Maths around the kitchen table
Family Learning from Andy Martin in Doncaster and Doug Williams in Australia
Do we have to stop?
Project Manager, Mathematics Centre
"Okay kids, it's nearly the end of the session. Make a note in your journal and count the bits back into your bag"
Bill was using hands-on problem solving tasks from the Mathematics Task Centre in this lesson and knew to allow five minutes at the end of the hour to pack up and five more for a discussion of student discoveries during the session.
"What's the matter with you Jamie?"
"Sir, this monkey one is driving us nuts. Do we have to stop."
"Sorry. You know you have another class to go to."
"Well sir, ... can I take this one home. I've gotta figure it out."
The dilemma hit Bill like a whip crack.
A kid wants to take a task home to work on ... I'll never see it again if it goes.
As it turned out Bill made the right decision...
The next morning Mandy answered a knock at the staffroom door.
"Bill, it's Jamie from 7B for you."
"What? What's that about? Oh yeah ... that Who Owns The Monkey task."
Bill headed for the door as the phone rang.
"Bill", called the Deputy, "It's for you."
"What is this? I'm trying to get organised for my first class. Okay, ask them to hang on. I just have to answer the door. ... Yes Jamie? ... Thanks. Well done, sorry can't talk, I have to answer the phone. You can tell me more later."
"Good morning, Mr. Bascombe speaking."
"Yeah, hi. It's Jamie's dad here. Sorry to bother you , but I just had to ask: Who does own that b___ monkey? We worked on that thing around the table for ages last night...?"
Bill swears he doesn't remember anything else about the conversation with Jamie's dad. All that kept going through his head was:
The family sat around the kitchen table doing a maths problem together? What's going on here?
Bill told his story to the Mathematics Task Centre team, who loved it and worked with teachers to organise some tasks into kits for home lending. These are called Library Kits - one for primary and one for secondary. Each task includes the usual problem card and equipment and an extra 'hint' card for parents which also refers families to the web for answers.
One More Teacher
Some years later, inspired by Bill's story, Andy Martin, HoD at Thorne Grammar, extended his school's use of tasks by introducing a Home Lending component. He added two key features:
- The student journal's went home with the tasks for parent's to diarise their comments too. The teacher then added comments to the comments for some students each week, developing a three way written conversation.
- He organised his students into email buddies, sometimes even with a buddy from overseas, so they could communicate about their problems after hours as mathematicians might.
In reviewing this work Andy first writes:
The significant key issue to emerge was that the project did start to change the perceptions of parents towards working with their child. The practical nature of the tasks, and the use of e-mail buddies when the family was stuck, were very motivating. Many parents, although initially reluctant, began to contribute some mathematics in the pupils' journals.
and then comments a few paragraphs later:
The tasks have been carefully chosen. Each one is the "tip of an iceberg" and allows the able child to link different aspects of mathematics through a problem solving approach. Parents find the hints from teachers useful and like to respond to many of the challenges.
Few would argue that 'standard homework' brings any benefits like these. Perhaps maths around the kitchen table has a place in your curriculum.
Solutions posted on the fridge door
Wow! Parents writing in journals? Yes, it happens, frequently followed by a curiosity to see if their answers are right.
Home Lending was a real eye-opener to me as a teacher and showed me where we have a great untapped resource. Generally my experience has been that many parents did not engage with traditional mathematics homework. However, tasks combined with a journal that included comments and hints, rather than a mark out of 10, and an email buddy in another country was a winner.
In my experience students really enjoy taking tasks home. Parents particularly enjoy those where more than one answer was possible. I had reports of solutions posted on the fridge door by dad before he went to work to show he could do it! Naming solutions after the student who first "discovered" them generated a wealth of solutions to both "Domino Sums" and "Eureka". Parents’ evenings became longer as conversations turned to problem solving as well as their child.
It is one of those moments in my career that seemed to be a real launch pad. Finding students across the world using the same materials as my class provided huge motivation to my students. The possibility of the work continuing out of school time was a real challenge to me as a teacher. Having to "let go" and face my students bringing questions, answers, challenges, requests for more was daunting but a significant step in engaging their minds. Problems such as ‘Sphinx’ became class favourites and allowed students identified on the Task Centre webiste as "mathematicians" to return to lessons to inspire others.
This is one of those professional practices that I would always try to repeat!
Trinity Academy, near Doncaster
Mathematics Task Centre (a division of Mathematics Centre), Black Douglas Professional Education Services, Australia.
Library Kit information - Andy Martin
Working Mathematically - Mathematics Task Centre Resource