Joe’s Jotter – Should I Persevere with Higher Level Maths in 2023?

 

More students over the last few years have taken on the task that is Leaving Cert Higher Maths. In June 2022, out of the 57,347 who sat a Leaving Certificate Mathematics Paper, 21,265 of them opted for higher level (37%). Even though the bonus points are very enticing, students need to be careful and be fully aware of what exactly they are embarking on. In my experience, there is a lingering doubt among many 5th and 6th years about being able to tackle higher Maths. Scoring low grades in class tests doesn’t really do much for confidence, but it doesn’t automatically mean you should change level. The question is: Should you remain battling higher level Maths or is it worth the time and effort at all?

This article should reassure those suitable for higher (those who fight the good fight day after day) that they can in fact achieve what they are aiming for. Each year, deciding Maths levels is a tricky issue for students and involves many considerations. It is made even more complex in this subject with the bonus points at play. For those of you who are unsure about higher Maths, it may be worth applying some logic to any inclination to switch. As well you know, us ‘Maths creatures’ are very logical beings lol.  I find that logic is more factual and definite in making decisions like this. It may be more sensible to apply a touch of it here, rather than just using pure emotion. Don’t get me wrong: your gut feeling is important too; but read on to understand what I mean…

I Can Take on this Challenge

Firstly, there is a misconception out there that if you fail Maths, you fail the full Leaving Cert. This isn’t true at all. The two worst things that can happen if you are unsuccessful in Maths is that you will have that low grade for Maths on your CV. Or, if a certain grade in Maths is a requirement for a specific third level course, you will not be offered that course no matter how many points you get; that’s as bad as it gets.

I think having a good Interest in Maths is a great starting point in taking on higher level. Enthusiasm for this subject will go a long way to achieving your desired goal in it.  Students, do you secretly enjoy the challenge of those long practical questions in double classes, or do you dread the thoughts of Maths homework each night? Do you like working with numbers or are you mis-understanding the majority of your teachers’ methods? These are some initial questions to ponder.

Personally, I feel that students know in their heart what level Maths they should be doing. If you feel in your gut that you are lost in class or if it is taking too much time away from other subjects; then reflect and talk it through now. If your anxiety about the subject is getting too high and your grades are dropping, it may be time to move. Definitely, if you have struggled to grasp much of the basic Algebra in fourth and fifth year, it may be a sign that the standard is too difficult for you. However, remember also that there are so many varied topics in Maths, and you may have a flair for some and no real interest in others. Very few of us are good at everything, even the best of the best.

Head Above Water

I always feel that students scoring above thirty percent (approximately) in Class, Christmas and Mock examinations should be able to raise their game to get over the line in the State exams. Students scoring consistently below thirty need to look into their heart and start conversations with their teachers, parents and indeed themselves about what to do. It is important not to remain in the class for the sole reason that your parents want you to do honours. Only you know the content of the Maths course you are studying and how it is going for you. Many students and even some Teachers place too much emphasis on the spring Mock result. I disagree with this premise and prefer to look at the bigger picture. From a percentage assessment point of view, I feel you need to look at a combination of exams sat (even fifth year ones) and indeed your Junior Cycle grade. Keep in mind that the upcoming mock examinations in springtime tests topics across the complete course at a time when you haven’t fully completed it yet.

Is there a Template for Staying or Going?

My intention in this article isn’t to outline a template for who should remain or drop down, as there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. I am simply encouraging you to reflect and balance the argument for yourselves. Over the years, I have taught a substantial number of students who I considered borderline higher level students. Many of them remained at higher and actually ended up outperforming those I perceived as rock solid higher level candidates. Maybe these students felt like they needed to work harder and hence prepared better consequently. There is a lesson in this. American Basketball player Kevin Durant once said, ‘Hard work always beats Talent when Talent doesn’t work hard enough’. The statistics also stack in your favour.  In June 2022, 98.4% of students who attempted higher level Maths got a H6 grade or above and therefore picked up the 25 bonus points. That is extremely high!

In general, your teacher won’t put you too far wrong when decision time arrives. By the middle of sixth year, they know your strengths, weaknesses, and the limits of your capabilities, assuming they have taught you since the start of fifth year. Timing is also an issue. If you do need to drop down to Ordinary level, I wouldn’t leave it any later than Easter. This gives you some time over the Easter holidays, and when you return for the final term, to get familiar with the Ordinary level standard and format of the exam paper. Changing levels on the day of the exam is totally unadvised and should not be considered.

Factors That Will Guide Level Choice

In summary, think about and discuss the below factors in detail with your parents and teachers before attempting to change levels in any subject. Along with mock performance, here are the other factors to consider when making decisions regarding level changes:

  • Your teacher’s opinion.
  • Your ‘potential’ points change.
  • Your Junior Cycle performance.
  • Your attendance in class thus far.
  • Your ‘working relationship’ with your teacher.
  • How much you enjoy studying the subject.
  • Results in previous Christmas and Summer tests.
  • How much of the course you have done thus far.
  • Your own gut feeling and attitude towards the subject.
  • Results in all your class tests since the beginning of fifth year.
  • The amount of effort you are putting into this subject balanced against others.
  • Minimum entry requirements for third level (e.g. a H6 in Maths maybe?).

Before making your final decision, take out a piece of paper and write down all the pros and cons of remaining at higher level or changing.  On the back of the sheet, write a few paragraphs on how you are actually feeling about it right now. Keeping the above list of factors in mind, the answer you are searching for should appear somewhere within these pages as your thoughts and feelings stream out. Use these thoughts to answer your own doubts and plough on from there. Contact me if I can advise you in any way. Joe

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: RIGHT it out by WRITING it out

With a lot of schools switching to iPads and tablets as a mode of Education, the debate rages about which type of notes is best to have from a classroom lecture i.e., typed or handwritten ones. I still think there is a question mark about learning content in digital format, with it being more suitable in some subjects than others. If a student has the possibility of printing something out, in my opinion they should do. With decent printers just over €50, I feel this is a great long-term investment for parents of children at Secondary School.

From listening to students, I think many of them still like to hold a hard copy book in their hand when learning. Even as an ICT teacher myself, I believe that the old-fashioned way of taking notes by hand is still best. Since we now can type faster than we write, students are tending to type notes verbatim (exactly to the word) as they try to keep up with their teacher. We are copying down a lot of the teacher’s language directly. There would be more of our own language than the teacher’s used in a handwritten set of notes, which makes them easier to understand and ultimately, of better quality. The following case for handwritten notes applies to both Secondary and Third level education…

Why handwritten notes are still the market leader…

  • With handwritten notes, we spend more time thinking about the Information before the actual physical act of writing occurs. If we are attempting to type everything exactly as spoken, there is less thinking time about that same information. In essence, I believe that slightly more learning takes place during the actual handwriting process.
  • Keywords are valuable in any content. When you are taking down notes by hand in a lecture/class, you are listening out for the keywords to ensure you are grasping the bones of the sentence. Again, while typing you are trying to get everything down and so your brain misses out on this ‘essential keyword focus’.
  • When handwriting notes, you are putting your own special stamp on them, making it easier to recall information you have translated into your own words.
  • During class, you can link handwritten notes quicker with bubbles and arrows. While doing this, you are learning what the connections are in the teachers’ content.
  • Above all, writing your own notes engages the mind and prompts new ideas and thoughts. It enables your brain to switch to ‘background learning’ mode while you prepare and enhance your notes.

Learning in a variety of ways is the key to success. Working with a study buddy or group is another way that many don’t consider. Students can swap essays and notes, and indeed even teach each other. Upon swapping these notes with friends, they should rewrite them into understandable Information, in order to be able to revise them better later. I am a big believer in summarising your own notes. By all means you can work in a group or with a ‘study buddy’, but once you get their essays or interpretation of topics; highlight and underline their key points. The final piece of the puzzle is summing their content into your own words, to ensure that you really understand it. In my experience, there is a much higher chance of Information sticking with personal and individualised handwritten notes – the old ways are still the best. Try it and see! Good luck, Joe

‘Work hard, dream big, never give up’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: How to Prepare for Exams ‘Home Alone’ (Episode 1)

Being able to work alone is becoming an even more important skill, as third level institutions increasingly develop their online learning platforms. Getting used to notetaking and revising at home, however, is proving challenging for many students. In school, your subject teachers are present to keep you on task, class-by-class each day. This contrasts sharply with the number of distractions and ‘extra-curricular’ activities vying for our attention at home.

Episode one of this feature article contains recommendations and practical advice to get a revision routine going at home. Preparing notes and revising at home is alien to most students unless they have been home-schooled. These guidance articles, which come in six parts spread over the year, will provide you with tools and ideas to help you get organised, advise on motivation and explore the role your parents may have during ‘home revision’ periods.

Next Day’s Plan

From an exam student’s point of view, the first thing you need to look at each night is your plan for the next day. If your plan is to ‘do a bit of study’, a large part of the day could well pass you by. At this stage you need to develop your own workable home routine. To do this, I would recommend getting up at the same time, showering and having a structured plan for revision, meals and breaks to facilitate that pattern you need. Organising yourself the night before is key. Knowing what to expect the next day will increase your productivity.

Learning Successfully at Home

To learn successfully at home, you need to investigate new ways of finding and using material online, including being familiar with new software and websites. You will definitely need to be more self-disciplined and more efficient at managing your time than ever before. Planning next day’s ‘Revision timetable’ each night with thirty-minute blocks for each sub-topic will certainly help. Use breaks and little rewards to motivate yourself. With your teachers not around, you will need to challenge and motivate yourself minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour. Hopefully you will look back later and view these changes you have made at home as a positive period in your life. Without knowing it, you will effectively be turning yourself into independent thinkers and learners, and these skills will stand to you at third level and in the world of work to come. Even during term time, there is only so much your teachers can do for you. You must do the bulk of summaries, testing and revision at home.

Your Study Area

Ask yourself the following questions: Is my revision area free from distractions, comfortable, and spacious? Is there natural light in the room and is the desk and chair I am using the right height for me? Is my study desk full of ‘non educational material’ or is it clutter free? Is this a place to prepare notes and learn? Your answers to these questions will indicate if you need to make changes to this area or not.  Up to now, your study area was only used for three to four hours each evening, but now it may be required more, and you need to ensure you are happy with how it is setup. Ideally, I would locate my revision area outside the bedroom, in order to disassociate revision with sleep. Depending on your circumstances, all of the above may not even be possible – but just do what you can. Link in with your parents to try and get as many of these elements in place as possible. I will publish the five subsequent parts of this feature at Christmas, February Mid-term, Easter and just prior to June’s State Exams. Stay tuned for more useful Insights on ‘Revising at home’ as time progresses. Joe

‘Check the plan the night before for tomorrow. Adjust and make it achievable.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Students) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the links:

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Joe’s Jotter: Parents & Primary School Children: Working in Harmony


With Primary school students having spent much time recently learning from home, parents are now taking a greater role and Interest in their children’s education. This is a difficult task, as many parents are working from home and trying to support their child’s learning also. Creating a consistent routine, keeping positive, keeping calm, putting rules and consequences in place, allowing time for your child, talking to, and reassuring them are all factors that will contribute to producing a more harmonious learning environment.

I have worked with a Primary Teacher to develop this feature and I hope you will find it helpful as we move to a new normal and different ways of learning and communicating. In this feature I have included some areas we consider important to you as a parent at difficult times like these. I hope they are of some help and create a safe, happy and loving environment for your child.

It is important to plan a daily structure and involve your child in this process. With your child, sit down together and draw up a balanced timetable of learning, fun and breaks. A child will follow a timetable better if they help plan it and this will also build their confidence. In doing this you are giving them a level of ownership to control and determine their own routine.

Tips on planning a routine and timetable

  • Set times to get up and go to bed
  • Agree a timeline including structured work, recreational/practical activities, and breaks
  • Choose activities the child enjoys
  • Plan short sessions e.g. 20 mins and always allow flexibility. There is no set time if the learning is balanced and varied
  • Identify times you can work with them and times they can work independently
  • Aim to include movement breaks regularly throughout the day
  • Ask your child what they like to do and include this in the daily schedule
  • Introduce a positive reward system e.g. choice time, sticker chart. treats etc
  • Decorate the timetable and display it at your child’s eye level

Supporting Schoolwork at Home

Junior Infants – 2nd Class

The best way to support children of this age is to:

  • Sit with them as they work
  • Work for short intervals
  • Take movement and snack breaks
  • Use the outdoors to break away from tabletop tasks
  • Use a reward system
  • Encourage your child to focus on the task in front of them
  • Read words/questions carefully
  • Form letters correctly
  • Check correct pencil grip
  • Have concrete materials readily available for number work
  • Provide practical experiences for Maths work, e.g. Shapes around me, weighing food from the cupboard, counting, checking etc
  • Challenge them by asking different types of questions in various subject areas
  • Try and relate topic areas to your child’s own experiences
  • Always give praise and encouragement

3rd Class – 6th Class

  • Allow children to work independently as much as possible
  • Offer support and assistance as needed
  • Assess learning by observing, questioning and correcting work
  • Monitor presentation of work and handwriting
  • Look at their school workplan beforehand to familiarise yourself with the different subject areas
  • Use age-appropriate actions from the ‘Junior Infants – 2nd Class’ list above

Outside the Classroom

It is important for your child to enjoy free time and activities they have fun with. Here are a range of activities that you and your child can choose from:

  • Practice how to keep safe during Corona virus spread
  • Exercise, sport, games
  • Imaginative free play
  • Fine motor skills: Lego, play dough, beading, building blocks and cutting
  • Linking in with loved ones and friends on voice calls and video calls as social interaction is very important
  • Learn life skills: indoors and outdoors (Choose jobs that children can do)

– Baking, cooking, gardening, (planting, weeding), setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, making their bed, tidying their room, folding clothes, sorting clothes, hanging out the washing, farming (safely) etc

Media and Online Time

It is important that your child has access to recommended online facilities during any school closures where possible. Ensure your child’s safety online and set up parent controls on devices to monitor child’s activities online. Below I will list some of the more useful websites you can work on with your child.

It’s a good idea to link with the school and class teacher through email, in order to give and receive feedback and to send on work samples for assessment.

 Eleven Useful Websites to Support You as Parents (Click below)

helpmykidlearn.ie (Learning for all Age Groups)

PrimaryScience.ie (Science)

twinkl.ie/offer (enter the code IRLTWINKLHELPS)

webwise.ie (Online safety)

vooks.com (Literacy)

starfall.com (Literacy)

scoilnet.ie (All curricular areas)

topmarks.co.uk (Maths)

learn.khanacademy.org/khan-academy-kids (Words and Numbers)

askaboutireland.ie (SESE)

krokotak.com (Arts and crafts/colouring)

positiveparentingsolutions.com (Parental Advice)

“Mistakes are proof that you are trying.”

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

Joe’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert

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Photo: @ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: My ACE Pointers to Help Students Settle Back into Revision

Students,

As we reach the end of our first month in school, you may be struggling to return to some kind of a revision routine. Here are six useful signposts for all students to get you back into the swing of completing homework and revising classwork.

  1. Take regular breaks.

Yes, really! Taking short five-minute breaks every thirty minutes should keep you fresh and focused. However, make sure that five minutes doesn’t turn into an hour! Go for a short walk, call up a friend or have a snack and then come back to your work on time. Some studies have found that having a natter with friends can have a positive effect on memory and that laughing increases serotonin (the body’s chemical that makes you happy). It is important to leave your study area during your breaks to get a change of perspective and return with renewed energy for the next session. Enjoyable breaks will allow you to become more efficient with your study blocks. Setting mini targets like completing a long exam question followed by a prolonged break is a smart way to operate.

  1. Stay alert and interested.

When reading, it is a good idea to make notes or highlight key terms. I believe you should always revise with a pen at hand. I feel that just by reading a piece of text, you are not actively engaging with it. In my experience, you will remember more by summarising it or even just by making red or green sub notes on the page. This method keeps the brain tuned in to the task at hand. Other learning methods you might consider for variety include YouTube videos, online quizzes, or creating mind maps. If you find yourself struggling to stay alert, you are probably tired, and it may be time for a break or retirement for the evening.

  1. Be ruthless with your notes.

Many students go to educational institutions after Christmas to boost their store of materials and, of course, their confidence. However, I have seen many students over the years become overwhelmed with too much material and they just end up getting swamped, not knowing where to start. In subject areas you find difficult, reduce your material into manageable, thought-provoking snippets. If you take notes in class, make sure to date and keep them for revision later. Dig out last year’s material requiring revision at this point. It is important to keep a record of what topics you have done in class and how long your teacher has spent on them. This will ensure you are clear on what has been covered and what still needs to be investigated. Being persistently consistent in relation to your notes is a big factor in doing well in exams.

  1. Set goals and keep records.

Setting goals will help you monitor your study and will give you something to work towards. If you under perform in a class test, set a mini goal for your next test to improve by a certain percentage. In your school journal, write down all your goals and check them off as you complete them – name it a ‘Junior Cycle or Leaving Cert bucket list’. Ultimately, use long-term goals to motivate you to ACE the short-term ones. Long-term goals might include a points target in your Leaving Certificate, a possible trip to third level or scoring that rewarding job later. A short-term goal will help you get where you want to be long term. Reviewing the success of your short-term goals every two weeks will give you a sense of achievement. An example of a short-term goal could involve summarising and understanding a chapter from your book and completing a past exam question relating to it. All my successful students over the years have created plans and set goals for themselves.

  1. Earn your rewards.

Don’t forget to ‘have a life’ as you develop a routine that works for you. Reward yourself after a long study session with a trip to the cinema or visit to your friends. Ultimately, reward yourself with breaks, taking a reasonable one after every good hour’s work. There is nothing wrong with the odd bar of chocolate, ice-cream, or packet of gummy bears; everyone who has done something constructive deserves a little thank you. Earn rewards with each thorough revision session you complete. This will Increase motivation and improve your overall revision output.

  1. Start thinking about Past Exam papers.

Those of you in Exam years: Are you familiar with the layout of each exam paper and its marking scheme? If not, you need to get checking. You can source all the past exam papers in the ‘Examinations Material Archive’ section of the examinations.ie website. If you are doing exams in 2023 and haven’t a set of exam papers for each subject, don’t delay, get them today. A large part of your revision should be to assess and practice answering questions from past exam papers (under time pressure) on the topics you have covered in class. Remember also that each subject’s exam paper is different, so you need to familiarise yourself in each subject. You need to find out the exact layout and style of each individual paper. Is there a choice in sections? How many questions do you need to attempt in each section? Are there short/long questions or both? And most importantly, how long can you plan to spend on each individual question? Being super familiar with paper layout is key. Joe

‘Eat that Elephant, chunk by chunk, bit by bit, step by step.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

Joe’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/JoeMcCormackEducationalExpert

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Joe’s Jotter: Performing Well in Difficult Subjects (Case Study – Maths)

As you settle into the new year, teachers and parents totally understand that even though you are making great strides, you still have plenty of fears. From speaking with students over the years, I find it’s not the full set of exams that cause concern, it is usually only one or two subjects. Naturally everyone has their own talents and subjects they prefer. Personally, I was better at the Sciences than the languages, but I persevered and got the grades I wanted in the languages I chose.

Sometimes subjects you are not looking forward to are the ones that have you on guard and you end up doing better in; A paper on the day can go well in an exam you were dreading. I regularly hear welcome surprise coming from students on results day, with comments such as “I didn’t expect that result in xxxxx”. The moral of the story here is that too much concern about a subject could end in false worry and be draining you of energy; energy you need for revising all subjects and getting your head space right.

Preparing for one of your less favoured subjects is a blatant case of having to ‘get on with it’. Of course, it is easier to revise and work on subjects you enjoy and are good at, but you must not ignore the others. Studying and preparing the ‘frog subjects’ is probably the biggest challenge you will face in school. You must prioritise these subjects on your weekly ‘Lifestyle Study Timetable’. I will detail how to setup this timetable in a later blog feature. Author and reconstructive surgeon, Jack Penn, once said:

“One of the secrets in life is making steppingstones out of stumbling blocks”.

Building Confidence in Maths

Maths is one of those subjects that many students find difficult. To me Maths is about grafting to understand the basics, building your confidence, and not being prepared to give up easy. Always start by attempting the easier topic questions (usually the part a’s and b’s) and subsequently graduating to the part c’s and d’s. You should check your work as you go against a good quality solutions book and thus be constantly ‘learning by doing’. Here are some of my top tips to improve your performance in Maths (and its exam) at any level.

Joe’s Top Tips for Success in Maths

  1. Put formulas, explanation of words and keynotes into a little pocket notebook.
  2. Practice as many past exam questions as you can and check your answers against a fully developed and explained solutions book.
  3. Challenge yourself to try and come up with a second method of doing questions.
  4. Try to approach each question from different angles. Always write down something. Do not be afraid of making a mistake.
  5. Draw a diagram (if possible) and label it to simplify a question.
  6. Be familiar with what is and what is not in your log tables.
  7. When studying, exhaust all attempts to answer an exam question before referring to your solutions book. Do not give up easily.
  8. Read each question in Maths carefully underlining the key words and phrases.
  9. At all levels, if you feel overwhelmed by the length and difficulty of the course – start with basic Algebra
  10. Find yourself a study buddy to share questions and resources with. Discuss problems with each other and encourage.
  11. Use various Internet sites as a companion to improve your Maths skills.
  12. Consult your teacher about problems with topics or specific Maths questions during and after class.
  13. Start by attempting basic questions for each Maths topic, building up to a full exam question. Answer the exact question being asked.
  14. The word FAIL in Maths for me means First Attempt In Learning
  15. Do not be afraid to explain a solution to a question with words if you cannot do so with numbers and symbols.
  16. Spend five to ten minutes daily going over what you have learned in class that day.
  17. Every time you write down a formula, draw a box around it to help you remember it. Check if this formula is in your log tables. If not, you need to memorise it.
  18. Anything that you type into your calculator (related to a question) must be written on your answer book/copy also.
  19. Have all resources present when doing Maths questions i.e. Full Maths set, pencil, calculator, and log tables.
  20. 3rd and 6th Years, practice as many previous exam questions as you possibly can.
  21. Rewrite sample questions given in your textbook to get an understanding of the basics.
  22. It is ok to look at a solution to a question if you have tried your best to solve it alone. Use the answer to figure out the exact method for the question. Re-do it without help.
  23. Work with groups of friends on harder Maths questions. Bounce ideas off each other in order to understand and learn from their thinking.
  24. Always write out every single step of your answer. This will be easy to look back, revise and follow later.
  25. Talk positive about subjects you find difficult. Don’t throw away your shot at success by talking your way into failure.

In next week’s Joe’s Jotter, I will advise 2nd and 3rd year students on how to restart their revision routine. Don’t miss it. To view last week’s feature article on ‘How to Efficiently Review your Exam Scripts’, click here. Get in touch if I can help you in any way. Joe.

‘Sail on the Seas of ambition and land on the shore of success.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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Photo:@ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: The Best Ways to Navigate Secondary for a Student with SEN

 

Students who have Special Educational Needs (SEN) can struggle with various different tasks each day at Secondary School. As teachers and parents of first year students, we want to make their transition to Secondary School as smooth as possible.

The Additional Educational Needs (AEN) Coordinator manages resources for the one in four students (ESRI, 2017) who benefit from support that goes beyond standard classroom teaching. Resource Teachers provide such support and often facilitate learning in small groups or on a ‘one to one’ basis. Practical supports are provided by Special Needs Assistants (SNA’s) to allow some students access the curriculum as independently and inclusively as possible. Many schools have autistic classes where ‘best practice’ in inclusion means that autistic students are supported by the whole school community to develop their strengths, meet their potential and enjoy school life alongside siblings and peers.

This feature article should provide some sapient advice on how you can help your child navigate their day-to-day engagements more seamlessly. It also contains some useful advice and informative recommendations for Parents of Students with SEN that are already attending Secondary School (2nd Years upwards). As I see it, the support they require is twofold: ‘Home’ Support and ‘School’ Support.

 The ‘Home’ Support

  1. Photocopy their timetable, have copies in their locker, on the fridge, in their journal and for their pocket.
  2. Photocopy their bus ticket. Have a spare ticket in their school bag, at home and in their school locker in case it is misplaced.
  3. Get colour coordinated folders. Give each subject a colour. For example, all English related work and notes goes into a green folder. Put a green sticker on the English textbook and English copies and colour code ‘English’ green on their timetable. If you have a map of the school, then the room where English class takes place should also be shaded green. Everything ‘English’ related is green and so on for each subject.
  4. If using a locker key, make multiple copies and get a springy key chain so that they can attach it to a loop on their pants or skirt. Alternatively, use a combination lock and get them to memorise the code between now and the start of school. Mark with nail varnish or spray paint to make it brighter and easier for them to see their property from a distance.
  5. Have a stash of spare copies and additional stationery material in a cupboard at home. Let them know where it is, so that they can draw on it as things go missing or get filled up.
  6. Have a morning checklist on the fridge for: books, lunch, keys, jacket, PE gear etc.
  7. If possible, arrange for them to tour the school before day one. It is also a good idea to do a trial run of their trip to school to get an idea of the route and timing. This will avoid any travel trauma’s during week one. Leaving extra time, if possible, is wise of course.

The ‘School’ Support

  1. If possible, arrange that they meet as many of their subject teachers and year head prior to starting back or as soon as is possible. This gives them certainty about who will be working with and helping them this year.
  2. Look into having a safe and reliable person that they can approach for help and advice in school on a daily basis.
  3. If they have a Special Needs Assistant (SNA), make sure that person has a copy of their colour coordinated timetable, a spare locker key and a copy of the bus-ticket. Provide this person with anything else that might smooth the transition back to school for your child.
  4. Make it your business to get to know your child’s Assistant Principals and Class Tutor as soon as the year commences. Connecting with teachers is always a good start to any year.
  5. Have a notebook that they can write in during the day in case they find something challenging. Both of you can reflect on it together when a suitable time during the week arises, in order to see what challenges might need to be overcome.
  6. For the first hour each evening, allow them to breathe and relax when they get home. Do not expect them to talk immediately after school. It is advisable to allow them some quiet wind-down time first.
  7. Advise them to choose/request a Locker at eye level and at the end of a row. This is so important, as all their classmates and other classes may be scheduled to go to their lockers together, leading to mayhem at times. Having to reach down with people blocking their path can be especially challenging for someone with social or communication difficulties. This is definitely one practical suggestion that will ensure they are on time for each class and that they can get access to the correct materials for each class quickly also.
  8. Encourage them to link up with a buddy or designated person in each subject class, so they can text them to find out what homework they have, should the need arise.
  9. If they are using a laptop, most Secondary School books now come with a code written inside to allow the eBook version of it to be uploaded digitally. This means they can leave more books at school each day, lightening their load.
  10. Getting to know the school secretary, for both you and your child is very worthwhile, as this person will have an awareness of who your child is and what their challenges are etc. With high volumes of traffic, any extra support or eyes around the Secondary School environment can help greatly for those who struggle in various practical ways.
  11. Be aware that your child may get side-tracked at times, realising then that their class is already gone to the next period. This actually happened to me in first year and it’s not a good feeling. Talk to them about what to do in this scenario. Again, an idea for them might be to go to secretaries office. Talking through a few of these little potential situations can really ease their mind as they will retain a visual of what to do should they occur.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Transitioning to 1st Year from Primary’, click here.

‘Sometimes, if you don’t take a risk, succeeding may become difficult.’

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books are available below.

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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*****

Photo:@ZhangChaosheng

Joe’s Jotter: Tips to ACE the Transition into 1st Year (Part 2)

 

Practical steps to smooth the Transition into Secondary School

There are loads of positive initiative’s both you and your child can take as they start Secondary school. In Part Two of this feature, I will discuss three key areas for you to consider in order to ease this transition: One, the importance of learning support; two, your awareness of how the first few weeks are actually going for them; and three, practical tips for both you and your child to consider at school and at home. Part One of these transitioning tips was published two weeks previous and is available now to read here.

  1. The Importance of Learning Support

  • Secondary Schools will have learning support for your child. If your child’s new school is missing any key Information around this, ensure they get it as soon as possible. Some schools will have a staff meeting (in September), where your child’s year head will outline important strengths and weaknesses of each student (confidentiality assumed).
  • Learning support at Secondary is different to that at Primary school level. Contact the school if your child had been receiving any type of support at Primary that their new school may not be aware of.
  • Flag any difficulties that your child had in primary school, so that it is entered onto their personal file. The class tutor and year heads will then have access to it from there. Ensure to always request the correct learning supports that your child is entitled to.
  • If your child has complex special educational needs, they may need a transition plan to assist them to transfer to their new secondary school. You and your child will be involved in developing this plan. Other people may be involved, as necessary, including relevant teachers from their primary and post-primary school, NEPS psychologist, health professionals etc.
  • As appropriate, a support plan may also include information on your child’s learning, social and communication, care, (for example: dressing, toileting, mobility, and medication), sensory (such as over sensitivity to noise, textures, lights) and physical needs that require environmental adaptations such as changes to the school building, adapted seating or other specialised equipment.
  • Most post-primary schools will have links with their feeder primary schools. This allows for an easier transfer of information between them. Usually, there is contact between the 6th class primary/resource teacher and the receiving post-primary school. This will help to overcome any disconnect between what was taught in primary and the starting point in certain subjects at second level.
  • For all parents, I would recommend writing a one page profile about your child noting the difficulties and barriers they faced at primary school. Include in it the strategies that worked and that didn’t work for them. This would be valuable Information for their tutor, year head and individual subject teachers should you like them to have it. I know that as a teacher, I am always pleased to get Insights like this, should parents be willing to present them. It gives us as teachers a deeper understanding into how each child interacts and learns, allowing us to support and get to know our students better. Outcomes are always better when Insightful Information about a child is shared.

You may also wish to ask the school management team some key questions at the start of your child’s first year…

    1. Where can my child go if they are struggling, anxious or having a meltdown?
    2. What happens at break and lunch time? i.e. unstructured time
    3. How can my child get help with reading, spelling, Maths, or homework?
    4. How will support during class assessments work in each subject?
  1. 2. Awareness of how they are Settling In

  • Watch out for any early signs of bullying by regularly checking in with your child. Tune in from day one to see whats going on and whats being said. A lot of bullying goes on via their phone; so ask them to pass on any issues or concerns they may have e.g. a hurtful comment, message, or mean social media post.
  • With things being a little unsettled for the first few weeks, establishing a routine is really important. I would try to maintain the dinner, bed, study, training, and recreational routines at home as best you can. Kids that are going through change crave some kind of routine and they will look to you first for that stability.
  • After the Initial settling in period is over, keep an eye out for disturbed sleep, anxiety, and poor eating habits – it may be a sign of something not being quite right at school.
  • Watch out for emerging red flags i.e. Not wanting to do activities they enjoy, spend time with friends, or an unwillingness to go to school. Teach your child to talk to you.
  • Ask them: What subjects they like? Who are they sitting beside? Who are you hanging around with? What clubs have they? Always try and get an honest conversation going.
  • Try to listen to them if they have had a bad day.
  • In general, if you get them into good habits in 1st year, 2nd year will be way more straightforward (A major ACE tip here) especially from a communication viewpoint.

      Practical Tips for things to do…together at home

    • Make a few copies of their weekly subject timetable.
    • Photocopy the bus ticket, keeping a spare one in their locker and at home.
    • Help them get organised with colour coordinated folders (available in most stationary shops). Colour code each subject, for example, English goes in the blue folder. Put a blue sticker on the English textbook/copies and colour ‘English’ blue on the timetable. If you have a school map, the room where English class takes place can be shaded blue also.
    • Have a morning reminder checklist on the fridge for: PE gear, lunch, keys, jacket etc.
    • Know the system. If they can view their books on a laptop, this may sometimes allow them to leave the hard copy books in school. Most secondary school textbooks now come with a code where you can upload the book digitally onto their laptop. This is handy Information to know.
    • Making a distinctive mark on their belongings will give them a better chance of them not being lost or stolen, especially during the upheaval of the first few weeks.


     Practical Tips for things they can do…at school

     

    • Having a safe person they can approach for help or advice, more than one if possible.
    • Carefully minding their colour coordinated timetable, the spare key/code and bus-ticket.
    • Trying to build up good relationships with their home room class, class tutor and year head.
    • Ask them to note their daily challenges in a little notebook. It is advisable not to expect them to talk immediately after school. Giving them some quiet processing time will allow you to get a gradual but subtle chat going as the night progresses.
    • Getting to know a friend in each class that they can text to find out what homework or revision they have for the next day. Classmates will vary depending on the subject.
    • Getting to know the school secretary, should any issues or concerns arise.

    To view part one of this feature article on ‘Transitioning into first year’. click here. Joe

    ‘Do your best. That’s all that is ever asked of you.’

    More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

    ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

    ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

    *****

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Joe’s Jotter: Tips to ACE the Transition into First Year (Part 1)

 

There are so many genuine concerns for students as they make the leap into the big pond that is secondary school. Over the next few weeks, I will provide Information and direction to help you as a parent to reduce the stress of this unique transition. This feature article comes in two parts. Firstly, i will analyse the differences between Primary and Secondary School followed by my Top twenty tips for Transitioning from one to the other. A further instalment of this feature will follow online in two weeks’ time. There will also be a feature article to aid Parents (of Secondary School students) who have children with a Special Educational Need (SEN) published soon.

The Main Differences Between Primary and Secondary School

Subjects and Settling into Secondary School

  • All first year students will take Irish, English, Maths, Science, History and Wellbeing (excluding exemptions).
  • Students may get a chance to sample subjects in first year before committing to them.
  • Extra-curricular activities such as debating, drama, science club etc may be available.
  • It is a great idea for students to join clubs and make new friends. Remind them about some of the skills of making friends; good eye-contact, smiling, showing interest in other children and reciprocal conversational skills. Making friends is a key element to settling into any secondary school.
  • Encourage your child to enjoy many school activities. I did a study of a panel of footballers I coached previously, and they performed better on average academically compared to their peers. This suggests a link between activity, socialisation, and performance.
  • If your child enjoys a specific sport or activity, it is a good idea to get to know the teacher who co-ordinates it.
  • It will be exciting for your child to start new subjects if the school offers them. For example: wood technology, home economics, engineering, business studies etc.
  • Students should give each subject an equal amount of homework time for the first few weeks to give each one a chance.
  • It is wise for students to complete the homework of their less favoured subjects first each evening. This will ensure their concentration is at its maximum for these subjects.
  • The better your child’s teachers know them, the better working relationship in class they will have with them. This also feeds back into what extra-curricular activities they sign up to. Personally, I find that the better I know my students, the more I am able to help them in the classroom. Encourage your child to build positive relationships with their teachers, even if they aren’t crazy about their personality or teaching style.
  • Advise your child to enjoy their secondary school experiences. This takes any early pressure off them.

The Secondary School Structure

  • The Subject Teacher – most teachers teach two subjects and may spend up to six classes per week with your child.
  • The Tutor/Form/Home Room Teacher – involved in attendance, day to day and possibly some pastoral care or disciplinary work.
  • The Year Head – Home room teachers report to this person. They usually deal with serious discipline and pastoral care issues etc.
  • Deputy Principal and Principal – Admin, School Organisation, Events, Final decisions etc.
  • First Year Students – Students are usually divided into 4 or 5 class groups of around 25 to 30 people (depending on the size of the school). They will remain with this base class for core subjects: Irish, English, Maths, Wellbeing etc. The majority of schools have mixed ability classes in first year. This tends to help with socialisation.

‘Mixed-ability groupings in first Year leads to improved progress in literacy and numeracy and can give students more confidence as learners’

(Moving Up -ESRI/NCCA 2004).

  • Students are usually mixed in their base classes based on Information from their Education Passport (provided by their primary school) and performance in their entrance tests.
  • Streaming may occur in some subjects in second year. This is where students are grouped by their ability – Higher and Ordinary. e.g. Maths
  • The student council body suggests ideas and raises student related issues with school management. Usually one student is nominated from each class or year. This is the students’ vehicle for discussion and influencing change. The schools’ head girl/boy and deputy head girl/boy are usually elected by the school’s student council.

The Day to Day School Routines

  1. It’s important for students to have a substantial breakfast each morning e.g. Porridge, fruit, yoghurt, or a wholesome cereal. Students will need something ample to sustain them until little break when they can have a snack. Advise them on the sensibility of not eating their packed lunch at the first small break and being hungry for the afternoon then as a result.
  2. Roll call, locker access and lunch are at certain times. If your child tends to be dis-organised, make sure to advise and help them to plan ahead for these situations. Ask them to speak to their class tutor or mentor/buddy if any early issues emerge here.
  3. Get them to copy out their timetable into their journal in order to get familiar with it. Colour coding subjects on this timetable can help them track their progress for the week.
  4. In some schools, the students travel to the teacher’s base rooms. In other schools, the teachers move around, and each class group has their own base. Having the correct materials for each class every day is Important. Checklists can help here. Being efficient at having these materials will greatly help the transition into secondary school and keep your child’s stress levels down. Colour coding or identifying belongings with a unique mark also works well.
  5. Moving around a new building can be disconcerting for a child. They can get lost which can be upsetting for them. Advise them to tag on to one person from the class for the first few days or weeks until they get their bearings.
  6. Many schools have gone to hour long classes to facilitate recent Junior Cycle changes. During the first few weeks settling in, they will be tired each evening. It may be an idea to plan ahead so that extra-curricular activities outside school are minimised during this period. After this ‘fitting in’ period is over, plough on with these important pastimes as normal.

Twenty ACE Tips for Transitioning into First Year

  1. Talk with your child, listen to their views and concerns and answer any questions they may have about the planned move. Talk to them about individual subjects. Help them plan their evenings and the fact that each one will now be different.
  2. Many students get anxious about tests. You can explain that they are to help the school to learn more about the supports that they may need. Advise them to speak with the individual subject teacher if they are concerned in any way about a subject or an upcoming test.
  3. Try and bring them inside the school building before term starts. This is to familiarise them with the school at a time when there are fewer people in the building. They can learn about the layout of the school and maybe get to know some of their new teachers. They can become familiar with the operation of the school including the frequency of bells, the location of lockers, where their base room is, and the location of other key practical rooms.
  4. Involve your child in buying schoolbooks, uniform, P.E. gear, materials etc. Involve them in more decision making from now on. Empowerment fosters ‘buy in’ from them and works.
  5. Talk to your child about the length of the school day, how a timetable works and travelling to school. Trial runs are good. Leaving early for school each morning will minimise any anxiety caused by rushing. Anticipate where they may get anxious during the day.
  6. Talk regularly over the next few weeks about the new school rules, P.E. arrangements, the canteen, lunch breaks, uniform, and the timetable. Make yourself familiar with the policies of the school. Regularly check the school’s website for any news or policy updates.
  7. Ensure that as many of their subject teachers know about your child’s exact strengths and difficulties. i.e. Some of this information is on their ‘Education Passport’.
  8. During term one, if possible, visit the school every so often to meet their subject teachers, the tutor, and their year head. Check their journals regularly for any notes sent home.
  9. Get your hands on or draw up a map of the school to promote familiarisation.
  10. Consider that it may take your child time to adapt to a new classroom, new teachers, new activities, and new subjects. Ensure they build in down time each evening to maintain freshness and enthusiasm for the next set of daily challenges ahead. Unlike Primary School, every week differs, and things can be more unpredictable for them.
  11. Organising Issues: Be sure to plan ahead by purchasing additional materials for each subject. School booklists and stationary lists are your first port of call here.
  12. If possible, show them a few little skills around note-taking. Most of their subject teachers may not get the opportunity to work on this vital skill due to the focus mainly being on content.
  13. Talk about and help clarify the Locker process. Many kids get bogged down with this.
  14. Advise them to use their mentor or buddy, and class tutor as best they can.
  15. Getting clever at knowing what equipment is required for each class is important: i.e. protractors, setsquares, colours, stencil sets, rulers, pens, calculators etc. A good tip is to remind them to write down each teachers’ instructions during week one about what is required in each subject. There is no need to carry all of their books all of the time. Put their Class Timetable and School Calendar on the fridge at home as a reminder to all.
  16. Encourage them to sign up to a few clubs and society’s on ‘club’s day’ in September.
  17. Re-enforce the key habit of recording Information, especially in relation to homework. Check their Journal weekly to ensure homework is being recorded and completed properly.
  18. Get the 3-way communication lines going i.e. Teachers-Parent-Student. In primary school, it was more about the Teacher-Parent link. Start including your child in more appropriate conversations from now on. This allows them to feel more important and take more ownership of their school day, and ultimately their learning.
  19. Do as much preparation for each school day the night before as you can. Get your child into the habit of having the uniform out, bag correctly packed by the door, lunch ready etc. This again will reduce stress levels for all involved in the morning madness. Again, consider using a checklist with your child if they struggle to organise themselves in the mornings.
  20. At secondary school, the days tend to be longer. Encourage them to start their day with nutritious food. They should grab something and eat it in the car on hectic mornings. Of course, this isn’t ideal but is certainly better than going without as another busy day starts for them.

To view last week’s feature article on ‘Anticipating Better Revision for 2022/23’, click here.

Part 2 of transitioning Insights into First Year will be published online in two weeks’ time. Don’t miss it. Do contact me if I can advise you in any way. Joe

**Leaders are made. Heroes earn their status**

More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2023) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.

ACE Maths Tuition Classes: acesolutionbooks.com/ace-maths-tuition

ACE Maths Solution Books: acesolutionbooks.com/buy-my-books

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