20 Aug

I love resources – textbooks (Textbooks Count), practice papers, maths websites……

One of my favourite sites is Corbett Maths which is great for worksheets for specific topics.  The “5-a-day” sheets of practice questions was perfect for revision for somewhat reluctant students.  The thought of tackling just 5 questions on one sheet of paper is much less daunting than starting pages of exam questions.  Check out the GCSE revision cards too.  I have both sets on hand for tutoring and for when my brain goes blank – which I am happy to admit does happen!

Another favourite and great site is Maths Genie – GCSE and A level revision by topic as well as past papers, predicted papers, useful dates….

I have recently discovered RSL Educational which is brilliant for 11+, 13+ (Maths and English) and GCSE Maths.  The practice papers are so good that I even did a blog post about them!  Since doing that post I have been using the 11+ papers a lot – the dreaded exam is on the 7th September in Kent.  There is a touch of humour in the questions that my students have really enjoyed.

In the last week I have discovered Mathster.  I spotted this on Twitter (@mathstermaths) and thought that it was well worth signing up for a free trial.  I was going to wait until I had spent loads of time on the site (when do I ever have that though!) before even thinking about reviewing it – but in just a few days I found it so useful that why wait before telling others.

I have a wide age range of students from 8 year olds to 18 year olds.  I try to produce personalised worksheets on a regular basis for every single student.  This is somewhat time-consuming.  Occasionally I can reuse the same worksheet for several students but this is rare – different students find different topics challenging so need different worksheets.  This week I have created no less than 5 worksheets for my students – each one in under 5 minutes.   Mathster has a vast bank of prepared questions and it is really easy to navigate through the index and to find questions for each and every topic.  With just a few clicks you can create a worksheet tailored to a particular student’s needs.

This week one of my 11+ students was a little confused about 3D shapes; particularly faces, vertices and edges.  I’m not creative so the thought of producing a worksheet with 3D shapes that actually looked like 3D shapes filled me with dread.  So I headed to Mathster.  It took me just a few minutes to produce a worksheet ……. and fortunately didn’t require me to have any creative skills (something I am sadly lacking in!).


My attempt at producing a worksheet does not do justice to this great site.  There are numerous options for adding borders, backgrounds and clipart.  I intend to try to be a little more creative in the future!

I have barely scratched the surface of Mathster.  It looks like you can produce online assessments, track students progress and more.  Now all I need is to find some time…..

Disclaimer:  The views and comments in this post are my own.



GCSE Maths (9-1) Higher – Fantastic Practice

21 May

GCSE Maths by RSL – Higher Level (9-1) Non-Calculator – Practice Papers


I am a bit of a resources junkie…. I love decent textbooks and good quality exam style practice papers.

Purely by chance I stumbled across RSL Educational when I was looking for resources on Amazon.

This year is the first year for the new GCSE (9-1) Maths syllabus.  There are only a limited number of practice papers available – no “past papers” as the exam hasn’t happened yet!

I’m a private tutor and my students are devouring practice papers at a rate of knots in the final run up to the exam.   The style of questions for the new exam is different to the previous years….    HELP!  I was running out.

I had tried the Edexcel Practice Papers Plus and I wasn’t impressed.  The Revision Workbook was slightly better but so full of errors that I had to download numerous corrections from the Edexcel website.   Neither I nor my students like the format of the Practice Papers Plus – the pages were far too busy.  The questions are down the middle of the pages with coloured “Watch out” and “Hints” notes down the edges taking up almost a third of each page.  This made the papers hard on the eye and far from easy to work through.  Quite simply – distracting.

I thought I would give the RSL Educational papers a try instead.   They have been compiled by Robert Lomax who has been a tutor for many years both in London and Hong Kong.

The pack I ordered contained 6 realistic GCSE Mathematics modelled on the non-calculator exams set by all the boards for the new 9-1 syllabus.   They are printed on high quality paper which just makes them feel good to handle.  (The little things go a long way….!).  The papers are loose leaf so reluctant students can break them down into more manageable bitesized chunks and for the more industrious student a simple stapler can solve any organisational issues!  The question papers simply contain the questions – clear and easy to follow without any surplus messy and distracting information.

I really love the solutions supplied with each paper.  Not just a mark scheme with the answers (these are not helpful if you have no idea how to tackle a question).  Believe me, as to my embarrassment this has happened during a tutoring session, a vague answer is of no help whatsoever if you haven’t a clue how to tackle the question in the first place.  Instead Robert Lomax has carefully written not only the answers but also detailed explanations as to how to get to it.  Hooray!  The solutions are also easy to read and contain useful tips such as “Because the question indicates that your working will be marked, you need to make it very clear : essentially like a proof”.

A couple of photos of a page of questions and the solutions so that you can see for yourself how good they are.

The shop page on RSL Educational offers you the chance to dowload free papers so that you can give their products a try.

Other products in the range are :

11+ Comprehension Volumes 1 and 2

11+ Maths Volume 1

8+ Comprehension

13+ Comprehension

Robert also has a blog including posts such as “47 Powerful GCSE Maths Revision tips to Try NOW”.

I can highly recommend these GCSE Maths papers and will be trying out their 11+ ones too…. as soon as the stress of GCSEs has passed!

Disclaimer:  The views in this post are my own.  I bought the papers myself from Amazon.


4 May

Textbooks Count

For some reason I hadn’t realised that there was a going to be a seminar on this – I just happened to notice it on Twitter.  Brilliant.

The “Cambridge Approach to Textbooks” was launched in April by Cambridge Assessment.

I feel passionately about textbooks – mind you I love books so perhaps I am a little biased.  We have bookshelves in every room – all overflowing.  I tried culling them the other week – one book ended up by the front door to go to the charity shop and it still hasn’t made it there.

This is just a small part of my maths collection.


I also have my “old faithfuls” – CGP AQA Maths Higher Level Revision Book and Bond “How to do 11+ Maths”   that permanently live in my tutoring bag for easy reference.  They are well thumbed with an accumulation of coffee stains and cat paw prints!  If I need to refer to something quickly ranging from what an octagon looks like to a graph of sin x – they fit the bill.


I love books (in case you haven’t realised that  by now!).  I love maths  books – I feel really strongly that children in schools should have their own text books and that they should be allowed to take them home too!  Surely that is fundamental and shouldn’t be open for debate?   Some of the students I tutor say that occasionally they are “allowed” to look at books in the lessons but have to hand them in at the end … What is that about???

I have been lucky in that I have been  asked  to review  some textbooks – I really enjoy getting  the  chance  to give feedback.  It’s relatively easy to pick up on what works with students when you are with them one-to-one.

Learning Objectives in text books  – hate them – as do my students.  The objective is to get to the end of the section having learnt something – simple as that.   Who wants to dissect it – I certainly don’t – nor do my students.  You then get to the end of the section and have to say what you have learnt….  why?  Publishers – please leave these out of your books.

A lot of my students these days do MyMaths at school – so my computer sometimes  goes on during a maths session.  Before I start waffling … I just want to say that I am not against computers – part of my degree is in computing.  I am sure that MyMaths has its place, and a useful one at that.  I do wonder about the merits of it for homework in place of “old-fashioned” written homework.  It unfortunately often becomes a tick box exercise with the student intent on getting as many green ticks as possible and a smiley face without really taking  in the content.  Isn’t there some research somewhere that suggests writing things on paper actually gets your brain to remember them  better?  It’s difficult to refer back for revision purposes – in fact it seems to me (but I could have got this wrong) that once you have completed the exercise it is difficult to see the work you have done and instead you are offered another exercise.  Feel free to correct me those who know about it!

Back to textbooks…

I was thrilled to be asked by Galore Park to  attend  a focus group at their London office to give feedback on their new books.  I genuinely was pleased to be asked what I thought – I firmly believe that publishers need feedback.  I really like the Galore Park books – I have their year 4, 5, and 6 maths books as well as their 3 Common Entrance  books.


They all come with separate answer books (to keep away from the students if need be). The answer books also come with photocopiable worksheets for extra practice.  The books are easy to read with lots of practice and great examples.

I also like Hodder books – probably not surprising as they are all part of the same group.  They style appeals to me.  They have great pictures such as the following one on how to draw a perpendicular bisector – something students struggle with.


They also don’t have learning objectives!  I use their Mastering Maths KS3 Series as well as the GCSE a lot – what  is not to like about a whole book devoted to Algebra!


Incdientally Hodder have a great Loyalty Scheme.


My younger students really like doing pages in workbooks and have a genuine sense of achievement once they have finished the book.  Schofield and Sims have some great ones.  I particularly like their Understanding Maths Series.  It’s great for helping children really get to grips with specific topics such as fractions or decimals….and more…


Bond Books – great workbooks for preparation for 11+.  I am sure that all families preparing for the joys of 11+ must have discovered these and have sets of them at home!

Last but by no means least…..

A GCSE student very recently asked me if I knew of some revision cards for Maths that he could carry around with him.  I didn’t off the top of my head but I am not one to shirk a challenge.  A bit of googling and I came across these fantastic revision cards from the Mathematical Association.  I have now bought quite a few batches of these (I missed a trick here – I should be on some sort of commission!). They are approximately 13 cm x 8 cm and easily stored in index card boxes. I also give my students little folders to make them easy to carry around.


Quick Disclaimer: These are my own personal views. I have bought most of the textbooks myself and only received a few free copies.  A free copy does not influence my comments.

People with Eating Disorders are not selfish

25 Feb

This week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week #EDAW2015. For more information about this please have a look at the Beat site.


One of the popular misconceptions about Eating Disorders is that it is self inflicted and therefore the person suffering is labelled selfish.

People with heart disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and flu aren’t labelled selfish – they are illnesses.  Well so is an Eating Disorder – it is an illness.  The person suffering from it is not being selfish they are ill.  For those of you who might perhaps be thinking that it is not terminal like cancer can be – well, sorry – you are wrong – one in five people with anorexia die – not because they want to but because they are ill.

Did you know that the risk of developing an eating disorder is largely genetic?  Well it is – just like some forms of heart problems, like BRCA breast cancer.  Charlotte’s Helix have more information on this if you are interested.

Charlotte's Helix

I am in remission from breast cancer – nobody has said to me or to my family that I am selfish for having this.  In fact most people would be horrified if they heard this thought voiced.  Yet, I have lost count of the times that I have been told that my loved one is being selfish.  There have been times that I have tried to contradict this – but I have failed so miserably that my stance now is not to comment at all.

My loved one has been very ill with anorexia, she cannot think clearly as her brain has shrunk, you cannot reason with an anorexic as they are simply unable to process the information.  Yes – there have been times when the illness has been difficult to deal with, when as a family we have been driven to despair and it has been difficult to separate the illness from the person but we have tried.  Not always 100% successful but we have tried.

I have had comments such as “I hear…..  has behaved badly” as if my special loved one is a naughty schoolchild.  Would anyone say to me that I was behaving badly because I had cancer and was having a bad day?  Would anyone say to my husband that I behaved badly after my first chemo because he was up all night with me because I couldn’t stop vomting?  No, of course not.

An Eating Disorder is an illness – simply that.  It is miserable – believe me I know because I suffered from it for many years.  It is not something I would wish on my own worst enemy.  I knew that I should be eating but I simply couldn’t- I was ill.  It was not until I have to deal with my own loved one suffering from it that I finally realised what I had put my friends through at the time.  I was ill – I couldn’t see it….


So with this week being EDAW – please just remember it is an illness and deserves our care and compassion as much as any other illness,

cuddling cat

I know how you feel – part 2

3 Feb

I know how you feel part 2 – World Cancer Day 2015


Wednesday 4 February is #WorldCancerDay2015 – World Cancer Day Org is well worth a look.  There are numerous events going on all around the world – you can wear a bracelet, make cakes, attend fund raising events – but there is also something else you can do……

“I know how you feel”…..I have done a brief blog post about this from my carer’s role perspective and while this line of thinking is in my head I thought I would do one from the breast cancer point of view.

One thing I can say is…  that it’s lucky I have managed to keep my sense of humour.

I have had very short emails from a distant relative saying little more than “Some people survive cancer, some don’t” and “Chemotherapy destroys your veins”. How are these words remotely helpful? I am sure that we are all aware that sadly not everyone does survive cancer – why on earth did this person think it was necessary to remind me of this when I had just been diagnosed?  When you are about to have chemo is it really helpful to know that it can mess up your veins? Are you going to refuse it on this basis?

I have had breast cancer twice now and have been surprised (and amused) by some of the things people have said to me. I guess a lot of it comes from simply not knowing what to say. I’m not always sure though that saying something is better than nothing – I don’t really want to know about Auntie so and so who had it and died, I don’t want to know about the person who lived down the road from you and “fought it bravely“ for a couple of years and then was too ill to fight anymore and died, I don’t want to be told that as long as I am positive I will be ok – does that mean if I am not ok it’s all my fault for not being positive?  Does this mean that my mother died from cancer because she wasn’t positive enough? (believe me she was exceptionally positive). (Just for the record – being positive can help get you out of the bed in the morning and be able to put a smile on your face – being positive cannot cure cancer).

Anyway the comments that have made me smile the most are…

Ï know how you feel, I had a hysterectomy a couple of years ago”. Since when is a non cancer related hysterectomy the same as a breast cancer diagnosis – and I can speak from experience here having had both!

Ï know how you feel, I had a cancer scare last year”. I am sorry but a scare is simply that – a scare – horrible but just a scare. It cannot remotely equate to four operations (including a double mastectomy), 6 doses of chemo, 18 doses of Herceptin intravenously, umpteem scans, gallons of blood taken, meds that make you feel like **** to be taken for 5 – 10 years, instant menopause (can’t take HRT to help with symptoms) – to name but a few things. I have the utmost sympathy for anyone going through a scare and will “hold your hand” through it but please don’t tell me that you then know how I feel.

The exception to this is people who have had cancer and then have a scare. It brings back such horrible memories and you know only too well what the treatment will involve etc. I met some lovely people the first time round and we have stayed in touch ever since. We know only too well about scares and are always there to support each other.

So… you don’t always know how I feel – and it’s fine to say simply that.


I know how you feel……… Err, no you don’t!

7 Dec

Last week I was involved with training people from a Community Mental Health Team about Carer Awareness.  This is now mandatory for South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust staff – brilliant!  It is a privilege to be able to have an opportunity to talk about my personal experiences and to have the chance to try to get the message across about how important it is to involve family and carers.

They were a great bunch of people – so enthusiastic – it was a shame that the time was limited and we couldn’t have more in depth conversations.

One of the things that came up was the temptation to say to a family member or carer “I know how you feel”.

Well … just for the record you don’t so please don’t say that to me….

Do you know how it feels when…

  • you are told that there is an 18 month wait for an outpatient appointment for your loved one?
  • you have to get your MP involved to get some help from a medical professional?
  • a sectioning team turns up on your doorstep unannounced and asks you to leave the main part of your own home?
  • you are so desperate for help that you hope the sectioning team do just that – section?
  •  you are a mother, daughter, husband, son, sister, brother and  a medical professional won’t speak or even listen to you about your loved one citing patient confidentiality?
  • things are so bad that you resort to sitting on the kitchen floor for a good cry?
  • you have to watch every single word you say for fear of upsetting your loved one and making things even worse?
  • you don’t know whether to creep into your loved one’s bedroom in the morning to see if they are still breathing – risking their wrath if they wake up – or to spend hours desperately listening out for the sound of movement?
  • you can’t stop an ill person going to the gym and you wait anxiously for their return or a phone call saying they have collapsed?
  • night after night you can’t sleep for worrying?
  • your loved one is hypoglycemic (blood sugar dangerously low) and the best A & E can offer you because they are so overstretched is a phone call every half an hour to talk you through what to do?
  • the person you are caring for is so physically ill that they need to go to an acute hospital as an emergency but that hospital is refusing to take them because the person has mental health issues too?
  • you know the person you are caring for is lying about how well they are to their medical team and there is nothing you can do to alert them of this?
  • your Dad has been taken into hospital and is confused because he has forgotten to take his pills and the admitting registrar won’t talk to you because he hasn’t given his permission (and is now not well enough to)?
  • your family has rifts in it because of the stress?
  • you have to try to get up every morning with a smile on your face and face another day when inside …. ?
  • you say you are fine when someone asks how you are as you don’t know where to start…?
  • your life has gone to pieces because you are focusing on the person you are caring for and have not time for anything else?
  • appointments are arranged between the team and the unwell person and you have to drop whatever your plans yet again to get them there?
  • your loved one is discharged from an inpatient unit back to your home and nobody thought to let you know?
  • you are deemed to be angry, agressive, pushy when all you are is tired, frustrated and stressed out?
  • your loved one hates  you when you all you are trying to do is to keep them safe?
  • you feel guilty because no matter what you do is is not enough?
  • your life becomes a battle to get help for your loved one – day after day after day….?

When and only when you can say “yes” to pretty much all of the above might you remotely have the “right” to say “I think I might have a bit of an idea about  how you are feeling…..” .  In the meantime a kind smile, a cup of tea and a listening ear can go a hell of a long way..images


5 Dec

A friend introduced me to Riverford – must be getting on for 10 years ago. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was giving a little more thought to what I was eating. My cancer was hormonal (oestrogen positive dependent) so I was particularly interested in Riverford’s organic milk. Generally speaking organic milk has much lower levels of hormones than non-organic milk.

The more I thought about it the less sense it made to me to buy vegetables that have been grown using artificial chemicals to enhance their growth, toxic pesticides and insectides to kill off bugs. I am far from obsessed I do occasionally have to buy supermarket veg if I run out during the week, and I certainly don’t turn down cups of tea if they are made with non-organic milk – I just take a bit of care….

To say my other half at the time was sceptical that this was a good idea is an understatement. He simply couldn’t see the point … I gave it a go anyway …. I love my weekly veg boxes – as a family we have learnt to appreciate seasonal variations again. We look forward to the first runner beans in the box, the first parsnips… just as our interest in sweetcorn is waning it disappears and is replaced with kale….  The biggest fan now is my husband – if I have run out of carrots and have resorted to the supermarket – he knows – one mouthful – and I get a look with “these aren’t Riverford’s – they don’t taste of anything”.

I come from a farming background – my Dad was a well respected cauliflower farmer – non organic. For many years Dad didn’t understand my desire for organic vegetables, he said that it was impossible to grow veg without pesticides – it would be covered with bugs, caterpillars and other creepy crawlies. He always showed an interest though and about six months before he died he said to me I think you have a point about organic veg – it’s the way to go”. Anyone who knows my Dad would know that this was a huge change in his way of thinking.

So what has prompted this blog post…

Riverford’s new recipe boxes


Wonderful – just simply wonderful.

As you may have guessed I love Riverford’s veg and so I thought I would give these a try.  Sceptical husband said “Why?” – well “Why not?”.

I cannot praise these wonderful boxes enough.  Everything you need (apart from water and a bit of salt and pepper) come in the box.  The quality is fantastic.  I have tried the quick recipe box and the original recipe box.  At £39.95 for three meals for 2 people they aren’t cheap – but it is worth it.  The portions are generous – and I mean generous.  We certainly don’t go hungry when it is a Riverford night.  There’s no waste – no sad yellowing fresh herbs quietly going mouldy at the bottom of the fridge, no tub of tomato puree sitting in the fridge waiting to be thrown out.  How many times do we buy ingredients for a particular recipe without costing them into the meal only to throw 3/4 of it away a week or so later.  What is also fantastic is that for 3 days I don’t even have to think “What on earth are we going to have for dinner tonight?”.  Bliss.

There was an added bonus though … one that I hadn’t predicted.  My husband does not like cooking – he simply doesn’t have any confidence – despite being given “easy” cookbooks as a strong hint as presents over the years.  Even on the days I was having chemo I had to make sure I had organised a meal for him and stuff that I could dig out of the freezer for the few days after.  He did start to try – ready meals from the supermarket (aren’t the portions small!).  Now – what a star!  If I have had a busy day and I am late in he will have started cooking, he now regularly offers to do the cooking and enjoys it.  His confidence has grown hugely and we are having really delicious meals.  Last night he cooked “smoky greens and borlotti stew”.


It was delicious.  As other half said … if he had been popping round the supermarket for inspiration it is unlikely that he would have picked up a bunch of kale and a tin of beans!

This post would not be complete without mentioning my delivery people – Andrew and Sam Garnham who have just celebrated their 10th anniversary with Riverford.  They have been fantastic – delivering in all weathers – even resorting to using a sledge one Christmas to make sure everyone got their goodies in time.  They have carried my boxes in when I have been unwell, asked how I am doing and if I am not in they pop my stuff safely away for me – all done with a smile.


Just for the record….  I haven’t been asked by Riverford to do a blog post, I haven’t had a freebie (and this isn’t a hint!) – I have simply done it because I think they are great!