Introducing activity weeks in Years 7 & 8
Case Study C1
School C is a high-achieving, selective girls’ school whose intake is from much of the Greater Birmingham area. At the time of the project, the department consisted of one part-time and six full-time members of staff, all of whom were highly skilled and capable of teaching A level and beyond. The usual teaching style was very traditional, comprising explanation, examples and exercises.
Aims of project
The aim of this part of the project was to introduce and develop enrichment activities within the classroom which were not directly related to the schemes of work but are designed to broaden the students’ mathematical knowledge and develop their interest in mathematics as more than just an academic subject necessary for the achievement of their long-term goals. This project was related to the use of practical and paper-based resources to develop the students’ interest and experience of mathematics as a subject with inherent beauty and practical use.
CPD activities planned and undertaken
During departmental discussions at the end of the 2009-10 academic year, part of the evaluation of performance focused on the feedback from students about enjoyment and involvement in the classroom. A significant number of the students surveyed as part of pupil voice activities indicated that they did not feel that they were enjoying mathematics. It was decided, in discussion with the department at department meetings and curriculum development days, that the schemes of work for years 7 and 8 would be updated to include ‘activity weeks’ – blank weeks where the idea was to ‘do something different’. At the start of the 2010-11 academic year, a number of department meetings were set aside to discuss the types of activities that could be carried out in these ‘activity weeks’. The CPD activities could be characterised as partly ‘sell’ and partly ‘participate’. The selling aspect was a showcasing of potential activities that could be used during these weeks and a justification for their inclusion in the schemes of work. A particular idea that I was working on was introduced and I discussed with the team how I was intending to carry it out. The mathematics involved was very much observational (analysing a mathematical painting) but the focus was on the development of students’ communication skills and appreciation of mathematics in the wider curriculum. It was too substantial an activity to actually trial during the meeting but the nature of the discussion was very positive.
The participation part involved the department discussing examples of their own that they could use and this too provoked positive and interesting discussion about how these activities (largely centred around code-breaking) could be used successfully in the classroom.
Success of the CPD approach used
Members of the department were very keen to experiment with the activities that were discussed in these sessions. They had good ideas of their own which a number decided to use, rather than the ones showcased by me. This demonstrated their engagement with the participation aspect of the CPD. While carrying out the activities, it was noticeable that there was a ‘buzz about the place’. The students enjoyed taking part in the more practical activities, designing posters and engaging with mathematics on a different level.
At an end of term departmental meeting, I asked the team to discuss (without me there, minuted by a volunteer) the types of activity that they had used during these sessions and how they had found the project overall. In nearly all cases, there was clear positive feedback. The range of activities was extensive and the engagement of students was clearly evident in both the quality of the finished work and the atmosphere within the classroom.
Evaluation of CPD effectiveness
The project worked really well. Both teachers and students alike contributed in excellent spirit throughout and there were some really interesting final pieces of work produced.
Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive and the teachers clearly enjoyed these ‘pauses’ in the day-to-day delivery of the curriculum. Since the outcomes in the classroom were so positive, it is clear that the CPD that was undertaken, the combination of selling the idea and participation to develop the activities carried out, was also very successful.
Future CPD plans
The idea of showcasing and the sharing of resources is a tried and tested type of CPD that is undertaken on a regular basis within the department, both formally and informally. It was intended that this would continue to develop over the coming months with further department meetings and development days set aside for the sharing of ideas and there were several more activity weeks planning during the course of this year. At the end of this academic year, the resources and activities that had been used successfully were to be embedded within the schemes of work for the 2011-12 academic year and it was expected that the project would continue to develop over time.
In the short term, I aimed to continue to introduce ideas during department sessions bearing in mind that the experienced nature of the team means that they will have a wide range of ideas of their own. It was hoped that in the future, the sharing sessions would be led by other members of the team so that the collegiate atmosphere can develop further. In order to ensure that activities are taking place during the appropriate sessions, regular discussions wwere to take place and student work showcased during feedback meetings. Informal department discussion is a strong positive feature of the team and this provides an excellent forum for sharing, in addition to regular formal meetings.
If the idea of introducing activity weeks is of particular interest then there are a number of things that need to be in place beforehand. Firstly, there needs to be a genuine level of wider mathematical interest from the members of the department you are working with. Secondly, the senior leadership team have to be supportive of the idea, allowing flexibility to modify and manipulate the schemes of work to accommodate these activities. Thirdly, the students themselves have to be conducive to tasks of this nature and to simply throw them in when you expect student hostility to the idea is not going to work. A gradual change in the culture of mathematics lessons needs to happen before moving toward such a different way of working.
If these three needs are satisfied, then the most obvious way of introducing the idea of activity weeks to a Mathematics team is to have an activity prepared beforehand and to showcase it during a department meeting or curriculum development session. Encourage discussion about the pedagogy and the mathematical value of the activity and also encourage the team to add value to the idea. If the department are confident and willing to develop their own tasks, this should be actively encouraged. If they feel that they would like to work with the developed task, suggested approaches and perhaps a model lesson plan will help them to deliver the activity successfully to the students.