Case Study 4 - Supporting NQTs in using key resources to support mathematical thinking
I have been mathematics subject leader for many years and successfully led improvements within the school. Combined with leading Key Stage One in school, my love for developing mathematical thinking was - and still is - a priority in my career. Historically, teachers have been receptive to change and are enthused by new ideas and practices, however, problems regularly arose with changes of staff who were either NQTs or who had not worked in settings such as ours. I found this to be an issue in many primary schools and with the help and guidance of a team of leading mathematics teachers, of which I am a member, we decided to focus on one aspect of the problem - the lack of practical resources used in teaching mathematics. Practical resources are, it seems, used in abundance in the early years and then stripped away from children, leaving them to flounder and possibly be put off mathematics for life.
So what can we do about it? Which resources are key in supporting mathematical thinking?This is where the EiML materials were supportive.
Starting initially with “Learning Environment and Resources” section in the Key Elements I was able to put together a list of key resources which should be accessible for children throughout the primary age range - resources that no classroom or planning sheet should be without! As the list was compiled and scrutiny of children’s work and teachers’ planning took place it became clear that developing the use of key practical resources was paramount throughout school. Many of the essential classroom resources of five years ago were hidden at the back of people’s cupboards and not planned for and used regularly. We found this to be the case across many of the schools in our area so a group of leading mathematics teachers set about compiling a list of activities - the list soon became endless! We were quickly realising that using key resources such as dice, dominoes, counting sticks, etc. opened up unlimited opportunities for mathematical thinking, practice of known facts and challenge.
The ‘Core Responsibilities’ sections contained useful documents to help us at this stage in our thinking. In whatever aspect of mathematical leadership you are interested in it is useful, in my opinion, to concentrate on the following essential areas to maintain focus:
- developing a common purpose and a shared culture
- planning for improvement
- working and developing together as a team
- having efficient and well-organised systems.
I was able to use each of these areas and adjust and tweak them slightly to fit my own school, county and personal needs. With my main focus of key resources to support mathematical thinking at the forefront of my mind I considered the example statements and the ‘moving to the next level’ questions to help develop ideas for rolling out information both within my own school and further afield.
The ‘stories of change’, although not specific to the area of development I was focussing on, were also a help and inspiration!
After considering the EiML materials and discussions with other leading mathematics teachers and coordinators a plan of action was set; an initial roll-out of using key resources with NQTs working in my own school, then a refresher session for experienced teachers, followed by a twilight session aimed at NQTs across the county. The ultimate aim of the project is to support and develop a wider use of practical resources in the classroom which develops better understanding of the importance of using practical experiences for furthering children’s mathematical thinking. In this way we aim to raise the confidence of NQTs (and more experienced teachers) with support being given for the planning and use of key resources which we believe will ultimately raise standards in mathematics.
Once the staff meetings and twilights were underway the excitement and enthusiasm for this aspect of mathematics was clear. All staff were motivated both to find out ideas and also to pass on their own suggestions – sharing being vital. Key resources: dice, dominoes, place value cards, counting sticks, hundred squares, counting equipment and pendulums were scrutinised and their use discussed throughout the primary age range from the youngest nursery children to the oldest Y6 children. Having chance to sit together and discuss resources was precious time; time well spent – how often do we do this as teachers? Yet the benefits were immense, with most teachers leaving the sessions with weeks of planning ideas up their sleeve! It was a great learning curve for both NQTs and more experienced teachers alike. The highlight was the realisation of how important visualisation is for children of all ages and levels and how important the use of practical resources are for ALL children. All teachers were inspired to dust out those trays of forgotten resources and bring them back to the forefront of their teaching.
The ‘team’ aspects of leadership had also been developed greatly - both among our own school staff who had worked together as a team to develop a shared understanding and realisation, and also the ‘team’ of NQTs who established their own network to share ideas and resources.
Using the EiML materials provided me with a clear focus, help, suggestions and ultimately an enthusiasm to research and carry out a task which would motivate, inspire and raise standards in mathematical education. On a personal note it was an opportunity to develop further as a keen leader in mathematics both within my own school setting and in a wider circle.
Rachel Spray, Mansfield