The reason I get up in the mornings

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This term, I have been leading the sessions at the Enriching Mathematics Project in Tower Hamlets. These sessions are for two hours on Wednesday evenings from 4-6pm, for a group of Year 8 pupils from local schools. We have been working together on a variety of NRICH problems, and I have deliberately seated the pupils in groups of four each week, two from one school and two from another. To start with, pupils were very reluctant to talk to the pair from the other school, but after four weeks they are beginning to open up a lot more and are much more comfortable talking about their maths to people they don’t know.

Last week I did a feedback activity with them where I asked them to write anonymously on a post-it note what they had learned so far, and what they thought they would remember about the project after it was over. I was amazed by how reflective they were:

“One thing I will remember about this course is the two guys with the lamp and only one light crossing the bridge, as it shows that everyone thought it would be the first answer they got but they had to look harder.”

This was in response to the problem Crossing the Bridge which was one of the first tasks we tried together. Quite a few pupils referred to this idea about having to look deeper into the problem than the first answer you find – what more could I ask for?

Having had lots of complaints about not being allowed to sit with their friends from their own schools, I was cheered by these comments:

  • I learned how to work as a group and communicate with different people
  • I learned to be more confident when openly explaining methods and tactics
  • Working effectively in a group of people you don’t know

For many people, maths is seen as being a solitary affair, yet when I go out of my office and see mathematicians at work, I see conversation and collaboration everywhere. I’m so glad that so many of these children are already seeing the importance of discussing maths, sharing ideas, and working with others on problems.

For me, though, the best thing about working with these young people is the freedom I have. Without the constraints of a curriculum, a scheme of work, an exam specification, we’ve been able to work on some pretty diverse topics and get deeply involved in the mathematics. Wouldn’t it be nice if the removal of the Key Stage 3 tests gave teachers more freedom to do the same sort of thing in their classrooms, instead of being under pressure to start GCSEs a year earlier…

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4 Responses to “The reason I get up in the mornings”

  1. jspiggott Says:

    Thanks for sharing this Alison – it is really reassuring to see that learners can look beyond immediate gratification and, after a relatively short time, start seeing mathematics in a different light. One thing I might disagree with you about is that the lack of curriculum constraint has given you more freedon. I think what you are doing is very curriuclum focussed, even Crossing the Bridge requires high level mathematical thinking skills. It might not be hitting the content button but it is hitting the process button.

    I believe lots of what you are doing has strong curriculum links. What are your five favourites?

    Jenny

  2. ajk44 Says:

    Of course you are right Jenny that what I am doing has strong curriculum links – I think what I meant was that so many teachers feel constrained by what they are asked to deliver, and some schools are very prescriptive in their schemes of work. The new curriculum offers lots of opportunities for change – interesting to see how quickly such change will come about.

  3. jspiggott Says:

    And your five favourites?

  4. ajk44 Says:

    I think that could be a whole blog post in itself! I’m looking forward to working on Make 37 and Odds & Evens tomorrow, so perhaps afterwards I will blog about some of the problems I’ve used so far and the students’ response to them.

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