# Maths - Knowledge snowballs

Working it out for themselves - an avalanche of enlightenment

"Man gave names to all the animals," Bob Dylan once sang - a reference to Adam's creativity in Genesis. Naming was one of the first skills he required, coming in a whisker after listening and gardening. And in the classroom, we maths teachers need to be able to name phenomena.

I came across the wonderful word "lubbing" the other day, short for "looking up in the back of the book". In a maths classroom especially, this is an activity that deserves a name. "Lubbing" for me carries connotations of "lubrication", which judicious use of the answers can certainly provide. The word also contains a touch of "landlubber" - someone too cautious, perhaps, to set out alone on their own mathematical ocean.

Words can suggest extended metaphors, can become resonant labels that we share with others, and can be gathering points for discussion.

In my classroom, I'm fond of the "avalanche". Let me explain. A pupil calls me over, and I think I can see a key weakness in their argument. Often (preferably), it needs no word from me, just a subtle indication. Then comes the "Aaahh!" moment.

Should the teacher stay and help in the reconstruction that must follow? Surely it is better to let the pupil reconstruct for themselves, while the teacher heads off to the next raised arm.

I call the "Aaahh!" moment "an avalanche" - an overwhelming influx, my dictionary says. "Avalanche" comes from avaler - Old French for "to descend" - and that fits, too. The solution has somehow "got above itself". "Avalanche" can also be a verb - the teacher "avalanches" the problem for the pupil to produce that precious "Aaahh!"

What else does my dictionary tell me? An "avalanche" is a shower of particles produced after a high-energy particle meets matter - the result of an impact produced by something tiny, but extremely intense. So the teacher who wants to avalanche effectively must aim their "particle" carefully; the greater the precision and focus, the wider the shower produced.

Is my naming here fanciful, trite - grandiose, even? Is the phenomenon it notices so quotidian as to be unworthy of the honour? Maybe if we noticed the everyday more and accorded it greater respect, we would reap surprising rewards. We should all, perhaps, aspire to follow the physiologist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who said: "Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen, and thinking what nobody has thought."

Jonny Griffiths teaches maths at a sixth-form college

In the forums

In the TES Maths forum there's an interesting debate on GCSE pass marks and whether or not they're fair. Why not join the discussion?

And if you want to make the most of iPads in the classroom, check out the thread on their practical uses.

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources034.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

## Latest stories

### Reading program fails to boost progress, study shows

An EEF evaluation found pupils using Accelerated Reader did not make additional progress compared to pupils in schools not using the programme
Claudia Civinini 23 Jul 2021

### Podcast: End of a year of 'unprecedented disruption'

The Tes news team on the big stories of the academic year 20/21, the teacher pay freeze, record absence rates and Oak Academy's future
Dave Speck 23 Jul 2021

### The lessons learned from a school penalty shoot-out

When his class asked why the England team had lost because penalties were easy, this teacher found a demonstration was better than an explanation
Omari Barton-Ellington 23 Jul 2021

### 3 golden rules for whole-school reading approaches

Focusing on literacy across the curriculum is a big task – and it starts with 'eating the frog' early, says this leader
Kate McCabe 23 Jul 2021

### Why you need to think twice before 'punishing' a pupil

Payback should never be the motivation for a behaviour sanction, so make sure your decisions are based on what's best for the pupil rather than on raw emotion
Jarlath O'Brien 23 Jul 2021

### FE podcast: Life skills, Covid catch-up and Andy Street

Join Kate Parker and Julia Belgutay for this week's FE podcast
Tes Reporter 23 Jul 2021

### WATCH: What jobs did you have before teaching?

Teachers told us about work they did before teaching – spanning a mind-boggling range of work experience
Henry Hepburn 23 Jul 2021

### 5 things to do when faced by 'teacher bashers'

Teachers deserve their summer break this year more than any other – so don't let online trolls ruin it
Gemma Clark 23 Jul 2021

### Primary school victory in DfE academy high court battle

High Court judge rules that education secretary Gavin Williamson's decision not to revoke an academy order on a primary school was irrational
John Roberts 23 Jul 2021

### ‘Dear teachers: you have been amazing’

Looking back on the past year, school staff should remind themselves that they have been doing an extraordinary job in extraordinary times, says Geoff Barton
Geoff Barton 23 Jul 2021