negative numbers.

Thankfully, the HoD had also read Craig's book and recalled blog posts on best practice.

The Start – Direction – Distance method was introduced.


So analogies are out? Yes.

An agreed method is in? Yes.

On top of this the team agree on using brackets to help pupils distinguish the number and the operation

-4 + - 6


Becomes (-4) + (-6)

-4 – 6


Becomes (-4) – (6)

-4 - - 6


Becomes (-4) – (-6)


And finally they agree on explaining negative numbers to pupils by saying that:

Negative numbers behave in the opposite was to positive numbers and therefore, if you are adding a negative number you move down the number line and if you are subtracting a negative number you move up the number line.

What could be simpler!?

What was your best departmental meeting and why?

Do you have a favourite way of teaching these topics or any others?


Amanda Whitehead is a Maths Advisor at United Learning.

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