Reflecting on lessons learned during her participation in the NACE/NRICH Ambassadors initiative, Tanners Brook Primary School’s Mel Butt shares her top tips for effective maths CPD…

Five years ago, maths was targeted as a key area to develop at Tanners Brook Primary School. In our most recent Ofsted inspection, it was recognised as one of our strengths. A key element in securing progress in this area has been our approach to professional development in maths.

Before joining the NACE/NRICH Ambassadors initiative, I was confident and passionate about maths and motivated to develop competent problem-solving mathematicians. I was attracted by the opportunity to work alongside other professionals to explore ways to enhance the maths diet of able children at my school.

At Tanners Brook, we have developed a coaching culture where teachers embrace new ideas and seek ways to improve their own teaching. Throughout this process, I have used my classroom as a platform for ideas and, as time has moved on, I have been able to share these ideas with colleagues.

As part of the Portswood Teaching School Alliance, we also have direct contact with over 70 schools and regularly provide CPD. This meant I already had access to a wider network who could in turn benefit from my participation in the NRICH Ambassadors scheme.

Following on from my experience of receiving and leading CPD based on NRICH’s low-threshold, high-ceiling maths resources, here are my top five tips for effective professional development in maths:

1. Understand the need for change

One approach to support more able learners in maths is using short application activities completed individually at the end of a lesson, after the children are taught a skill. In order to challenge myself (and them), I needed to challenge this mindset. 

While still teaching children the maths skills they need, I wanted to provide them with more opportunities to think as mathematicians. I experimented with moving from teaching them to do maths to allowing them to work as mathematicians.

Through use of NRICH’s free resources, learners are immersed in larger, more open-ended problems where they have the opportunity to work collaboratively, reason more and ultimately be stretched over all of the learning time – not just at the end of the lesson.

2. Develop confidence collaboratively

Having explored the NRICH materials myself, I was able to share the pros and cons of this approach with colleagues. I knew that many teachers find it daunting to teach a lesson in which children may use a variety of strategies, may not know how to start their learning, or may even head off in completely the “wrong” direction. Using NRICH gives staff more confidence as it provides guidance on starting points, questioning and a range of different approaches and solutions – helping to support and inspire both teachers and learners.

I found that a simple problem aimed at KS1 – Eggs in Baskets – could be easily accessed by all staff and was a great starting point. I shared this problem in a staff meeting where colleagues were able to experiment in a workshop-style setting.

Once we’d had a go at Eggs in Baskets ourselves, we explored how this low-threshold, high-ceiling activity could be easily differentiated and accessed by all children – from the lowest-attaining child in Early Years to the most able child in Year 6. Through this discussion, we came up with various ideas to develop the activity, including using apparatus to represent the objects, drawing representations, trial and improvement, and algebra. Teachers therefore felt confident in their own delivery, and equally confident that all learners would be able to access the activity at an appropriate level.

3. Step out of your comfort zone

In December 2018, our phase took part in a live NRICH webinar – logging in to tackle a problem posed by the NRICH team, alongside other classes around the country. We were all quite nervous about this as we really had no idea what we and the children and ourselves would face. However, we committed ourselves fully and both staff and children alike had an amazing time working as mathematicians. From this, we realised that to get the most out of our CPD, we needed to step out of our comfort zones and accept that it’s okay to not always be in control. We look forward to doing more of this in future.

As a result of the work we have done with NRICH, there has been a real buzz in maths lessons. In a recent Year 6 lesson – Olympic Turns – both the class and the teacher were incredibly excited by the learning. This led to increased exposure to mathematical language, collaboration, and the children even wanted to take their learning forward by using protractors to measure. Deeper learning was evident.

4. Share ideas and inspiration

Over the process, I have realised how beneficial it is to be able to share the activities and discuss this way of teaching with colleagues. This takes many forms, from informal chats in our classrooms to the more formal setting of staff meetings. Being part of Portswood Primary Academy Trust and a Teaching Schools Alliance has given me the opportunity to share ideas across schools and with maths leaders within our local authority.

Hearing about activities that other practitioners have tried with their classes will inspire you to try and develop these activities yourself. Knowing that another class of children have fully engaged with an activity often makes it more exciting to try it within your own classroom. In turn, sharing your excitement about an activity can have the same impact on other teachers and their teaching.

In order to support staff further, I have shared the curriculum mapping resources from the NRICH website with staff in my school, NQTs, maths leaders, headteachers and other practitioners leading on provision for more able learners through our NACE R&D Hub. These resources have enabled staff to search for mathematics objectives that link to NRICH activities relating to a particular area of maths.

5. Enjoy it!

When I started my journey as an NRICH Ambassador, I was already enthusiastic about NRICH resources. I have loved spreading my passion for problem-solving and sharing good practice within my school, cluster and beyond. If you are having fun, then your colleagues and the young people in your classrooms will also enjoy the experience of being mathematicians. Embrace it! It is essential that we inspire our children to have a love of maths by showing them how much we enjoy being mathematicians ourselves.

Mel Butt is a Year 6 class teacher with responsibility for More Able, Gifted and Talented at Tanners Brook Primary School, Southampton. She participated in the 2018-19 NACE/NRICH Ambassadors initiative.

Watch this space! NRICH is partnering with NACE on a member meetup event in the 2019-20 summer term. Details will be via our monthly email newsfeed and on our website. For all upcoming events, visit our events listing.

Monday, June 10, 2019