Case Study 1 - Mathematics Enquiry: getting started as a mathematics subject leader using the online materials
I am new to the role of subject leader in a school judged outstanding by Ofsted and whose year 6 pupils have consistently achieved relatively high levels in SATs. I have taught mathematics in years 4, 5 and 6 over the past 8 years. I have taught year 6 (and prepared for SATs) twice.
Intended learning and change focus:
- develop my role as subject leader. In the past, I have been classroom focused. I wish to take the risk of sharing my ideas with a wider audience, and promote a dialogue about mathematics.
- I wish to take account of the views of pupils, investigating their perception of the subject and involving them in defining and designing good mathematics lessons.
I used the EiML online tools as a means to get started in my new role. At the outset, I wished to define with staff our vision and aim in mathematics, to ensure we had a common purpose and a shared culture. This was to be done in staff meetings. I used the Core responsibilities section Developing a common purpose and shared culture to identify the schools current strengths and weaknesses and as a result decided to use the Key Elements Vision and Aims section. In particular I found case study 3 particularly helpful in deciding where to start.
My focus has broadened over time, as I have begun to share my ideas with other members of staff. As I learn through conversations with colleagues about how the youngest children develop mathematically, my own professional development has come into focus; these conversations I hope will impact on the professional development of others over time.
Thus, an unexpected outcome so far, is my growing interest in early mathematical development, following conversations with the EYFS leader and our school’s SENCo. This means school improvement has also become a focus, as I investigate ways in which our teaching may become more effective and reach in particular those children who are “blocked” in the subject.
The pursuit of all of the above has already led me beyond my own classroom, along a path which I hope in time will reinforce our team spirit, as we define a common culture and consider what we value in our mathematics classrooms. To this end, a range of interconnected online tools provide a framework for my enquiry.
Outline of enquiry
Staff meeting: how do we learn and how do we feel about mathematics?
I used my own experiences using the core responsibilities and the key elements to go through the same processes with staff. Two staff meetings have taken place. In the first, we defined our mission statement as a school, identifying our duties and values regarding pupils. As part of this, we brainstormed our vision and aims in key subjects, by circulating sheets to small groups, so everyone could record their thoughts about what our vision should consist of.
In the second meeting, members of staff were set a mathematics problem to solve: “I have 3 chocolate bars – how can I share them equally among 5 children?” Some staff solved the problem algebraically. Others adopted a visual approach, drawing shapes and subdividing them. When asked to rate their competence in mathematics and their comfort in teaching the subject, the “numerical/algebraic” problem solvers were in all cases those who rated themselves with greater confidence, the reverse being true for the “visual” recorders. (A future issue for investigation: how does one’s learning style and confidence in mathematics impact classroom practice?)
Conversations with SENCo: how do children learn and what can we learn from the foundation stage?
Following the staff meetings, my enquiry went in an unexpected direction. The SENCo has worked at this school for many years. In her view, the numeracy strategy has been problematic, forcing children to use pen and paper in mathematics “too much and too soon”. There was not enough play based and kinaesthetic learning in KS1; sand and water disappeared too early. My professional development came into focus: through the SENCo and books/papers she gave to me, I began to wonder in more depth about early mathematical development: how do children learn and what approaches used at the EYF stage might be useful for helping unblock pupils at KS2? Are the gaps in pupils’ knowledge, say, in year 4 upwards, directly related to lack of play and kinaesthetic learning both early on and continually through primary school? This might suggest that a narrow, paper based exam focused curriculum was (as we have suspected and as research suggest) failing certain pupils who no longer had the option of a more informal, problem solving, kinaesthetic and play based approach.
Next steps: defining our vision and observing in the early years classroom
At this stage, it seemed that a shared vision and culture should reflect a commitment to a kinaesthetic, play based, problem solving approach to mathematics, which continues throughout the school, especially for pupils not accessing the subject. The key to how to promote this approach could be found at the EYF stage and within approaches such as CAME (Cognitive Acceleration in Mathematics Education) which I am investigating. Also, this focus on the EYF stage will lead me to observe mathematics in the foundation classroom, to investigate the extent to which a play based approach already lies at the heart of our aims and to consider ways in which this needs to be incorporated elsewhere in the school.
Summary of enquiry:
How the online materials help me get started and questions arising from my enquiry so far
The online materials helped me get started in my leadership role. It was initially useful in helping me focus on a single area: Vision and Aims, which, following discussions, broadened to include other criteria. Without the criteria to which I could refer, I would have been unclear how to proceed in defining and exercising my role. I shall continue to use the online materials in the future, by focusing, for example, on management systems e.g. organising budgets and ordering materials. Also, I wish to assess my role/mathematics leadership according to the 1 to 4 levelling system.
My underlying preoccupation will remain Professional Development and Improvement. Although this is a highly rated school, my enquiry leads me to pose the question: to what extent is our success a result of an intensive “boost” for pre SATs year 6 pupils (especially as a number of pupils may reach year 6 with significant gaps in their development)? To what extent are we, as a team (and not doubting the experience and skill of members of staff), within an expanding school with new staff, aware of and committed to an enquiry based, kinaesthetic approach to mathematics? Even if that is our aim, do all members of staff know what that looks like in practical terms? Do we know what enquiry/play/kinaesthetic based lessons look like? Can we learn from EYFS and apply these practices throughout the school? Furthermore, are there more effective ways than those being used, for intervening when a pupil is “blocked”? Finding such tools for improvement will remain a focus of my professional development for some time, with a long term view towards improvement in mathematics, as opposed to a SATs driven intervention. The broader aim is to enhance the professional development of colleagues in the process.
Aidan O’Kelly, London