1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. Hi Guest, welcome to the TES Community!

    Connect with like-minded education professionals and have your say on the issues that matter to you.

    Don't forget to look at the how to guide.

    Dismiss Notice

Think your school teaches maths well? Please tell me....

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by ballamory, Oct 6, 2012.

  1. This might be something of an unorthodox request for this forum, but since there are a lot of maths teachers from around the country represented here, I'll give it a go....

    I'm a parent of a boy who is currently in year 6, and is going to move up to secondary school next year. I'm also a professional mathematician.

    My son is very keen on maths and science, but so far he hasn't been very happy with the quality of the teaching he has received in either of these subjects at primary school, and I am keen to try to make sure that this experience isn't repeated at secondary school.

    I've been to visit our catchment state secondary school, which overall has a very good reputation in the local area, and whilst I can see that it has a lot of things to recommend it, unfortunately I was not very convinced by the quality of the maths teaching. I sat in on two maths classes - one year 7, one year 10, and I didn't find much in either lesson that I believe would have engendered much enthusiasm in my son.

    To be more specific, neither of us is terribly keen on the approach to maths teaching that seems to be in fashion at the moment - I come from a very rigorous and strongly academic background, and whilst I can appreciate that current teaching methodologies can be very helpful in widening the appeal and accessibility of many mathematical topics, I tend to regard this approach as often being at the expense of a deeper and more rigorous understanding of those same topics, potentially leading to problems in later academic development if the student wishes to pursue maths at university level and beyond.

    Many schools claim to be able to deliver a 'personalised learning experience' or something along those lines, including my son's primary and our catchment secondary, but in practice it doesn't seem as easy to deliver that as it is to promise it. In truth, I can't see a great deal of evidence of differentiation of lesson content based on the ability of the pupils, and even simple streaming or setting seems frowned upon by many institutions nowadays.

    I'm looking for a secondary school where the students are genuinely stretched, based on their ability and aptitude, and where there aren't artificial 'glass ceilings' when a pupil has covered all the generally accepted content for their age or for their course. I'd also like the style of teaching to be sufficiently academic that it could act as a solid foundation for later mathematics study at university, rather than merely acting as a 'utility subject' for other disciplines, or as a numeracy aid for everyday life.

    I would consider any type of school, state or independent, and maybe even go as far as move house to a different part of the country if I could identify a school that I felt would genuinely fit my son's needs, So far, though, I'm having a certain degree of difficulty identifying the most likely candidates, despite slicing and dicing the DoE results data, and short of going around every potential school and asking about their attitude to maths and science teaching, it is hard to know exactly where to turn.

    So, that's where you come in. I'd be genuinely interested in hearing from anyone that believes their school delivers a learning environment in science and maths along the lines of what I have briefly sketched out here.

    Many thanks for reading.
    I
     
  2. This might be something of an unorthodox request for this forum, but since there are a lot of maths teachers from around the country represented here, I'll give it a go....

    I'm a parent of a boy who is currently in year 6, and is going to move up to secondary school next year. I'm also a professional mathematician.

    My son is very keen on maths and science, but so far he hasn't been very happy with the quality of the teaching he has received in either of these subjects at primary school, and I am keen to try to make sure that this experience isn't repeated at secondary school.

    I've been to visit our catchment state secondary school, which overall has a very good reputation in the local area, and whilst I can see that it has a lot of things to recommend it, unfortunately I was not very convinced by the quality of the maths teaching. I sat in on two maths classes - one year 7, one year 10, and I didn't find much in either lesson that I believe would have engendered much enthusiasm in my son.

    To be more specific, neither of us is terribly keen on the approach to maths teaching that seems to be in fashion at the moment - I come from a very rigorous and strongly academic background, and whilst I can appreciate that current teaching methodologies can be very helpful in widening the appeal and accessibility of many mathematical topics, I tend to regard this approach as often being at the expense of a deeper and more rigorous understanding of those same topics, potentially leading to problems in later academic development if the student wishes to pursue maths at university level and beyond.

    Many schools claim to be able to deliver a 'personalised learning experience' or something along those lines, including my son's primary and our catchment secondary, but in practice it doesn't seem as easy to deliver that as it is to promise it. In truth, I can't see a great deal of evidence of differentiation of lesson content based on the ability of the pupils, and even simple streaming or setting seems frowned upon by many institutions nowadays.

    I'm looking for a secondary school where the students are genuinely stretched, based on their ability and aptitude, and where there aren't artificial 'glass ceilings' when a pupil has covered all the generally accepted content for their age or for their course. I'd also like the style of teaching to be sufficiently academic that it could act as a solid foundation for later mathematics study at university, rather than merely acting as a 'utility subject' for other disciplines, or as a numeracy aid for everyday life.

    I would consider any type of school, state or independent, and maybe even go as far as move house to a different part of the country if I could identify a school that I felt would genuinely fit my son's needs, So far, though, I'm having a certain degree of difficulty identifying the most likely candidates, despite slicing and dicing the DoE results data, and short of going around every potential school and asking about their attitude to maths and science teaching, it is hard to know exactly where to turn.

    So, that's where you come in. I'd be genuinely interested in hearing from anyone that believes their school delivers a learning environment in science and maths along the lines of what I have briefly sketched out here.

    Many thanks for reading.
    I
     
  3. Hi Ballamory
    I can't really help with your actual question, but I wanted to make a couple of comments. For some parents, and maybe their children, maths is frightening, and so it might have been assumed by the school that demonstrating an accessible, fun lesson was the better choice for an observed lesson than watching a class full of students working through exercises, with teacher going round ensuring good understanding. So you may or may not have seen a typical lesson....(and the GCSE now includes functional elements that may be more readily introduced to a class by a practical activity)
    The other problem you will have is that the particular skills of the school this year may not reflect what is in place when your son actually reaches the upper end of the school.... an enthusiastic department with lots of enrichment for strong mathematicians now may not be the same when he gets there (as particular teachers come and go over the years)... though a tradition of entering the UKMT Junior and Intermediate Maths Challenge, maybe the Team Challenge might continue through changes of personnel at least a bit.
    Your son, like my children, have a bonus... parents who can stretch their mathematical experience outside of school... I would strongly advise getting your son to look at the NRich website (if you have not already started using it and contributing answers). I was lucky in that my son's teacher in Y11 was prepared to provide some extra teaching to allow him to take the Additional Maths FSMQ - but he was the only student offered this possibilty - and it would never be advertised to prospective new students (I'm not yet sure whether my daughter will be offered the same opportunity next year, since she has a different teacher), however if not, I am using UKMT mentoring materials with her, and may introduce her to calculus so that the concept is not a surprise when she gets to A level.
    I hope that you manage to find the information you want, but I suspect it will be very hard, and may not be relevant by the time your son reaches the top end of the school. The best hope would be to look for a school where most parents are generally supportive of education, so there are fewer behavioural issues and teachers are able to get on and teach, and a student that wants to learn is not too stigmatised.
    Liz
     
  4. Penny10p

    Penny10p Occasional commenter

    "Many schools claim to be able to deliver a 'personalised learning
    experience' or something along those lines, including my son's primary
    and our catchment secondary, but in practice it doesn't seem as easy to
    deliver that as it is to promise it. In truth, I can't see a great deal
    of evidence of differentiation of lesson content based on the ability
    of the pupils, and even simple streaming or setting seems frowned upon
    by many institutions nowadays."
    I was interested in your observations. I am new to teaching Maths but I have taught ICT for about 8 years. Although, as a teacher, I believe that all students should be stretched and be able to move on at their own pace, in practice I found have it very difficult to teach that way. To suggest that students should have a 'personalised learning experience' when there are 25 or more students in the class is just crazy. How are teachers supposed to deliver this? I have rarely seen effective differentiation in classrooms. My impressions have been that teachers generally teach to the middle ability. Setting the students would help, but as you say, many school are not in favour of it. My school does not set the students in Yrs 7, 8 and 9. I am being encouraged to introduce more group activities but I find that one or two students in the group do the work and the others just go along with them!.
    I teach overseas and am always looking to improve my teaching methods so I will be interested to read the replies from other teachers.
     
  5. I am torn in responding to this thread. 1) I'm curious to hear more about the judgement of teaching quality from a 10/11 year old. 2) I think a discussion about what constitutes good teaching would be interesting. 3) I think the OP hits the nail on the head about "personalised learning experience", but nobody has mentioned that this is something that's been foisted on schools and that they have to claim they can achieve this. 4) A helpful response would be that Ballamory approach one of the designated Teaching Schools or an OFSTED Outstanding, surely?
     
  6. adamcreen

    adamcreen Occasional commenter

    My main thought is that you have left it ridiculously late! At Open Evening on Thursday we had Year 5 and even Year 4 parents coming round. In Surrey the closing date for admission applications is Friday 26th October! Looking for alternative schools in the next 3 weeks is going to be a mad rush.
     
  7. DM

    DM New commenter

    I think lizzie's advice was sound.
    If you want to know if your child will be stretched mathematically, ask whether they offer the following things by way of enrichment in KS3 and KS4 - a maths club, National Cipher Challenge, Intermediate Maths Challenge, Team Maths Challenge, stocks and shares competitions, FSMQ Additional Maths and/or Level 2 Certificate in Further Maths and/or GCSE Statistics
    If the school has a Sixth Form does it offer both A Level Maths and A Level Further Maths? Do Sixth Formers enter the Senior Maths Challenge? Are they offered the Advanced Extension Award and/or STEP? How many students went on to take mathematical degrees last year? In the last five years, how many have go on to read mathematics at Cambridge, Oxford, Warwick and Imperial?
     
  8. Hello again, and thanks for all the replies so far.

    It's not really the 'teaching quality' that's the problem for my son, it's the content. As one of the other posters alluded to, maths tends to be regarded as a 'scary' subject by many pupils and parents, and this seems to have informed the whole approach to teaching it by now. In order to fit in with the system, you seem to need to be of the mindset that maths really is 'difficult and mysterious', and needs to be somehow made more 'friendly' by 'fun' exercises, that don't seem to involve a great deal of maths. But if you don't find maths 'scary' in the first place, then these type of exercises can leave you a bit cold, and make you feel you're wasting your time.

    To some extent, I have remedied the problem by giving my son more suitable work to do at home. But this has several major disadvantages. Firstly, it means he often feels like he's wasting his time at school, and the staff don't really appreciate or necessarily approve of his wide knowledge of the subject and 'unauthorised' techniques for solving problems. Secondly, it cuts into his leisure time - my feeling is that he should be able to spend more of his time at home enjoying himself and pursuing his interests, rather than making up for deficiencies in the way he is taught at school.
    It would be better if he could pursue his own study of maths during school hours, but staff have been reluctant to enter into any kind of dialogue with us that would enable that to happen,

    It's interesting to learn that schools have had 'personalised learning experiences' foisted on them. Out of interest, who championed this initiative? As a concept, you can't really argue with it - of course it would be great if every child had their own mini-curriculum, just for them. But it seems to me an obvious practical non-starter - how can a teacher prepare 25-30 slightly different lessons to give simultaneously? Setting would help, in that the number of different lessons expected to be given would be reduced to 2 or 3, but this seems currently out of fashion, and mixed ability teaching is 'en vogue' at the moment.

    The catchment secondary school where he would go is, in fact, ranked as outstanding by OFSTED, and do promise a 'personalised learning experience' for every child. But in a fairly detailed discussion with one of their SLT, I couldn't really pinpoint any specific measures that would seem to enable this to happen. All that was mentioned was 'more difficult problems occasionally being directed in class to more able children', but this seemed rather ad hoc - I'm looking for something a bit more formal, where there is a programme that leads to the building up of a more advanced body of knowledge, or an additional qualification.
     
  9. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    This is a problem in Primary but is generally not such an issue in Secondary where maths classes are setted.

    (Avoid any "mixed ability is the only true way" schools if you believe maths teaching is important, BTW..)

    In Secondary, most teachers teach higher sets the same way maths was taught in the Good Old Days - proper exemplars, explanations and lots of practice. So as long as he's in set 1 or 2, he'll be fine.

    (It's true that from time to time even high set kids might have to cope with a student teacher who will be under pressure to always use "fun" techniques, but they'll survive that and some of them might even learn something from it.)
     
  10. As to have him put up a year, he will achieve his A* easily, if he is as talented as you say, and should sail through his A-levels. If you push him too hard, too soon, he'll end up falling out of love with maths by the time he's 16 and it will take him years to rediscover his mojo. (I was very similar to your son and all I wanted to do was play football and chase girls, I used to skip from extra maths classes for these two reasons.)
     
  11. Just as aside PualDG, firstly I have a lot of respect for how you tell it like you think it is, but as we are from different eras, I'm expecting lots of clashes. I hope you don't become offended but I believe that through discussion we all become a little more learned. However, your comment on setted being the best way is pure unadulterated ********, not backed up by a single piece of research. In fact it's elitism and capitalism at it's very worst!
     
  12. I wonder, given your obvious passion and expertise Ballamory if you should consider home schooling or getting involved with a free school.
     
  13. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    Not backed up by research?

    Maybe so - but I guarantee the schools who achieve top results in GCSE don't muck about with mixed ability nonsense.

    And in those countries where "mixed ability" is normal, actually look at the lessons (there are videos on Teacher's TV and on YouTube) and what you'll see is the teacher delivering a traditional lesson with the kids either or swimming - the difference in those countries to here is that there the kids who are sinking go home and do a shed load of work to keep up.

    In those circumstances (where socially "no child is left behind"), then I agree mixed ability makes no difference to those at the top of the ability range.

    Here though, where "no child left behind" means "dumb the lessons down so the lazy kids will behave", well....

    PS. Just what's wrong with "elitism"? Aren't we supposed to have high expectations of the kids we teach? Pardon me if I see "mixed ability" as communism at it's very worst...
     
  14. Karvol

    Karvol Occasional commenter

    In order for your son to flourish as a mathematician he will need to be in a class with other mathematicians of a similar ability. Will this be the case? Are you judging the ability of your son objectively or through the eyes of a parent?
    However, are best schools for mathematics in the UK the best schools for your son? That is another question altogether.
    As a previous poster has mentioned, the only way you are going to get the mathematics education that you desire for your son is if you teach him it yourself.
    Good luck with that one, if that is the route you choose.
     
  15. If you look at the best nations in terms of mathematics education, they don't do the example then questions on the same theme, they do an idea then a question where the pupils must use ideas they have already seen and apply it to a fresh problem. Simple example - show them basic pyhthag, then give them a question where a non-hypotenuse side needs to be found, but don't give them the explicit method for it, let them work it out.

    As for capitalism v communism, capitalism is a busted flush, communism is corrupted by those at the top.
     
  16. I think you should go read more research.
    The "high-achieving" Pacific Rim countries have huge amounts of what is deemed "shadow education", i.e. tutoring. When a pupil is behind it is up to them to catch up - this is a cultural expectation.
    In this country we do not have that emphasis - parents blame teachers and schools for pupils being behind...
    Researchers have stated that these Pacific Rim countries have expectations of obedience towards authority. Much of their attitudes towards Maths is culturally biased in this way.
     
  17. Interesting that you class Finland as a 'Pacific Rim' country, however I agree that countries like Singapore (one country Gove wants us to emulate) has extra school clubs after school for the pupils to go over even more mathematics. There also is, as you say a different cultural philosophy in the East, however, a country that is close culturally to ourselves is the Netherlands, they use a style of Realistic Mathematical Education which is far removed from how we teach, so you should look towards their teaching for inspiration.
     
  18. However, we have Dutch students and teachers come over to our (state comp) school. The teachers have been envious of the rigorous way we teach Maths (traditional, academic) and the Dutch students I have taught have always been weak for their age. This has never been the case for German students, however, who always seem to be strong for their age.
     
  19. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    Go look at the Teacher's TV exploration of maths lessons in Finland - lessons there are not what "progressives" claim them to be. In fact, they're exactly like the "proper" lessons that used to be normal in England (with the teacher teaching from the front, doing a demonstration if appropriate, kids working from text books and the more able kids working through the text books at their own pace.

    No thanks. In the Independent Sector, we have a system that works. In schools that don't muck about with mixed ability, we have systems that work. We don't need, nor want, "inspiration", what we want is not to have egalitarian social engineering thrust on us in maths lessons.

    (Oh and are you serious about the Netherlands being "culturally similar"? A place where recreational drugs are legal, where there are no school uniforms and where, despite a level of frankness about sexuality that absolutely shocks many in the UK there is a relatively low rate of teenage pregnancy and high age for beginning sexual activity? I think, once again, you're losing the social context in your rush to impose a system that just doesn't work here.
     
  20. There is now much debate about the Finnish system.
    First, they have much smaller class sizes than the general Secondary school in England.
    Second, the population of Finland is ethnic Finnish in it's vast majority.
    Lastly, the vast majority of their pupils at the end of their compulsory education are at a teacher determined Level 8 - which is only roughly equal to a grade C, some have said grade D. Many people now question whether high ability Finnish pupils are being stretched enough.
     

Share This Page