#035 Colin Foster: Mathematical Etudes, Confidence and Questioning

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On this episode of the Mr Barton Maths Podcast, I spoke to Colin Foster

Colin is a former maths teacher who is now an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Research in Mathematics Education in the School of Education at the University of Nottingham. He is an author, has written numerous research papers, and is the creator of three outstanding websites: foster77, mathematical etudes and mathematical beginnings.

Colin shares a keen interest in three areas that I am more than a little obsessed about – purposeful practice (or what Colin refers to as a mathematical etude), measuring students’ confidence in their answers, and effective questioning. If any of those area peak your interest too, then I can promise you are in for an absolute treat.

In a wide-ranging interview we covered the following, and more:

  • We spoke about a man we both admire and who has had a significant influence on us, the great Malcolm Swan, who sadly passed away earlier this year
  • Colin then describes a fascinating occasion where a mistake he made could have been turned into a really valuable learning opportunity
  • We then move on to discussing mathematical etudes, with Colin sharing a lovely one with us
  • Can mathematical etudes replace drills?
  • How about other rich tasks?
  • I ask Colin my current favourite question – can you teach problem solving, and his answers is fascinating
  • Then it is time for a discussion about confidence, with me and Colin sharing our strategies for getting a measure of students’ confidence in their answers and why this is a simple, and potentially valuable thing to do.
  • We discuss questions, starting with what makes a good question?
  • When should – and just as importantly when should not – students be encouraged to ask questions?
  • Finally, Colin reflects on research and books he would recommend to teachers, along with what he wish he knew when he first started teaching

This is one of my favourite interviews I have ever done. Colin is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable, and it was just such a pleasure to discuss and debate with him over subjects that fascinate me. I learned so much. I really hope you find it as useful and enjoyable as I did.

A quick mention that depending on when you listen to this podcast my book – How I wish I taught maths – may be either about to be released, available for pre-order, ready to buy, or sent to the pulping factory due to lack of sales, Alan Partridge style. It is a collection of all the things I have learned from two years of talking to the world’s leading experts, and reading all the research I could get my hands on. Some would say it is the ideal Christmas present, but I could not possibly comment.

On Twitter, Colin is @colinfoster77
The EEF report “Improving Mathematics at Key Stage 2 and 3” is available to download here
Links to the books Colin recommends teachers read can be found here, along with the recommendations of all my other guests.
Colin’s main website is foster77.co.uk
His Mathematical Etudes website is mathematicaletudes.com
His Mathematical Beginnings website is foster77.co.uk/mathematicalbeginnings

Colin Foster’s Big 3
1. mathshell
2. Cambridge maths espressos
3. Daniel Willingham Articles


My usual plugs:

Thanks so much for listening, and I really hope you enjoy the show!
Craig Barton

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