It is an exciting time to be a maths teacher, particularly for those of us who teach in Wales. From 2022 Wales will have a new curriculum – Curriculum for Wales (CfW) for students 3-16 years old. If you work in Wales you will know that the draft documents were published just a couple of months ago. CfW has been designed so that our students meet the so called four purposes. More on those here. Progress towards meeting these purposes will be done so through 6 Areas of Learning Experience (AOLE). Details and documents can be downloaded here.
Concerns have already been raised about the dangers of a thematic/project approach, too much autonomy given to schools and lack of funding/time. Those discussions are for another day, but for now I want to focus on Maths. I am glad that we are our own AOLE and am excited by the direction of travel of Mathematics in Wales. The mathematical content hasn’t changed much from its current form (how could it?!). Instead, it seems that an approach to teaching is being endorsed. For too long, mathematical reasoning and understanding and been side-lined in favour of the teaching and learning of algorithms to solve routine problems. GCSE and A-Level papers were too predictable and not challenging enough.
This has, however, started to be addressed and changed in the past few years with the introduction of the National Reasoning tests, the new GCSE Numeracy, and the revised A-Level specifications. Although these qualifications demand that students are better mathematical problem solvers, my experience is that the pace of change of how teachers teach maths has not been rapid enough. The recruitment problem is also well known. Some of Estyn’s thoughts surrounding the delivery of these new GCSEs are captured in this report. One of their recommendations is to “Improve pupils’ problem-solving skills in mathematics and in mathematics-numeracy.”
The Maths & Numeracy AOLE attempts to address this by a renewed emphasis on students’ mathematical reasoning and understanding. This must be developed by us, the teachers. The model in which we can achieve this is outlined in the AOLE document and is called the 5 proficiencies. To quote the document:
“The Mathematics and Numeracy Area of Learning and Experience has developed a set of mathematical proficiencies which permeate every aspect of what matters statements and have shaped progression in the area of learning and experience”
They are summarised in the following picture (source: unknown but obviously happy to credit if someone lets me know!)
I really like this model. They are based upon the five interconnected strands (Kilpatrick, Swafford, and Findell 2001) detailed in the The National Research Council’s Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics. Although some may think that the concepts are obvious and nothing different to their current approach, for many of us it is a useful framework for planning and delivering lessons. Non specialists at Primary level may need a lot of professional development to deliver Maths is such a way – how will these be implemented? Some of my current questions: Should elements of all five proficiencies be in every lesson? Is there a logical order which these five should be taught? Do the five suit all topics? Could our lesson planning and/or observation reflections be centred around these five? If there was a sixth what would it be?! And this is one area of one AOLE which sparks many questions. The path to 2022 will come sooner than we may think so it’s important that we engage, question, collaborate and reflect now. Feedback on the draft documents is welcomed and you can do so using the link above via Hwb. In January 2020 the drafts will have been finalised and published.
I’d like to turn now to some thoughts about the opportunities that we must engage with if we want to better our practice, not just for CfW, but for the purpose of simply becoming better teachers. I believe that we become better practitioners when we have the time and space to reflect on our practice. Spending time away from our classes and schools at conferences, teach meets and professional learning programmes gives us this opportunity. I know that budgets and time constraints at school can make this hard, but professional learning and teacher development is central to the most successful schools. This is particularly pertinent in Wales as we prepare for CfW.
Conferences: These events are a great opportunity for an immersive educational experience and of course a great networking opportunity. Many are multi day events where you can tailor sessions to suit your interest. The fantastic MEI Conference has recently finished and I can thoroughly recommend it having attended twice in recent years. Jo Morgan @Mathsjem keeps a list of upcoming conferences here. The big news for Wales is that ResearchEd are coming to Wales for the first time on February 29th in Cardiff. These events have an excellent reputation and feature some of the big names of education in the UK. I will certainly be attending. Tickets have been released recently and are available from here.
Hub Programmes: If you are a Maths teacher in South Wales I can thoroughly recommend the programmes and networks run by Central South Consortium (CSC) and hosted by hubs and lead practitioners at schools in the region. Areas of focus that I am preparing for include preparation for the new Maths AOLE and a program to help develop students’ problem solving abilities. Having been a delegate and a facilitator of these programmes I can say that the enthusiasm, dedication and feedback from such event are always very positive. Full details and booking should be available from the CSC website shortly.
Teach Meets: Last week I attended and presented at a teach meet for Maths teachers in the Cardiff area. It was run by Alice Walker @MsWalkerMaths and she did a great job in bringing people together for an evening of maths teaching ideas and resources. Seeing such engaged teachers so receptive to learn and discuss with each other on a Monday evening was great to see. I look forward to similar events and recommend that you attend to support and benefit from such events near you.
Books: There are so many more excellent books aimed at maths teachers now than there were just a few years ago. The first such book I read was Jo Boaler’s The Elephant in the Classroom which at the time I loved (last week I flipped through it again and found myself disagreeing with aspects of it). Since then I’ve tried to read an education book every term. This has had a huge impact on my thinking and practice. I’m currently reading Making Every Maths Lesson Count by Emma McCrea and it’s a great summary of the latest thinking and ideas with a real focus on pedagogy. My read before that was Slow Teaching by Jamie Thom which I also really enjoyed. There are lots of non-maths specific books on teaching and learning that I would also recommend such as Willingham’s Why Don’t Students Like School? and Seven Myths About Education by Daisy Christodoulou. From a maths point of view, these three are must reads;
–> How I Wish I’d Taught Maths by Craig Barton
–> Yes but Why? by Ed Southall
–> Knowing and Understanding Elementary Maths by Liping Ma
Podcasts are a great way to engage with current educational thinking and can be simple to fit around your busy day. I will often have a listen whilst driving, doing admin tasks or during a break or lunch. Of course you all know about Mr Barton’s excellent series of podcasts – I particularly recommend his interviews with Dylan Wiliam, Danni Quinn, Mark McCourt and Andrew Blair. All are available here. For those of us in Wales, Welsh Government have started a podcast called Addysg Cymru – Education Wales. The latest episode features Education Minister Kirsty Williams answer questions from a primary and secondary headteacher. It’s 30 minutes long, here and worth a listen. For more education podcasts, this link has a list of further recommendations.
As usual, any comments, ideas or questions appreciated.