Developing Mastery in Mathematics (4 )

(Feature image: ‘You can and will be successful here’ by Enokson.  Attribution: PhotosForClass.com licensed by CC BY 2.0)

An Action Research Project by Richard Noibi

Introduction

‘Mastery is the process by which Maths is taught incisively depicting route(s) to finding solution(s) to a problem. This process is complete when the pupil(s) discovers other routes leading to the Solution’, Richard Noibi, September 2016.

Mastery is also the ability to apply knowledge gained from various areas of Mathematics, i.e. Algebra, Geometry, Probability and other topics in solving Mathematical problems.

With the new mastery curriculum in Mathematics and its demands on application rather than  teaching a systematic approach to solving problems, it is imperative that teachers like me adopt new strategies and approaches to teaching Mathematics to students.  

Gone are the days when teachers can predict exam questions.   Now, we have to teach ‘the why’ more than just ‘how’ to solve questions. Our students must now be able to think outside the box rather than just follow a systematic route to answers.

Aims of the Project

This project seeks to answer the following questions:

  • How can I incorporate Mastery into my teaching to facilitate the development of my students to meet the demands of the new curriculum?
  • What can I learn from other Schools and colleagues to facilitate Mastery in my lessons?
  • What method(s) can I adopt so that my students can remember formulas they need for answering new GCSE questions?
  • How can I encourage Innovation in lessons?

Focus Group

My focus group was a Year 9 class, which had 31 students with various abilities ranging from level 5a to 7b. I chose this class because:

It has students who usually struggle with resilience – a quality needed for mastering Mathematics.

Some of the high achievers were still working below their challenge grades.

Most of the students also found applying Mathematical know-how to real life situations a struggle. This skill is needed to excel with the new strategy.

The Route to Mastery

 Good foundations

For my students to have Mastery skills in Mathematics up to the level required, they must have the solid background knowledge of the Subject. This is the foundation of the plan and the stage at which misconceptions are corrected.

Thinking outside the box

Students can no longer be one way learners but need to be dynamic in their approach to solving Mathematical challenges.

Creating a Culture of Mathematics

‘Consistency and Practice makes perfect’. This was developed through thorough Maths ‘skills drills’.

Mastery in other Schools

As a tutor to students from another school (School ‘A’), I noticed that the teaching styles have changed recently. The past focused on 3 part teaching (Starter, main, plenary) is now divided four parts (revision activity based on quick recap of the most challenging part of the last lesson; then a starter activity, which is usually a modelled question targeted as yardstick for success criteria; main teaching and class work; a plenary based on checking how many of the model questions could be answered at the end of lesson).

In another school I am familiar with (School ‘B’) they use 3 part teaching but there is a modelled test at the start of a new topic. Then after three lessons the students are given a test with the same questions but by this time they have had the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the test. The outcome of the test is used to gauge the understanding of the students. This method embraces consistent practice and developing a culture of Mathematics amongst their students.

Both schools use homework to consolidate learning. Sometimes homework is used for correcting errors students make in the lessons not undertaking new work.

Both strategies endorse the above listed route to Mastery. Thus I adopted aspects of both in my lessons with my Year 9 focus group.

Adopting the strategies

To create a culture of Mathematics with Year 9, I combined the method of teaching in School ‘A’ with the assessment programme of School ‘B’.   I made sure I informed parents of the outcome of the end of Topic tests I give pupils once a fortnight. This improved enthusiasm and effort from my students.

Also, I adopted a method I learned from my country (Nigeria) which helps promote independent thinking and application of Maths to real world situation. I started giving the class a Mastery question as a starter once a week.  I say to the class I am not interested in the final answer but how to start solving the question. What is the first step to take before solving this question? What if the question is changed to ………? How would you start? This helps many who struggle to know where to start a question during exams or tests. As we all know, marks are not only awarded for the final answer but the steps taken to reach it.

The results

Seventy per-cent of my Year 9 class achieved a grade higher than their challenge grades, with three making exceptional progress.

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