FE Colleges currently have a maths crime on their hands- GCSE maths,so says Rose Turner, one of our Activate Learning Principals at the start of our maths CPD day. It’s a crime we need to solve as somehow, our learners without a GCSE grade C need to leave college with one. Engaging these students with a subject they’ve studied for years and have generally struggled with is no mean feat. There are numerous challenges to overcome but overcome them, we must. We have to smash through these barriers to success in maths one swing at a time and it’s too big a feat to leave solely to our maths specialists.
This year, our vocational teaching staff will begin their real journey with integrating maths skills effectively in their lessons and workshops. We’ve made lip service to it before but there have been wildly varied levels of success. A version of this maths takeaway menu (designed by Pam Plumb and Amanda Kelly @functionalise at Banbury College) will be used at each of our colleges to help each of our staff to define which areas of maths will be their focus for themselves and their students this academic year.
The first time our maths teachers met, they discussed the profile of someone who doesn’t like maths. Some of the aspects explored were:
- Multiple teachers- no one method of doing things
- The pressure of speed- the expectation to reach an answer quickly
- The vocabulary of maths
- Parental and teacher influence
- It’s ok for people to say they don’t like math
These fears and barriers are likely to be recognisable to you, a member of staff you know and most certainly a student (or a few) that you know. We now begin the team effort towards improving this situation.
Stepping into the ring to join us in the challenge: the incredible Danielle Bartram. She presented at our annual Teaching & Learning conference and we invited her back to work with us again.
Some highlights and ideas from Danielle’s workshop:
Departments talking to each other is essential: it’s not ok to avoid the problem and not work around it. We can’t be islands- our students and staff all need to talk to each other and do it together.
If the students are not getting it right, we then need to come up with one single method to use- that they then get from every teacher. If they have a method that works then they can stick to that.
Rent a teacher- could maths teachers go into lessons more? Can we get maths teachers doing this? How?
Students can’t access the higher level concepts because they haven’t grasped the basics. This is what the vocational teachers can support with.
Schools and colleges can make use of cross-curricular maths displays. Shotton Hall Academy maths department have some great ideas regarding this.
Often, colleges have got into the habit of seeing maths as something the learners are fearful of- so we embedded it in lessons and made it invisible. We’ve invested a lot of time and effort on making learners feel as though they’re not doing maths. This isn’t remotely helpful. It can often mean that within their vocational subject they can do the maths but when they go into their maths lesson, it looks very different and they can’t do it. Yes, make it more accessible but don’t hide it altogether. It’s vital that vocational teachers highlight the maths so that students know they’re doing it. As soon as maths is invisible, we’re not making the links and learners remain fearful of maths. We have to connect the dots to make it explicit.
Language is vital- we need to make a transition from using terminology they understand to terminology they’re going to use in the exam. Vocational teachers can help by using this language. Words such as: Addition/ Subtraction/ Ratio/ Sum/ Product/ Quotient/ Greater than/ Lessthan/ Equal/ Equivalent/ Fractal/ Average/ Binary/ Congruent/ Constant/
Factor/ Degree/ Derivative/ Denominator/ Equilibrium/ Extrapolate/ Improper/ Infinite
Ensure learners are accustomed to maths command verbs too: Approximate/ Convert/ Estimate/ Evaluate/ Identify/ Construct/ Express/ Calculate/ Distinguish/ Simplify/ Prove
Danielle, provided a whole host of fantastic maths ideas and activities, such as ‘bargain words’, ‘thermometer of understanding’ and ‘writing weigh-in’, which I totally love! Many of these ideas can be found on her blog and are easily transferable across any lesson.
Useful sites to explore:
Matific– some of the Y6 resources are perfect- games like ‘save the ball’ for instance.