Frequently asked questions

Do you have a question about Back to Front Maths or how problem based teaching works?  Chances are that someone else has the same question.  Please check our frequently asked questions list here, or email us your question so that we can add it to our list.

Each question is listed, with articles beneath it to answer your question.

  1. How is Back to Front Maths different to other approaches?
    1. How Back to Front Maths works
    2. Assessing for Understanding rather than Fluency
    3. How Back to Front Maths diagnoses and fixes misconceptions
  2. How do I know what the most important concepts to start fixing are?
    1. Try our five-minute diagnostic tasks.  Start with the grade-level appropriate one, then drop down through the list until your kids don’t get stuck.  That’s where to start.  The tasks take a maximum of 15 minutes and most only take 5-10, so you should be able to get a really good idea of what to do within an hour.
  3. Is Back to Front Maths linked to the grade levels in the AC or to one state’s grades?
    1. Back to Front Maths is written to align to the content of the Australian Curriculum, therefore grade 3 in B2F is the same as grade 3 in the AC.  To download an Australian Curriculum Preparation Pack click here
  4. How do I get started now that I have the resources?
    1. Read Getting Started.  Remember to take it slowly in your first term and not try to do too much as it takes a lot of time initially to correct student misconceptions.  You will catch up on content teaching in terms 3 and 4 if you take it slowly in term 1 and make sure that your students really understand the critical number concepts.
    2. Read about the critical number concepts in the first three years of school
    3. Choose your lessons from our Lessons Bank if you are a site member.  Each of the lessons with (JP) written after it is a journal problem.  Each of the others is a blast lesson.  All files start with a lesson plan and then have activities for the students.
    4. Check out our Teaching Tips in the daily help section for great ideas on grouping, behaviour management, questioning etc.
    5. Think about your time management and how to best get things done by reading this article on Time Crunch
  5. Won’t my kids stuff up NAPLAN if I’m not pushing content heavily?
    1. No – NAPLAN is actually a test of deep understanding and problem solving.  The content is not set at a hard level, but requires a really deep understanding of simple concepts.  Read this article on how to prepare for NAPLAN, take a deep breath, and focus on getting the kids to think really hard.  That is the best preparation that you can do.
  6. My kids don’t understand anything!!!  What do I do?
    1. Don’t panic!  You can fix this.  It will probably take a whole year of dedicated teaching though, with a focus on fixing misconceptions and developing thinking skills. If you are not a member of this website, then click here to join.  If you are, then the Lessons Bank lists the Most Important Concepts for each area as well as suggestions for what support students have probably missed.  Spend around six weeks of term 1 fixing number concepts for the previous grades rather than trying to teach content that is beyond the understanding of your kids.  Once you have done this then your year will be much easier and you will actually be able to catch up on content teaching because it will be much faster once students understand the previous number concepts.
    2. Read Rick’s Story about my experiences of teaching Support Students in Maths and making a real difference.
    3. Read these two articles on student misconceptions:  What misconceptions are and How to fix misconceptions.
    4. Check to see if students are missing the first two critical concepts in number.  They really won’t be able to learn much without a heavy focus on these first.
    5. Read about the difference between assessing for understanding and assessing for fluency to make sure that you are measuring growth in understanding and not just memorisation.
  7. My kids can’t do the Journal problems!
    1. The journal problems are significantly different to normal text book questions which are primarily written so that D students can still fill in the blanks.  Journal problems are designed to be unfamiliar problems that are deliberately hard so that your A and B students are pushed to really think.  Your A and B students should be able to do them with some leading questions (which are in the lesson plans), but the other students will probably show a range of misconceptions.  This process is invaluable for diagnosis and will help you to target these misconceptions throughout the rest of the week.  That being said, remember to use the tips for teachers in each lesson plan to adjust the content level in the problem for your students.
  8. My kids are at really different levels – I can’t cater for everyone.  What do I do?
    1. Yep that’s probably true.  However, differentiation is much easier in a problem-based class than in a traditional class as it targets student understanding.  Read this article on how to differentiate without driving yourself nuts.  Set up a challenge table to increase your flexibility, and read about how to use rotational groups successfully.
    2. Check out the lessons bank for suggestions for both support and extension students.
    3. Make an extension box.  Put investigations and problem-solving tasks in it and get it out for use with your extension students when you need to spend some dedicated time with your lower end.
    4. If you want a hand with programming, then consider ordering our small-schools program ($150 once-off payment).  This provides a work-program aligned with the Australian Curriculum for grades 1-7 that is being used successfully in a number of one and two teacher schools to improve their NAPLAN and PATM results.
  9. My kids don’t want to take any risks so I can’t get them to even try the problems.  What do I do?
    1. Read this article on how to get kids to want to risk take.
    2. Read this article on kids who just want to do worksheets so that they can get all the answers right.
    3. Make sure that your metalanguage isn’t conflicting with what you are trying to do.
    4. Read about how to avoid saying “No” when kids are problem solving
  10. My class is really naughty so problem-solving and group work have not worked in the past.  What do I do?
    1. Getting kids engaged in thinking is probably the best behaviour management tool that there is.  Successfully solving a challenging problem is internally motivating, so after a while you will probably find that you have a lot less behaviour issues during maths.  Read this article on behaviour management in problem based lessons
    2. Consider grouping your kids according to their behaviour rather than on their ability.  Read this article on how to set up groups and this one on managing behaviour during rotational groups for how and why this strategy makes a real difference.
    3. Remember to adjust your problems appropriately using the suggestions for support and extension students in the lesson plans, as well as the additional activities for these kids in the lessons bank.  Read this article on how to differentiate without going nuts because often kids are badly behaved when a problem is set at an inappropriate level for them (either too hard making them feel stupid or too easy making them bored).
  11. It takes so long that my kids get bored.
    1. Don’t try to get kids to answer every single question with a long sentence which takes a lot of time and some kids hate.  There is a built-in redundancy in the questions so that you can pick and choose when to answer in long sentences and when to just talk about things based on the needs of your kids.  The extra questions are important for support students to have time and opportunity to develop an understanding of the patterns, but should not be used for every student.
    2. For your extension students, consider skipping straight to the Manipulation or Backwards questions that are found at the end of each lesson (or in lesson three for the grade one and two journals).
  12. It is hard getting around all the students to mark them.  What kind of assessment should I be doing to make it fair?
    1. The marking proforma is included only for the four or five students that you would naturally observe in a week, not for marking everyone.  Read this article on an appropriate assessment schedule.
  13. When I ask students how they got their answers they tell me that they just knew it.  How do I improve their Reasoning?
    1. Read these simple tips on improving reasoning.  This is a skill that develops over time, but these tips sure speed up the process!


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