Atul Rana and the CPD Book Club


Atul Rana will be a familiar face to anyone active in the Twitter maths community, and to previous attendees of both our virtual and in-person MathsConfs. As the founder of #MathsChatLive, an active member of Kieran Mackle’s Thinking Deeply about Primary Mathematics Discord community, and of course the guitar-playing headline act of the MathsConfOnline after-party, Atul works hard to unite colleagues across every sector of maths teaching.

Atul is also an active member of Complete Mathematics , through which he’s developed a highly collaborative approach to working through the online courses. Nicknamed the ‘CPD Bookclub’ model, Atul’s approach has since been recommended to numerous schools who are keen to refine and improve their approach to professional development.

Collaborative CPD

It was the move to online learning during lockdown that first inspired Atul to test the ‘Book Club’ format. He recalls his initial excitement at being sent hundreds of hours of video footage of his dance and Pilates lessons: “At the time, I thought ‘Wow, this is incredible because I can learn so much by watching the replays and doing the exercises again’. But I rarely found the time to watch replays, realising a lot of the value of a live lesson is the fact that firstly it’s timetabled, so you have to be there, you have to be completely present. Secondly the corrective fixes are spotted and given by the teacher immediately, even online. You wouldn't really know what to fix when you're doing the exercises asynchronously.”

“It actually ended up being every week for half an hour”

Atul had already been regularly meeting with a tutor friend to work through  courses one at a time. With the release of Jonny Hall’s ‘Place Value’ course, however, he decided to up the ante, suggesting to the rest of the Discord community that they work through it together. “I initially suggested once every two weeks for 10 minutes”, Atul recalls. “But it actually ended up being every week for half an hour.”

The Format

The format itself is simple: “We will start by watching one or two videos from the whole series — probably only five minutes. And then we'll do tasks on the course.” Atul leads the sessions, and will sometimes design further tasks of his own if he feels the group would benefit from it. In Atul’s opinion, “You've already got this really rich  video course that covers high quality instruction. Then all you need is someone to be responsive and find out what the misconceptions are, set up extra tasks, and then monitor when everyone’s done.”

“You've already got this really rich CPD video course"

The group meet remotely on a Discord video channel, and use Jamboard, a collaborative whiteboard, to maximise the opportunity for sharing ideas and interacting with one another. As Atul explains, “Everyone can see exactly how the rest of the group are moving virtual manipulatives on screen and what they are writing. You get much richer interaction and realtime feedback even if we are all hundreds of miles apart, and that's probably where the value comes.”

Meetings strictly observe the thirty-minute time limit, and all participants respect the agreement not to jump ahead and watch the next part of the course alone, even if the temptation to do so is great! Despite the short length of the sessions, however, the group cover more than just maths: “There's social time as well,” Atul says. “People want to talk about how their teaching is going, how their day has been, all sorts of things — venting if necessary, because teaching is a tough job.”

“People want to talk about how their teaching is going..."

Impact on Teaching

For schools considering setting up their own CPD Book Club, the benefits are many. Atul describes “lightbulb moments” when colleagues suddenly understand how a new concept works, as well as the challenge of “undoing” old ways of thinking and then rebuilding them in a supportive, friendly environment. At the same time, Atul believes it’s important that teachers do not feel pressured to test new ideas straightaway — the weekly format of the session means there is plenty of time to build confidence and seek advice before trying to apply an unfamiliar teaching method in the classroom.

“The most value is just getting people to talk to each other!’”

For Atul, however, the biggest benefit is the sense of community. As a tutor, he says, he can sometimes feel that he doesn’t belong to any particular group, but the more time he’s spent in the maths community, the more he’s realised that “...People feel like they are in their little niche, and that everyone else is somehow better — no matter which niche they are in.” For him, the strength of the Complete Mathematics community is the feeling that everyone is welcome. “The most value,” he believes, “is just getting people to talk to each other.”

Atul’s Top Tips for Starting a CPD Book Club

1. Commit to a regular meeting slot, and stick to the intended meeting duration

2. Use Jamboard, or another online notes platform, to collaborate live on ideas and complete tasks

3. Assign a ‘course leader’ who is confident in the chosen topic, and can guide colleagues where necessary

New to CPD? These are Atul’s recommended courses

(All the courses below are included in a Complete Maths CPD membership, which starts at just £7 per month and is often more convenient than a one-off purchase!)

  • Place Value - Base Ten and Beyond (Jonathan Hall): “Place value is very exciting in primary especially because that's where the foundation is set. If primary teachers understand place value and multiple bases, then you can create mathematical students very early on because it's really about thinking flexibly.”
  • Teach, Do, Practise, Behave: Fractions (Gary Lamb): “The fractions course, for me, is like the apex of all school-level maths. If you've got fractions sorted, then that's proportional reasoning in general: ratios and linear sequences and pretty much everything.”
  • Early Number Sense: Making It Count! (Vikki Priddle): “Vikki’s courses are really really good, especially for primary. I really like the choral counting.”

Useful Links

Find out more about the Complete Mathematics CPD Library, including how to subscribe, here.

Alternatively, if you’re interested in a subscription for your school or Maths department, book a call with one of our team.

If you’d like to connect with Atul or get involved in #MathsChatLive, follow him on Twitter: @atulrana. Alternatively, visit his website:

Kieran Mackle (@Kieran_M_Ed) leads Thinking Deeply About Primary Mathematics, and you can join his Discord here.

Sammy White (@whatthetrigmath) recently wrote about challenging the feeling of being ‘left out’ from the teaching community - you can read her very moving blog here