You may already be using the free maths resources provided by the University of Cambridge’s NRICH project – but are you getting maximum impact from them, for all your learners? In this blog post, Anthony Bandy, Assistant Head Teacher at King Edwin Primary School and a participant in the NACE/NRICH ambassador scheme, shares five ways to rethink and improve your approach…

Before joining the NACE/NRICH ambassador programme, I honestly thought I was using NRICH correctly… However, since accessing the programme, I have come to realise that I was not even close to using the resources to their full potential!
Like many others, I had previously used NRICH simply as an extension activity for the more able. However, NRICH is in fact based on a “Low threshold, high ceiling” approach – basically meaning that all learners can access the resources, and push themselves to what they want to achieve.
Following my participation in the NRICH ambassador training, and subsequent opportunities to share this training within my own school and more widely, here are five steps to get maximum value from NRICH for all learners in your maths lessons…

1. Look beyond “maths mastery” 

When the new maths curriculum arrived, our school had some very negative data, with problem solving and reasoning causing the biggest issues. Our response was to focus on maths mastery.
However, during my first training session as an NRICH ambassador, it became apparent that mastery is only a method of delivering maths; it is not a government expectation, and it is also not necessarily sufficient to fully meet the needs of all young mathematicians.
You can read more about the NRICH perspective on mastery here.

2. Use NRICH throughout each unit of work, for all learners 

As a school, we changed how we delivered mathematics. We’ve adopted a “Six Stages of Learning” approach, which involves teaching, fluency, problem solving, reasoning, hybrid and mentoring for every objective, and is also developmental for individual learners.*
Importantly, NRICH is not just used towards the end of units. In some classes, NRICH activities have been used to introduce topics. For example, the “Swimming Pool” activity was used in Year 5 to introduce the concept of negative numbers. This worked really well, with children having to think of various potential concepts.
In addition, we decided to further implement our stages of learning by including NRICH as our Stage 5 (hybrid stage). We agreed that when the curriculum mapping resource permits and there is an activity available (see below), teachers will implement the activity for all learners to access, giving all individuals the exposure to problem solving and reasoning activities.

3. Incorporate NRICH in planning 

As the NACE/NRICH ambassador, I delivered a training session for all staff. We looked closely at the curriculum mapping resources on the NRICH website, outlining links between mathematics objectives and NRICH activities. This resource definitely helped teachers to plan for NRICH activities in their lessons, rather than simply “throwing in” an activity as an extension or filler.
During the training, we also focused on how to use the NRICH resources to their full potential, looking at how NRICH provides guidance on questioning, starting points and solutions.

4. Encourage learners (and teachers) to explore multiple solutions 

Prior to the training, some staff had mentioned feeling unsure about the solutions. We’d also found that our more able learners sometimes struggled when asked to think of a different approach to a problem. In their minds, they already knew the right answer, so therefore didn’t need to find another way. We asked ourselves “Are these types of learners true ‘problem solvers’, if they only know one way to solve a problem?”
The NRICH solutions pages have proven useful for both teachers and learners, giving examples of what a good solution might look like – and reminding both groups that there may be more than one “right” answer. More likely than not, there will be a variety of different solutions. In order for learners to develop as confident problem solvers, it’s important that they can find and understand a variety of approaches.

5. Embrace the “low threshold, high ceiling” approach 

Sharing the published solutions has exposed all learners to examples of excellent quality reasoning, which is then reflected in their own practice. A fantastic example of this, along with the “low threshold, high ceiling” approach, came during a Year 5 lesson exploring the topic: “What came first – the chicken or the egg?”
With this topic in mind, we looked at the “Eggs in baskets” activity, which is predominantly a KS1 problem. In the lesson, all learners were able to have a go at the activity, with most adopting a visual representation (e.g. circles as baskets), using trial and improvement to solve the problem. Once learners had been successful, I gave them printouts of the published solutions and asked them to try and work out how others had solved the activity.
I gave my most able learners copies of a solution completed by a secondary pupil, who had solved the problem using algebra. Without my guidance, I asked them to look at the algebraic solution and try to work out how it had been achieved. A short while later, they came to me and could explain the algebraic solution.
I then found a similar problem involving the Cookie Monster and cookies eaten per day. I asked my more able learners to try and solve it using algebra – simply from their experience with the previous activity. This emphasises the “low threshold, high ceiling” scope of NRICH – what began as a KS1 problem ended up as a KS3 problem, using algebraic equations!
The lesson was so successful that when delivering an NRICH session to 40+ schools at a Nottinghamshire Maths Network Meeting, I took a learner along to demonstrate their achievements and explain the processes behind them.

Impact and next steps…

 Teachers in our school are now using NRICH more effectively and more of our learners are being exposed not only to crucial problem-solving skills, but also to important collaborative life skills.
Our 2017-18 results were our most successful since the new curriculum, and are on track to be beaten again. But even more importantly, when NRICH is mentioned in any class, learners respond with great enthusiasm, which demonstrates the productive disposition element of the five essential aspects to developing young mathematicians (read more on the NRICH website).
Our next steps as a school will be to deliver training on “working mathematically” and collaborative learning – a vital skill for all our learners to develop for their future studies and careers.

Anthony Bandy is Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for teaching and learning at King Edwin Primary School, where he teaches Year 5. He is currently participating in the NACE/NRICH ambassador initiative – a scheme offering the opportunity for NACE members to develop their use of the free resources provided by Cambridge University’s NRICH project, and extend maths collaboration across schools.

* For more information on the “Six Stages of Learning” or other approaches mentioned in this blog post, please contact the school via NACE.

To find out more about the NACE/NRICH ambassadors scheme and other current opportunities for NACE members, get in touch.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019