Mysterious cat aliens


Our NQT diarist has come through her first observation unscathed and is embracing the freedom first-year teachers have to experiment in lessons.

Well I’ve done it. I have survived my first lesson observation of the new academic year! As someone who always shied away from any kind of performance-based activity when a pupil myself, I cannot say I find the idea of my professional competencies being judged on a 50-minute snapshot terribly appealing. Now that the event is over though, I have to say it was really not that bad. In fact, it was quite fun.

The class was year 7 “bottom” set. I began the lesson with a routine speedy settler, all pupils were engaged and banging out their “times tables super stars” like there was no tomorrow. We recapped on decimal place value, before moving on to some fun AfL with the mini-whiteboards involving lots of higher level questioning aimed at addressing some key misconceptions. 

The one low point of the lesson came when, clearly not satisfied with my customised, differentiated, dyslexia-friendly worksheet printed on pastel paper, a mini-spat erupted between a girl who was “cussing” two pupils in the row in front (“But Miss, they was looking at me funny!”). 

This was quickly forgotten however when we moved on to the grand finale; the ever-popular “washing line challenge” competition. This is a fail-safe ordering decimals activity, which has previously earned me a complaint from the teacher in the classroom below when I used a modified version with my much more raucous top-set year 7s. While I apologised for making it feel like the roof was going to collapse on him, I still cannot help but have a little smile of pride. After all, the cause of such raucous excitement was an organising decimals activity. Who says maths can’t be fun?

Thinking of ways to make some parts of maths fun to pupils who have never really enjoyed the subject can be a challenge, but the results are worth it.

Being an NQT gives you the freedom to experiment, try out new ideas and see which are pedagogically sound, while also enjoyable for pupils. The best year group to perform these experiments on is, of course, the year 7s; they are so enthusiastic! Just today I tried out a new introduction to my teaching of measurements and, more specifically, length. 

Thanking God for the beautiful autumn sunshine bestowed upon south London this morning, I took my little guinea pigs outside to find objects of different lengths. Seeing the girls inquisitively picking up sticks, selecting leaves and pebbles of just the right size and debating whether this piece of bark was in fact 5cm or more like 3cm proved a refreshing break from my usual classroom territory.

Another successful lesson saw my year 8 class and I spend a whole period discussing why a negative number multiplied by a positive number produces a negative product, under the stealthy guise of them having to explain the phenomenon to a mysterious cat alien. This turned out to be a great way to develop their conceptual understanding; spending time not just thinking about what the rules for negative numbers are, but why they work, led to some interesting debate. All pupils made clear progress in their understanding without having to copy down a single “sum”.

The only complaint concerned the suitability of my suggested mode of communication with a cat alien: “But Miss, cat aliens can’t speak English.” I obviously pointed out that, due to the pupil never having actually met a cat alien, she could not possibly know this – whereas I, having met several cat aliens, can confirm that they do in fact speak fluent English!

  • Our NQT diarist this year writes anonymously and is a teacher of maths from a south London secondary school.


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