In our school we spend time creating an appropriate working environment in the classrooms where students learn and do mathematics. As a subject leader I think it is one of the most direct and powerful ways of generating a culture and ethos across the department.
So we have created the following practices:
- the use of models and images to help pupils access the learning
- a working wall using on-going pupil work as a basis for continually changing displays to reflect pupil learning
Displays capture students’ thinking. They are not ‘precious’ but are added to and evolve through time.
- a challenge of the week
- a classroom layout that facilitates and encourages group work in lessons whenever appropriate
Tables set up for paired work, allowing both teacher and students freedom to move around the room easily.
- a bank of resources that pupils can choose to use to solve mathematical problems
Students have access to resources to facilitate their learning independently.
As a subject leader I am aware of how sometimes a new resource can have a dynamic effect on practice pretty quickly across a department.
I became interested in the Improving Learning in Mathematics materials from the Standards Unit and wanted to make them available to all my staff. So I ordered a ‘box’ for everyone and when staff started to use the resources they realised that it was helping them to change the teaching and learning in their classrooms in ways that were directly related to the teaching and learning parts of our Improvement Plan.
I encouraged them to generate their own resources based on the sorts of activities in ‘the box’ which they recorded in the departmental scheme of work.
In our department we needed to have a way of sharing resources but also to talk about the way that we were using the resources. We used free software to establish a wiki and developed an on-line scheme of work. At first I was the only one who uploaded resources but gradually my deputy also contributed and then we began to add our comments. As the rest of the department became more familiar with both the technology and the potential of sharing we began to talk to each other on-line so all members of the department could contribute to a dialogue about the best strategies and resources for teaching in our school.
(Excerpts from the Ofsted report Mathematics: understanding the score).
This report offers a range of external perspectives, examples of good practice and indications of national trends and standards which can be very helpful to a subject leader.
Here we have included elements which are relevant to this section on learning environment and resources.
57. The interactive whiteboard featured in many (but not all) primary and secondary classrooms, bringing positives and negatives to teaching and learning. Good practice included the use of high-quality diagrams and relevant software to support learning through, for example, construction of graphs or visualisation of transformations. Pupils enjoyed quick-fire games on them. However, many of the curricular and guidance documents seen did not draw sufficient attention to the potential of interactive whiteboards. Additionally, too often teachers used them simply for PowerPoint presentations with no interaction by the pupils.
|Prime practice: ICT
||Use of the interactive whiteboard and internet to scale a picture from very tiny to extremely large
|A Year 7 class, working on scales, was shown a website using the interactive whiteboard where a picture was scaled from 10-16 metres to 1016 metres, that is, 10,000,000,000,000,000 metres. The pupils were amazed; they became animated and excited, discussing the effect of scaling by powers of 10. The teacher posed questions, asking pupils, in pairs, to describe and explain their thinking. Some presented this from the front of the class with their peers critically appraising it in a lively discussion.
58. A negative effect of interactive whiteboards was a reduction in pupils’ use of practical equipment: software is no replacement for hands-on experience, for example in measuring angles and lengths. Teachers generally underused practical resources and games to develop pupils’ understanding of mathematical ideas and help them to make connections between different topics.
|Weaker factors: visualisation
||A Year 1 lesson about the properties of three-dimensional shapes was based on images displayed on the interactive whiteboard but gave no practical hands-on experience of the solids.
|A teacher used an interactive whiteboard to teach Year 1 pupils about three-dimensional shapes. The pictures of the shapes caused confusion, between spheres and circles for example. Although pupils enjoyed a matching activity using the interactive whiteboard, they did not develop knowledge and understanding of the properties of three-dimensional shapes, such as the nature of the surfaces of a cone. The teacher did not adapt the teaching to take account of pupils’ responses that showed their difficulties in using the two-dimensional representation of the three-dimensional shape.
|How might it be improved?
||Pupils would benefit from handling a range of real shapes so that they could feel and see the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional shapes. They could be encouraged to use their knowledge of properties of two-dimensional shapes to help describe the three-dimensional ones.