It makes me think
The mathematics teachers who are taking part in a professional development project in Somerset are reaping rewards. By reflecting on their teaching habits, taking risks in introducing some new kinds of student activities, and adjusting their roles in the classroom, these teachers are finding that their students’ roles and attitudes are also changing. As one student said, ‘This is good – it makes me think’.
The SITiM (Somerset Improving Thinking in Mathematics) project was launched last October. There are 17 schools and 34 teachers involved. Malcolm Swan, who is Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Nottingham, and an expert in the design of similar initiatives, is leading the project.
A core of teachers within the mathematics team of each school are acting as ‘agents of change’. All the ‘core’ teachers meet regularly, about twice a term.
At their first two-day session in October they explored new resources, such as student tasks like this:
Always, Sometimes or never True?
If Always, can you prove it?
If Sometimes, can you work out when it is true?
If Never, can you prove it?
"Buy one get one free"
is a better deal than
"3 for the price of 2"
The teachers looked at how students learn mathematics through discussion and reflection – how they build concepts and meaning, and how they question and reason naturally, while considering important aspects of the teacher’s role in managing productive classroom discussion. They left the session with a task to work on in their own schools.
When they were back in school the participants were supported by local authority mathematics consultants, a National Strategy adviser and a mathematics AST. Pete Griffin, National Centre South-West Regional Co-ordinator, also visited some schools to encourage the teachers and students, and to see what they were doing.
When the teachers met again for a one-day meeting in December each teacher gave a short presentation about their task and responded to questions. A resulting written reminder of each teacher’s experience was copied to everyone, to support each teacher’s own reflections. Then everyone turned their attention to designing and using tasks to develop conceptual understanding, before leaving with more ideas to work on in their schools.
Back in school the ‘core’ teachers continued to be supported from outside as they interacted with their students and the rest of their school mathematics teams.
Having again shared, reflected on, and discussed, full reports of their tasks in the next session in January, the teachers considered the design and use of student tasks that develop problem solving processes, taking a related task back to their schools to prompt new ways of working.
During the March session thinking about the selection and design of formative assessment tasks built on the teachers’ reflections on their previous tasks and experiences.
As the ‘core’ teachers gain confidence they are increasingly supporting each other and other teachers in their own school teams, and leading their own in-school professional development sessions.
During the project the gains of both teachers and students, in relation to attitude and achievement, are being monitored by the teachers themselves, and from outside.
Their findings on this long-term project are growing ever more positive. Teachers’ comments during interviews from early in the project have included:
“I would normally sort their problems – now they sort them. But is that more efficient?”
“Good to have the discipline of having to try something out and then come back and talk about it to others.”
“…struck by how much some pupils (often the ones who do not usually shine) enjoy the discussion element.”
“One very quiet pupil has come out of shell as a result of more discussion lessons and activities.”
In later interviews teachers have commented that their ‘professionalism has been respected’, and the project has helped them:
- ‘crystallise their thinking’, giving them ‘permission to try things out’,
- ‘re-kindle early ideas and enthusiasms’.
When asked how their thoughts about what they want to get out of this project were developing, teachers said:
“...it is changing the way that the class actually functions… it has gone from me doing the teaching to them doing the teaching.”
“SITiM has helped me think outside the box.”
Commenting on changes in their teaching, one teacher said:
“I question a lot better – I think about the questions to ask a lot more now. The project has made me think more about it.”
Just like the student quoted at the start!